In Episode 69 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg reviews The Responsibility to Protect in Libya and Syria: Mass Atrocities, Human Protection, and International Law by Syrian American legal scholar Yasmine Nahlawi (Routledge 2020). While Noam Chomsky's critique of "humanitarian intervention" has merit, those who parrot it often act as if it simply ends the conversation—and, worse, engage in post-truth revisionism to deny that mass atrocities are even happening. The Nation magazine has repeatedly run lying propaganda that merely turns the realities of the Syrian war on their head, portraying the victims as aggressors. Contrary to the popular fiction of a "regime change" war, the US bombardment of Syria has overwhelmingly targeted ISIS—and has been coordinated with and approved by the Assad regime. And contrary to the unseemly gloating about the chaos in Libya since the fall of Qaddafi, there is a good case that the situation there would be worse, not better, if there had not been a "regime change" war. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The first-ever extensive report on the Syria war by Russian human rights groups was released on April 2, highlighting the role of Moscow's military intervention in the conflict and its impact on civilians. The report, "A Devastating Decade: Violations of Human Rights & Humanitarian Law in the Syrian War," is the result of two years of research by Russian rights groups, including Memorial Human Rights Center, the Civic Assistance Committee, Soldiers' Mothers of Saint Petersburg, and the Youth Human Rights Movement. The 198-page report provides chilling first-hand testimonials of life inside besieged areas, aerial bombardment, chemical weapons attacks, as well as the widespread use of torture and deprivation in regime prisons. The report is critical of all parties in the conflict—including the US-led coalition—but especially focuses on the impacts of the Russian intervention.
In Episode 66 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep and a fellow at the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), who has faced threats of litigation as well as relentless online harassment for his exposés of Russian propaganda and Red-Brown Politics. After his recent piece in the Daily Beast on leftist flirtation with the far right around conspiracy theories concerning COVID-19 and the war in Syria, the odious Max Blumenthal quickly retaliated with a piece on his Grayzone website charging in its headline that Reid Ross "works with ex-cops, CIA spies, and DHS agents." This refers to the fact that former CIA, Homeland Security and NYPD officials are now also researchers with the NCRI. The accusation is hilariously ironic given that Blumenthal himself has shared platforms with former CIA analyst (and now a star of the conspiracy set) Ray McGovern. As well as (of course) avidly cooperating with Russian and Chinese state propaganda efforts.
The United Nations' top disarmament official on Feb. 3 stressed the urgent need to identify those who have used chemical weapons in Syria, and hold them accountable for their deeds. "Without such an action, we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity," Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the Security Council in a virtual briefing. "It is imperative that this Council shows leadership in demonstrating that impunity in the use of these weapons will not be tolerated," she added. Nakamitsu was briefing Council members on implementation of Resolution 2118, in which unanimous agreement was reached in 2013 to condemn "in the strongest terms" any use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Resolution also expressed "strong conviction" that those responsible for use of chemical weapons in Syria must be held accountable.
Last month, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem issued a report with the provocative title: This is Apartheid: A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It documents systematic discrimination against Palestinians in the spheres of land, citizenship, freedom of movement, and political participation—on both sides of the Green Line. It echoes the 2017 findings of the UN Economic & Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in its report, Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid. But the fact that this time the comparison between Zionism and South African apartheid is being made by an Israeli organization poses a challenge to the increasingly entrenched dogma that all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.
The popular vlogger and comedian Katie Halper, whose journalistic take-downs of the Democratic Party establishment have certainly been deftly exploited (at least) by the Kremlin propaganda machine, wears the accusation that she is a "useful idiot" for Russia as a badge of pride—"Useful Idiots" is actually the (presumably sarcastic) name of the podcast she co-hosts with the equally problematic Matt Taibbi. We've always wondered, in an academic way, if such figures really are useful idiots, or something more sinister—knowing propagandists for Vladimir Putin's deeply reactionary global ambitions. The debate has suddenly exploded onto the left-wing vlogosphere.
Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.
Another one to file under #OrwellWouldShit. The UN General Assembly has elected China to the Human Rights Council—despite the country holding some one million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. China was supported by 139 of the 191 nations that voted, and was one of 16 nations that sought the 15 available seats. (The General Assembly also elected Russia, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, all similarly accused of human rights violations, if not quite such ambitious ones.) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the election of countries with "abhorrent human rights records," stating: "These elections only further validate the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights." The US left the Human Rights Council in June 2018. (Jurist)