Saturday, July 14, 2012

Russ Baker: Everything They're Telling Us About False?, THE WOODY GUTHRIE CENTENNIAL COLLECTION (Folkways)

Hi.  As intro to this essay, here's what I wrote to Democracy Now, two days ago.
"Dear Amy and Democracy Now,
I'm somewhat disturbed by the regular presentation on Democracy Now of various reps speaking
for the uprising in Syria who don't differentiate between the the masses demanding democracy, the
right wing oppositional military forces who have long been based outside Syria and are likely funded
by the CIA or Pentagon and the newly formed council, similarly connected. Such was yesterday's
interview with the youngish woman based in DC. Amy, you didn't ask or weren't prepared to ask
hard questions about her string of accusations or her organization. This is not like you or the show.
Here's someone presenting a cogent critique of this mess, and should be considered as a guest.
Much love and respect to you all.
Ed Pearl"

From: []
Sent: Thursday, July 12, 2012 12:55 AM

Everything They’re Telling Us About Syria….is False?

By Russ Baker

WhoWhatWhy: - July 8, 2012
[1]Friday, we read in the New York
[2] and elsewhere about one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most
important supporters and allies having defected. The impression one gets is
that Assad’s government is in a state of collapse— and this gives
credibility to those pushing for Assad to turn over power.

But what the media are not mentioning is that Brigadier General Manaf Tlass
did not defect directly from the Assad inner circle. He had already fallen
into disfavor<>
[3] early in the uprising and lost his command in May 2011—14 months ago.
If you had that additional piece of information, you would interpret the
news reports in a totally different way.

When a piece of evidence that contradicts the overall impression is absent
from the reportage, the reportage itself is almost worthless.

As are reports of horrific events without adequate fact-checking and
follow-up. Remember the Houla massacre? Who carried that out?

*Houla Whoops*

The media told us that more than 100 people, including women and children,
were brutally slaughtered at close range in the village of Houla in late May
*. *The bloodshed, reported around the world, was ascribed to a militia,
the Shabiha, which is loyal to Assad. Here’s an
[4], from the BBC website:

Survivors of the massacre in Syria’s Houla region have told the BBC of
their shock and fear as regime forces entered their homes and killed their


Most witnesses who spoke to the BBC said they believed that the army and
shabiha militiamen were responsible.

“We were in the house, they went in, the shabiha and security, they went in
with Kalashnikovs and automatic rifles,” said survivor Rasha Abdul Razaq.

Later, a dribble of accounts cast doubt on this, since the people killed
were, by and large, themselves supporters of Assad. But few heard about
these. The BBC report did not say who Rasha was, or provide any evidence
that she actually was there, or that if she was, she had any basis for
saying that the killers were identifiable as to their affiliation. BBC
quoted one other source, who did not provide a name. Despite the thinness
of this material, the BBC story was picked up all over the world, and
became perhaps the definitive account.

Hence, you probably were unaware of an article from the Frankfurter
Allgemeine-Zeitung, a traditional and serious German newspaper for whom I’ve
written in the past<>
[5]. It published a report a month ago from a correspondent who got
eyewitness accounts from people who he says had visited the Houla area. The
correspondent, Rainer Hermann, says that these eyewitnesses were Assad
opponents, yet discovered that government backers were *not *responsible
for the massacre.

Hermann’s sources described the events as follows: "anti-Assad rebels
attacked army roadblocks just outside Houla, which had been intended to
protect villages, where the majority are members of Assad’s Alawi sect,
from Sunni militias. The soldiers at the roadblocks, overwhelmed, called
for backup, which led to a 90-minute battle, in which both sides sustained
extensive fatalities."

It was in this time frame that the unidentified militias entered Houla.

As Hermann wrote June

“According to eyewitness accounts…those killed were almost exclusively from
families belonging to Houla’s Alawi and Shia minorities. Over 90% of
Houla’s population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were
slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the
Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni
member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator.
Immediately following the massacre, the perpetrators are supposed to have
filmed their victims and then presented them as Sunni victims in videos
posted on the internet.

…”Their findings contradict allegations of the rebels, who had blamed the
Shabiha militias which are close to the regime.”

Thus, Hermann seemingly was able to do something that most of the Western
reporters have been unable to do: find opponents of Assad who nevertheless
may be willing to provide accounts that do not serve their own interests.

Of course, we could do with more information on Hermann’s sources. How do
we know they were really in Houla? How do we know they are really opponents
of Assad, not just pretending to be? Their story of inter-communal strikes
makes more sense than the one that went around the world and turned so many
people who had not been paying attention into supporters of toppling Assad.
But nevertheless, everyone needs to provide more detail so we can try to
ascertain what is true.

Almost all of the accounts in major news organization stories are
characterized as being from the opposition, almost all portray everything
as caused solely by the regime, and almost all add the disclaimer that the
information “could not be independently verified.”

*Talking Turkey*

Though conventional journalism likes to advertise that it is “objective”
and doesn’t take sides, I don’t recall hearing much from the Syrian
regime’s point of view, beyond general and unconvincing denials following
reports of regime wrongdoing. One almost gets the impression that the
Syrian government does not wish to be heard.

But that turns out not to be the case.

With Syria’s neighbor Turkey increasingly the leading edge for NATO on
toppling Assad, it’s interesting that a Turkish newspaper was willing to
hear what the Syrian leader had to say:

In an interview with the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, Bashar Assad went after
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with an extraordinarily
interesting critique. A version translated into English by the Syrian news
agency, SANA, shows Assad stressing his goodwill toward the Turkish people
in the first part <> [7] of the
interview, then raising questions<>
[8] about the motives of the alliance seeking to overthrow him:

Assad: …. Today, Erdogan is shedding the tears of hypocrites for the Syrian
people. Why hasn’t he cried for those killed in some Gulf countries,
although they are innocent, peaceful and unarmed? Why isn’t he speaking
about democracy in some Gulf countries?

Journalist: Which country?

Assad: Qatar, for instance. Why didn’t he do anything after the Marmara
ship incident except shouting? Why did he challenge Israel, and then
suddenly agreed to deploy the missile shield in Turkey? Did he deploy it in
order to protect Turkey from the attack of a hostile country? Did America
build these bases in order to protect itself against this region? Which
country in the region has the capability to threaten America? No country.


You don’t have to be a fan of Assad (and who is?) to find it worthwhile to
read his comments. Hearing, almost for the first time, from the other side
in a conflict gives one a rush—reminds me of a rule we were taught in
journalism school but which never seemed to come up again, except in the
most superficial ways: To find out what is really going on, make a real
effort to speak to both sides.

*All Hillary, All the Time*

While the Western media simply ignores statements from the Syrian
establishment, it functions as the flip side of the Syrian government press
agency, publishing a relentless stream of declarations from the
establishment trying to bring Assad down. For example, again from *The
Times, *Hillary Clinton’s well-covered remarks on Tlass:

Later at a news conference, Mrs. Clinton said that General Tlass’s reported
defection and those of other senior military officials had sent a powerful
message that Mr. Assad’s government was on its way out. She described
General Tlass as “a very close and longtime ally” of Mr. Assad and his

So what you have is Hillary Clinton being willing to distort the Tlass
development, and the media only too happy to go along.

There’s a growing body of evidence that we Americans are being lied to by
our government, with nary a peep from the people’s representatives in the
press. That’s one development, sadly, that really is not news.

# # 

From: Steve Shapiro []
Sent: Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:24 PM
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