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As US Laments Human Rights in Venezuela, US-Allied Colombia Descends into Drug-fueled Humanitarian Crisis

By Whitney Webb | MintPress News | February 8, 2019

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – Several troubling situations are currently playing out across Colombia, yet the country’s continuing downward spiral into drug-fueled and politically-motivated violence has caused little concern in Washington, offering yet another clear indication that the U.S.’ current posturing on Venezuela is hardly motivated by concerns about “democracy,” “human rights,” or the welfare of the Venezuelan people.

This, of course, can hardly be considered surprising, given that Colombia is a top U.S. ally whose government has long been closely aligned with Washington’s interests. However, although the lack of U.S. government or media attention to Colombia may effectively hide it from the American public, the country is becoming increasingly lawless, with cocaine production reaching new record levels and the government sanctioning the mass murder of the country’s largest indigenous group. Not only that but since Colombia’s new president, Iván Duque, came to power late last year, the number of indigenous social leaders who have been murdered has spiked to the highest levels in over a decade.

Ultimately, the lack of media coverage of Colombia’s humanitarian crises, which have large implications for the Americas as a whole, is a telling example of how such crises are regularly weaponized by governments and media to exclusively target governments it wishes to pressure or overthrow, while turning a blind eye to those same or worse acts when committed by an allied nation.

An absurdly double standard

Though it was Barack Obama who first deemed Venezuela a “national security threat” and re-initiated draconian sanctions against the oil-rich nation, the Trump administration has greatly increased the sanctions targeting Venezuela, often citing its government’s alleged participation in illegal drug trafficking as justification for doing so. However, the U.S. has offered little in the way of concrete evidence to back up those allegations.

During this same period, moreover, the Trump administration has expressed little concern for the booming illicit drug trade in neighboring Colombia, which has broken records for cocaine production for the last two years in a row. Though the Colombian government and military have been repeatedly tied to the country’s drug trade, the Trump administration – like previous U.S. administrations – hasn’t lifted a finger.

According to UN figures released last September, Colombia’s cocaine production has again broken records, with the country producing an estimated 1,379 tons of cocaine in 2017, the latest year for which such statistics exist. That figure is a 31 percent increase in cocaine production from 2016. 2016 itself was a record-breaking year with cocaine production gaining by 50 percent over 2015 levels.

Though Trump had threatened to decertify former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government over the rapid growth of cocaine production, he ultimately gave Colombia a pass in the U.S.’ annual determination of countries considered to be “major drug transit or major drug producing” areas “because the Colombian National Police and Armed Forces are close law enforcement and security partners of the United States in the Western Hemisphere.”

The document also described Venezuela, along with its regional ally Bolivia, as “countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements” despite the fact that Bolivia had the fewest illegal coca crops of any South American country that year.

Since getting a free pass from the Trump administration, Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque, has signaled his hopes to revive a failed, U.S.-backed program to indiscriminately spray suspected coca fields with the infamous Monsanto product glyphosate to reduce cocaine production.

Though the U.S. government and Western media have traditionally placed the blame on leftist guerillas in Colombia, like the FARC, the 2016 peace deal that saw the FARC abandon the drug trade has removed this convenient scapegoat and highlighted the long-standing role of the Colombian military and prominent right-wing politicians in cocaine production.

In fact, the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) has described the Colombian military — which has been armed and trained for decades by the U.S. under the Clinton era policy known as “Plan Colombia” — as being among “the biggest heroin and cocaine trading institutions.”

The Colombian government has also been intimately involved, particularly during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe, who allegedly served as the “head of Colombia’s paramilitary groups” both before and while in office. Uribe was once ranked by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency “on a list of 104 important narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotics cartels.”

There are also indications of the U.S. government’s own involvement in the Colombian cocaine trade. For example, Colombia’s most notorious drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar, at one point worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, according to Escobar’s own children. Escobar allegedly sold cocaine for the CIA to help the U.S. government finance its fight against communism and left-wing governments in Latin America.

As pointed out in the book Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia, the U.S.’ anti-drug efforts in Colombia were never intended to eradicate cocaine, but instead alter the market share by ensuring that allies of the U.S. in Colombia – the Colombian government, paramilitaries and the wealthy elite who are favorable to U.S. business interests – could monopolize the drug trade with no competition from outsiders. Thus, it should hardly shock anyone that the U.S. continues to turn a blind eye to the country’s booming illegal drug trade and its associated violence, even as it continues to break records year after year.

Erasing the erasure of the Wayuú

As the long-standing, U.S.-backed plan to oust the Chavista regime in Venezuela has unfolded, Maduro’s government has been called out in Western media for “starving his own people,” despite the fact that U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela are a driving factor behind the country’s economic crisis. However, since 2011, Colombia has been the site of ongoing genocide against the country’s largest indigenous group – the Wayuú – in the country’s Guajira region, after the Colombian government diverted their only source of water to support the operations of the country’s – and continent’s – largest coal mine.

The suffering of the Wayuú, who have reported the deaths of at least 14,000 children due to the lack of clean water, has gone unreported by the same outlets that routinely raise concern about lack of essential goods in Venezuela. The Wayuú, who comprise around 20 percent of Colombia’s entire indigenous population and 48 percent of the Guajira region’s total inhabitants, are now on the brink of dying out completely seven years after the Ranchería river – their community’s only freshwater source – was diverted by the government-constructed Cercado dam in order to service the water needs of the Cerrejón coal mine.

An estimated 37,000 Wayuú now suffer from severe malnutrition, as they can no longer grow crops or raise livestock without a freshwater source. Each person in the community now lives off of less than 0.7 liters (24 oz.) of water a day while the Cerrejón mine guzzles more than 2.7 million liters of water in a 24-hour period – most of which is used to improve mine “visibility” by minimizing dust pollution. Despite the clear impact of the dam and mine on the humanitarian crisis facing the Wayuú, the Colombian government and supportive Western media have blamed “climate change” and weather patterns like El Niño for the situation.

The most likely reason for the erasure of the slow genocide of the Wayuú from Western media is the fact that the Cerrejón mine is a largely a U.S.-backed operation, as the mine was originally founded by ExxonMobil and is now owned by a consortium of largely Western mining companies such as Anglo American and BHP Billiton. These same mining companies often work with right-wing paramilitary groups — who are also closely connected to the Colombian government — and who repeatedly threaten the lives of Wayuú who speak up about their people’s suffering, including their chief legal advocate, Javier Rojas Uriana.

Notably, the Colombian Wayuú have been immigrating to the Wayuú community in Venezuela in order to avoid the slow death caused by malnutrition, lack of water, and waterborne illnesses from the polluted water from the community’s remaining wells. The Venezuelan Wayuú have been largely supportive of Chavismo and have backed the Maduro-led government, referring to U.S.-backed opposition protests as violent riots “intended to create chaos.” The Huffington Post noted in 2017 that the Wayuú’s support for Maduro had largely been erased by the Western media because it “does not match up with the media’s anti-Venezuelan government narrative.”

Liquidating social leaders, activists, human-rights advocates

While the fate of the Wayuú (and thus 20 percent of the country’s entire indigenous population) continues to hang in the balance, the plight of Colombia’s indigenous peoples has grown even worse since the recent inauguration of Colombian President Iván Duque.

Despite Duque’s having come to power just last August, El Tiempo recently reported that the murders of indigenous leaders in the country have spiked to levels unseen in over a decade since Duque became Colombia’s president. According to data cited by El Tiempo, 120 indigenous social leaders – as well as human-rights defenders — have been murdered in cold blood during Duque’s first 100 days in office.

Though the murder of social leaders by right-wing paramilitary groups has a standing problem in Colombia’s recent history, this level of targeted murder represents a spike over recent years — in which 226, 159, and 97 such murders occurred over the course of the entire years of 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. Notably, the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro has been routinely accused by Western media of murdering opposition activists; yet, those same outlets have been silent on Colombia’s recent spike in activist murders.

Despite the jump, Duque’s government has expressed little concern. This is hardly surprising when one considers that Duque is the hand-picked successor and protégé of Álvaro Uribe, the former Colombian president who was once “the head of Colombia’s paramilitary groups,” according to former paramilitary group commanders of the right-wing death squad AUC, which has been funded by several prominent U.S. corporations.

Uribe, who was Colombia’s president from 2002 to 2010, and was a close ally of George W. Bush, was also personally implicated in organizing a massacre conducted by a right-wing paramilitary group; and his cousin, Colombian politician Mario Uribe, was charged with mobilizing right-wing death squads in the country to help secure Uribe’s presidential victory in 2002. Uribe’s brother was also arrested for founding a right-wing paramilitary group in 2016.

Under Uribe’s presidency, the Colombian military massacred thousands of civilians — such as in the “false positives” scanda,l where the Colombian military dressed up an estimated 5,000 civilians in guerilla clothing and killed them in cold blood, subsequently gaining a bonus from Uribe’s government for the sinister act. It should be no surprise then that, under Uribe, the murder rate of indigenous leaders and human-rights activists reached its all-time high at 1,912 murders in 2003.

Given Duque’s close relationship to Uribe, it is also little surprise that paramilitary groups have endorsed Duque following his election and have vowed to “exterminate” Duque’s opposition, calling prominent Colombian progressives “military targets.”

What to expect if US gets its way in Venezuela

If Washington’s publicly stated concerns about “human rights” and the welfare of a country’s people in Venezuela were genuine, it would be equally critical of Colombia’s government, given the numerous troubling situations currently unfolding in that country. Instead, the dichotomy between Washington’s relationship with Venezuela and Colombia is yet another clear example that the public justifications for the U.S.’s Latin America policy are little more than window dressing for the U.S.-backed expansion of neo-fascist governments throughout Latin America.

Indeed, if Juan Guaidó – the self-declared, U.S.-backed “president” of Venezuela – manages to seize power in the country, the current state of affairs in Colombia is a telling harbinger of what would likely manifest should Nicolás Maduro be overthrown and replaced with the same type of government that the U.S. has either backed or installed in several Latin American countries over the last few decades, and particularly in recent years.

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and has contributed to several other independent, alternative outlets. Her work has appeared on sites such as Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire among others. She also makes guest appearances to discuss politics on radio and television. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 3 Comments

Canada, Israel and the “Rule of Law”

By David Kattenburg | CounterPunch | February 8, 2019

On the ropes for arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhau, as US-Canada extradition law required, now under fire, two of its own diplomats held by the vengeful Chinese, and a third Canadian facing execution on drug-smuggling charges, coveted trade relations in peril, Ottawa has been staking out high minded positions.

Few are higher minded — or richer — than that of Liberal MP John McKay, Chair of the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, speaking to CBC news about China and its Canadian captives: “It’s hard to make a trade deal with another country that doesn’t respect the rule of law,” McKay declared.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, has been trumpeting a similar line. The rule of law is not a “smorgasbord” to pick and choose from, Freeland said the other day, regarding the China imbroglio.

Really? Although Israel’s West Bank settlements are flagrantly illegal under the most canonical of twentieth century laws, the 4th Geneva Convention (Global Affairs Canada says so at its website) the Canadian government is pleased to do business with settlement businesses (i.e. invest) under the most favourable terms.

To be precise, Israel’s settlement enterprise violates Article 49(6) of the Convention. In Convention lingo, it constitutes a “grave breach.” Article 1 of the Convention obliges State Parties like Canada to hold miscreants accountable for grave breaches. The FGC has been incorporated into Canadian law, as the Geneva Convention Act. Under the Act, grave breaches are subject to prosecution and lengthy imprisonment in Canada. Of course, Canada cuts Israel lots of slack.

Then there’s Article 25 of the UN Charter, obliging member states to uphold and abide by Security Council Resolutions. Several dozen have declared settlements unlawful. UNSC 2334, passed unanimously in December 2016, called on State Parties to “differentiate” in their trade relations between Israel ‘proper’ and the settlements.

Canada does not. Not content simply to ignore calls from the supreme council it dearly wishes to join, the Trudeau government defends Israel’s right to label its settlement goods “Product of Israel” on Canadian store shelves (deep-sixing Canadian consumer protection laws), even though Canada’s formal position is that West Bank settlements are decidedly not part of Israel. In the Trudeau government’s view, Israel’s right to market unlawful, ‘Product of Israel’ settlement wines on Canadian store shelves trumps the right of Canadians to know, truthfully, where the food and drinks they consume come from – not to mention the right to live in a country that upholds international law.

(Full disclosure: I am Applicant in a law case on this issue before the Federal Court of Canada).

Israel appreciates Canada’s subtle endorsement of its de facto annexation strategy. But the annexation of territory acquired by force is strictly prohibited in modern public law. So is the economic exploitation that typically ensues. These prohibitions are “customary” in status. Everyone must abide by them. No exemptions. No excuses.

Tell this to Israel’s staunch friend Justin Trudeau. Quietly, without the fuss generated by Donald Trump’s flashy but symbolic Jerusalem decision, Canadian trade officials have been cleansing legal clauses from the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). A minute provision stipulating that trade will be carried out “in accordance with applicable rules of international law” has been extirpated from the new, improved deal heading for Third Reading and certain passage in the next few weeks.

Invited to reconsider, late last November, Liberal members of the Standing Committee on International Trade refused. An amending line to the new CIFTA Act put forward by committee member Tracey Ramsey (NDP) — “relations between the Government of Canada and the State of Israel as well the implementation of the provisions of the agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and international law” — was declared “inadmissible” by the committee’s Chair. The amendment would “create new obligations on the Government of Canada,” the Chair ruled.

Two days later, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhau on a US warrant, throwing Ottawa on the ropes simply for doing what the law required. Stung by China’s revengeful response, Canadian leaders now appeal to the rule of law. Their righteous calls would carry more weight if Canada played by the rule book with its own best friends.

David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based educator, journalist, activist and child of holocaust survivors. He has traveled to Israel and Palestine on a host of occasions, reporting for his Green Planet Monitor web magazine (www.greenplanetmonitor.net). Kattenburg is Applicant in a truthful wine labeling case to be heard by the Federal Court of Canada in late May 2019.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | Leave a comment

William Hague Attacks Corbyn on Venezuela, Exposes Barbarism of Regime Change Policy

By Nina Cross | 21st Century Wire | February 8, 2019

The rhetoric of the  establishment media and political class in their attempt to vilify the mildest dissent from Jeremy Corbyn is shocking, not because it is unexpected, but because it is now apparently normal to break international law and plot to overthrow a government.  In fact it’s the done thing if Corbyn just hints disapproval. An article written by William Hague, former British Foreign Secretary, attacking Corbyn for his non-intervention stance on Venezuela shows our foreign policymakers are out of control.

Corbyn said on Friday that he opposes “outside interference in Venezuela” and that Jeremy Hunt was wrong to call for more sanctions on the regime. He clearly does not agree with those governments now recognising Juan Guaido as the new and legitimate leader of the country. This is a hugely revealing moment, which tells us a great deal about the limits of any moral compass in Corbyn’s mind.

William Hague’s gunning for the overthrow of Maduro comes as no surprise, given his role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. In an interview in 2016 on his role in the destruction of Libya he offered advice for when the British Foreign Office next planned to overthrow a government:

A major issue for future interventions is that the leaders who were well-liked disappeared from the scene very quickly… Future interventions’ need longer transitions…

At the time of Hague’s comments, the consequences of the invasion of Libya by the UK, France and the US had had years to take root. They include the genocide of Blacks, slavery, a refugee crisis, and thousands of people drowning at sea in an attempt to flee the resulting conflict and they are still unfolding. Hague does not have regrets about Libya; he could only make ‘unpalatable choices.’ In fact, he says if he had to do it again, he would not avoid intervention. Perhaps if Hague lived in Libya and experienced  the results of his plotting he might have a different view. For now he is keen to do it all over again:

But even more telling is the justification he (Corbyn) uses for his position – hostility to “outside interference”. This is the language of authoritarian rulers the world over, the constant refrain of those who fear a compassionate and responsible world coming to the aid of people they have impoverished and oppressed.

In 2011 Hague helped lead an attack that not only destroyed Libya but destabilised the entire region around it. In 2016 he was still talking about overthrowing governments, and in 2019 he is comparing Corbyn to a dictator for rejecting regime change. This is not so surprising given that in his article Hague presents intervention as a noble cause, and this is also how he presented it when defending his role:

“The threat, the possibility, the stated intentions – of the Gadhafi government to kill large numbers of people – the Arab League thought it was going to happen…”

But, the massacre did not take place, and Hague’s ‘stand against tyranny’ to ‘prevent another Rwanda’ can be seen for what it was. What took place in Libya has been described as an insurrection planned months in advance.  Confirmation of this is found in emails released by Wikileaks in its Global Intelligence Files:

He (Abdelhakim Belhaj) and his men were being trained for the siege of Tripoli for months, however. This is a prime example of the secret side of the war that NATO, France, the UK, U.S. and Qatar were fighting.

Hilary Clinton’s emails also released by Wikileaks further question the motive for regime change in Libya following revelations that Gadhafi was intending to create a pan-African currency based on the Libyan gold Dinar.

This is not Hague’s only attempt to shape public opinion with selective facts and rhetoric. He also deceived the British public and Parliament about the events in Ukraine in 2014. He claimed falsely that the removal of the elected President Yanukovych was in accordance with the constitution of Ukraine. Hague’s statement was designed to mask the US intervention, which led to the overthrow of the Yanukovych government, presented to Western audiences as a colour revolution.

As well as joining in a needless aggression on Libya that led to a failed state, Hague was influential in easing the arms embargo in Syria so he could supply arms to the opposition. As it was recognised that the opposition included many Islamist extremists this ran the risk of  weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists. He supported crippling sanctions that added to the misery of the population while at the same time he enabled lifting of some sanctions so that the ‘opposition’ could sell Syria’s oil to the EU.  So Venezuela makes number four on Hague’s hit list of interventions that now spread across entire regions of the world: North Africa, the Middle East, Europe. The next stop: South America.

Hague is likely to approve of the weapons used against Venezuela to gather imperialist muscle. One such weapon is the Lima Group. Informal gatherings of concerned nations are useful in that they present a picture of neighbourly humanitarian concern while carrying out acts of aggression on their target. The purpose of the Lima Group has always been to bring down the Venezuelan government. Its very existence undermines the non-intervention clause of the Organisation of American States Charter which each member individually signed. The Friends of Syria, attended by Hague while Foreign Secretary, had a similar purpose. Like the Lima Group its members were also US allies and stakeholders in intervention. These ‘friendly’ groups were set up to isolate and force the governments into submission regardless of the consequences on the civilian population.

This is a list showing ways the Lima Group is trying to subordinate Venezuela but it may not be comprehensive:

travel sanctions against members of the Venezuelan government
economic sanctions
cutting diplomatic ties
enlisting the International Criminal Court and other Western institutions
freezing of assets
accusations such as sponsoring of terrorism
discrediting legitimacy of elected leaders
floating the idea of military intervention either as a genuine threat or as a form of intimidation
using humanitarian aid to gain access and influence
appealing to internal and sovereign institutions such as the military
supporting US-backed opposition

The Friends of Syria created the same list for the Syrian government and added the supply of arms to groups they knew included Islamist extremists.

Another mechanism used by Hague in the past is the creation of puppet governments,  especially useful when the US and EU arm non-state actors in violation of international law.  Western audiences are expected to believe interim governments spontaneously and conveniently pop-up when NATO decides to invade a country, and these new interim governments are sympathetic to NATO and the US for some reason.  Interim governments or councils in each country targeted for intervention have almost always included groups linked to extreme ideology. In Venezuela the self-proclaimed ‘interim President’ Juan Guaido is of the right-wing Popular Will party that has a history of violence and collusion with the US government, and Guaido’s own involvement has been uncovered.

Given that the US-backed opposition attempting to overthrow the elected Venezuelan government is so divided and violent, it is fitting that Hague, after years of supporting ‘rivalling moderate rebels’ sees them as just a…

‘… united and moderate opposition.’

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 4 Comments

The ‘Peacekeeper’ Vigilante Website and Freedom of Speech in Ukraine

By Halyna Mokrushyna | CounterPunch | February 8, 2019

The 2013-2014 pro-European Union protest movement in Ukraine known as the ‘Euromaidan’ is officially celebrated in Ukraine and is largely recognized in the West as a pro-democratic, peaceful, popular revolution against the ‘corrupt autocratic regime’ (according to the mainstream Western and Ukrainian media) of president Victor Yanukovych. Ukrainians should now breathe more freely, live better and enjoy the rule of law and freedom of speech. And yet today, under the supposedly democratic, post-Euromaidan government, there is much less freedom in Ukraine and much more political violence.

Examples abound. They include the official banning of Russian social networks, movies, books and other cultural products; persecutions and imprisonment of citizens holding dissenting opinion; searches of the offices of media outlets that dare to criticize the new Ukrainian power holders; attacks by ultra-right nationalists against journalists and media offices with the connivance of the state; cyber-bullying of journalists and bloggers who hold alternative opinions, carried out by so-called porokhoboty – bloggers and opinion leaders who propagate the ‘official’ truth with the informal support by the administration of President Petro Poroshenko; increasing state control of television channels through the oligarchic owners of these channels. And the list goes on and on. (For a detailed and well-researched analysis on freedom of speech and opinion in Ukraine, I refer the reader to the recent report presented to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe by the Ukrainian human rights platform Uspishna Varta in September 2018.)

One of the new forms of intimidation of journalists and citizens who do not agree with the ‘official’ version of what is happening is Ukraine is the public exposure of their personal data by anonymous denunciators using the snitch Ukrainian website with the telling name ‘Myrotvorets‘, which translates as ‘Peacekeeper’ from Ukrainian. The website lists the names of journalists, Ukrainian citizens and foreign citizens accused of holding anti-Ukrainian and ‘pro-Russian’ views, foreigners who joined the military forces of the non-recognized ‘peoples republics’ of Donetsk and Lugansk, names of Russian volunteers assisting the republics or fighting on their side, and people who have entered Crimea through the territory of Russia instead of Ukraine. The Myrotvorets vigilantes cast their net really large: even a reposting from a Facebook group supporting the Anti-Maidan resistance movement in Ukraine is grounds for accusation of “treason”. The listing of persons on the website includes his/her profile on social media, home address and phone number, and personal data of relatives.

The Myrotvorets website formally calls itself the ‘Center for Research of Signs of Crimes against the National Security of Ukraine, Peace, Humanity and International Law’. Its self-described role is to provide information to law enforcement authorities and security services about “pro-Russian terrorists, separatists, mercenaries, war criminals, and murderers”, as it is stated on the home page of this ‘research center’. The information is obtained through illegal means, such as hacking and phishing of computers or searching through open sources.

Myrotvorets is curated by the security and intelligence services of Ukraine. A group of ‘volunteers’ began collecting data on “terrorists and separatists” in the summer of 2014. This group was led by Georgy Tuka, a Ukrainian politician and ‘activist-patriot’. In December of 2014, Anton Herashchenko, a deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and an advisor to the Minister of Interior of Ukraine, officially announced the Myrotvorets project. He called upon “conscious citizens” to use the website to denounce “terrorists” of the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk republics and their sympathizers in Ukraine and abroad, helping thus the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Interior to identify ‘enemies’ of the state.

By April 13, 2015, the Myrotvorets database had grown to contain over 30,000 records, including the names, phone numbers and home addresses of the journalist and writer Oles Buzyna and the former deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Oleg Kalashnikov. Kalashnikov was an active participant in the Anti-Maidan protests in Kyiv in December 2013 – February 2014 and one of the organizers of the Victory Day celebration in Kyiv on May 9, 2015.

Oles Buzyna was a well-known historian, journalist, and writer. He saw Ukraine and Ukrainian culture as part of a common Russian civilization. He criticized the ultra-nationalist, violent groups of the Euromaidan protests and took an active Anti-Maidan position. He was a target of many public and hidden threats from the Ukrainian extreme right militants. Like Kalashnikov, he was shot dead close to his home, in broad daylight, on April 16, 2015. The criminal investigations into these two cases have been dragging on for three years now with no prospect of being solved.

On May 7, 2016, Myrotvorets published names, phone numbers, and addresses of over 4,000 Ukrainian and foreign journalists from leading Western media that were accredited in the Donetsk People’s Republic. It stated that journalists who were risking their lives covering both sides of the conflict “collaborated with terrorists”. Anton Heraschenko explained that Myrotvorets obtained these data by hacking the accreditation lists of the authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics in the last two years. Besides the journalists from international news agencies, such as BBC, AFP, CNN, Deutsche Welle and New York Times, these lists contained also the names of employees of NGOs.

The publication of that data provoked an international scandal. The Head of the European Union Delegation to Ukraine, Jan Tombinski, called upon the Ukrainian authorities to take the names of journalists out of the public domain because disclosure of personal data violates international norms and Ukrainian legislation. However, his appeal was ignored. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic expressed concern about published personal information of journalists on Myrotvorets and called it ‘a very alarming development’. In July of 2017, following continuing international pressure, the National Police of Ukraine opened a criminal investigation into Myrotvorets‘ activities. However, the website continues to operate, while courts, the SBU, the State Border Service and other departments continue to use the data against Ukrainian citizens.

The lawyers of the Ukrainian human rights platform Uspishna Varta have established that in the last four years, data from Myrotvorets has been used as evidence in 28 court cases in all stages – from pre-trial inquiries to adjudication of the culpability. Ukrainian courts rely on these non-verified data to grant access to a person’s confidential banking data, phone conversations and e-mails; to identify suspects; to arrest and detain people; to extend periods of detention; and to start in-absentia pre-trial investigations. Myrotvorets website data is used not only in criminal cases but also in civil offenses as well, such as revocation of parental rights or permission for a child to travel abroad without a father’s permission.

From the legal point of view, publishing personal data without a person’s consent violates personal security and the right for the protection of personal data. It also violates Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to a fair trial for all.

And yet in spite of appeal of many international organizations to shut down its illegal activities, Myrotvorets remains up and running. By failing to intervene, the Ukrainian state silently approves it. Moreover, it is impossible to sue anyone associated with the website because all of the denunciations on it are anonymous. Myrotvorets claims to be an NGO, however it is not registered as such. The domain and the host of the website are outside of Ukraine – one is located in the US and another is registered to the name of a citizen of Thailand. Hence, in strictly legalistic terms, Ukraine does not have juridical power over it. Nevertheless, Ukrainian authorities use its data for repression against its own citizens.

My name is on the Myrotvorets website, too. In April of 2015, I went on a media fact-finding tour to the war-affected city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine with the purpose of witnessing how the residents of Donetsk and the broader Donbass region are coping in the difficult circumstances of Ukraine’s armed attacks against them. The press tour was organized by the German-Russian NGO ‘Europa-Objektiv’. The personal data of journalists participating in the tour were published on the Myrotvorets website. Under my name, it is written that I consciously violated the state border of Ukraine and that I “manipulated socially important information”. The webpage contains a facsimile of the main page of my Canadian passport with all its personal data.

Stating that I illegally crossed the Ukrainian-Russian border is a lie. Our delegation traveled from Rostov, Russia to Donetsk by bus and, indeed, crossed the border on the Ukrainian side. The border was under the control of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). There is no law in Ukraine that qualifies such crossing as illegal. And the claim that I manipulated socially important information is ridiculous for a country that declares itself democratic and free. In a free, democratic country, no one should denounce and threaten another person for merely expressing a different point of view or presenting information that contradicts the ‘official’ or mainstream version of facts.

The publication of my Canadian passport data on the Internet is a violation of international norms on the protection of privacy. It is an attempt to intimidate journalists and to silence those who seek to understand both sides of the armed conflict in Ukraine and inform the international community about it. People behind the snitch website Myrotvorets published my personal data in the hope that the Security Service of Ukraine will use the information to harass or prosecute me. As a proof that data of Myrotvorets is used by Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), I have an official letter by the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine declaring that, following a request from the SBU, they put me under an official ban from entering the territory of Ukraine for three years.

I have sought to draw the attention of Canadian government authorities to this dirty practice of the state organs of Ukraine which Canada so proudly supports. For one year and a half, I have e-mailed and phoned my Member of Parliament requesting a meeting to discuss the matter, but without success. I also consulted a Canadian lawyer who said that, essentially, Canada has no duty but does have the right to take action against Ukraine on my behalf. However, given complex legal issues involved in the process, Canada would most likely rely on Ukraine to intervene. I also know that with the unconditional support to the current Kyiv regime by the Canadian political leadership, no Canadian politician will publicly condemn actions of the Ukrainian state organs. So I am left with no choice but to draw as much attention as I can to the unacceptable, illegal practices of the Myrotvorets website and the people behind it.

Western countries are reluctant to acknowledge that the Euromaidan, which they so eloquently supported, did not bring more freedom to Ukraine. On the contrary, it brought tighter control of the media by the state and its proxy oligarchs; political repression against people with dissenting views, including imprisonment, searches, and interrogations; and acts of aggression by ultra-right, vigilante groups against opponents of the current political regime in Kyiv while police stand by without intervening.

Ukraine is suffocating. To breathe, it needs freedom – journalistic freedom to report what is happening on the ground, personal freedom to speak up and not be afraid of repression by the state apparatus, public freedom to conduct open and honest discussions about the present crisis and the common future, inclusive of all citizens of Ukraine. I hope that this article will contribute to public awareness of the dire situation with the freedom of speech in Ukraine, although I am very skeptical that it will lead to any response from Canadian or Ukrainian authorities.

Halyna Mokrushyna, Ph.D., is an independent researcher and journalist. Her research interests include the challenges of the post-Soviet transition in Ukraine; social and economic inequality in the post-Soviet context; historical and cultural divisions within Ukraine; social memory and politics of memory; relations between Russia and Canada and the broader context of the post-cold war world and relations between the East and the West.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

The Unreported Realities of Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment

By Jeremy Salt | American Herald Tribune | February 8, 2019

Familiar with Muslim culture, the American journalist Marie Colvin always took off her shoes when entering a Muslim household. On February 20, 2012, she traveled from Beirut to the Syrian border, where she and photographer Paul Conroy were taken to the outskirts of Homs by minders from the Free Syrian Army. From there they were led into the Baba Amr district through a stormwater drain.

Guided into a ‘rebel’ media center Colvin took off her shoes. Two days later she and Conroy awoke to the sound of intense shelling. They were led outside with other foreign journalists and told when to run to safety across the street. According to media reports, Colvin was running back to retrieve her shoes after one explosion when there was a second, killing her and French photographer Remi Ochlik.

Beginning in May 2011, Homs had been infiltrated by armed groups. Towards the end of the year, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was able to tighten its hold on the Baba Amr district. No quarter was given to captured soldiers or civilians identified as supporting the government. In December 2011, FSA fighters stood 11 Syrians they accused of being shabiha (pro-government paramilitary fighters) against a wall and shot them dead.

The army intensified its operations but it was only after the killing of 10 soldiers at a government checkpoint on February 2, 2012, that it decided to do what was necessary to drive the ‘rebels’ out of Baba Amr. The bombardment of the district was scaled up. Colvin was killed on February 22 and 10 days later the FSA abandoned Baba Amr.

On January 31, 2019, a federal district court in Washington ruled that the Syrian government was responsible for Colvin’s death and should pay $302.5 million compensation to her family.

The plaintiffs were Marie Colvin’s sister Cathleen and a nephew and niece. The defendant, the summons served through the Czech embassy in Damascus, was the Syrian government; It did not respond and was not represented in court. The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, ruled that the plaintiffs’ brief was so comprehensive that an evidentiary hearing, in which a judge hears testimony and documentary evidence from both sides can be reviewed, was not necessary.

The plaintiffs’ evidence included a declaration by ‘Ulysses’, the pseudonym of someone claiming to be a defector from the Syrian government’s intelligence services; a statement by David Kaye, a former adviser to the US State Department and now a rapporteur with the UN; and an affidavit by Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria who in 2011 broke diplomatic protocol – and a Syrian government ban on diplomats leaving Damascus – by visiting the centres of street protests.  Accused of incitement by the Syrian government, he was withdrawn in October.

Ruling that the Syrian army had fired the artillery shell that had killed Colvin, Judge Jackson concluded that her death had been a ‘targeted murder.’  She did not mention that Colvin and Conroy had entered Syria illegally but she did note that the US government had designated Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism on December 29, 1979, following its support for the Iranian revolution. Given government and media hostility to Syria since that time, the outcome of the Colvin court action was never likely to be anything other than a finding for the plaintiffs.

Colvin was an experienced war correspondent. She had lost an eye while reporting the Sri Lankan civil conflict from the side of the Tamil Tigers. She had reported from East Timor, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, amongst other theatres of war, before going to Syria. As correspondents do, she had witnessed terrible things. The death of civilians, especially children, affected her deeply.

These accumulated experiences took a heavy personal toll. She began to drink heavily, she was having nightmares and she had been treated at a clinic for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) before heading off to Syria. Once in Homs, her employer, the London Sunday Times, ordered her to leave but she refused. The paper later came under criticism for letting her go in the first place, given the fragile state of her mental health.

These aspects of her life were depicted in the recently released biopic, A Private War, woven around an account of her life written for Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner (‘Marie Colvin’s Private War,’ August 2012).

On the day of Colvin’s death, she was described in an online article for Vanity Fair as having ‘died as a martyr …. a martyr for truth and the standards of civilization … she died because she wanted the world to know the full extent of the barbarism practiced by President Bashar al Assad’s forces against his own people.’ (Henry Porter and Annabel Davidson, ‘Remembering War Correspondent Marie Colvin: 1957-2012,’ Vanity Fair, February 22, 2012).

Truth, of course, is the first casualty of war. The Greek dramatist Aeschylus apparently first coined the phrase, which has been repeated many times by many people over the centuries. As for civilization, it has been used to justify every war of aggression launched in the Middle East by the US and European powers for the past 200 years.

In this region, the standards of civilization, as we imagine them to be, consisting of civilized behaviour, justice, fairness, respect for human life and respect for the law, have not been upheld but violated in brutal and inhumane fashion by the very governments that repeatedly invoke them as justification for the crimes they are committing.

No doubt Marie Colvin was reporting the truth as she saw it but how much could she see of anything in the space of two days, effectively trapped in a war-scarred building under heavy bombardment by the Syrian army?

In her final despatch for the Sunday Times, she talked to women in what she called the ‘widows’ basement’ and she watched (apparently on a video feed from a clinic, contrary to the impression she gave that she was actually there) a baby dying from a shrapnel wound. Asked on CNN why she thought showing the image of the dead baby was important Colvin replied: ‘That baby will move more people to think ‘What is going on and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day.’

Colvin said 300 women were in the basement, a figure which, from other reports, seems to have been wildly exaggerated. Who these women were was not clarified, but seeing that that Baba Amr was controlled by the FSA, many of the dead husbands were probably fighting men.

When Colvin said that 28,000 civilians were trapped in Baba Amr she had to be repeating what she had been told by her FSA minders. She had no way of knowing how many civilians remained trapped in Baba Amr and the figure seems to have been a gross overestimate, aimed no doubt at further dramatizing the plight of civilians trapped in what the media was misleadingly calling the ‘siege of Homs.’

Colvin and Conroy first entered Syria on February 13. They were taken to Baba Amr on February 15. The next day Colvin was able to visit a makeshift field hospital set up in an apartment building as well as civilians sheltering in a basement storage depot but on hearing rumors of an impending army offensive and a ‘possible gas attack’ (as claimed by Judge Berman, without any such credible claim having been made at the time) they fled in the evening. This was all Colvin was able to see for herself outside the ‘rebel’ media center during her two visits to Baba Amr.

Baba Amr constituted about 15 percent of the city and had a pre-war population of about 100,000. Most civilians in the district fled to the 80-85 percent of the city controlled by the government once the armed groups launched their assault on Baba Amr.

Colvin said Homs was being bombed by ‘a murderous dictator.’ Talking to CNN from Baba Amr she said ‘there are no military targets here. There is the FSA, heavily outnumbered and outgunned – they have only Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. But they don’t have a base. There are more young men being killed, we see a lot of teenage young men but they are going out just to try to get the wounded to some kind of medical treatment. It’s a complete and utter lie that they’re only going after terrorists.’

What Colvin actually saw was true. A baby did die and the women in the basement were suffering but by 2012 Syria was a land of suffering women and dead babies, killed not by the ‘murderous dictator’ but by ‘rebels’ supported with money and arms by outside governments.

It was not true, however, there were no military targets in Baba Amr. Colvin’s definition of a valid target seems to have been an actual military base. There was not one, of course, but the armed groups who had infiltrated Baba Amr and killed many Syrian soldiers and civilians in the process were no less an equally valid military target.

The FSA was certainly outgunned, as any insurgent force must be when challenging a regular army, but already early in 2012, outside governments were stepping up supplies to reduce the gap.

In March 2013, the New York Times reported that several governments, with help from the CIA, had begun airlifting weapons to the ‘rebels’ in early January 2012.  Over a year more than 160 cargo flights had taken an estimated 3500 tons of weapons to Ankara airport and other airports in Turkey and Jordan for delivery to ‘rebels’ across the border. As the ‘rebel’ group of choice, the bulk of these weapons would have gone to the FSA, even if they eventually ended up in other hands.

Colvin’s reference to young men running into the streets to rescue the wounded and not fight is not something she could have known. In fact, young men were the backbone of all armed groups as they were of the Syrian army.

The Syrian army was not shelling ‘Homs’ but only part of a city which had been taken over by armed groups. The government in Damascus – Syria’s legitimate government and the representative of the country’s interests at the UN – had the constitutional responsibility of driving them out.

The civilians trapped in Baba Amr were certainly at risk but what Colvin was seeing – or reporting rather than actually seeing for herself – was only a small corner of a very large picture of human suffering. The general civilian death toll was beginning to rise sharply in 2012 as the armed groups – including the group sheltering Colvin and Conroy – launched attacks across the country.

Many of these attacks were completely indiscriminate, as for example when mortars were fired into the middle of Damascus or a rigged car was exploded outside a government ministry.

As civilians are always going to die in war, the critical question is one of responsibility.  Whatever the failings of the Syrian government, it was support by outside governments for these armed groups that brought Syria to its knees and not the attempts by the Syrian government to prevent the country from being bled to death.

The publicity given to the death of Marie Colvin has now been revived by the publicity given to the film of her life and to the court ruling against the Syrian government. The film returns Colvin and the ‘murderous dictator’ to a news cycle which had largely lost interest in Syria since the defeat of the armed groups it had been supporting as ‘rebels’ until Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops.

At the same time, the publicity is an opportunity to examine Colvin’s role in the context of a media which uniformly misreported the war in Syria as it had only recently misreported the war in Libya and before that the invasion of Iraq in 2004. The canons of responsible journalism were all junked. There was no balance, no reporting of the Syrian government’s version of events except for nominal references to its denial of atrocities in such a way that the reader was invited to disbelieve them.

The narrative was entirely built around the claims of ‘rebels’ and activists and sources far from the scene, such as the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Whatever they cared to say, no matter how wild and improbable, would be reported without any attempt being made by the media to uncover the truth.

Anything that would damage the Syrian government was regarded as fit to print, anything that would support its claims would be suppressed, or as far as possible turned against the government. Knowing this, the activists developed an industry based on lies and deceit to serve the corporate media’s needs.

This is the media environment in which Marie Colvin operated. Perhaps she had private doubts, but from what she said in her few reports from Syria she had swallowed whole the mainstream media narrative of rebels standing against a brutal dictator who was killing his own people.

All critical elements were missing from the news cycle. In March 2011, during ‘peaceful’ protests in Dara’a, the media headlined the alleged arrest and beating of children for scrawling graffiti on walls, while ignoring the evidence of arms stockpiled in a mosque and the slaughter of soldiers and police by bands of armed men.

Gunmen shooting into crowds from rooftops were part of what was clearly a well-planned revolt. While the media insinuated that they were Syrian state agents, the far greater likelihood is that they were agents-provocateurs but nowhere in the media mainstream was there any follow-up. Only the accusation, not the proof, was important, an approach which was to characterize the media narrative.

Similarly, on June 2011, the massacre of about 120 Syrian soldiers and civilians in the northern town of Jisr al Shughur was presented as a civilian response to government oppression and torture rather than what it was, a carefully planned attack on government offices by well-armed takfiri groups. Video clips – never shown in the media mainstream – showed bodies being taken in a pickup truck to a high bridge over the Assi (Orontes) river and being pitched into the water over the railing to cries of ‘Allahu akbar.’ Later, mass graves were also uncovered.

Colvin’s role must begin with who brought her into Syria. She was not the only ‘western’ journalist funneled into Baba Amr from the Lebanese border. A pipeline had been set up, with the online activist network Avaaz liaising with FSA ‘rebels’ to smuggle western journalists into the city.

Avaaz had also been supplying the ‘rebels’ with medical supplies, satellite modems and cell phones with cameras. With the help of an ‘activist’ called Wael Fayez al Omar (a source for the plaintiffs in the court case against the Syrian government), it organized the transport of Colvin and her photographer, Paul Conroy, to the Syrian border. The FSA then took over and moved them to Baba Amr, first on February 13 and again when they decided to return on February 20.

Formally established in July 2011, the FSA quickly won the support of Turkey, which provided it with a camp from which it was soon organizing attacks across the Syrian border. Turkey also backed the FSA’s political arm, the Syrian National Council, an exile body which had no known support inside Syria, providing it with money and offices in Istanbul. The FSA itself was never a proper army but rather a brand name for a ‘rebel’ collective involving numerous armed groups who responded to their own leaders, rather than the injunctions of the FSA leadership in Turkey.

The early actions for which the FSA claimed responsibility included the explosion inside the Syrian national security headquarters in July 2011, which killed several senior military and government personnel, including the defense minister and two of his deputies.

By this time the FSA was already launching attacks in many parts of Syria. Insofar as Homs was concerned, ‘rebel’ groups, including the FSA, penetrated the city in May, 2011, and succeeded in taking control of the Baba Amr district by the end of the year after overrunning military checkpoints.

By 2012 the FSA was operating at peak strength across Syria. It was killing soldiers, police and civilians and sabotaging oil pipelines and other infrastructure. In May, several months after the FSA had been driven from Homs, the Houla district, about 30 kms northwest of Homs and largely under the control of the FSA, was the site of the massacre of 108 men, women and children.

While the Syrian government was automatically blamed by ‘western’ governments and the corporate media, accounts pieced together later by journalists on the scene indicated that villages in the Houla region had been attacked by a joint force of about 700 takfiris, including a contingent of about 250 FSA fighters.

Their targets were Sunni Muslims who supported the government or, reportedly, had converted to Shia Islam. The victims’ houses were hit by rocket-propelled grenades but most of the killing seems to have been done with small arms and knives.

In November, 2012, a mass grave of soldiers and civilians killed by FSA fighters was found at Ras al Ayn, just over the Turkish border. In August, 2013, an attack was launched on Alawi villages in Latakia province by the FSA, Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar al Sham, the Islamic State and other takfiri groups. The FSA commander Salim Idris said the FSA had participated in the assault ‘to a great extent.’

Hundreds of those who took part in the assault were foreigners. This was a sectarian assault aimed at cleaning the landscape of the despised Alawis. Up to 190 men, women and children were killed and hundreds more women and children kidnapped. There are unconfirmed reports that some of the children were taken to Damascus to be used as props in the chemical weapons attack of August 21, 2013, blamed on the Syrian government but carried out by ‘rebels’ working in conjunction with foreign governments, with the aim of pushing Barack Obama across his self-declared chemical weapons ‘red line’ so that he would order an air attack on Syria.

On other occasions, the officially-sanctioned FSA ‘rebels’ cooperated with the officially-designated ‘terrorists’ in attacks on government positions. In October, 2014, the FSA joined forces with the Islamic State, and Jabhat al Nusra in an attack on Idlib city in which 70 Syrian army soldiers, including senior officers, were beheaded.

Many other FSA atrocities can be added to these episodes. Most of them had not happened when Marie Colvin was in Homs but FSA brutality had clearly been demonstrated in the year before she arrived.

The minders who moved Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy to Homs from the Lebanese border were not just FSA but armed members of one of its most brutal units, the Faruq Brigade. It had captured Baba Amr and held it in a ruthless grip.

The takfiri element was already strong in the ranks of the Faruq Brigade and only strengthened after its ejection from Homs. Interviewed by the French journalist Mani in September, 2012, members of the brigade spoke of relatives in Homs who they alleged were being butchered by Alawis and Shia. They were determined to take their revenge. As one of them remarked, ‘It’s not about the army any more or toppling the regime. It’s a sectarian conflict now.’

Clearly unknown to Colvin and Conroy, the brigade was taking its captives to a burial ground at night and cutting their throats. According to one of its members interviewed by a Der Spiegel reporter in March, 2012, nearly 150 men had been executed in this fashion since the previous summer. This period covered the two occasions Colvin was in Baba Amr.

One of the Faruq Brigade commanders in Baba Amr was Khalid al Hamad, nom de guerre Abu Saqqar. After fleeing Baba Amr, Abu Saqqar set up his own fighting force, the Omar al Faruq Brigade.

Variously described as a street vendor from Homs and a bedu with ‘a wild stare’ (Paul Wood of the BBC), Abu Saqqar was shown in a video released in May, 2013, but apparently filmed in March, calling on ‘the heroes of Baba Amr’ to slaughter the Alawis, remove their hearts and eat them.

He himself proceeded to cut open the body of a dead Syrian soldier, who he claimed had a mobile phone in his pocket showing the soldier raping a woman and her daughters.  Abu Saqqar removed various organs before lifting the heart to his mouth and appearing to bite off a piece. Later joining Jabhat al Nusra, he was ambushed and killed in 2016 by members of a rival Takfiri group, reportedly Ahrar al Sham.

In conclusion, did Marie Colvin die as a ‘martyr to truth’ or did she die not just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time but because she was keeping the wrong company? She was a well-known journalist for a leading British newspaper and therefore a prize catch for the ‘rebels.’ They were only going to tell her what they wanted her to believe, and feed into the corporate media news cycle. Trapped in a bombed-out building, she would not have the opportunity to investigate the truth for herself, especially in the two days she had before she was killed.

Colvin called for intervention to save the trapped civilians of Baba Amr. ‘Why is no-one stopping the murder in Homs?’, she asked. In fact, the US and its allies had already been laying the groundwork for military intervention.

An Arab League resolution tabled at the UN Security Council on February 4 called on the Syrian army to withdraw from the towns and cities it was defending from attack by armed groups. Russia and China supported the Syrian view that the resolution constituted a gross infringement of Syria’s sovereignty and vetoed it. Had the resolution been passed, non-fulfilment of the conditions laid down could have opened the way to military intervention, probably an air campaign far more devastating than the seven-month assault that destroyed Libya.

Thwarted at the UN, the US and its allies then formed a collective calling itself the ‘Friends of the Syrian People.’ Their intervention in the form of support for armed groups led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and almost destroyed Syria.

The point of this article is not to denigrate Marie Colvin. She has been described as foolhardy because of the risks she took but she was a person of great courage. She was deeply affected by the death of civilians, especially children. Her insistence that the media show the images of the baby killed by shrapnel was justified but it was not just the alleged victims of the ‘murderous dictator’ her readers and television viewers needed to see but the victims of the armed groups.

They were being slaughtered across the country, soldiers who were fighting for their country (not the ‘regime’) and civilians who supported their government, but as any telling of their fate or the suffering of their families would have disrupted a narrative based on the crimes of the dictator and his ‘regime’ and perhaps prompted people to ask ‘what is going on? Why is no-one stopping this murder?’, as Colvin had asked in Baba Amr, their voices had to be suppressed.

The Syrian government accused Colvin of working with terrorists. Its own definition of the word would include not just the armed men but the ‘activists’ and ‘media centers’ that were their propaganda extensions. It was with these people that Marie Colvin was sheltering when she was killed.

There has never been any evidence that any of the armed groups commanded anything more than minuscule support in Syria, including genuine support from civilians who lived in fear under their rule. When the takfiris were driven out of Homs and Aleppo and the two cities were whole again, their citizens celebrated in the streets, not that corporate media consumers were likely to have seen such scenes.

Support for Bashar al Assad was strong at the start of the war and would be stronger now. Every election held in the past few years – held fairly and under the watch of outside observers – proves the point.

The renewed attention to Marie Colvin’s death is an occasion to cast an eye over the state of the corporate media. When Seymour Hersh cannot get published in his own country it is clear that journalism, as we knew it until it was fully corporatized, is in a parlous state. Far from defending the right of the citizen to know, the media has been complicit in enabling governments to deceive. Syria is only the latest in a chain of misreported wars, with the assault on Venezuela shaping up as the next one.

The corporate media had already made up its mind about Syria in 2011. Marie Colvin did not have the time to develop her own narrative about Baba Amr and what was happening in Syria generally but no-one ever gets everything right. Her role model, Martha Gellhorn, was good on Spain and Vietnam but terrible on the Middle East. In her article ‘The Arabs of Palestine’ (The Atlantic, October 1961) she extolled Israel and its kibbutzim, racist institutions by any measure, and put the Palestinians down in a manner that was itself bordering on racist.

In a better state of mental health and with more time to get behind the propaganda passed off as news about Syria, Marie Colvin might have seen through the deceits and exposed them. The bleak reality, however, is that she spent her last assignment under the protection of a violent armed group which despised the personal freedom and the values she was sure to have cherished.

*(Image courtesy of Channel 4 News/YouTube)  

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 4 Comments

Hopes Fade for EU to Rescue Iran Via Banking Scheme to Bypass Sanctions – but Was It Ever a Serious Plan?

By Martin JAY | Strategic Culture Foundation | 08.02.2019

At the end of September, the European Union unveiled plans to help Iran bypass sanctions imposed by the US, so that it could sell oil and even trade with EU countries. The move followed Trump finally losing his patience over the so-called Iran Deal – a treaty drafted by Barak Obama which effectively prevented Iran from developing nuclear weapons in return for opening up Iran’s economy to the West and unblocking funds held outside of the country – which he dismisses as a bad deal for American interests in the region.

In reality, Trump’s real problem with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), is the same one which vexed America’s two strongest allies in the Middle East, which is that it did nothing to curtail Iran’s real strength against any external threat: its ballistic missiles program.

And so, to appease these two partners, who felt betrayed by Obama, sanctions were imposed against Iran – along with secondary sanctions, imposed via other countries (although this has not been as successful as Trump would have hoped) – and a new ‘war’ against Iran began, aimed at largely toppling its moderate government, while Saudi Arabia gains time to move ahead with its own ballistic missile program.

A key part of spurring a downfall of the present regime in Tehran, was both secondary sanctions wielded against Turkey, China and India, threatening them against buying Iran’s cheap oil, along with forcing the EU to stop trading altogether with Tehran. At one point, Trump’s plan looked like it was working with Europe as all the main investors inside Iran packed their bags and promptly left Iran within weeks of his sanctions plan being announced.

But there was great optimism about Iran finding a clever go-around and still sell its oil to EU governments as well as foster trade with European companies who were not afraid of the threats from the US via its banking system to shut companies off from the US market.

The European Union’s own foreign policy damsel, Federica Mogherini, who stole a lot of the credit for the Iran Deal being signed in the first place (when in reality the Iranians humored her with this idea all along) had a plan. She soon announced that a new banking system to be called INSTEX would be created specifically to allow EU governments and companies to trade with Iran. Although on paper it seemed pretty simple, there were warnings from experts that it might be a difficult task to pull off, given the complexities of international banking, not to mention international laws; moreover, the EU has no real track record of pulling off anything so bold as this before as the so-called ‘foreign policy’ initiatives it has are largely grand ideas on paper – fantasies of what it might be one day rather than the present day European External Action Service which employs over a 100 ‘ambassadors’ who largely live in Djin palaces and keep the dream alive around the world in exotic locations whose governments are happy to give Brussels the cash-for-hegemony deal anytime.

Sadly, it seems that Mogherini’s plan for the banking scheme which was to send a clear signal to Trump as well as keep the Iran Deal alive, is folly and delusional – given that, for Mogherini and her colleagues, the Iran Deal is seen as their great success to exercise EU foreign policy into concrete terms and to create the first ever international treaty drafted by Brussels. It is more or less sacrosanct and considered to be a treaty which now can be used to exert EU hegemony against Trump’s new world order which they consider geopolitical heresy.

Yet the Iran Deal has so much fake news and false prophesies – like Trump’s claims that the Iranians got 150 billion dollars from it, when in reality they only got just over 30 and it was their money in the first place – and the EU’s idea seems just that. Just more fake news.

For the first time, there are growing doubts about both whether it can be pulled off and whether it was a genuine offer in the first place as Brussels appears to be at odds with the giants of the EU, who are cranking up the sanctions to new levels.

Just recently, France’s foreign minister warned Tehran of new sanctions if Tehran would not agree to curbs its ballistic missiles program, regardless of the fact that ballistics were never part of the Iran Deal. France, a founding member of the European Union itself and a country with real clout in Brussels seems to be at odds with the EU’s plans, to say the least. Or was the Brussels plan the real deal in the first place?

Concurrent to this, are also the first real signals from Tehran that it doubts the EU’s sincerity in the draft banking plan. Politicians there, feeling the heat from sanctions and living with daily rumours of a possibility of a military coup engineered by the charismatic, anti-US military figure Qasem Soleimani, are starting to cry foul.

In reality, we shouldn’t get too excited about the scheme, as Tehran clearly isn’t holding out too much hope. In addition to there being many doubts about whether European firms will sign up to it, even if it gets off the ground it will only appeal to smaller companies that are flying under the US radar anyway. Additionally, earlier hopes that it could be used to sell Iran’s oil to Europe, have been dashed.

The EU is living in dangerous times. With its own elections this May expected to give record wins to nationalist, populist parties – in particular in France – it is facing its worst ever credibility crisis, which explains the fear mongering led by President Macron with his latest Brexit speech. But if Brussels can’t deliver on Iran’s rescue package, then it won’t matter if far right parties dominate the European parliament, signaling the demise once and for all, of the EU as we know it. Brussels will never be taken seriously again around the world where it practices its fake hegemony as no one will forget the farce of the EU and the Iran Deal. INSTEX may well be the sword that the EU falls on, certainly on the world’s stage, when the hype dies down and it is dispatched to the press room floor as folly for a wannabee superpower.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia Insists US Forces Withdraw from Tanf Area in Syria: Ministry

Al-Manar | February 8, 2019

The Russian Foreign Ministry insists that US forces withdraw from the 55-km security zone surrounding its Tanf military base, which includes the Rukban refugee camp, the ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

On February 6, the second humanitarian convoy was sent to the camp by the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, with the Russian side’s assistance. The first aid convoy was unable to reach its destination, as it was stopped by US-controlled militant groups.

Commenting on the developments, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow’s position on the camp and the delivery of humanitarian cargo there remains unchanged.

“We need to eliminate the root cause – the unlawful US military presence on the Syrian land within the 55-km security perimeter which includes the camp,” the ministry said.

According to Russian diplomats, the camp, which is currently home to over 40,000 people, will receive over 1,000 tons of humanitarian cargo, including food, clothes, medicines and other essential goods. Besides, it is planned to vaccinate about 10,000 children against tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis and other diseases.

“Once the effort is complete, we expect [to receive] from UN officials a detailed report on measures taken and information containing practical proposals on closing the camp and evacuating its residents,” the ministry added.

According to the statement, Rukban is not the only refugee camp whose residents found themselves in a dire humanitarian situation. The Russian Foreign Ministry requests relevant organizations and the international community to examine the situation in Al-Hawl, a camp for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of an eponymous city in Syria’s al-Hasakah governorate where over 30 children died since the start of the year.

“According to information that we are receiving, including from the UN, it [the camp] houses about 33,000 people. The vast majority of them – or about 23,000 people – arrived in December 2018 from the Deir Ezzor governorate, fleeing the military operation conducted by the US and its allies against the ISIL terrorist group [outlawed in Russia] in the city of Hajin, which entailed numerous casualties among the civilian population,” the ministry said.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | 1 Comment

How Integrity Initiative’s ‘Counterfeit Expert’ Perpetuated Novichok Narrative

By Kit Klarenberg | Sputnik | 07.02.2019

In the days following the apparent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4 March 2018, speculation abounded. What substance had rendered the double agent and his daughter comatose? How? Who was responsible? Why?

By 7 March, it’d been established the pair were struck by a nerve agent, confirmation merely triggering yet further frenzied theorizing — much of it unscientific — on what precise variety had struck the pair. Could it have been VX for instance, first synthesized in the 1950s at Porton Down, the UK’s secretive and controversial chemical and biological weapons testing centre situated a mere eight kilometres from Salisbury?

A day later, security consultant Dan Kaszeta offered an alternative explanation — writing for controversial website Bellingcat, he suggested the agent may have been ‘novichok’.

“The Soviet Union developed a new series of nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s. The exact nature of these so-called novichok agents is still debated and the information on them varies a bit depending on what source you are looking at… some Novichok agents of interest include A230 and A232,” Kaszeta said.

It was seemingly the first time anyone anywhere had connected the substance with the Salisbury incident — but it would soon become a crucial feature in the UK government’s official narrative, helping lay blame for the attack squarely on the Russian state, before a motive had been established, any perpetrators identified, or other basic facts ascertained.

Own Initiative?

Due to Kaszeta’s amazingly fortuitous insight, he would become a central figure in media reporting on the Skripals, a go-to ‘independent chemical weapons expert’ quoted in a great many articles and reports.

At no point however did Kaszeta disclose his intimate relationship with the Integrity Initiative, a shadowy military intelligence outfit funded by the British state and NATO — and moreover, an organization that specifically sought to systematically shape media reporting on, and Whitehall’s response to, the Salisbury incident from day one.

Dan Kaszeta’s Integrity Initiative Biography

In fact, were it not for hacking syndicate Anonymous, his role within the organization’s ‘Specialist Team’ would be entirely unknown, the only documentation linking him to the organization in any way a series of articles he wrote on novichok for the Initiative’s official website over the course of 2018 — which have since been removed from the web, along with all other site content.

Among them was a puff piece ardently defending Porton Down, stating the UK urgently needed the facility “to do valuable work to protect not just the nation’s armed forces but also to protect all of us who live here”, and dismissing as ludicrous the notion any poison could somehow be smuggled out of the “secure compound”.

Given US Fort Derrick is also highly secure, and anthrax was apparently smuggled out of the grounds successfully in 2001, leading to a notorious wave of anthrax attacks in the week after 9/11, this argument is surely dubious. What’s more, Kaszeta would surely have been aware of this, given he claims to have been “heavily involved in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the 2001 Anthrax incidents” — in what capacity though, he doesn’t clarify. Moreover, what published literature exists on novichok (or A-234) indicates the substance can be produced at bench scale by any laboratory.In addition to offering technical information on novichok to journalists — including then-Times Defence Editor Deborah Haynes, part of the Initiative’s UK Cluster — Kaszeta sought to rebut alternative explanations for the attack, and answer key questions such as why the Skripals didn’t die on the spot, and how novichok could poison two further people four months after the incident, writing a dedicated article on the former for politics.co.uk on 6 April. Conspicuously, much of this analysis relied on conjecture rather than science — for instance, when asked by NPR on 12 March 2018 why anyone would use “such an unusual agent”, Kaszeta responded “it was possible, given the historic secrecy around the programme, the culprit may have thought it would go undetected”.

“Maybe somebody somewhere felt they could get away with it,” he says. Then again, he says, it could have just as well been used to send a clear message to would-be spies and defectors. “It’s much more than waking up with a horse head in your bed,” he postulated.

He also frequently tweeted on the subject, the postings apparently becoming newsworthy in themselves — it’s difficult to quantify the exact number of articles featuring his Twitter output, although a 5 July 2018 Yahoo article — Weapons expert busts conspiracy theories about the Wiltshire Novichok attack — is certainly representative in terms of tone and content.

Integrity Initiative Monitors Social Media Activity Related to Salisbury Incident

Every step of the way, Kaszeta’s activities were closely tracked by the Initiative, with ‘expert team’ member Chris Hernon (ex-BBC) noting them in regular roundups. Elsewhere, in an internal email titled ‘FCO Disinformation Update’, FCO Head of Counter Disinformation Andy Pryce hailed his “strong rebuttal of conspiracy theories”.

‘Deep in the Pentagon’

Quite where, and indeed when, Kaszeta gleaned his specialist knowledge of novichok is unclear — particularly as he’s repeatedly (and wrongly) claimed the operation that produced the nerve agent was extremely secretive, and little is known about the substance outside the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, he doesn’t appear to have written a single word about novichok prior to his 8 March 2018 Bellingcat article — and his oft-touted chemical weapons and/or warfare prowess doesn’t appear justified by his professional or academic history either. Kaszeta’s work experience in that regard seems strictly limited to crisis response planning, and he holds a BA in political science and an MA in international affairs — but his LinkedIn profile nonetheless makes for fascinating reading.

His first listed role, from August — December 1990, was ‘policy intern’ at the Office of the Secretary of Defence, which he describes as “hard work at a desk deep in the D ring of the Pentagon during the final days of the Cold War” — and between 1994 — 1996 he engaged in “hard thankless toil in the depths of the beltway bandit universe, relieved only by boondoggles to the [Pentagon think tank] RAND Corporation” at Defence Group Inc. Thereafter, he worked in a number of positions within the US military-industrial complex, including the White House Military Office and Secret Service, before entering the private sector.

Dan Kaszeta’s LinkedIn Profile

In 2011, Kaszeta founded Strongpoint Security, which “provides consultancy and advice across a wide variety of defence and security disciplines, with a focus on unconventional threats, CBRN defence, crisis management, and physical security assessment”. The company’s website is rudimentary in the extreme, with many sections appearing to have not been updated for many years — for instance, references are made to Kaszeta’s “new” and “recently published” book, CBRN and Hazmat Incidents at Major Public Events, which was released in November 2012. He claims the work is “the first serious attempt to address the diverse and challenging issues of safeguarding the major event environment against the full spectrum of CBRN and Hazmat incidents and accidents”.

Self-aggrandizement is a recurring theme on the site, with Kaszeta boasting that his “degree and depth of expertise is relatively unique [sic] in Europe” — but while he’s bragged about the size of his “expert daily rate”, Companies House records indicate the firm has very little in the way of capital, cash reserves or assets, with annual post-tax profits typically in the low thousands, falling to just US$448 (£394) in the 2016/2017 tax year.

Strongpoint’s yearly takings certainly don’t appear to have ever reached levels by which Kaszeta could support himself, and references to the company online are sparse — any firms that have ever employed his services have certainly not advertised the fact in any way, and neither Strongpoint’s outdated website nor barely active Twitter account offer any sign of the company or its founder actually working, the latter consisting almost exclusively of retweets, often of Integrity Initiative posts.Strongpoint’s lack of assets is even more puzzling given it operates out of Kaszeta’s flat in Pimlico, one of Central London’s most expensive areas, where housing costs an average of US$1.9 million (£1.4 million) in 2019, 135 percent above the city average.

It’s unclear whether Britain’s spying agencies MI5 and MI6, both situated a few minutes’ walk from Strongpoint, have played any role in boosting property prices there — the organizations maintain a large portfolio of lodgings in the district, including 36 Alderney Street (located half a mile from Kaszeta’s home-cum-office), where GCHQ secondee to MI6 Gareth Williams died in extremely mysterious circumstances in August 2010.

Proximity of Strongpoint Security to MI6 HQ

Nonetheless, Kaszeta owns the residence, so obvious questions must be asked — namely, how is he actually making his living, and is Strongpoint merely a legitimizing professional ‘front’ for other activities, lending superficial credence to his status as ‘independent’ specialist?

‘Counterfeit Expert’

Kaszeta’s rise to media prominence is also somewhat curious. Prior to 2013, he was entirely unheard of in the mainstream — that would change when he began writing articles for Elliot Higgins’ ‘Brown Moses’ blog (the forerunner of Bellingcat ) on 20 August that year, a day prior to the notorious chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria. With Western leaders claiming Syrian government forces were behind the strike, but unable to provide supporting evidence, Kaszeta eagerly filled the void, being a frequent fixture of media reporting on the incident for months afterward.

Among a variety of allegations, his core contention was hexamine had been found by UN inspectors investigating local soil samples and metal fragments, a discovery apparently amounting to “smoking gun” evidence proving Syrian government forces were behind the contested strike, as — he alleged — the fuel can be used in the production of sarin gas, the chemical weapon purportedly used in the Ghouta attack. While Kaszeta has never cited a single scientific paper supporting this thesis, journalists invariably presented his analysis without critique.

He was nonetheless questioned on his various assertions and credentials via email by Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, correspondence the academic later published in a wider July 2014 review.

Over the course of their discussion, Postol writes that Kaszeta made “numerous false science-based claims” which he’d “not researched before [he] made the statements”, referenced quotes “not made by the individuals [he] cited” and claimed scientific expertise he “amply demonstrated” he didn’t have.

Dan Kaszeta Defends Integrity Initiative Employment

Concluding Kaszeta to be a “counterfeit expert”, the professor notes the self-avowed CBRN aficionado’s aforementioned book contains “no technical or scientific information” that couldn’t be obtained by a “superficial” internet search, and suggests Kaszeta’s prominence in news reports on Ghouta stemmed from a “complete failure” by the media “to exercise the most rudimentary levels of editorial due diligence” and challenge his “ill-informed and inflammatory use of false technical facts”.

Moreover, this bogus “empowerment” of Kaszeta, Postol writes, resulted in “controversy [with] no basis in sound science”, which could’ve played a role in justifying US military involvement in Syria.

Despite this extremely damning indictment of his probity and professional competency, mainstream journalists and news outlets were evidently indifferent, as Kaszeta’s media profile would grow exponentially in the years afterward, leading to his central role in perpetuating the novichok narrative.

Notably, not once in this period has Kaszeta ever provided ‘expertise’ even vaguely inconvenient for Western governments — in fact, he has unfailingly supported and perhaps even legitimized their aggressive policies, in the manner his Ghouta analysis potentially offered a pretext for US action in Syria.

Urban Planning

One of the most renowned journalists to promote Kaszeta’s views on novichok was BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban, who championed his politics.co.uk article as a “common sense answer” to the question of why the Skripals weren’t killed by the poison they seemingly came into contact with, written by a “real expert”.

Mark Urban Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Expertise’ on Twitter

Urban’s advocacy of Kaszeta is perhaps unsurprising given his own peculiar connections to the Skripal affair — for in a shock disclosure, in July he revealed he’d repeatedly met with and interviewed the former Russian intelligence officer in the year prior to the Salisbury incident, while researching a book on the history of East-West Espionage.

That Urban neglected to mention securing such a seismic, serendipitous scoop until four months after that fateful March day — a period in which discussion of the attack, and Skripal, utterly dominated media reporting the world over — is somewhat staggering, but not quite as astounding as him having once served in the same tank regiment as Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter and handler, and neighbour in Salisbury.

Serious questions hang over Miller’s involvement in the incident, not least because immediately afterward he deleted his LinkedIn, which revealed him to be a Senior Analyst at Orbis Intelligence, the private “investigative consultancy” run by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, author of the highly controversial ‘Trump-Russia’ dossier — which Integrity Initiative operatives worked to circulate among US politicians.

Furthermore, on 7 March the UK government issued a D-notice related to the Salisbury incident, effectively blocking mention of Miller in the mainstream media since.

“The issue surrounding the identity of former MI6 informer Sergei Skripal is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identities of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain. The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities. If any editor is currently considering publication of such material, may I ask you to seek [the] advice [of the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee] before doing so?” the notice reads.

Adding to the intrigue, Miller also has an unclear relationship with Integrity Initiative, a leaked file naming him in a list compiled by Initiative chief Chris Donnelly, alongside representatives of the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy. The nature of the register is neither clear from the file itself, nor referenced in any other internal Initiative documents, although Anonymous claim the individuals were invitees to a private meeting with Syria’s notorious White Helmets group. Conversely, former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has speculated the event was in fact related to the Skripal incident, a hypothesis partially supported by the presence of Howard Body, Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down (and Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at the Ministry of Defence) among the names.

Integrity Initiative Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Skripal Files’ Review on Twitter

Whatever the truth of the matter, Urban’s aforementioned book, The Skripal Files — widely marketed as the “definitive account” of the incident — was published 4 October 2018. On 21 December, a glowing review of the work authored by none other than Dan Kaszeta was published on the Integrity Initiative website — strikingly, in its introductory paragraph the “counterfeit expert” revealed he’d met with Urban “several times over the past few years”. On 20 January, I emailed Kaszeta seeking clarity on how, why and when it was he crossed paths Urban — predictably he didn’t respond, a recurring theme with Initiative-connected individuals.

Dan Kaszeta Reviews Mark Urban’s Book, ‘The Skripal Files’

A mere two days later the organization would remove all content from its website, pending an “investigation” into the hack which acquired so much incriminating information from the organization’s servers. While there’s no necessary connection between my contacting Kaszeta and the purge, the timing is at least potentially significant given the review is one of very few Initiative site pages not still accessible via internet archiving services — it’s also not included among the now-dead links to the various articles he wrote for the Initiative on the Strongpoint website.

Wider Conspiracy

Shockingly, Kaszeta was but one cog within a much wider connivance — Operation Iris — constructed by Integrity Initiative. Under its auspices, many Institute for Statecraft and Initiative operatives — and journalists within the organization’s assorted international clusters — played a leading and early role in perpetuating various narratives, myths and recommended “responses” to the incident that would utterly dominate mainstream media reporting of the affair the world over for months afterwards.

2015 File Written By Victor Madeira on Possible Anti-Russian Actions

In addition to cementing an extremely negative public perception of Russia, the Initiative also sought to influence government policy in the UK — and ensure isolation of Russia internationally.

Disturbingly, many of these narratives, and recommended strategies, were originally mooted in a document produced in 2015 by Initiative staffer Victor Madeira, who likewise played a leading role in pushing particular angles in the wake of the Salisbury incident. Over the coming weeks, Sputnik will document the activities of each and every Operation IRIS operative, in an attempt to ascertain just what role the Initiative played in the Skripal affair, and why.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Russophobia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment