It was supposed to be another “Benghazi moment” – an incident so horrific that it would spark Western military intervention in Syria’s increasingly violent civil war. The massacre at Houla was reported to be just such a moment: Syria’s security forces stand accused of killing 32 children under ten years of age, and more than 60 adults, by bombing the rebel-held village of Houla. Photos of the massacre soon appeared on Twitter: and on YouTube, videos of the slaughter, uploaded by anonymous “activists,” appeared on cue. There was just one problem with this “evidence” of a massacre committed by the Syrian government – much of it was completely made up.
Take the photo the BBC used to illustrate the atrocity: it showed a young boy jumping over piles of corpses neatly laid out in preparation for burial. Very dramatic, and very disturbing – except it wasn’t a photo of anything that happened in Houla. Instead, it was a photo taken by Marco Di Lauro in Iraq, in 2003, and appropriated from his web site. The stolen photo was accompanied by a caption that read:
“Photo from Activist. This image – which cannot be independently verified – is believed to show bodies of children in Houla awaiting funeral.”
“Somebody is using illegally one of my images for anti [S]yrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page,” Di Lauro says, “I almost fell off my chair when I saw it.” When confronted by Di Franco, BBC editors took it down, and, by way of explanation, pointed to the caption as somehow exonerating.
Yet it is the very phrasing of that caption that condemns them out of their own mouths, the key word being believed. Why was it believed by the BBC when they received it from some anonymous “activist”? Because it suited their propagandistic purposes – that is, the purposes of the British government, which runs and funds the BBC, just as the Syrian government runs and funds their own state-controlled media. The photo was believed to be an accurate representation of events taking place in Houla because the editors wanted to believe it.
It isn’t just the photos purporting to show the massacre, it’s the “reporting” that is also thrown into doubt: after all, these accounts are all coming from the very same “activists” who have no compunctions about supplying fake photos to the very same media who report their every word as gospel. It is claimed the Syrian army bombarded Houla, and yet the photos shows people with their throats cut, and shot in the head at very close range: this seeming contradiction required a revision of the “activist”-supplied narrative, which was duly changed to depict government-controlled “militias” coming into the village after the bombardment. Yet even this hasty revisionist version didn’t cover all the bases: for example, one of the victims was a candidate in Syria’s recent elections who had refused to stand down at the demand of opposition “activists.” He, too, was brutally murdered, and the question is – by whom?
The BBC’s falling for – or enabling – “activist” fakery is hardly the only such incident: there was the case of “Syria Danny,” whose on-camera antics were exposed in flagrante delicto as he staged a Syrian army “attack” for the benefit of CNN. And don’t forget the fake “blogger” who purported to be “Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari,” a 35-year-old lesbian living in Damascus, supposedly kidnapped by the Syrian regime and abused. “Amina” turned out to be a middle-aged married American schmuck and “Middle Eastern activist,” one Tom MacMaster, studying for a degree at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. The cause of “Amina” was taken up by those ubiquitous Syrian “activists” and trumpeted by their online propaganda apparatus – which has sprung up with weed-like rapidity. That’s what a healthy infusion of money from Western governments will buy you.
Yet even all that money apparently can’t buy competent sock-puppets, with amateurs like MacMaster, “Syria Danny,” and whoever supplied the BBC with Di Lauro’s photo running wild.
Speaking of running wild with enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars, the rebels – already receiving cash, arms, and other emoluments from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Gulf sheikdoms – have already handed a $12 billion bill for “post-Assad development” to the Western “Friends Group,” led by Germany. That, you can be sure, is just the beginning. With the Eurozone going down into the economic abyss, and the Germans berating their Greek (and now Spanish and Italian) partners as unproductive free riders, one has to wonder about German priorities. The British, too, are on the hook, having just upped the amount they’re sending – at a time when government subsidies to the very needy are on the chopping block. And of course there’s no telling how many American tax dollars have been funneled in “non-lethal” aid to the rebels-who-couldn’t-get-their-lies-straight, but one thing is clear: their American trainers and advisers have their work cut out for them.
The US State Department has posted aerial photos of Syrian troops massed near the village, which purportedly show the government was in control of the area when the massacre occurred. The Syrians, for their part, claim they were in a defensive posture, and “activist”-supplied videos are unreliable for all the reasons detailed above. We will probably never know the truth about what happened at Houla – at least, not before the regime-changers in Western capitals and their Saudi allies kick the propaganda ball over the goal post.
Remember that the aim of war propaganda is to create a general impression, not to establish the truth (or falsehood) of any particular disputed fact. The idea is to hurl as many accusations against the target as rapidly as possible, without regard for their source, so as to generate the kind of murkiness where the truth can be created, rather than merely reported. It’s all about establishing a narrative, and any bothersome facts cropping up and getting in the way are hurriedly kicked aside.
Amid all the loud lamentations over the Syrian regime’s brutality, one fact downplayed by Western media outlets is that there are over 60 different rebel militias operating in Syria, whose activities are indistinguishable from the shabihas, or pro-government militias, which are getting the brunt of the blame. As the Washington Post reports:
“As the shabiha’s ranks and violence have grown and widened, groups have sprung up to counter them. Analysts say shabiha-style militias made up of the Sunni Muslims who represent the majority of the population have also started to emerge in regions such as Homs province, where Houla is located and where Sunni and Alawite communities sit side by side, increasing the potential for sectarian violence.”
In funding and arming rebel groups, whose violence is now being unleashed on civilians caught in the middle, the US and its allies are actively undermining Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which the Syrians have accepted. The rebels are determined to destroy the plan, which leaves them out of power: they won’t be happy until they’ve given the West a pretext to intervene militarily. As Hillary Clinton’s public pronouncements acquire a certain shrillness, that prospect is becoming increasingly likely.
By supporting the “Free Syrian Army,” the US and its allies are openly engaged in another Libya-style intervention, with the same radical Islamists as their armed wing, while a supposedly “secular” and “democracy”-oriented “youth movement” serves as the public face of a deeply reactionary rebel army.
Imagine, for the moment, that some group of foreign powers were involved in financing and arming a “Free American Army,” which launched attacks on US army bases and carried out terrorist acts – car bombings, as have occurred in Damascus, for example – in Washington, D.C. Imagine this rebel army had acquired footholds in key areas, and called for the overthrow of the “regime” in Washington. Do we even have to ask what would be the reaction of the US government?
The Western powers are intent on establishing international rules of governance they have no intention of applying to themselves, and, in this instance, are utilizing the United Nations as their chosen instrument. However, it is by no means certain the UN will go along with the game plan, as Annan’s peace plan – which calls for mutual disarmament and an end to hostilities – would indicate. In which case, the West will do everything it can to undermine the Annan plan and destabilize Syria to the point where they can declare it a “failed state” – and move in for the kill.
The “activist”-authored narrative of a ruthless dictator slaughtering his own people – complete with fake photos, phony videos, and tall tales legitimized as “news” – is aimed at a Western audience. In Syria – where the majority fears the opposition as much, or more, than the dictator Assad – they know better. Unfortunately for them, they have no power to stop the Western-initiated juggernaut headed in their direction.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Today’s column brings to mind Wesley Clark’s 2007 revelation, proffered in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, that he was privy to a classified US government plan to overthrow seven governments – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Iran. Gen. Clark told his audience this was prefigured by a 1991 conversation he had with Paul Wolfowitz, in which the then-Undersecretary of Defense gave the project a timeline of five years. While they may be a bit behind schedule, it looks like the War Party is today on the brink of success.
Which brings us to the question of how this is playing out in this country. Where is the opposition? Nowhere to be found, apparently – except right here in the pages of Antiwar.com. That’s our job, and it’s a full-time one: exposing the lies of the interventionists as they lead us into one disastrous war after another. Their trail of deception and destruction is many miles long, and just as wide: and we’ve been following it doggedly for the past fifteen years or so.
Our readers have been supporting our efforts for just as long, but recently – with the economic downturn, in part caused by the very policies we’ve been opposing – the stream of contributions has begun to dry up. People just don’t have the money anymore, it’s as simple as that. Our most recent fundraiser has been one long scary ride, and up until recently it looked as if we might not make it. However, a last-minute flurry of donations, in response to a special urgent appeal, has brought us closer to our goal. Now we just need $10,000 more to put us over the top. That’s not a lot of money by the standards of your normal Washington think tank, which takes in hundreds of thousands from arms manufacturers and other special interests on a regular basis. From our very different perspective, however, it is a great deal of money, without which we’ll find ourselves having to make noticeable cutbacks in our coverage. So please – help us fill in the $10,000 gap. Make your tax-deductible contribution to Antiwar.com today.