LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Meeting of the SI Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, Dominican Repu
| 01-02 APRIL 2016blic
The Socialist International Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean held a meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on 1-2 April 2016. The agenda centered on two main themes: “Building alliances and coalitions to advance our objectives of sustainable development, fair progress and opportunities for all” and “Improving the electoral systems and processes in the region”. The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), whose leader, Miguel Vargas, is chair of the Committee, hosted the meeting. The opening session included the participation of Danilo Medina, President of the Dominican Republic and candidate for re-election in the fothcoming polls to take place in May.
Opening the meeting, Miguel Vargas thanked the parties of the Socialist International for their presence in Dominican Republic at a very special moment for the country that will be holding general elections on 15 May. For these elections, he explained, the PRD and the PLD signed an agreement last September for a shared government of national unity, an alliance which draws inspiration from the ideals and the vision of their historical leader, José Francisco Peña Gómez. The two largest Dominican progressive political forces have reached an understanding to give the country a majority government that will allow it to develop a broad reform of the State, with measures that will guarantee social inclusion, a substantial improvement of the public services and address the outstanding institutional reforms.
The SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, thanked the hosts of the meeting and recalled his participation, as a witness, in the signing of the agreement for government last September. It’s strength comes from the coherence of shared values and principles of both parties and, at the same time, it is an alliance consistent with Dominican political history. It also reflects the will of political actors that are not restricted by their own benchmarks but instead are able to respond to the needs of the nation and the expectations of its citizens. Luis Ayala expressed confidence in their victory on 15 May and in a government committed to ensuring welfare, justice, inclusion and opportunities for all Dominicans. He shared with the participants the concerns and the work of the International in these times “of big challenges and definitions”. The responses to the challenges for peace, democracy, sustainable development, greater equality, extending solidarity with the plight of refugees and migrants, are today key tasks for the International in the whole world, as it is also in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The President of the Republic and presidential candidate in the forthcoming May elections, Danilo Medina, in his intervention, warmly welcomed the presence of the Socialist International in Santo Domingo. He thanked Miguel Vargas for having signed with him a unity agreement without precedence in the history of the country, in favour of social gains, wellbeing and peace for all Dominicans. In his party’s principles, President Medina said, there are elements that are common to the member parties of the SI in the region, a region that is growing, innovating, lowering the levels of poverty and advancing in guaranteeing social rights within a democratic framework. To face the challenges in education, housing, health, social protection, today it is necessary to build large political majorities that will be able to respond to the social demands of the country, he affirmed. The adequate reply to these demands is not the anti-politics nor the populisms, he said, but a process of building alliances between political forces with common principles and projects, such as the one that now exists in his country.
On the first main theme of the agenda, “Building alliances and coalitions to advance our objectives of sustainable development, fair progress and opportunities for all”, the Committee heard contributions by participants from Nicaragua, Uruguay, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Argentina. In their interventions they recalled that at different historic moments in their respective countries, the progressive parties have known the experience of forming governing coalitions. Many times these alliances were inspired by the search to regain lost democracy or to advance by means of political agreements to overcome situations of violence and conflict. What characterises the current political alliances in the region is that generally these are appearing within a context where there is democracy and peace, and rather than being agreements to overcome situations of crisis, they represent the identification of common political aspirations as a basis upon which to build agreements between parties to ensure the fulfilment of their goals and these are presented to the citizens as shared programmatic proposals. This is a reality that goes beyond the simple electoral agreement and involves the search for common objectives. In their different contributions, the delegates conveyed to the host party, the PRD, their confidence that this policy of alliances will be greatly validated in the coming elections and their wish that the next shared government of national unity succeeds with important achievements in favour of a better life for all Dominicans.
The Committee heard to an intervention by Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, wife of the principal Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, one of the political prisoners in Venezuela detained since more than one year. Her words, she said, were on behalf of all the women and families of prisoners being held for political reasons in her country. She denounced the arbitrary measure of deprivation of freedom that today affects her husband and so many other Venezuelans. She thanked the member parties of the Socialist International for the permanent support given by the organisation to her country and shared with the Committee her wish and hope to see very soon Antonio Ledezma and all the Venezuelan political prisoners released from prison.
The SI President, George Papandreou, expressed that Latin America and the Caribbean are very close to his heart, as he has himself experienced dictatorship and exile. The democracy which has been gained globally, is a system that must be defended and guaranteed wherever and whenever it is under threat, he maintained. In this sense, the policies of alliances have a strong justification when they look to regain democracy. But democracy is also consolidated when political parties that share common principles and projects are moved to act together against inequality and to respond to global challenges such as climate change, sustainable development, or the phenomenon of refugees and migrants, and to formulate common, democratic and responsible proposals, thus lessening the threats of authoritarianism, populism and fundamentalism. George Papandreou spoke of the refugee crisis and the current austerity policies in Europe, adding that the democratic and social model in that continent that in the past served as inspiration for the progressive forces in this part of world, could benefit from observing today’s experiences in this region.
In the debate on the second main theme, “Improving the electoral processes and systems in the region”, the Committee heard contributions from Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina, based on the experiences in their own countries and developments in the institutional and regulatory fields. All participants highlighted the importance of having electoral and party laws that are modern and suited to their own realities. A common factor is the need to have an autonomous electoral body that is impartial, permanent, materially well provided for and not subject in their budgets to a payroll of employees and the appointment of top authorities motivated by the swings of their own electoral contingency. Regarding the use of electronic and technological means for the registration of the electorate, their identification and the voting itself, there were common views that the advances in these matters could be a very important contribution for the legitimacy and efficiency of the processes, but it was also noted that it is insufficient to make the credibility of the citizens during the electoral process solely dependent on them. Other aspects considered and that must be taken into account were the financing of politics, whether this is public, private or mixed, the limitations to campaign expenses and the accountability of candidates. Venezuelan participants, for their part, emphasised the relevance of the role of international electoral observers, the regulation of re-elections and the nature of administrative sanctions to avoid the de-registration of candidates, following the recent experience in their country.
On the last point of the agenda, the delegates spoke of the political situation in their respective countries. Besides that of the Dominican Republic, which was widely explained during the meeting, the Committee heard from the Venezuelan delegates about the latest political developments in their country following the approval in recent days of the Amnesty and Reconciliation Law promoted by the political forces of the Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) in the Venezuelan National Assembly; from the Brazilian delegate on the situation confronted by the government of President Dilma Rousseff; the delegate of Peru gave an update to the Committee on the electoral prospects in the forthcoming elections to be held in that country; the SI Vice-President and representative of Haiti informed about the challenges faced by the government and the provisional presidency of the Republic with a view to the realisation of elections; the delegate of Chile informed about the state of the advancement of reforms contained in the programme of President Bachelet; the delegation of Costa Rica informed about the current internal work of his party PLN and its future projection; the delegate of Panama referred to the work of his party and the importance that it assigned to the modifications of electoral laws and parties in his country; and the UCR of Argentina shared with the Committee its experience during the first months of coalition government. From Europe, the delegate of the PSOE updated the Committee on the latest advancements and the perspectives that the leader of the party, Pedro Sánchez, finds in his efforts to form a coalition government under the leadership of the socialists in Spain.
Before the closing of the meeting, the SI Secretary General, Luis Ayala, updated the Committee on the latest activities of the International and on new and forthcoming initiatives. He referred, among other matters, to the work ahead in the coming months by the Commission established by the International to examine inequality in the world economy and propose specific policies to combat it in the developing world, in emergent economies and the developed countries. At the close of the debates, the Committee approved a resolution on the agreement of shared government in Dominican Republic, another about the situation in Brazil and another on the current political and institutional crisis in Venezuela, and reiterated the appreciation of everyone present for the fraternal hospitality received from its member party in Dominican Republic, the PRD.
List of participants
Resolution on the Dominican Republic
Declaration on Venezuela
Declaration on Brazil
Press coverage of the meeting
Friday 04 March 2016
Iran: Tortured filmmaker and musicians face imminent arrest by the Islamic court
[h2 Amnesty - Iranian musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian,have had their prison sentences upheld by an appeal court in Tehran. They are atimminent risk of arrest. If jailed, they will be prisoners of conscience.Filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, his brother Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, both musicians, all sentenced tosix years' imprisonment and fined 200 million Rials (about US$6,625) on charges related to their artistic work, areat risk of arrest, as the Court of Appeal in Tehran has upheld their prison sentences. The men were told on 28February that the appeal court had ruled they must serve three years of their six-year prison sentence. The courtsuspended the rest for a period of five years, conditional on their "good behaviour". Their case is now before theOffice for the Implementation of Sentences, so they could be arrested and imprisoned at any time.Hossein Rajabian, Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi had been convicted of "insulting Islamic sanctities","spreading propaganda against the system" and "illegal audio-visual activities", after a three-minute trial on 26 April2015 before Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The charges had arisen from their artistic work,including Hossein Rajabian's feature film dealing with women's right to divorce in Iran and Mehdi Rajabian andYousef Emadi's distribution of unlicensed music by Iranian singers from outside the country, some of whose lyricsand messages are political or cover taboo subjects. The men have been out on bail since December 2013. Beforethat, they were held for two months in solitary confinement, where they have said they were subjected to beatingsand electric shocks to make video "confessions". Their "confessions" were used as evidence against them tosecure their convictions even though they told the judge that they were obtained through torture and other illtreatment.They have had no access to a lawyer at any stage of their arrest, detention, trial or appeal.Please write immediately in English, Persian, Arabic, Calling on the IranianFrench, Spanish or your own language: authorities to quash the convictions of Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian and YousefEmadi as they arise solely from the men's peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression andassociation through music Urging the authorities to order a prompt, independent, andand film; impartial investigation into their torture and other illtreatmentallegations, and bring to justice anyone found responsible Expressingin a trial that meets international fair trialstandards; concern that Revolutionary Court hearings continue to be seriously Remindingflawed and do not meetinternational fair trial standards; them that Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is astate party, protects the right to freedom of expression, including in the form of art.PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 15 APRIL 2016 TO:The Office of the Supreme LeaderAyatollah Sayed 'Ali KhameneiIslamic Republic Street- End of ShahidKeshvar Doust StreetTehran, Islamic Republic of IranEmail: via websitehttp://www.leader.ir/langs/en/index.php?p=letter Twitter: @khamenei_ir (English)Salutation: Your ExcellencyHead of the JudiciaryAyatollah Sadeq Larijanic/o Public Relations Office Number 4,Deadend of 1 AziziAbove Pasteur IntersectionVali Asr StreetTehran, Islamic Republic of IranEmail: [email protected]: Your ExcellencyAnd copies to:PresidentHassan RouhaniThe PresidencyPasteur Street, Pasteur SquareTehran, Islamic Republic of IranAlso send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation SalutationPlease check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 41/16. Further information:https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde13/3506/2016/en/URGENT ACTIONIRANIAN MUSICIANS, FILMMAKER AT RISK OF ARRESTADDITIONAL INFORMATIONHossein Rajabian, Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi were arrested, tasered, and blindfolded by Revolutionary Guards officialson 5 October 2013 while they were working in their office in the northern city of Sari, Mazandaran Province. For the next 18days, they were held at an unknown location where it is believed they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated, including by electricshocks. They were then held in solitary confinement in Section 2A of Tehran's Evin Prison, which is under the control of theRevolutionary Guards, where they were detained for the next two months. Their interrogators apparently pressured them intomaking video "confessions", threatening them with life in jail if they failed to do so. All three were released on bail in December2013. At their appeal hearing, the judge told them that having a lawyer was "pointless".For most of the time they were detained, Hossein Rajabian, Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi were held incommunicado. Inthe last few weeks, and after they had been forced to "confess" in front of a video camera, they were allowed short intermittentcalls with their families. Ten days after their three-minute long trial on 26 April 2015, they were told the verdict had been issuedand they should go to the courthouse to read it. They were each sentenced to five years' imprisonment for "insulting Islamicsanctities", one year imprisonment for "spreading propaganda against the system", and fined 200 million Rials for "illegal audiovisualactivities". They were not given the written judgement, but were told by a court clerk they had 20 days to lodge an appeal,which they did without the assistance of a lawyer. They represented themselves during their appeal hearing on 22 December2015, as they were told by the presiding judge that they were not entitled to have a lawyer present. At both trial and appeal, themen told the presiding judges that their "confessions" had been extracted under torture and other ill-treatment while they wereheld incommunicado. The investigator at the Office of the Prosecution in Evin Prison told them that being tortured in the city ofSari was irrelevant in Tehran. The presiding judge at their appeal hearing before the Court of Appeal in Tehran warned themagainst talking about their torture and other ill-treatment allegations and threatened to give them harsher sentences if they didso. Mehdi Rajabian suffered a seizure following beatings while he was detained in Sari and has suffered more seizures since.Following his release, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and has been taking daily medication to treat the condition.Mehdi Rajabian is the founder of the Iranian website Barg Music, which was launched in 2009 and distributed unlicensed music.In Iran, only music that passes official censors receives licenses, and musicians without licences operate underground. BargMusic distributed Persian-language music by Iranian singers from outside the country, some of whose lyrics and messages arepolitical or cover taboo social subjects. They include famous Germany-based Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi whose 2012 songreferencing a Shi'a religious figure caused such controversy that some Iranian clerics issued fatwas calling him an "apostate",which is considered punishable by death under Iranian law. The Barg Music website had apparently attracted 300,000 visitors aday and had exclusive contracts with Iranian artists who mentioned the website's name in their videos. Mehdi Rajabian hadbeen recording the history of an Iranian musical instrument called setar when he was arrested. The arresting officers searchedhis studio, confiscating his recordings and other materials related to this project. Hossein Rajabian was arrested after makinghis first feature film, called "Inverted Triangle", about women's right to divorce in Iran. The arresting officials confiscated all thematerials related to the film. The film has not been allowed to be broadcast. Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi have beenaccused of broadcasting the voices of female singers, as well as those of "anti-Islamic Revolution" singers. The Iranianauthorities place restrictions on female singers, with a ban on women singing solo in front of men. Conservative clerics say thatwomen's voices have the potential to trigger immoral sensual arousal. In February 2015, conservative cleric Grand AyatollahHassan Nouri Hamedani said "We will stop any film, book, or music that is anti-Islamic and anti-revolutionary...No action cannormalize women's singing, and we will stop it."Names: Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian, Yousef EmadiGender m/f: mFurther information on UA: 41/16 Index: MDE 13/3563/2016 Issue Date: 4 March 2016]
Smearing the Syrian uprising
Michael Karadjis - June 10, 2015
[h2 IN EARLY June, journalist Seamus Milne penned a piece for the Guardian titled "Now the truth emerges how the U.S. fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq" .
Of course, we all wait for "the truth." The nickname "truth" has been used by every kind of religious organization for centuries--indeed they all had opposing "truths." Generations of Americans saw the reflection of their own imperialist leaders in Superman, fighting for "truth, justice and the American way." For decades, Soviet citizens were told their leaders spoke only "the truth" in a newspaper by that name .
Milne, in other words, is in good company .
For an article that promises to show that the U.S. "fuelled the rise of ISIS," it begins, oddly enough, with a failed "terrorism" case in the UK that had zero to do with ISIS. Perhaps Milne was just making a separate point with this example, despite the title. But there is so much wrong with the "example" and Milne's implications about it that the case is worth looking at in its own terms .
Milne writes that "on Monday the trial in London of a Swedish man, Bherlin Gildo, accused of terrorism in Syria, collapsed after it became clear British intelligence had been arming the same rebel groups the defendant was charged with supporting." Further, the defense "argued that going ahead with the trial would have been an 'affront to justice' when there was plenty of evidence the British state was itself providing 'extensive support' to the armed Syrian opposition" .
Milne also claimed that alleged British aid to "the armed Syrian opposition" was not only nonlethal aid, but also training, logistics and secret supply of "arms on a massive scale" .
Gildo's defense lawyers used a number of articles from the media to help their case. According to the article about the trial that Milne links to by Richard Norton-Taylor, these included "one from the Guardian on 8 March 2013, on the West's training of Syrian rebels in Jordan," New York Times articles on 24 March and 21 June 2013 (in fact, 2012), "and an article in the London Review of Books from 14 April 2014, (which)implicated MI6 in a 'rat line' for the transfer of arms from Libya" .
Now, I agree with Milne that it would be absurd to send someone to prison "for doing what ministers and their security officials were up to themselves," and indeed I am pleased that it is thus more difficult to prosecute people going to fight Assad's tyranny on trumped-up "terrorism" charges .
But Milne's points here seem to be more about using the case: (1) to claim that Britain and the U.S. really were "massively arming" the Syrian rebellion; (2) to suggest that, if true, this would not be a good thing to do; and (3) to try to connect the alleged "terrorists" that he alleges Britain and the U.S. were supporting to those that Gildo was fighting with, and both to the actual ISIS terrorists. In other words, making the case that any support to the great Syrian uprising against a fascist regime leads directly to support for ISIS; it's the same thing. As Milne asserts: "American forces bomb one set of rebels while backing another in Syria." Thus, to Milne, both ISIS and the Syrian rebels--who have done more to fight ISIS than anyone else in the region--are both "rebels" .
It therefore becomes a political issue. It is worth clarifying a number of points here: what exactly the court said; what these articles alleged about who the British government (or the U.S. government, which Milne's title refers to) was aiding at this time (2012), and the reality of this aid; who Gildo was alleged to be fighting for; and what any of these organizations have to do with "the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq" .
"The truth," it turns out, is something based on "amalgam" theory taken to an absurd level. An example of amalgam theory would be to say, for example, that since the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutionary leftist governments, ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime, Hamas, the French National Front and a wing of the U.S. paleo-right (Buchanan, etc.) are also vocally opposed to U.S. intervention around the world, that they therefore must all be allied or have something in common .
What did the court say in the Gildo case ?
First of all, the role of a court of law was not to do in-depth research into who exactly was aiding who, and how much and what relationship they had to each other and so on. While I have not read the court transcripts, Milne's assertion that "it became clear" in the court that British intelligence "had been arming the same rebel groups" as Gildo was fighting for would seem highly unlikely because it flatly contradicts what is in all the media articles referred to. Rather, the Norton-Taylor article says that "Gildo's defense lawyers" asserted this .
Milne simply made up the "it became clear" stuff .
And actually, when the defense lawyers are quoted in that article, it seems that even Norton-Taylor was simply being "journalistic" in using the term "the same rebel groups." In reality, the article quotes defense counsel Henry Blaxland QC :
If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue...if government agencies, of which the prosecution is a part, are themselves involved in the use of force, in whatever way, it is our submission that would be an affront to justice to allow the prosecution to continue .
So, nothing to do with "the same rebel groups" at all; on the contrary, merely the fact that both whoever MI6 was allegedly supporting and the group Gildo was in were both part of the (broad, multifaceted) "armed resistance" to Syria's fascistic regime, if it involved some "use of force, in whatever way" .
Moreover, it is also not true that the defense lawyers, let alone the court, decided it was "clear" that British intelligence had been involved in these activities (after all, imagine if our courts decided what was "the truth" based on articles in the mass media); rather, what Gildo's solicitor, Gareth Peirce, said was that :
Given that there is a reasonable basis for believing that the British were themselves involved in the supply of arms, if that's so, it would be an utter hypocrisy to prosecute someone who has been involved in the armed resistance .
The CIA's role in Turkey: Preventing the Syrian rebels getting the arms they needed
The second question is who these articles alleged about who the British or U.S. governments and intelligence agencies were aiding at this time, and the nature and quantity of this alleged aid .
Firstly, looking at the two New York Times articles mentioned, there is no mention of British intelligence. The allegations there are entirely about the CIA. A number of things are clear from these articles. First, that the role of the CIA officers, based in Turkey, was not to supply arms ("the Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels"), but rather to "help" those supplying arms "decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms." Those allegedly supplying the arms were "a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar" .
What was the nature of the decision-making "help"? According to the same New York Times article (June 21, 2012), "the C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups" .
Further details are in the March 24, 2013, New York Times article. This article gives details on very significant arms shipments from Qatar throughout 2012 and into 2013 and then later arms shipments from Saudi Arabia beginning at the end of 2012. The supply of arms to Syrian rebels by these two countries is a well-established fact .
Milne may have a problem with that; but Syrian victims of Assad's genocidal slaughter, and for opponents of tyranny everywhere (myself included), their arming of the Syrian rebels, for their own reasons, might be seen as one of the few good things they do (and from this article, we see that the rebels on the ground, facing such a massive military machine as Assad's, had a very different assessment of how significant these shipments were to western media claims). But this is not the issue here. The issue is the actual role of the CIA and who they were supporting .
According to the article :
Qatar has been an active arms supplier--so much so that the United States became concerned about some of the Islamist groups that Qatar has armed...The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles...But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft...Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought .
Regarding the Saudi shipments, which the U.S. was allegedly more okay with, they were via Jordan and explicitly for rebels in the south. Even today, secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces have absolute dominance in the rebellion in the south; back at that time Islamist and definitely jihadist forces were next to completely absent there .
To summarize: the two NYT articles say nothing about British intelligence; do not tell us exactly which groups were being armed, but that the role of the CIA was to prevent weapons getting to "Islamist groups" or "fighters allied with al-Qaeda;" they don't say the U.S. supplied arms but that it "limited supplies;" and specifically, that the CIA ensured the rebels could not get the only weapons of any use against Assad's massive air war, Manpads (portable anti-aircraft weapons) .
Indeed, this last point turned out to be by far the most crucial result of this entire episode of U.S. intervention: according to a report by Nour Malas in the Wall Street Journal :
the Pentagon and CIA ramped up their presence on Turkey's southern border" precisely after more weapons began to flow in to the rebels in mid-2012, especially small numbers of portable anti-aircraft weapons (Manpads), some from Libya, "smuggled into the country through the Turkish border," others "supplied by militant Palestinian factions now supporting the Syrian uprising and smuggled in through the Lebanese border," or some even bought from regime forces. "In July, the U.S. effectively halted the delivery of at least 18 Manpads sourced from Libya, even as the rebels pleaded for more effective antiaircraft missiles to counter regime airstrikes in Aleppo, people familiar with that delivery said .
I've dissected these reports in more detail here .
What was the British role in Jordan ?
What of the Guardian article on 8 March 2013? Finally, this one does talk about a British role. The article begins :
Western [including British--MK] training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad's fall .
The alleged training was "focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected" .
The article says the UK Ministry of Defense denied providing military training to the rebels, but claimed instead they have been training the Jordanian military, but the Guardian had "been told" that British intelligence were providing the rebels "logistical and other advice in some form" .
There had been "no 'green light' for the rebel forces being trained to be sent into Syria." That is because their purpose was not to fight the regime. Rather .
they would be deployed if there were signs of a complete collapse of public services in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, which could trigger a million more Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan, which is reeling under the strain of accommodating the 320,000 who have already sought shelter there. The aim of sending western-trained rebels over the border would be to create a safe area for refugees on the Syrian side of the border, to prevent chaos and to provide a counterweight to al-Qaeda-linked extremists who have become a powerful force in the north .
Regarding Jordan's interest in all this, the article noted that "for the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Jordan has sought to stay out of the fray, fearing a backlash from Damascus and an influx of extremists that would destabilize the precariously balanced kingdom." However, there has been a tactical shift precisely because "Islamist forces have been gaining steam in the north and Jordan is keen to avoid that in the south. Having been very hands-off, they now see that they have to do something in the south" .
To sum up again: there was a British role in Jordan; it was explicitly to support "secular" groups and "defected Syrian army officers" in the south to balance them against the "Islamist" or "al-Qaida" forces gaining strength in the north; there was nothing whatsoever about supplying arms; and the purpose of training a small core of western-leaning military officers in Jordan was to help fill a catastrophic vacuum in case the Assad regime collapsed. There is a very clear fear of such a collapse in the article .
The other article mentioned (The Red Line and the Rat Line) is Seymour Hersh's widely discredited attempt to claim the Assad regime did not launch a chemical attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs in August 2013 and that instead the rebels, supplied by Turkey, gassed their own children to death. Hersh's entire story relies on the alleged testimony of an unnamed source in the U.S. intelligence community. What it says on this "rat-line" issue likely has about the same amount of credibility. The significant addition to the above New York Times stories is Hersh's assertion that "the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi's arsenals into Syria." Hersh is the only source that makes such a claim; but he is unable to verify it for us because the whole alleged agreement is in a secret annex to a Senate Intelligence Committee report that only a few peoplAe have ever seen. It is therefore difficult to know what to make of any of this .
For good measure, Hersh adds, "Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida." Of course he provides not a shred of evidence for this, and it appears more a statement of ideology than fact. Ironically, he later notes that the U.S. quit this rat-line because it got concerned that Turkey and Qatar were letting Islamists get some of the arms and even that, heaven forbid, some Manpads may have got through to the rebels, at least in this instance agreeing with all other sources regarding the U.S. view of Islamists .
From all these articles--and from a wealth of others I have read--I can say with confidence that Milne's assertion that Britain had been involved in the secret supply of "arms on a massive scale" to Syrian rebels is entirely made up; actually no evidence of any arms being supplied by the U.S., let alone Britain, appears anywhere. But to the extent any kind of "training" or logistical help occurred, or to the extent that the U.S. allowed other countries to supply a certain amount of light arms, in every case it was to some described as secular or defected Syrian military with the specific objective of blocking any Islamist forces, and especially al-Qaida .
The absolute discontinuity between the U.S., the FSA and Nusra
Now getting to the next main question: who is Gildo charged with joining in Syria? While it is difficult to get clear information, according to the Daily Mail, it seems "the group he had joined, Kataib al-Muhajireen, had gone on to work with Jabhat al-Nusra," that is, the Syrian al-Qaida group. At that time, late 2012, Nusra was only just emerging from the shadows, till then mainly known for a string of car bombings. From the outset, its relationship with the mainstream rebels of the Free Syrian Army was difficult; a range of more moderate to hardline Islamist militia stood between them, but on the whole were more closely allied with the FSA than with Nusra .
Clearly, the group Gildo joined was exactly the group that the U.S. and UK were most concerned with attempting to thwart, with blocking arms from getting to, according to all the relevant articles. And in fact it went beyond this .
In late 2012, U.S. officials met with FSA leaders, the latter trying to see if it was possible to get any U.S. arms for their fight against the fascist regime. However, the Americans only seemed interested in getting information about Nusra, and then surprised the FSA with the demand that it turn its guns on Nusra if it wanted any U.S. arms. When the FSA rebels said their current priority was fighting the regime, the U.S. agents told them they had to fight Nusra now and worry about the regime later .
In the awkward world of anti-Syrian revolution conspiracy theory, the FSA and other Syrian rebels are "U.S.-backed jihadists." To deal with the "U.S.-backed" part first, while they are entitled to try to get arms from whoever they can, it is notable that the FSA rejected this U.S. condition for getting arms, understanding it to be what it was: not an expression of U.S. preference for secular rebels, nor any honest move to arm them, but rather an attempt to get the democratic-secular and jihadist wings of the uprising to slaughter each other while the Assad regime laughs. And given that Nusra had already demonstrated some prowess in fighting the regime, and the U.S. had provided nothing, when in December 2012 the U.S. declared Nusra a terrorist organization, demonstrations broke out in Syrian cities, declaring "we are all Nusra." And two years later, when the U.S. began bombing ISIS, but also immediately bombed Nusra, but left the regime alone to continue its mass murder, the FSA defended Nusra against U.S. bombing, and most major rebel groups condemned the U.S. intervention as an attack on the revolution. So much for the FSA being "U.S. proxies" and so on .
However, did this slogan "we are all Nusra" prove the Syrian rebellion was all "jihadist"? In reality, this slogan was merely a declaration of rejection of U.S. imperialism's attempts to set conditions on the uprising. The reality was very different from the slogan; the first half of 2013 was continually punctured by FSA armed clashes with Nusra throughout Syria. But these were not attempts by the FSA to do the U.S. bidding to launch an all-out offensive against Nusra; on the contrary, they were either defensive actions against Nusra attacks or actions to defend local people in revolutionary areas against Nusra attempts to impose theocratic repression .
For example, on June 19, 2013, in Jabal al-Wastani in Idlib, Nusra fighters assassinated two civilians accused of owning a bar in the village of al-Hamama, and tried to arrest someone, whom they accused of working for the regime, in another village. Fighters from the National Unity Brigade of the FSA prevented their entry, telling them it was the court's jurisdiction to investigate. The FSA then gathered seven battalions and forced Nusra out of the area. Following this, 10 brigades formed an alliance against the jihadists, and when Nusra returned to try to force a checkpoint in another village on July 2, they were arrested .
And so what we are left with from this attempt to impose amalgam theory to the U.S. or British governments, the FSA and mainstream Syrian rebels, and al-Nusra, is exactly nothing .
What does any of this have to do with "the rise of ISIS" ?
Yet even more intriguing is what any of this could possibly have to do with "the rise of ISIS." Because whether we are talking about the FSA, Islamist rebels, or al-Nusra, all of them have played a prominent role in fighting ISIS--actually the most prominent role of any armed forces in either Syria or Iraq, and certainly far more prominent than the Assad regime .
Indeed, one reason why we could even talk about the FSA and Nusra fighting in the same trench, following the clashes in the first half of 2013, is precisely because the rise of ISIS forced all Syrian rebels together in order to fight to the death against the now double (and essentially allied) fascist threat of the Assad regime and ISIS .
ISIS was after all not part of any Syrian rebellion, but rather an invasion from across the Iraqi border--simply the new name of "al-Qaeda in Iraq." When it openly split with its Nusra child in mid-2013, it was a fairly straightforward result of the Syrianization of the ranks of Nusra, as many rebels with no commitment to jihadist ideology joined an organization with more arms and money, which it could get due to the open Iraqi border. This in turn somewhat moderated Nusra's practice. By exactly the same token, as the split meant ISIS was now even more dominated by Iraqis and global-jihadists with no relationship to the Syrian masses, and owing their very existence in Syria to the organization, ISIS' practice moved from extremely repressive to openly barbaric .
Thus the FSA clashes with Nusra largely ended by mid-2013 but instead a more or less open war began with ISIS from at least July, especially following ISIS' assassination of an FSA officer, the first of countless. In January 2014, all the mainstream Islamist groups, and Nusra, joined the FSA's open offensive, which drove ISIS out of the whole of western Syria and even significant parts of the east (even briefly Raqqa itself). Once again, this war was launched by the Syrian revolutionary forces based on their own decision-making regarding the threat posed by ISIS to the revolution; it had nothing whatever to do with following U.S. encouragement or orders. They still saw their main enemy as the regime .
In contrast, as is well-known, the Assad regime never managed to drive ISIS out of anywhere at all, and the regime and ISIS both largely avoided hitting each other and instead concentrated all their fire on the Syrian rebels, sometimes even jointly (e.g., Deir Ezzor July 2014, today in Aleppo). The only time the Syrian regime began bombing ISIS (or at least civilians in ISIS-ruled areas) was after the U.S. began bombing ISIS in Syria since September 2014, as the regime shows its worth to the bogus U.S. "war on terror." And since then, the regime and the U.S. intervention have essentially been allies, including joint bombing of cities (especially Raqqa), the explicit intervention of U.S. bombing to save the Assad regime's control of Deir Ezzor airport from ISIS later in 2014, and U.S. bombing of Nusra and other non-ISIS opponents of the Assad regime .
Given all this, what does either the alleged (extremely limited) western aid to the secular rebels, or Gildo's membership of Nusra, have to do with the rise of ISIS, the enemy of both? And the answer again is absolutely nothing.
The famous DIA document
Of course this was rather a long way of answering one "example," but that's because such illogical "examples" are continually used to slander the magnificent Syrian people's uprising as either an American plot or a jihadist war or, more commonly and absurdly, both. So I just wanted to get a few things established before dealing with the second part. Milne claims :
A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret U.S. intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts--and effectively welcomes--the prospect of a "Salafist principality" in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became ISIS) and fellow Salafists as the "major forces driving the insurgency in Syria"--and states that "western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey" were supporting the opposition's efforts to take control of eastern Syria .
Milne then comments that this is :
pretty well exactly what happened two years later...A year into the Syrian rebellion, the U.S. and its allies weren't only supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups; they were prepared to countenance the creation of some sort of "Islamic state"--despite the "grave danger" to Iraq's unity--as a Sunni buffer to weaken Syria .
One of the best refutations I have seen of this interpretation of the DIA document was by the excellent Magpie68 site. Below I will give a few thoughts of my own, largely in agreement with this view .
First, I might just correct part of Milne's presentation of the document. It does not exactly claim that al-Qaida in Iraq and "fellow Salafists" were the "major forces driving the insurgency in Syria." It claims "the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI" are the major driving forces. But either way, what this tells us is that this is hardly the declaration of an "intelligence" organization such as the DIA, which would know better than this. Dated August 2012, the rebellion was then overwhelmingly dominated by the FSA; several Islamist militia had been set up but were far from being the "driving force" at that stage; the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was and is overwhelmingly an exile-based organization, but even Qatar's attempt to insert the MB into the rebellion only really began around mid-2012; and AQI was entirely marginal. Regardless of how one assesses the evolution of these factors later, there is simply no evidence in the factual record for such an assessment at that time .
So, if they could get it so wrong, what does this tell us ?
It is first important to look at the actual document, and not Word documents that have transcribed it. The first thing one will notice is that the first couple of pages, and sporadically elsewhere, are heavily "redacted," that is, the DIA is protecting confidential sources. In other words, this is not an expression of the DIA's opinion, but "information" being given to the DIA by some source. Indeed, the second thing to notice is that it proclaims itself to be an "information report: not finally evaluated intelligence;" one would think that was clear enough. A third noticeable aspect is the clear concern with the security of Iraq, with the Iraq-Syria border, and with the danger posed by the AQI .
This strongly suggests an informant from the Iraqi regime. And the interesting thing about the Iraqi regime is that it bridges being a U.S. satellite derived from the U.S. invasion and being an Iranian satellite allied to the Assad regime and which tends to talk with the same story, such as vague assertions about unnamed "western countries" supporting the "opposition" .
Incidentally, the idea that this vague claim about "western countries" supporting the "opposition" means U.S. support for AQI is quite a stretch--it would indeed be interesting to see the U.S. Defense Department declaring its support for al-Qaida; it is simply not what is being said .
Now even when we deal with what the (probably) Iraqi informant is telling the DIA, it doesn't exactly say what Milne and the entire Assadophilic cybersphere wants it to say. Where the informant claims that opposition forces are trying to control eastern Syria (Hasake and Deir Ezzor) and that "western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts," it is somewhat unclear if the informant is talking of the present or the future, since the grammar (like elsewhere in the "intelligence" document), is so bad: because this is listed under the sub-heading of "the future assumptions of the crisis," where the first such "assumption" is the survival of the Assad regime, and the quote above is part of the second "future assumption" that the situation develops into "a proxy war." In fact, in the text, the alleged support from western and other countries is also called a "hypothesis," and even this is based on the idea that "safe havens under international sheltering" will be set up--a weird "hypothesis" given the fact that this was never on the agenda of the U.S. or other "western countries" and still isn't .
Moreover, when it comes to the effects on Iraq, the document expresses how alarmed the source is about this dangerous situation, a view almost certainly shared by the DIA. The fact that the FSA (the only time the document mentions it) had taken over parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border is presented as "a dangerous and serious threat" since the border is "not guarded by official elements" (i.e., the Assad regime). And it is in the context of this dangerous situation, of "the situation unraveling," that the informant raises the "possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria"--from the context, the informant sees that as part of this "dangerous and serious threat," rather than advocating such a possibility, indeed they go straight on to discuss the "dire consequences" of this, including the possibility of AQI declaring an Islamic state across Syria and Iraq which would create a "grave danger" to Iraq's unity
Small wonder then that when the U.S. finally did intervene in Iraq and Syria in 2014, it was to bomb this Islamic State, even if Milne thinks the U.S. is not bombing it enough. It must be so difficult for the Assadophilic "left" to see, day after day, that the U.S. is not only not bombing the greatest purveyor of massive violence in the region--the Assad regime--but in addition is sharing intelligence with Assad, sometimes launching joint bombing of ISIS-ruled territories and civilians with Assad, and also bombing other, non-ISIS, opponents of Assad, especially Nusra, but also even the Islamic Front .
Comment by Gilbert Achcar
My final point on the DIA document is to just quote a response from Gilbert Achcar:
1 - Much surprised that an "intelligence" report would in the most banal way describe the geography and ethnography ("the population living on the border has a social-tribal style, which is bound by strong tribal and familial marital ties") of the border area in a region that was under U.S. occupation for nine years, and from which the U.S. had completed withdrawal less than one year earlier. Reads as if the report is based on a loose talk by an "informant" and written by a novice .
2 - The document formulates a *hypothesis*: "opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighboring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf States and turkey are supporting these efforts. This hypothesis is most likely in accordance with the data from recent events, which will help prepare safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command center of the temporary government" .
Since the *hypothesis* is predicated on the view that "Western countries" are preparing a repetition of the Libyan scenario, it is clear that the "informant" is closer to the opposite side (most probably, the Iraqi government) than to those to whom he (certainly not a she in the context!) attributes this intention .
3 - It is against the backdrop of this much biased and flawed hypothesis-making that one should read the "sensational" statement: "If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran) " .
4 - The assumption that this is an Iraqi government source is confirmed by statements like this one: "The Iraqi border guard forces are facing a border with Syria that is not guarded by official elements which presents a dangerous and serious threat" .
Actually the whole document reads very clearly like one coming from a source from within the Iraqi government, or close to it. Basing "revelations" on this is like taking a "secret" report by a source close to the Syrian regime as a proof of what the Syrian opposition had in mind. No surprise that it is "not finally evaluated intelligence." It is actually just worthless rubbish of the kind the files of the "intelligence" services are full of .
ISIS of course is an arch-enemy of the Syrian revolution, so ironically enough, as a supporter of this revolution, it might actually serve my purposes to also go all conspiratorial and assert that "U.S. imperialism created ISIS"--not to get at the Assad regime of course, but precisely in order to help Assad derail the uprising into a sectarian war. The reasons I oppose this conspiracism are twofold. First, because I believe basing arguments on facts is better than writing endless bullshit, which should be a severe embarrassment to those on the left promoting it. Secondly, because most of this conspiracism is not motivated by showing that imperialist powers tried to derail the revolution by backing ISIS, but on the contrary, they want to claim that the U.S. and the West "backed ISIS" in order to overthrow the Syrian tyranny, a laughable idea .
In particular, this leads them into these grossly dishonest and fact-free amalgam between ISIS and its arch-enemies among the Syrian revolutionary forces; and hence the continuous assertion, backed by the flimsiest of evidence or none at all, that the U.S. and the West have backed other parts of the Syrian rebellion (something regarded to be bad) is also described as part of the how the West allegedly helped "fuel the rise of ISIS," as if the FSA, the force in the region that has most successfully beat back ISIS, is in some way related to ISIS or gave rise to it. And all these forces, not only ISIS, or even Nusra, but all Syrian armed rebellion against the fascist regime are labeled "terrorists" by this "leftist" hasbarra, mimicking the very worst forms of imperialist and Zionist propaganda. This is particularly disgusting slander, especially considering that the big majority of ISIS victims have been Syrian rebel fighters .
Yes, the U.S. created ISIS alright--by invading Iraq and launching an apocalyptic occupation and then bolstering a Shiite-sectarian regime allied with Iran which launched a sectarian war against the Sunni population--yes, this did bolster the most extreme Sunni sectarian forces among the Iraqi resistance, namely al-Qaida in Iraq which became ISIS. Many "anti-imperialists" are at least able to admit this part, because it puts direct blame on the U.S. Why is it so difficult to see that exactly the same dynamic occurred in Syria, not from some nonexistent U.S. invasion, but due to the similar apocalyptic sectarian war the Assad regime waged against the Syrian revolution and also specifically against the Sunni majority, precisely in order to turn the nonsectarian uprising into a sectarian war .