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

Friday, we read in the New York Times 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 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 example, 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 families….

[snip]

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. 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 7:

“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 of the interview, then raising questions 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.

          [snip]

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 father.

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.

 # #

 

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  • antoinepgrew

    Great reporting, Mr. Baker.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.straus Tim Straus

    excellent, but others have been reporting on the propaganda moving through the western press on Syria, as it was on Libya, Egypt and Iran for some time–mostly left leaning or far left sites, where regardless of the erroneous thoughts on many other issues, they are dead right on the lies and deceptions forthcoming from the American Empire and its satellite  states and the sycophant, financially dependent toadies among many of the NGO’s. Hillary Clinton is no dupe, she is 100% embedded in the system of power elites that dictate the message. Our propaganda machinery would make Goebbels quiver with gelatinous delight. Truth is that which serves the purposes of the Leviathan–anyone who thinks otherwise is either drowning in the Empire perpetuated lie of the American myth, or lobotomized by the systems most powerful opiate, reality-TV to be able to remotely grasp reality. 

  • Dan Garden

    Syria is a place on the way to Persia…and the weakest of the three major powers, USA, has no choice except to go forward – it’s defined structurally, you see, and “they” do what they are able to do, see according to what they must see. A good story, maybe a true story, but surely worth reading, at: http://www.rt.com/news/syria-lies-invasion-reality-interview-671/  and another at http://fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/russian-nuclear-capable-bombers-intercepted-near-west-coast-in-second-u-s-air-defense-zone-intrusion-in-two-weeks/17353/  Let us not forget that Chinese sublaunch off LA….

  • final_diagnosis

    U.S. has been lost to a parasitic infection. All the indicators have been showing the terminal status of disease for years, and all the recent tests have shown that that status has not changed despite all the efforts.

    Amputation of infected tissue is the only course of action that promises some chances of world’s recovery.

    The same, terminal, infection has already spread to the second host in Asia, but has not yet established a firm base of operations. Treatment of the second host is pending.

  • Dan Garden

    Please excuse the longish post…    Strategic theory says two things about the Syrian Affair:

    1) USA has no alternative, being driven by internal agendas that are defined structurally – particularly by economic problems of vast proportions – the (attempted) liquidation of Syria and Iran is not a Policy subject to any possibility of change. It is not a matter of will, but resembles a run-away train. What people want, even at the celestial heights of “power”, is immaterial. Assume they’re all saints.

    2) The Policy Goal, because it is aimed at Russia and China and ultimately designed to bring those States to heel, is not in accord with history or with long-established National Traditions (how old is China?, Russia?). Thus the Policy Goal is not acceptable to these two States. They can not accept a global hegemony unless it is their own.

    Taken together these two facts make it absolutely clear that major conflict is proximate. People say August, September, October – these are the months we know in history – August 1914…  September 1939…   The dubious election looms as a major driver of schedules…

    Conflict Theory and the objective realities of  “the bomb” make it very probable that the proximate war with China and/or Russia will be indirect, at least in the beginning. What’s “innaresting”, as old Bill Burroughs would have said it, is the precise form the indirect forces will take. A caution – do not confuse a dramatic “false-flag attack” with indirect warfare…

    Because USA has established by its action over time a new norm in international law,  a method of aggressive war based on the subornation of criminal gangs within a target State, that and related methods are now available to any State. It’s obvious that USA ought to prepare for precisely what it is doing to others, prepare for an “uprising” by well-armed criminal gangs.  Imagine inner-city drug gangs with light machine guns, grenades, mortars… Appalling!

    That, taken together with economic problems, may present their lordships with a new reality, a new structural imperative – one that may well cause a change in USA Policy. But do not expect Peace to follow…rather for the military to do at home more or less what its been doing elsewhere…

    The outcome for Syria, Iran, Russia, China, and for USA too, hangs on the ill-informed pressured decisions of a few unknown people – will Captain Jones fire, or not? Will a satellite work? Will the USA have a military coup? Will a Chinese missile fly straight? It depends on the “flop of a mop”.

    But, generally, the party with the fewest options is the party that is defeated – and that’s, arguably, USA. How so? Everybody knows what’s coming… The US strategy is obvious. That implies a rather problematic course of conflict, and of outcome. About the best we may hope for is that the business does not involve any infernal machines – so-called “nuclear weapons”, but, realistically and given the un-acceptability within domestic politics of objective defeat, I expect they’ll use those things too. This is Summer, perhaps the last one; it’s a beautiful season. Better make the best of it…

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  • James

    Thanks, Russ. The Australian web-site, http://candobetter.net, which is largely concerned with environmentalism (as is Barrie Zwicker, the Canadian who woke me up to the fraud of 9/11 with “Towers of Deception” a few years ago) also reports the trut about the Syrian conflict.

    Perhaps one way we can make it easier for site vistors to support us is with http://flattr.com . Flattr has limitations, but still seems the easiest for content providers and content consumers to use.  A good write-up on Flattr is to be found at http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2011/03/22/what%E2%80%99s-flattr/

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  • Stufftracybuys

    Russ, I’m curently reading your book, have you ever had the chance to speak with General Wesley Clark? You should look up his statement on YouTube where he talks about the US invasion of Syria- along with six other middle eastern countries; he made these statements back in 2007 and it has all been taking place just as he described.

    • Russ Baker

      Tracy, Clark’s remarks are certainly intriguing and we will have some reporting on that subject.

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  • Mojosghost

    Yes, this article almost seems like an understatement. Though, at least Erdogan has exposed himself, and perhaps remove any illusions of legitimacy of the Turkish government. There is no doubt that the western proxy ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ (Zionist-Islam) of a sort, will be installed. They will debate over which music is permissible, while we continue to slit their throats.

    It’s funny when people talk nonsense about treasury securities, and ‘all’ the holding of China. This is just ‘bait’, to get China to play ball. When it’s time for the Hammer to drop, those treasury bonds will be worthless, and all land will be confiscated.

    • Dan Garden

      The details of the plan for Syria, alas, in French, but easy to run the article through a translator online : http://www.voltairenet.org/Les-details-du-plan-etats-unien

      Some may recall that the excuse for invading Cuba was the old “humanitarian” ploy. Cuba? Yeah, over a hundred years ago…

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  • Debbi Morello

    Everything? Are you absolutely certain? Also, by the way, one of our major networks reported (at the time the news broke that Tlass defected) that he had been sidelined and not part of Assad’s inner-circle for over one year. 

    • Russ Baker

       The vast majority of news reports solely stressed his “defection” and presented it as evidence that Assad’s regime is collapsing. Most people only read headlines or glean a very basic message from news reports. That’s Propaganda 101.

  • ts_3000

    A few and far between in-depth article in “The Guardian” , that closely examines the high profile  Syrian Opposition members.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/12/syrian-opposition-doing-the-talking

  • Dan Garden

    To somebody who remembers the Caribbean Crises  (aka the Cuban missile crises) the build-up and inescapable resolve-to-conflict seems familiar, but worse. Worse? Yes, because the, ah, “primary party” is in a race with economic and domestic political problems of very large scale. That was not the case in ’62. The meeting at the Pentagon between the Russians and Dempsey – one is inclined to wonder what might have been offered or said, eh? Did cooler heads make a deal to avoid or postpone disaster?

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  • Padri

    Thanks for this article, its appreciated to read another point of view in this conflict.

     Manaf  Tlass, has fallen into disfavor by the Regime, along with most (if not all) of the Sunni  commanders. Logically, The Assad Alawite Regime first tactic is to isolate Sunni commanders when the conflicts started and to keep them under house arrest with their families.

    As for the Houla massacre, and all the other Massacres.. all the dead are Sunni’s so does it make sense that the so called ” terrorists” are killing themselves and their families and not one attack on Allawites. Helicopters and Tanks were used in Houla Massacre and the Treymsa as well. Terrorists have access to these weapons? If yes, where have they been all this time, for years Syria was known to be one of the strictest ” Iron Fist” regimes. Now all of a sudden, opposition and terrorist are all over the country with helicopters and tanks? 15 thousand dead are terrorists? so 15 thousand terrorists in an “IRON FIST” syria regime?

    On the points of  Turkey and US I agree with you.

  • http://www.movies-suck.com/ Wastrel Way

    The job of the media, as it is seen by them, is to emphasize the emotional content of current events, downplay their intellectual content and fill them with drama. This attracts the ignorant majority and makes money.  A guy defects?  They’re not going to tell you he’s been in disfavor for over a year.  There’s a massacre?  It’s easier (they think) for the public to understand it in terms of a current civil war than a religious conflict that’s been going on for centuries.  Telling you the backstory is a waste of time. The news doesn’t have to make sense, it has to have PUNCH!

  • Dan Garden

    All three “players” in the Great Game seem to agree on a few aspects – such as that Syria (and Iran) is (are) important, vital, to their respective agendas. And it looks very much as though a genuine shooting war is a real possibility, because at least one Player seems to be resolved to go forward with violence. The doctrine for the use of, ahem, “special gadgets” within the military establishments of  Russia and USA make their use at least possible, but some might say probable. Russian doctrine on this matter is public – they will use them if they are “targeted by modern precision weapons”. The tests at Bikini in ’47 (I believe the first test series there was in ’47) established that no ship (not submarines either) can survive these infernal machines. Later tests established the same for infantry and armor. Of course Hiroshima (official test number two) established the outcome for civilians. This was obvious to the boffins, but the demonstrations were political. Now, imagine that you are a senior officer superintending a massive military operation…will you risk a show-down? You will, you fear, lose this magnificent military machine and be blamed (probably) for defeat. Defeat? Of course. Nobody can win such an encounter. Now, what do you do? To-day is 20 July. Who can tell us what senior military people did on this day to prevent final defeat? Yes indeed, some might well expect (gasp!) that a State that Andy Rooney compared on TV to a “banana republic” (he did) might experience such a disagreeable event. All we can do is watch the show…

    Peace.

  • http://www.facebook.com/byron.price.503 Byron Price

    if the American people knew what was being done in their name, they would be outraged.

  • Hereswotithink

    Syria is a replay of Libya. Same lies, same desire to steal Syria’s newly discovered oil and gas reserves. The same few psychopaths pushing the same old buttons. One things puzzles me, tho’. The overwhelming majority of the cities where violence has occured are along the Western border of Syria.

  • Supertzar

    Conspiracy freaks.

  • Alistair Ewing

    Tables will turn soon.

  • Pdshank

    Now I’m confused.guess I’ll just go back to watching jerry springer and looking at funny pictures of cats.

  • Armenian
  • Kinan

    money can do the wonders… ain’t that right Mr. Baker ?? a funny Syrian proverb says: Everyone has a part of his name… and I think you’re more of a Baker than of a journalist… what if you call yourself “investigative journalist”…. that makes you a chief cook and bottle washer… It’s impressive how the Syrian regime got this army of so called journalists… demotic.. regional and international… and reproducing like bedbugs…. this little Sherry Jaafari is doing great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/art.brennan Art Brennan

    With the new amended 2013 NDAA for the first time since 1948 it will not be illegal for the US government to inflict propaganda on US citizens. Together with the corporate lock on mainstream media this could be the last nail in the coffin of the free press.

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