The trickle of scandalous Abu Ghraib photos that surfaced in 2004 during the United States occupation of Iraq could soon become a flood after a federal judge on Friday ordered the government to release thousands of photographs of American soldiers abusing detainees at facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s three-page order said the government failed to meet a deadline to certify that each of the 2,100 photographs in question would incite violence and “endanger Americans” if publicly released. But he gave it 60 days to appeal his decision. The government can continue to withhold the photographs in the meanwhile.
A Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
The decision on the American Civil Liberties Union’s decade-long Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit is a major victory that arrives, fittingly, at the end of Sunshine Week, an annual initiative that promotes transparency and open government.
“The photos are crucial to the public record,” Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told VICE News. “They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies.”
Jaffer characterized the Obama administration’s rationale for suppressing the photos as both illegitimate and dangerous.
“To allow the government to suppress any image that might provoke someone, somewhere, to violence would be to give the government sweeping power to suppress evidence of its own agents’ misconduct,” he noted. “Giving the government that kind of censorial power would have implications far beyond this specific context.”
President Barack Obama pledged in 2009 that he would not defy a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a lower court’s decision ordering the Bush administration to release the photographs to the ACLU. He said he made the decision because the White House did not believe that it could convince the Supreme Court to review the case. Republicans and right-wing pundits, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz, pilloried the new president, accusing him of siding with terrorists and questioning whether he really cared about US soldiers.
The White House worked with Congress to secretly change the FOIA law to allow the Secretary of Defense to withhold the images on national security grounds via a certification waiver that has to be renewed every three years. But Hellerstein suggested last year that the passage of time since the photos were taken removed the national security argument.
In his ruling on Friday, Hellerstein said a certification waiver renewed in 2012 by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta blocking all of the photographs from disclosure was “deficient” because “it was not sufficiently individualized and it did not establish the Secretary’s own basis for concluding that disclosure would endanger Americans,” as required by the changes to the FOIA passed by Congress in 2009.
“The Government’s refusal to issue individual certifications means that the 2012 Certification remains invalid and therefore cannot exempt the Government from responding to [the ACLU’s] FOIA requests,” Hellerstein wrote in his order.
VICE News reviewed Army criminal investigative reports that probed detainee abuse allegations and contained descriptions of some of the controversial images. The Army reports and descriptions of the photographs can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
In one photograph, three soldiers at the St. Mere Forward Operating Base in Iraq posed with three Iraqi detainees who were “zip-tied to bars in a stress position, fully clothed, with hoods over their heads.” Army investigators also found that a soldier “possessed a photograph of himself pointing what appears to be a pistol at an unidentified [prisoner], whose hands were tied and his head covered laying down.”
Another photograph shows a female soldier holding a broom, as she later testified to Army investigators in April 2004, “as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum of a restrained detainee.” A month earlier, this soldier sent an email to an undisclosed number of troops in her unit saying that she had discovered that the photograph had been widely disseminated and that she was under investigation.
“You guys have a picture of me holding a broom near a detainee,” she wrote. “I don’t have a copy of this picture anywhere… but some Marine got a hold of it and now I’m being investigated for detainee abuse. I guess one of you share (sic) the photos with the Marines… but either way, they have a copy of that picture.”
“Anyway, this email serves two purposes,” she continued. “First, I know that at least one more of you guys is in the picture, but I cannot remember who. If I’m being investigated… I’m sure that the other individuals in this picture will be investigated as well, so heads up! Secondly, can I please have a copy of this picture ASAP!!! I can’t stress how badly I need this picture so I can show people that it was just a posed shot, and that I wasn’t physically beating anyone with a broom.”
One soldier replied to the email by attaching a copy of the photograph and wrote, “I can’t see how they think this is anything but fun.”
In interviews with Army criminal investigators, the soldiers said that they intended to keep the prisoner abuse photographs as “mementos” to recall their deployment in Afghanistan.
Army investigators concluded that eight soldiers, all of whose identities were redacted, “committed the offense of dereliction of duty, when as guards detailed to secure and protect detainees, they willfully failed to perform their duties with no reasonable or just excuse, by jokingly pointing weapons at the bound detainees, and exposed photographs of this unwarranted activity.”
In 2009, Obama remarked that the photographs at issue “are not particularly sensational.”
“It’s therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” the president said.
But VICE News obtained documents from the Department of Defense in response to a FOIA request that indicate the photographs may be far more troubling than the administration had let on.
The documents [PDF below] state that the photographs were from 203 closed criminal investigations into detainee abuse that occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Defense Department set up a task force to evaluate the images in May 2009, and the photographs were broken into three different categories:
- Category A: Will require explanation; Egregious, iconic, dramatic.
- Category B: Likely to require explanation; injury or humiliation.
- Category C: May require explanation; injury without context.
The documents go on to explain how the US government intended to “mitigate the threat to security and political stability” and the response to the release of the photographs in 2009, which included apologies to “regional partners” and “audiences who find images humiliating.”
Here’s what we learned from the release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture: the Agency tortured some people, in the President’s flippant phrase. More than a few people it turns out, though we probably will never know exactly how many. The techniques of torture were brutal, even sadistic. Though, again, the most barbarous measures have been redacted from public disclosure. The CIA learned almost nothing of value from these heinous crimes. More strikingly, the Agency didn’t expect to pry out any fresh intelligence. Instead, what the torturers wanted most desperately was to extract false confessions, writhing accounts of fantastical ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, linking Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, that could be used retroactively to justify a phony war. Thus does one crime feast on another.
But here’s the rub. We still know much less than we know about the government’s torture program. And that’s not just because two-thirds of the CIA report remains sequestered at Langley. Why? To protect sources and methods? Hardly. You can find those easily enough in any book on the Spanish Inquisition. The techniques haven’t changed that much in five centuries. Just add a few jolts of electricity.
While the CIA wants to keep the details of its torture methods cloaked in mystery, the agency was very happy to let the fact that it was torturing prisoners of its covert operations slip out. Partly this was intended to send a message to the agency’s enemies, that terrible torments were going to be inflicted on the bodies and minds of anyone would stood in its way: from Jihadis to Edward Snowden, if they could just lay their hands on him.
But, and here’s where the psychology gets a little tricky, the Agency also wanted the existence of its torture program to leak out to the American public, to whet the growing appetite for vengeance and, perhaps, to distract attention from the agency’s record of massive blunders. And, by all accounts, the ploy worked. In the befouled moral consciousness of post-911, a stout majority of Americans, 59 percent in a recent poll, support the CIA’s torture program. Many of those back the use of torture even though they know it is totally ineffective as a means of intelligence gathering. In other words, they crave blood, and virtually any Muslim’s blood will do, regardless of culpability.
The declassified sections of the CIA report provide a grisly glimpse at the torture of 119 prisoners, many of them kidnapped. The agency now admits that at least 27 of those torture victims were absolutely innocent—though it is important to note that none of the others were proved to have committed crimes more serious than the ones committed against them. One of those guiltless men was tortured to death, that is: murdered by his American captors. In another case, the CIA nabbed the wrong guy off of a busy street, then tortured him until his mind snapped. A bystander was killed during this botched operation.
Aside from a few editorial boards and human rights groups, no one seems too distraught by the ghastly revelations, veiled as they are. Perhaps this is a kind of twisted sign of imperial maturity, the country finally coming to terms with its own true character. Only the most gullible seem to cling to the naïve notion that torture is “un-American.” This is, after all, the nation that has happily funded the School of the Americas for decades, where graduate seminars are offered in the finer points of torture and assassination for the butchers of Latin
Still it’s possible to briefly mourn the loss of American innocence. In his 1987 film Full-Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick devoted the first half of his film to a harrowing depiction of basic training for Marine recruits at Parris Island. Here the young soldiers are forced to endure a sadistic regime of ridicule, humiliation and abuse, aimed at de-humanizing them, stripping them of basic notions of morality and their capacity for human empathy. This kind of official debasement is what it took to compel young Americans in the late 1960s to torch peasant huts, machine-gun farmers in rice paddies or drop napalm on women and children.
These days that dehumanization process takes place in the lecture halls of Yale, Georgetown and the University of Chicago, where the architects of torture and rendition learn the bureaucratic tools and legalisms of their trade. These are the same species of managerial elites who consult the novels of Charles Dickens in order to learn new ways to punish the poor. Austerity, of course, is a kind of system-wide torture by other means.
We now know no one will be held to account for these egregious acts. There will be no naming of names. No disciplinary actions. No terminations. No prosecutions. Indeed, one of the CIA’s most notorious torturers, an officer who fetishized the waterboard, was promoted to lead the Agency’s “global jihad unit.” This is what John Keats might have described as Negative Culpability, where the perpetrators of some of the most vile crimes in American history simply dissolve into the mist of the system.
The logic of impunity for the torturers doesn’t just let government criminals off the hook; it sanctifies the crimes they committed and enshrines torture as a legitimate mechanism to enforce the American imperial enterprise. There can be no regrets when you aspire to dictate your terms to the rest of the world.
The highly controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s to Congress had one purpose: to convince U.S. officials and the Israeli and American public that Iran and its nuclear energy program poses a dire threat. “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world,” Netanyahu said.
The U.S. Congress certainly agrees with Netanyahu. But much of the rest of the world thinks Iran has a right to enrich uranium, which is at the heart of the dispute between the U.S. and Israel and Iran. More importantly, the rest of the globe thinks the United States is the biggest threat to peace. In early 2014,Gallup International/WIN released its annual global survey based on research conducted the previous year. The most striking statistic was that 24 percent of people around the world believe that the U.S. poses the greatest threat to peace. The runners-up were far behind: eight percent of respondents thought Pakistan was the greatest threat, while six percent thought it was China. And only five percent of those surveyed thought Iran was a threat to world peace. The numbers are based on interviews with 1,000 people in 65 different nations. (The survey published this year did not contain the same question.)
Those numbers are an important window into how the rest of the world views U.S. foreign policy—a view in stark contrast to how Americans think of themselves. The end of WWII marked the beginning of the U.S.’ superpower status. Since 1945, the U.S. government has meddled, intervened, overthrown and/or invaded the governments of dozens of foreign countries. U.S. actions have created an arc of violence and chaos stretching from Latin America to the Middle East and beyond.
In the Cold War era, this intervention was justified by the threat of communism. In 1954, the CIA colluded with right-wing Guatemalans to overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. In subsequent decades, the right-wing leaders of Guatemala waged a vicious campaign against leftist opponents, resulting in what many consider to be a genocide in which hundreds of thousands of people died. (In 2013, a Guatemalan court ruled that U.S.-backed General Rios Montt, the former leader of the country, was guilty of genocide for his role in the killings of 1,700 indigenous people. The ruling was overturned 10 days after the conviction on procedural grounds.)
In 1961, the CIA tried, and failed, to overthrow the Cuban government, which underwent a communist revolution in the 1950s. And in 1973, the U.S. backed the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende, which ushered in a brutal dictatorship run by General Augusto Pinochet. By the time Pinochet’s reign was over, he had killed at least 4,000 people and tortured tens of thousands.
The contemporary era has been marked by the U.S. “war on terror.” After the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration embarked on a violent war that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of civilians were killed by the U.S. military, and thousands more as a result of the power vacuum and chaos that arose in those states after the U.S. deposed Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Concurrently, the Bush administration implemented a global torture regime with the help of dozens of other countries. The CIA and U.S. military systematically tortured hundreds of people, many of them innocent of any serious crime. The Obama administration’s drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have further destabilized those nations and killed hundreds of civilians while enraging the local population.
Another striking statistic from the Gallup International/WIN poll is the country that most fears the U.S.: Russia. Fifty-four percent of Russians told the pollsters that the U.S. is the biggest threat to global peace. This feeling is rooted in a real fear of NATO expansionism, a fear that has only increased since the start of the Western-Russian conflict over Ukraine. As John Mearsheimer wrote in Foreign Affairs last year, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO—composed of the U.S. and European allies—has steadily crept eastward in Europe toward Russia. NATO came to encompass states like Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia. NATO had designs on states even closer to Russia, Georgia and Ukraine, though those two countries never formally joined NATO.
This naturally raised tensions with Russia. And so when the pro-Russian leader of Ukraine was deposed, a move backed by the West, Russian leader Vladimir Putin exploited the opportunity to invade Crimea, setting up an explosive new conflict with the U.S. and Europe. Now there is real fear of an escalation of the war in Ukraine.
No wonder Russians view the U.S. unfavorably. Nor is it surprising that the rest of the world, which witnessed the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to see the U.S. as a threat to peace.
So when Netanyahu and his congressional allies crow that Iran is the biggest threat to the world’s peace and security, the rest of the world snickers. The world will continue to see the U.S. as a threat as long as it continues its aggressive interventionism around the globe.
For years in the military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there’s been a subject no one could talk about: torture.
Now that’s changed.
This latest chapter began when the military commission at Guantanamo held a hearing earlier this month in the case of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks — a case that’s been stuck for nearly three years in pre-trial wrangling.
It was the first time the court had met since a summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention of suspected terrorists was made public late last year.
What many call “the torture report” is no longer a government secret, so lawyers for the defendants can now talk in court about what was done to their clients.
The change was readily apparent to observers who’ve followed this capital case.
Year after year in the Guantanamo courtroom, defendant Mustafa al-Hawsawi had always sat on a chair with an extra seat cushion. Reporters and others sitting a few feet away in the gallery wondered why the extra cushion.
The answer came when al-Hawsawi’s lawyer rose to inform the military judge that his client suffers from chronic bleeding. Defense attorney Walter Ruiz, who’s a commander in the Navy Reserve, said his client had been held by the CIA and subjected to what he called “sodomy.”
“In particular, I was referring to the Senate Intelligence report which recounts the practice of excessive force in rectal examination,” Ruiz said later, outside the court. “That recounts the fact that there was no medical necessity noted for some of these procedures.”
That information can be found on page 100 of the Senate report, and Ruiz says it has allowed him to talk for the first time about previously classified events in open court.
“I couldn’t have told you that before the Senate Intelligence report was released,” Ruiz says in an interview. “There are other matters that I can’t tell you as we sit, that I am aware of, but they haven’t been publicly released and declassified.”
Report Lends Credence To Defense
But there are now many matters that Ruiz and other defense lawyers can discuss in court, thanks to the Senate report’s release. By all accounts, that’s made a big difference. James Harrington, an attorney who represents alleged Sept. 11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh, says the report lends credence the defense team.
“It gives much more authority to the arguments that we’re making, it’s just not us making up things to try and convince somebody of something,” says Harrington. “Now we have an independent source, and obviously a very high source that verifies the things that we would want to say.”
One of the things Harrington and the other seasoned death penalty lawyers in the Guantanamo war court most want to say — and that’s backed up by the Senate report — is that their clients were brutally interrogated, contrary to American law, while being held by the CIA.
The aim is to keep them from being executed.
“As their lawyers, we’re required by the U.S. Supreme Court to offer everything, anything that would make an argument for a lesser sentence — for a life sentence, in other words,” says David Nevin, lead attorney for accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times while in CIA custody, according to the Senate report.
“And the details of what happened to them is crucial evidence in that respect,” Nevin adds. “It’s mitigation.”
Much Remains Classified
Still, not everything in what the Senate Intelligence Committee released is public. Parts of the executive summary were blacked out by the CIA and remain classified. The names of countries where the CIA operated secret prisons known as “black sites” are all suppressed. Instead, those places have been given the names of colors: blue, violet and cobalt.
James Connell, a lawyer for Sept. 11 defendant Ammar al-Baluchi, says that’s frustrating “because it discusses the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against Mr. al-Baluchi, but it doesn’t tell us what they were, or where they occurred.”
The task of making more of the Senate report available for the defense rests largely in the hands of Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, chief prosecutor of the military commissions. And to the surprise of some, Martins considers the release of the Senate report a positive development.
“It is in accordance with things we have sought,” says Martins. “I believe, as things will pan out, that it will unlock aspects of discovery and of the observability of the proceedings by the public.”
So far, though, the public has not been able to observe much. Many motions filed by the defense remain classified. Defense lawyers say the entire 6,000-plus-page report prepared by the Senate should also be released.
Martins insists he, too, wants the full report. But he also warns there will be no blank check to mine secret government data. And as in most U.S. courts, in Guantanamo, the prosecution gets to screen the evidence.
“So the prosecution is going to decide what in that report is helpful to us. and then give it to us,” says defense attorney Ruiz. “We’ll be litigating in the dark.”
Ruiz does not hold much hope the full Senate report will be declassified, since the Senate Intelligence Committee is now controlled by Republicans who’ve opposed the CIA probe from the start.
Still, the report’s summary alone already has opened a new conversation in Guantanamo’s war court.
Barack Obama, in his post-election press conference yesterday, announcedthat he would seek an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from the new Congress, one that would authorize Obama’s bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria—the one he began three months ago. If one were being generous, one could say that seeking congressional authorization for a war that commenced months ago is at least better than fighting a war even after Congress explicitly rejected its authorization, as Obama lawlessly did in thenow-collapsed country of Libya.
When Obama began bombing targets inside Syria in September, I notedthat it was the seventh predominantly Muslim country that had been bombed by the U.S. during his presidency (that did not count Obama’s bombing of the Muslim minority in the Philippines). I also previously noted that this new bombing campaign meant that Obama had become thefourth consecutive U.S. President to order bombs dropped on Iraq. Standing alone, those are both amazingly revealing facts. American violence is so ongoing and continuous that we barely notice it any more. Just this week, a U.S. drone launched a missile that killed 10 people in Yemen, and the dead were promptly labeled “suspected militants” (which actually just meansthey are “military-age males”); those killings received almost no discussion.
To get a full scope of American violence in the world, it is worth asking a broader question: how many countries in the Islamic world has the U.S. bombed or occupied since 1980? That answer was provided in a recent Washington Post op-ed by the military historian and former U.S. Army Col. Andrew Bacevich:
As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.
Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.
Bacevich’s count excludes the bombing and occupation of still other predominantly Muslim countries by key U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, carried out with crucial American support. It excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisonment of people with no charges. It also, of course, excludes all the other bombing and invading and occupying that the U.S. has carried out during this time period in other parts of the world, including in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as various proxy wars in Africa.
There is an awful lot to be said about the factions in the west whichdevote huge amounts of their time and attention to preaching against the supreme primitiveness and violence of Muslims. There are no gay bars in Gaza, the obsessively anti-Islam polemicists proclaim—as though that (rather than levels of violence and aggression unleashed against the world) is the most important metric for judging a society. Reflecting their single-minded obsession with demonizing Muslims (at exactly the same time, coincidentally, their governments wage a never-ending war on Muslim countries and their societies marginalize Muslims), they notably neglect to note thriving gay communities in places like Beirut and Istanbul, or the lack of them in Christian Uganda. Employing the defining tactic of bigotry, they love to highlight the worst behavior of individual Muslims as a means of attributing it to the group as a whole, while ignoring (often expressly) the worst behavior of individual Jews and/or their own groups (they similarly cite the most extreme precepts of Islam while ignoring similarly extreme ones from Judaism). That’s because, as Rula Jebreal told Bill Maher last week, if these oh-so-brave rationality warriors said about Jews what they say about Muslims, they’d be fired.
But of all the various points to make about this group, this is always the most astounding: those same people, who love to denounce the violence of Islam as some sort of ultimate threat, live in countries whose governments unleash far more violence, bombing, invasions, and occupations than anyone else by far. That is just a fact.
Those who sit around in the U.S. or the U.K. endlessly inveighing against the evil of Islam, depicting it as the root of violence and evil (the “mother lode of bad ideas“), while spending very little time on their own societies’ addictions to violence and aggression, or their own religious and nationalistic drives, have reached the peak of self-blinding tribalism. They really are akin to having a neighbor down the street who constantly murders, steals and pillages, and then spends his spare time flamboyantly denouncing people who live thousands of miles away for their bad acts. Such a person would be regarded as pathologically self-deluded, a term that also describes those political and intellectual factions which replicate that behavior.
The sheer casualness with which Obama yesterday called for a new AUMF is reflective of how central, how commonplace, violence and militarism are in the U.S.’s imperial management of the world. That some citizens of that same country devote themselves primarily if not exclusively to denouncing the violence and savagery of others is a testament to how powerful and self-blinding tribalism is as a human drive.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Who outside of Syria knows the names Yara Abbas, Maya Naser, Mohamed al-Saeed…? The corporate media has inundated us with news of the two American journalists allegedly beheaded, the first of whose execution video has been deemedfaked. But what of the non-Western journalists and civilians beheaded and murdered by ISIS, al-Nusra, and associated terrorists in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine?
Why didn’t the August 2012 execution (which some reported as a beheading) of TV presenter Mohamed al–Saeed, claimed by the Nusra gang, create the same outrage? Or the December 2013 kidnapping and point blank execution in Idlib by ISIS of Iraqi journalist Yasser al-Jumaili?
Why wasn’t the murder of Yara Abbas—a journalist with al-Ikhbariaya, whose crew’s car was attacked by an insurgent sniper—broadcast on Western television stations? Or that of Lebanese cameraman for al-Mayadeen, Omar Abdel Qader, shot dead by an insurgent sniper on March 8, 2014 in eastern Syria.
Maya Naser, Ali Abbas, Hamza Hajj Hassan (Lebanese), Mohamad Muntish(Lebanese), Halim Alou (Lebanese)…all were media workers killed by the Western-backed insurgents in Syria. Their deaths were reported by local media, some even got a passing notice in corporate media, but none resulted in a media frenzy of horror and condemnations as came with the alleged killings of Westerners. Another at least 20 Arab journalists have been killed by NATO’s death squads in Syria in the past few years.
The killing of 16 Palestinian journalists in Gaza, at least 7 targeted while working, during the July/August 2014 Zionist Genocide of Gaza, also fell on deaf ears. Nor were the previous years of murdering Palestinian journalists noted, let alone whipped into a media frenzy. [see also: Silencing the Press, Sixteenth Report, Documentation ofIsraeli Attacks against Media Personnel in the opt ]
In Syria, there are thousands of civilians and Syrian soldiers who have been beheaded—and in far more brutal and realistic manner than the SITE videos insinuate—by the so-called “moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA), al-Nusra, Da’esh (ISIS), and hoards of other Western-backed mercenaries. At the hands of the various NATO-gangs, tens of thousands more civilians have been assassinated and subjected to various sadistic practices—torture, mutilation, crucifixion, burning in ovens, throwing into wells, and a sick lot more. Thousands more, including children and women, remain missing after being kidnapped during mercenary raids and massacres.
Nidal Jannoud, a farmer from Banias (southwestern Syria), was one of the earlier victims of “moderate rebel” assassination. Jannoud was tortured and slaughtered by “peaceful demonstrators” in April, 2011. Omar Ayrout and Yahya Al Rayes confessedlater that they aided a mob in killing Janoud. “I heard gunfire and saw a group of people detaining Jannoud….I took a knife from Taha al-Daye and stabbed Jannoud in his right shoulder…Then the group attacked him with knives and mutilated his body afterwards,” Yahya al–Rayyis confessed.
In the case of the organ–eating al–Farouq Brigade militant “Abu Sakkar,” who bit into the lung out of a Syrian soldier, there was corporate media notice and general horror. Yet, very quickly corporate media like the BBC, The Guardian, TIME, among others, rushed to justify his cannibalism (see: Face–to–face with Abu Sakkar, Syria‘s ‘heart–eating cannibal‘ and BBC whitewashes Syria ‘heart–eating cannibal‘ to justify armingal–Qaeda). How the tides would have turned if the lung in question belonged to a Western soldier, or worse, an “Israeli”soldier… would the BBC have then humanized the perpetrator of this barbaric act? Would the world have so quickly moved on, forgotten? Of course not.
Apart from the thousands more individual slaughters, there are also numerous massacres, mostly overlooked or simply lied about in the media.
In Raqqa, overtaken by al-Nusra and the so-called FSA in March 2013, then two months later by ISIS, civilians have faced floggings (including whipping of women),executions and crucifixions…with bodies left on public display for days, usually for the “crime” of supporting President Assad and the Syrian army, and often for the “crimes” of not living up to the warped version of Islam by their executioners. [see also: Raqqais Being Slaughtered Silently]
With the May 2012 slaughter of 108 Houla civilians (including 49 children and 34 women)—among them patients in a hospital and entire families in their homes—most corporate media and political fingers pointed at the Syrian Arab Army as the culprits, without a shred of evidence. The BBC brandished Italian journalist Italian journalistMarco Di Lauro‘s image of dead Iraqi civilians in shrouds, claiming it to portray Houla victims. Upon demand of the aghast journalist, the claim was later retracted and corrected, an “accident”…but who was listening by that point? Once the trickery of the BBC and other corporate media was revealed, the massacre was no longer newsworthy. [see: “Syria: Media Lies, Hidden Agendas and Strange Alliances” and “Syria : One Year After the Houla Massacre. New Report on Official vs. Real Truth” and “Syria’s ‘false flag’ terrorism, Houla and the United Nations”]
While later investigations into Houla revealed the culpability of the so-called insurgents, the MSM had already moved on, leaving the average person confused, or stuck with the initial lies. Investigative articles aside, there was the confession of aninsurgent member who was present that Friday in Houla:
“…we’d been asked by our supporters from outside to do something to inflame the situation…The planning came from outside…On Friday after prayers, a large number of armed men came…they didn’t enter the mosque or pray. …The goal was to attack an army checkpoint and to liquidate these families supportive of the government. There were men, like Haytham al-Hassan, who had weapons including a cleaver. They butchered families….They sent people to announce that ‘Shabbiha’ had entered the village and slaughtered everyone. I was there. There were no Shabbiha.”
The December 2012 slaughter in Aqrab of at least 150 Alawites was likewise misreported, in spite of survivor testimonies. The UK Channel 4’s Alex Thomson met Aqrab survivors whose separately-given accounts corroborated one another:
“…our eyewitnesses say Sunni rebels took hundreds of Alawite civilians as prisoner,” noted Thomson, also writing, “They all insist…rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) corralled around 500 Alawite civilians in a large red-coloured two-storey house…” kept there for 11 days.
“They had long beards, and sometimes you couldn’t quite understand what they said. They were not dressed in the normal way,” said one survivor, Madlyan Hosin. A second interviewee, Hayat Youseh, said, “…they forced us out of our homes and set fire to them.”
A Syrian from a village three kilometers from Aqrab told me, “When Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya started saying that the Syrian Arab Army had attacked Aqrab, I went there to find out. I interviewed a lady from Aqrab who said that no army had come near there at the time of the massacre.”
Kassab, a predominantly Armenian Christian village near the Turkish border, came under heavy assault earlier this year by insurgents and Turkish soldiers. Kim Kardashian tweeted about Kassab…then, otherwise, the world largely forgot. In Latakia, some of Kassab’s internally-displaced spoke of the March 21, 2014 assault originating from Turkey. One young woman reported that the insurgents “raped our older women because they couldn’t find any girls.”
According to a Latakia resident, with friends and a home in Kassab, 88 Christians were murdered, 13 of whom were beheaded, others who were shot dead on the spot. Another 22 elderly were kidnapped and taken to Turkey where they were held for about three months before being released into Lebanon.
The fact that Christians were murdered by foreign mercenaries, let alone beheaded, should have created shock waves in the media. But, not surprisingly, it has had the exact opposite effect, because spotlighting those crimes doesn’t serve the West’s stated agenda to overthrow President Assad, to dismember Syria as the NATO-backed takfiris are dismembering Syrians.
It the case of the Kassab massacre, it became transparent that the lack of any governmental/political condemnation of the massacre and kidnappings was not due to lack of knowledge: Turkey helped commit the attack and housed the kidnapped [see: NATO and Turkey’s Genocidal War on Syria and Searching for casus belli:Turkey’s assault on Kassab?]; the West’s darling, Ahmed Jarba, visited soon after, sitting with “what appeared to be local rebel commanders in a house that was said to be in Latakia province,” the Daily Star reported, noting “Jarba also said ‘the Coalition has provided assistance to (fighters on) the front’, according to his office.”
Four months after it was liberated of the terrorists, most of the displaced from Kassab still have not returned to their desecrated and looted homes. According to a Latakia resident who keeps informed on Kassab, “The roads are fairly safe, but they have been targeted by short range missiles and mortars from Turkey. The ‘threat’ of attack and lack of money or resources to rebuild their homes and shops has kept most away. A handful will have enough money to repair, and those who are dirt poor may freeze this winter.”
The August 2013 insurgent massacre and kidnappings in the villages of Balouta, Hambushiya, and a number of other agricultural hamlets in the Latakia countryside did briefly receive some corporate media coverage…and also absolutely zero international outrage. That outrage was reserved for the falsified sarin gas attacks not long after, using the kidnapped children to stage their videos. [For a very detailed account of the Latakia massacre and its relation to FSA-falsified Sarin gas videos, see: “Combating the Propaganda Machine in Syria”]
In the nearly two weeks of attacks on these rural hamlets, 220 civilians were massacred (according to doctors in a Latakia hospital), including infants, children, women, and elderly—even a nonagenarian. At least one hundred were kidnapped (mostly children, some women), only 44 of which were nine months later released. These kidnap survivors spoke of torture at the hands of their “moderate rebel” captors. Al Akhbar reported that “according to another freed child, the fighters gouged out the eyes of one of the abducted children.”
But, there was no outcry by the humanitarian, would-be interventionalists and their public.
Two months after the fact, the Guardian’s Jonathan Steele reported on the attacks, including the insurgents’ move early on August 4 from their base in nearby Salma village to attack the Latakia countryside. Surprisingly, the article actually quoted Syrian Arab Army and National Defence Forces (NDF) officers’ testimonies:
Special forces officer Hassan told Steele, “I heard a rebel telling another rebel: ‘Kill this one, but not that one’. One rebel asked: ‘What do I do about the girls?’ The answer came: ‘I’m sending a truck to pick them up’. Several were taken and raped, and have not been seen again.”
NDF officer Shadi told Steele, “When we got into the village of Balouta I saw a baby’s head hanging from a tree. There was a woman’s body which had been sliced in half from head to toe and each half was hanging from separate apple trees.’”
SAA soldier Ali told Steele, “We found two mass graves with 140 bodies. They were not shot. They had their throats slit. About 105 people of different ages were kidnapped…Salafists from abroad were behind the attack.”
“There were Chechen, Libyan, Saudi, and Afghan terrorists among them….One group was killing people by swords. And the other group was running after those who had been able to escape and killing them by shooting them….They broke into house while people were sleeping and beheaded them. They removed the foetus of a pregnant woman. I lost 42 from my family. Some of them were killed and others arrested (kidnapped).”
In the face of mounds of evidence, eyewitness testimony, mass graves, doctor and coroner reports of death by throat slitting, the massacre in Latakia resulted again in none of the fervor that we’ve seen in recent months…in spite of 220 civilians being brutally massacred, another 100—mostly children—abducted by the West’s freedom-loving terrorists.
Twenty km north of Damascus, Adra industrial town suffered horrific atrocities that went largely unreported in the corporate media. The town came under Jabhat al-Nusra and Liwa Al-Islam insurgents attack on December 11, 2013, Russia Todayreported, massacring at least 80 residents.
“There was slaughter everywhere…The eldest was only 20 years old; he was slaughtered. They were all children. I saw them with my own eyes. They killed fourteen people with a machete. I don’t know if these people were Alawites. I don’t know why they were slaughtered. They grabbed them by their heads and slaughtered them like sheep.”
One man told me:
“The terrorists attacked us, terrorists from Turkey, from Chechnya, and from Arab and other foreign countries. They had tanks and guns, like an army, just like an army. For 73 days we were surrounded in the citadel of Harem. They hit us with all kinds of weapons. We had women and children with us. They showed no mercy. When they caught any of us, they slaughtered him, and then send his head back to us. They killed over 100 people, and kidnapped around 150… children, civilians, soldiers. Until now, we don’t know what’s happened to them.”
Harem refugee in Latakia centre speaks of atrocities committed by foreign insurgents. Photo by Eva Bartlett.
The first Turkish-backed attacks on Harem were in September, 2012, and by October 31, al Akhbar reported that 4,000 civilians were under siege in the town fortress, warning of a potential massacre by insurgents who are “known to have been supplied with Turkish-made short-range missiles and launchers mounted on four-wheel drive vehicles, as well as an abundance of mortars.” The report also noted Turkey’s role in treating the FSA terrorists: “the FSA wounded are transported across the border to Turkey in ambulances,” and in killing Harem residents: “Dozens of people were killed in Harem’s al-Tarmeh neighborhood after it was subject to a missile bombardment from a Turkish police station.”
Once again, the FSA and ISIS attack was misreported in the corporate media, and the kidnappings of Harem residents not reported period. The situation of occupied Harem has been non existent in the media since. Breaking that silence, on October 12, Twitter user “Nutsflipped @Nutsflipped_z_1 ” tweeted a series of updates on Harem:
In a personal message, he explained further. His information, he said, is from a contact from Harem now displaced who has “lost many male relatives. Executed. He was almost executed himself fleeing.”
“ISIS is genociding the natives of Harem, throwing their bodies in caves, selling their women and children. This has been going on since 2012, it was first FSA but they were losing. Then Turkey unleashed ISIS. Now ISIS has stepped up the massacre. Turkey is behind this. The West turns a blind eye. Turkey did the same thing all across the border.”
Some of the most recent massacres and atrocities at the hand of the Western/NATO/Gulf-backed/financed/trained terrorists that have gotten scant notice or tears include:
- The August 28 and September 6 beheadings of Ali al-Sayyed and Abbas Medlej respectively, and the September 20 execution of MohammadHamiyeh, all Lebanese soldiers (captured with another 16 other soldiers) by ISIS and al-Nusra.
- The October 1 terrorist double-bombings just outside the Ekrima al-Jadida school, killing 33 (mostly children), and injuring 102 (many seriously). Syria‘sForeign and Expatriates Ministry denounced the “international community” on the failure “to issue a clear condemnation of the atrocities committed by terrorist organizations in Syria…” [photos]
- The relentless stream of mortar and missile attacks on civilian areas which SANA reports have killed 296 civilians and injured 1487 in August and September alone. [see my: The Terrorism We Support in Syria: A First–handAccount of the Use of Mortars against Civilians]
- The October 10 ISIS beheading of Iraqi cameraman Raad Mohamed al–Azaoui
- The October 13 ISIS execution of Iraqi journalist Mohanad al-Aqidi [disputed by family]
- Most recently, the highly suspect car crash death of American-Lebanese journalist, Serena Shim, whose timely “accident” occurred just days after she revealed on air with Press TV that she’d been accused by Turkish intelligence of spying, that she was afraid. Shim had extensively reported on Turkey‘s rolein supporting and funneling terrorists into Syria. [see: The Death of aReporter]
Shim’s suspect death went unnoticed by corporate media for at least a day; were she a Western journalist who died—accident or assassination—all the major media would have been broadcasting her death endlessly. [see: Journalists under attack, hypocritical Western media remains silent]
And this is the point. The murders of non-Westerners—whether in Syria, Palestine or elsewhere—doesn’t matter to the media and public, unless it serves an Imperialist or Zionist agenda.
In fact, supremacism and racism aside, the only reason the alleged-beheadings of the two Western journalists, among others, is really being trumpeted and shoved down our fear-mongered throats is that these questionable stories serve perfectly the Axis-of-Destruction’s agenda: a justification to bomb Iraq and Syria, to re-invade, to attempt to implement the Yinon Plan.
The murders of Syrians and other Arab journalists and civilians by NATO thugs are not forgotten, even if the corporate media would have it otherwise. And whereas the corporate media shirks their obligation to report these murders, let alone to report honestly on the real agenda to oust President Assad and destroy Syria as per Iraq, Libya, independent journalists, activists, and concerned pro-resistance people must fill the gap