23May2018

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Douma: Part 1 - Deception In Plain Sight

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the 'Enemy', while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a 'denier', 'pro-Saddam', 'pro-Gaddafi, 'pro-Assad'. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: 'Apologist... Apologist... Apologist'.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

'I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.'

The 'mainstream' responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was 'a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth'.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian's assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

'It's time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad's ability to murder Syria's citizens at will.'

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

'It means destroying Assad's combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad's and Russia's control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.'

But surely after Iraq - when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – 'we' should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump's air raids:

'When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.'

Oborne added:

'Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.'

Tisdall was having none of it:

'Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?'

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had 'the motivation' to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed 'writhing' under gas attack. Tisdall's pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

'HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED'

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper's comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

'Besides, how much evidence do we need?... To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad's guilt is clear.'

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of 'inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch'. But when we actually click Freedland's link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not in fact unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall's claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as 'denialists' and 'apologists' – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In 'mainstream' journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

'Syria has paid a terrible price for the west's disastrous policy of doing nothing'.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA's billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian 'rebels' via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian's George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

'Don't you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn't think Assad did it.'

Monbiot replied:

'Then he's a fool.'

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

'I continue to attract attacks from the "respectable" corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.'

Monbiot tweeted back:

'I'm sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.'

The idea that Murray's effort has been 'to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes' is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an 'apologist' for 'the enemy'.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term 'apologist' might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad's responsibility is 'apologism', then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as 'Trump apologists', or 'May apologists', or 'Jaysh al-Islam apologists'? The term really means little more than, 'I disagree with you' – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

'Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.'

Read more: Douma: Part 1 - Deception In Plain Sight

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