Warning

Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Crushing the Rebellion at Al-Mazarb Bridge: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 4

Crushing the Rebellion at Al-Mazarb Bridge: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 4
July 28, 2015

Blood and Quiet in Hama
To start, the subject of this post - violence at a certain bridge in the city of Hama - has its clearest glimpse on July 7, 2011, during the provocative visit by U.S. ambassador Robert Ford. He says it was what he saw in these days that convinced there were no armed groups of opposition fighters in Hama, as the Syrian government claimed (see part 2).  

Throughout this shorter post, I'll refer to this handy list of "martyrs" from Hama province, as recorded by the opposition VDC, for the relevant span - July 4-30, 2011, Hama = 38 martyrs - just before the ambassador's visit to just before the big massacre of July 31 (see part 1).  

First, the early part - the 4th has Ibrahim Qashoush killed. He's the alleged anti-regime singer, more likely an informant, who rebels slaughtered, dumped in the river, and blamed on the regime (see part 3) 2 other men were executed on the 4th, back story totally unclear. 

Next, a point I didn't notice before - a spate of killing in the city, by whoever, just before Ford's arrival, followed by a relative lack of them during his visit. July 5, as Qashoush was pulled from the river, was bloody by the VDC records, with 20 killed, all men. 2 are named Nahar, 2 named Dalati, and 2 named Rahmoun. For the most part anyway, these have no notes except to say they were shot with a gun. Some have pictures.(No detailed analysis now, it's for context)

Just when ambassador Ford enters Hama is confused - either starting Wednesday the 6th or the next day, ending either Thursday or Friday (total span 1-3 days, with the massive protest he rolled with reported both as on Thursday and on Friday, unclear). On the 6th, two civilian men died by shooting in Qalat al-Madiq, or Madeq Castle, a crossroads town 42 km NW of Hama. No one in Hama city died.

Who was chilling out here, as the "regime" worried the ambassador's visit might spark violence? That was a silly worry - it seems to have calmed things instead. In fact, deaths stay low for a period after as well; after Friday the 8th, just 5 dead before the end of list - on the 9th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th. Death took another break on the 30th before hitting hard with the big bang at month's end, and onward from there.

This helps set the context for the oddball exceptions covered below, almost entirely relating to a brief period of brutality at a local bridge on the edge of the city.

Thursday: Thugs Crushing People at the Bridge
Thursday, July 7 is the one day we can be sure Ford was in Hama seeing no sign of armed strugle past a slingshot - is  - only 3 martyrs on Thursday - 2 civilians and one FSA fighter from Hama Jarajmeh district (west, on the river) - named Kinan Mohammad al-Abdullah, he was shot, not clear where (may not be in Hama).

Ambassador Ford insisted there were no armed fighters in Hama at this time, but the city had enough some were dying just then - perhaps elsewhere but maybe in a clash on the other side of town, in which rebels may have briefly taken over an important checkpoint. Consider the two civilians, who both died there, without any takeover noted.

* Mulham Aalwan     Civilian  Adult - Male  Hama  Hama  2011-07-07  Field Execution. Notes:  "He was ran over by heavy machinery by the security forces at Mazarib bridge, which mutilated the body"
* Nourelden Mansour     Civilian  Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-07  Field Execution. Notes: "the two martyrs, Noor Eddin Mansour and Moulham Elwan, were run over by heavy machinery at Mazareb bridge, an area that is controlled by security forces. This resulted in the significant distortion of the bodies."

So both civilians were killed, it says, by security forces running them over, at leisure at their government-controlled bridge. But this doesn't usually happen. And here's their most primary video evidence (warning, very graphic), showing the bodies loaded in a van on a stretch of highway:

* حماه - متظاهرين تم قتلهم على جسر المزارب 7-7 (Hama - demonstrators have been killed on the bridge Almzarb 7-7) (one of 2 VDC-linked videos that remain active)

One victim is severely mutilated, as if run over. His body is damaged mainly at the middle, torn in half, with almost all his guts now hanging outside. Also, his gonads are uncovered. Other injuries, before, during, or after that: he was shot in both ankles, left leg mangled, right arm badly broken, possible stab wound to left shoulder, and a sharp band of trauma across the nose and bloody eyes, possibly the fatal blow (see below). The other man seems dead, bleeding from somewhere on the head, but intact. He has at least one small wound to the left shoulder.

We first see them in the back of this white van - not an ambulance, with lights and a siren or markings. Those bodies, especially the mangled one, clearly weren't carried far from where loaders found them. So this is about the spot they were killed. Are these all regime thugs, with this a "leaked" video by them? The van waits several seconds for the important filming, but then pulls away at mid-speed. There's no life to save, but they seem rushed to get out of there.The video ends quickly thereafter.

For the rebel story to hold any water, these have to be pro-regime thugs. But the thin crowd present around the scene argues otherwise (See panoramic view below - possible minaret circled for geo-location attempt, further below).
We see a few civilian-dress men on motorcycles or standing, and this videographer. They shout "Allahu Akbar," and something angry about "Bashar." The video was seemingly made and posted by opposition folks (primary source maybe in time, "Crazy Man's" copy works for now). It's a major highway, but empty of regular traffic at mid-day, like there's some disaster or danger on the road (same as it was on the bridge terrorists dump dead cops off of on August 1- see part 1). The marks on the pavement shows some traffic chaos at about this spot, maybe from the same day.  The most veering line seems singular, from a motorcycle.

How about the man with the fighter's scarf with the stills above? He looks both right and left in the few moments he's visible (with some frames seemingly snipped from the middle). He's on the lookout for someone. What does he do if he sees them? He carries an object with a strap. There's no clear view, but it might be a rifle. Or maybe it's the rebels' single slingshot Ambassador Ford also saw?

Maybe this is how "Shabiha" operate, but they seem like rebels to me. Consider wherever the bodies went, at least two more rebel-seeming videos were made of their bodies:
* dark, indoors (the other active VDC-linked video) little visual value, but the victims named: the intact one is Mr. Mansour, the torn-up one has a name sounding like something Aalwan.
* (extremely graphic) daylight, (video suggestion when viewing the others) in a rebel-seeming morgue, we get to see both victims in better resolution and at leisure, here called unidentified ("faceless") martyrs. (But weren't they "demonstrators" like the guys who picked them up?) Mansour is identifiable as one of the two in the van, by face and hair, and unique blood trickle pattern (with a new line across the bridge of his nose - compared below).

Mulhem Aalwan, horrible but 
small - open in new window 
for larger view if needed.
Mr. Aalwan, is here too, with all guts visible but gonads covered, and we can see the bridge of his nose is missing, the bone hacked away (best angle to see that, bottom view). His right eye is missing, an empty socket, and the left might be gone too - in a gash starting at the edge of his left eye (top view). A strong blow with a hatchet looks like the best explanation.  There would be other hatchet murders, attributed to "Shabiha" at checkpoints, reported in Hama in the weeks after this (details maybe later). There's also mysterious left armpit trauma. That happens a fair amount, cause unknown (heart surgery?)

It's alleged that regime thugs ran these guys over with a tank or some such. Clearly they also did a few other nasty things to them, like some terrorist psychopaths. We know they were "regime" because the place it happened is a place they run - no one else can get there and kill people. But then, implicitly, they decided to leave the area, and allowed apparent rebels come in to film and even retrieve the bodies - if quickly, and on the lookout for the universal "Shabiha's" return. But no way could they have been in control, right here, before or during the horrific murders. 

After, they make off with the evidence, as usual, with their own vehicles, and take them wherever to document the "regime crime." And they insist they aren't lying when they say this.

Geo-Location, Implications
The spot, like all spot in Syria, should usually be government controlled, considering its important location. Almzarb bridge is labeled in Arabic here on Wikimapia, where the main street from Al-Muzareb district runs beneath the M-5 (Damascus-Aleppo) international highway, SW towards city center, connecting areas to the northeast with Hama proper. (right, orange)

The loading spot must be northeast up al-Hamraa street in the afternoon, somewhere between the cemetery and the sheep market. The exact spot isn't clear: The best match for trees to the right and left is almost across from Jama Ali bin Abi Talib mosque (purple marks the filming spot if so, tree fits in green). But if that's a minaret ahead in the panorama view (above), it almost must be that one's, so the spot must be further up the street NE (with trees to the right so close to the street?)

Or is that a tree and not a minaret? Or is it possibly the minaret I found further SW on that line of sight? (lower left in the graphic above) I think this is more likely - it's not clear, must be kind of distant (if it's a minaret). I wouldn't think that far ... measuring it ... 840 meters? Sounds likely. The purple spot is likely it. There's another kind of antenna tower on almost the same line as the minaret - the spindly thing is not easily found in the satellite images. Anyone else? Possible oval-shaped top part on that. 

Wherever exactly, I'm pretty sure it must be on this street. With sunlight nearly straight down the street, just a couple degrees west of that - solar azimuth is about 231-233 degrees, so a local time of about 1:40-1:45 PM, for what that's worth. Ahead I think we can see this street dipping down, and then the highway overpass. The bodies are driven into the city, not away from it.

Rebels say the bridge part of the highway and/or this street passing beneath it, was government-controlled. But this area nearby apparently wasn't. This is too distant to even be their checkpoint rebels overran. But the fact that their van heads right to that underpass, with no noticed turn-off, suggests they were able to freely pass through it for the moment. (possible clue below, at the end)

Bridge Killings and Confusion, Friday and Saturday 
On the 8th, as Ford may or may not have participated in the largest-yet Friday protests in Hama, 5 local people died, per the VDC list. One succumbed to wounds sustained on the 5th. One gives no details, just says shot, unclear where. The other three, it says, were on bridges, en route to or from the protest, north of town, or even up in Maarat Numan, Idlib - all 3, in short, not in Hama city.

* Isam Fakhri Salmeh   Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-08  Shooting. Age 38 Martyrdom location Idleb: Jisr Maara (Maara Brtidge). Notes: on Mouara bridge while he was heading to the city of Hama, accompanied by his wife and children, when military forces fired at him. (my notes: I can't find such a bridge on Wikimapia. It's got a similar name however to the bridge covered above. Is this some kind of goof-up? Or ... The Arabic name here points to the town Maarat al-Numan. It's just over the Hama province border, not so far to be).

Video of the martyr. My notes: on ice in what seems to be a free-filming rebel morgue. They zoom in on his ear, where he was shot I guess (it's too dark to see much). So rebels who were on the bridge scooped up his body after the regime murder? What became of his surviving wife and children?)

* yaser Muslem    Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-08  Shooting.  Martyrdom location Idleb: Maaret Al-Nouman. No video. (my notes: another pointer to Maarat Numan, if not a bridge. was this a group of Hama residents visiting north for the week, perhaps, and returning at the weekend? Did they actually make it some ways south before they were intercepted on the road?)

* Waleed Khalid al-Abbas  Adult - Male  Hama:  Taibet Al-Imam  2011-07-08  Shooting.  Age 18 notes: he was martyred after being shot in the abdomen by shabiha. This happened close to Qoumhana, while he was heading back from a protest in Hama. No body video (funeral ones though). My notes: that's just north of Hama city. He wouldn't pull off the highway to cruise near Qomhana, but be killed on the highway near there, while passing (or at a stop there, maybe, if he was on a bus).

The others were many kilometers north in Idlib, it says, heading south towards this stretch of road but still far from it. Coincidence, or fudging? All this out-of-town highway traffic involving a bridge stands out in the middle of just this span. Consider - VDC query for Hama martyrs with "bridge" in the notes from March 2011 up to 7 July, 2012 (a year after the main event here) = no one before the July 7 incident, and no more "bridge" note deaths in 2011 after these few on 7/7, 7/8, and 7/9.
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(side-note: They start and end again only with an incident on February 17, 2012 - two killed at Al-Mizarb Bridge. Notes for both say  "He was going to work with three other people, including a child, when the car was shot by a tank stationed on Al-Mizarb Bridge as they passed near it, killing him and the child. The other two were arrested, one of them is injuried." Both killed people are listed as male children. (All other entries are related to different bridges in Hama province.) )
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July 9 frames the period with just one martyr, clearly back on this bridge: Hamed Adi,  Adult - Male, age 65 and with 13 children, a shopkeeper. From Hama, died 2011-07-09 by Shooting. Martyrdom location: Aleppo Road (M-5 highway) Notes: "Killed by four shots on Mazarb bridge as he was carrying goods to his family, while he was opening his shop, the regime forces then stole his money and left the goods on the ground then he was taken to a hospital." Video of the martyr (my notes: on ice in what again seems like a rebel-run dead people filming facility - still at right - gunshots on left side of body at shoulder, chest, upper abdomen, lower abdomen)

So, in summary, July 7-9 saw four bridge-related murders, at the government-secured checkpoint - proving whodunnit - but with rebels left in control of, and filming, all 4 bodies right after. 

Bridge and Highway Mayhem After
After this aberrational period, highway violence let up for a bit, and when it flared up, it was further north. Nothing crazy happens at Mazarb bridge for a long time.

I've analyzed a video of August 3 that shows people in a truck allegedly hit by regime snipers, man and woman dead. Filmed from a distance because of snipers, but another video shows activists at the truck. (links later, can't re-locate ATM) Seems to be on the highway just north of the bridge, where it curves more to the west (details maybe later).

August 9 - 26 dead around Soran, incl. 5 women, 2 boys,  5 girls . One has notes "Was martyred with her 2 children in shelling their car"  - a video shows a pickup truck hit with light and heavy gunfire, off the road and filmed by rebels. They mention Soran and Taibet al-Imam (town).

Other stuff also happened, later (details, later).

An Accomplice?
A bit later, this martyr appears: Mohammad Hasan al-Khuder rank: conscript (in Arabic) died 2011-8-23 by field execution. Notes: He was killed by Col. Abdullah Zeer from Homs, because he was sympathetic to the residents and allowed them to pass through the checkpoints. 

This is likely a fake story, but in context it's compelling. Are these the same kind of "residents" who "hanged an informer last month"  (June)," as the late Anthony Shadid heard, and likely did the same to Mr. Qashoush? (see again part 3) Would this guy be in charge of a bridge checkpoint that was both government-controlled and open to letting "residents" pass through, murder nearby, pass back through with the evidence, etc.? Is the time delay a coincidence, or does it line up with an inquiry process to figure out what happened July 7-9 at al-Mazarb bridge?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Robert Ford, Weapons Inspector: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 2

Robert Ford, Weapons Inspector
The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 2
July 26, 2015
(last edits (minor) July 27)

A Taunting Gesture
On July 5, 2011, the body of Ibrahim Qashoush was pulled from the Orontes river in Hama, after he disappeared early on July 3. His throat was cut and vocal cords removed. He was mourned loudly as the supposed "nightingale of the revolution," responsible for writing or singing a popular anti-Assad protest song. But it turns out he was someone else - probably a suspected informant killed for tattling on terrorist plans in Hama - see part 3.  

It was known by opposition activists on the 5th that Qashoush had been killed, by regime thugs, the day before. It wasn't the same day, nor any time on the 3rd. It was on July 4th, which is of course independence day in the United States. Were the killers talking independence to an American audience as they slaughtered him and hatched their inspiring myth? It was the next day, Wednesday July 6 - or possibly the day after - that U.S. Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford made a rare appearance in the same city of Hama.

US Ambassador to Syria (center, behind windshield),
demanding the fall of the Syrian government

As reported, the ambassador visited local activists and patients at a hospital, wounded in earlier incidents. Ford's visit happened to coincide with a visit from France's ambassador (sources are clear this wasn't planned out). He also, unavoidably to hear the State Department, wound up with his official SUV rolling amidst a crowd of protesters chanting “The people want the fall of the regime,” and “We will only kneel to God,” as Rania Abouzeid  wrote in a July 8 article in TIME. Here's a working copy of a Reuters video (still at right). Notice how the protesters are waving olive branches and no visible rifles or swords in this demonstration. This was smart.

As Rania Abouzaid wrote for TIME:
After weeks of cautious, careful U.S. criticism of Assad, Ford’s physical presence in the city that has now defied both Assads — the father and former President Hafez, and his son Bashar — was a hugely symbolic, indeed taunting, gesture, one soon mimicked by the French ambassador. But will it do more harm than good?
(The Hafez reference is to the alleged 1982 "Hama Massacre," which accompanied a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising that was similar to the one happening now, except it was soundly crushed. Officially, it was just an Alawi dictator massacring Sunnis, as it allegedly is today - like father, like son.)

Damascus was not happy with this stunt. Syrian officials and official media said Ford went beyond his mandate in Hama and met with "saboteurs," in a move "aimed at obstructing dialogue and political solutions." A useful report from The Guardian passes on these concerns in some detail. Presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban, for example, called the visit "an escalation on the part of the U.S. ambassador," coming as it did at a moment when, she said, "a meeting is prepared between the residents, mosque imams and the civil authorities in the city aimed at finding a solution to the problem." In that context, Ford's display "gives us a message that the U.S. says 'No' to dialogue," She said.

Shaaban is being keen here; other evidence suggest the U.S. always wanted regime change, not negotiations towards stability. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees, from the start insistent on regime change, had just said no to this dialogue, and it seems Washington agreed. And their chosen voice was derailing it by marching in solidarity with the anti-government activists who spoke not of dialogue, but of a collapsing government. "Saboteurs" seems a fair term.

There's some confusion (on my end anyway) about the timeline of and approval for the visit; The state-run Syrian media allegedly claimed Ford had no permission to be in Hama at all, but they might mean just beyond the first day (hoping to avoid a Friday of Ford rally). The State Department points out he was waved through checkpoints after arranging authorization with the foreign and/or  defense ministries.  Ford arrived on either Wednesday or Thursday, by different reports, and announced he would stay 'til Friday (Guardian), but left before the day's protests so as “not to become the story himself.” Some reports suggest the march seen on video was on Thursday the 7th, not the proper Friday one (Al-Arabiya)  but the Reuters video says that was Friday after all and he only left before Friday prayers.

I'm okay with staying a bit confused on that, because the point is the same - he moved along with the protesters in solidarity, as they peacefully demanded the fall of the same government Ford was ambassador to... and they did it right in the shadow of the forced collapse of Libya's government that was still ongoing, with full U.S. military support. They were clearly seeking a copy of the same here, and Ford was hinting they might get it, if the chaos and accusations got extreme enough (that's what did it in Libya, they probably understood). 

Ford Denies Armed Gangs
Another problem with claiming the ambassador was there clandestinely is that he also met members of Syria's military, who showed and told him things. Why take him to places if he's not supposed to be there?

This part is not explained in most reports, but seen in the photo below (from this Global Research piece, given as from his visit to Hama in July, but not easily traced to a source with original credits). He's not smiling but perhaps nodding, as an officer explains something related to the bullet holes in a wall he's being shown. It's probably to help explain the presence of armed groups in the city.  
A skeptical Ambassador Ford being shown evidence of armed rebels in Hama
The Army man with experience seems convinced of whatever he's saying, earnest, pleasant, and inquisitive as to whether Ford is paying attention. Ford seems aware of the camera too, and doesn't smile. But he is looking right at the evidence, and appears patiently skeptical. By his record of statements, Ford must have concluded the army faked those marks with their own guns.

That is, well ... consider what he said a few weeks later. ABC News, August 4:  U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford Calls Crackdown in Hama "Grotesque" and "Abhorrent" Interviewed by Christiane Amanpour about events in Hama, Ford referenced his visit there to say:
"The violence that the Syrian government is inflicting on Syrian protesters, from our point of view, is grotesque ... It's important to bear witness to what the Syrian government is doing. The Syrian government does not tell the truth. They said there were armed gangs in Hama. Well, the only weapon I saw was a slingshot."
Working inside Syria, in contact both with its government and opposition activists, and with his own information gathering capabilities, the U.S. ambassador to Syria should be a well-informed and credible source, able to see clearly into a murky situation. The public presumed he was, and Ford used that credibility to assure the world Damascus was lying. There were no gun-toting boogeymen; every bullet fired, every blade drawn in Hama, was necessarily done by the regime or its allies.

It's implied that Ford made at least some effort to find these gunmen, personally or otherwise, becoming a sort of weapons inspector. He must have  asked around, demanded and got total honesty from the activists he met that they and everyone else remained unarmed, made a check of nearby towns and possible hiding spots, looking for caches of AK-47s.

To the extent he didn't really do that, his observations are meaningless, or worse. And the extent is probably high.

Do such probably-meaningless words work better just amplified?  JJ Harder, the press attaché of the US embassy in Damascus, tried it immediately on July 31. Al-Jazeera reported 'Scores dead' as Syrian tanks storm Hama city. Upon news of 100 dead in Hama that day, and claims that armed rebels were involved, Harder said:
"The Syrian government is completely delusional. They are making up fanciful stories that no one believes. Our ambassador Robert Ford was in Hama earlier this month, and he saw with his own eyes the violence that they are talking about. There was none. He maybe saw one teenager with a stick at a checkpoint, and the government is going on with these absolute fabrications about armed gangs running the streets of Hama and elsewhere."
"Hama has shown itself to be a model of peaceful protest. That was why our ambassador chose to go there."

So Who is This?
These comments were all triggered by the events of July 31, with 109 or more killed - the deadliest day yet in Syria - as well as the ensuing week of crackdown. The day clearly led to the week, and that initial hundred includes over 2 dozen victims of the deadliest attack yet by anti-government forces in Hama. Records list at least 13 policemen killed, it seems in a synchronized prison mutiny and an attack on a police station in Hader district, at least. Furthermore, at least 13 military members were killed in fighting in the city and north of it, in an attack on an officer's club, and maybe in other attacks (see part 1). Some opposition sources even acknowledged this was done by extremists, al-Qaeda types, returning from the war in Iraq.

By July 3, Hama's "armed gangs" were apparently able and willing to slaughter an informant like Ibrahim Qashoush, for allegedly sharing their secrets. On Jul 7/8, they received a huge morale boost from ambassador Ford, who would keep helping them hide those same secrets. By July 31, the gangs were not just real, but the kind of evolved menace that could - and did - overrun and kill security forces, retrieve the bodies, and still make it back to their base with them overnight.

A slaughtered policeman in Hama, being dumped
The corpses of 8 executed men, apparently police, were driven to a bridge over the Orontes river on the edge of Hama on the morning of August 1, then brazenly dumped into the river far below to shouts of "Allahu Akbar!" (details and explanation, again see part 1)

The lightly-armed, civilian-dress men bringing the bodies ask not to be filmed by the gathered crowd, but at least three people recorded the event. However, only the one video was released, that anyone's found. In that, the last body rolled over the railing is extra-bloody, with slices on his shoulder and a throat wound (see right). Someone says "this one, his throat’s cut" and someone else says "Good work, guys." 

Syrian authorities claim 13 bodies of policemen, murdered by "terrorists," were pulled from the river, that 17 total were killed, and that soldiers were killed as well in the fight against these gunmen.


To be fair, this was all obscured - depending on one's point of view - under an even larger record of dead civilians in Hama that day. As many as 87 were shot dead on July 31 by records, all men. That surely including rebel fighters shot in the clashes, but probably also many civilians. Those might be sniped at random, or picked out to murder. Why and by whom should be considered carefully. 

Armed rebels who were on the offensive in Hama that day denied they were, and their activist helpers blamed all killings there on "the regime." Half of that was a lie, so maybe the other half was too. But supportive news reports usually lumped the 80+ civilians and 20+ security forces into 100+ people killed in Hama, all implicitly by government forces. This trick was also apparently used by Robert Ford and the U.S. State Department.

If Damascus invited Ford to observe the policemen being fished out of the river, he didn't accept. He knew by then that would be a "sanitized" event he should avoid (see below).  But the ambassador, of all people, will surely have had this aspect of the violence clarified to him by the Syrian government he was tasked with liaising with. 

Ford would know about these killings, but no surprise, he's apparently never spoken about them, acting as if only protesters were killed. But if he had ever been pressed for a firm answer, Mr. Ford would have to say the cops and soldiers were killed by other government enforcers. Maybe it was for refusing orders, or maybe just to flesh out its fake narrative of armed terrorists. But five days after the event, he still insisted "The Syrian government does not tell the truth. They said there are armed gangs in Hama." 

Negroponte-Style Certainty and Semantics
As late as August 2011, it was still unclear to the public that any of the death and mayhem in Syria was caused by the unacknowledged armed groups. Ambassador Ford did more than his part in maintaining that picture as long as possible, acting as certain as anyone else there were no armed rebels in Hama, and as few as possible, maybe zero, in Syria at large. This means he was, by accident or design, as incorrect as anyone on that point. 

Ford's certainty of the untrue is in fact reminiscent of that shown by his mentor John Negroponte 30 years before, as US ambassador to Honduras. Then a US-backed right wing military regime, the military of Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez he worked with hosted the formation of the infamous Contras, terrorizing supporters of Nicaragua's elected leftist government, as well as leftist activists in Honduras and elsewhere. But Negroponte was quite sure Martinez' machine was not killing, torturing, and disappearing its people in 1982 - the same year Syria allegedly was doing that, in Hama (interesting coincidence).
In a 1982 letter to The Economist, Negroponte wrote that it was “simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.” The Country Report on Human Rights Practices that his embassy sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took the same line, insisting that there were “no political prisoners in Honduras” and that the “Honduran government neither condones nor knowingly permits killings of a political or nonpolitical nature.”

But of course the best evidence eventually proved the US-backed regime was doing all that, it seems with Negroponte's oversight. By 'it's not happening' he meant 'we're making sure it happens' - it's an issue of semantics. As Sourcewatch reported in 2008 Negroponte helped mercenaries re-supply the military when congress imposed sanctions,  and he "supervised the construction of the El Aguacate air base" where Contras were trained and allegedly ran "a secret detention and torture center." 185 corpses of the disappeared were dug up there in 2001.

Negroponte had some kind of experience that had him chosen by President George W. Bush to again be be a US ambassador in 2001. First he was sent to the UN following the 9/11 attacks, where he lobbied for support for regime change in Iraq. Then following the US-led invasion, he was made ambassador to Iraq (June 2004 to April 2005). He allegedly worked there with sectarian Shi'ite death squads against the largely Sunni and largely Baath party opposition, as it first was - and these death squads' daily murders drove the Sunni insurgency further, as it's generally understood (I'm not read-up on this but skeptical, considering claims of Alawite death squads vs. Sunni extremists in Syria, being the same ones largely who were in Iraq - but this was a different context.)
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further reading for myself or others:
http://ww4report.com/node/379
http://www.oilempire.us/negroponte.html
https://consortiumnews.com/2013/04/07/reagans-death-squad-tactics-in-iraq/
http://iraqi-death-squads.blogspot.com/
http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-salvador-option-for-syria-us-nato-sponsored-death-squads-integrate-opposition-forces/31096
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/pentagon-iraqi-torture-centres-link
http://www.globalresearch.ca/who-is-ambassador-robert-stephen-ford-the-architect-of-us-sponsored-terrorism-in-syria/5385973 
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Whatever the ambassador did in Iraq, he did it with Arabic-speaker Robert Ford as his top aide for the duration. As Michel Chossudovsky wrote in 2014, Ford was first the U.S. representative to the Shia city of Najaf, main base of the Mahdi army, as of January 2004. In June he was promoted to “Number Two Man” (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs) at the US embassy in Baghdad, first under ambassador Negroponte then ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. In this position, Chossudovsky wrote, Robert Ford "played a central role" in "the covert support to death squads and paramilitary groups in Iraq with a view to fomenting sectarian violence and weakening the resistance movement." Negroponte described his "number two" at this time as “one of these very tireless people … who didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts.”

And here was that same connector making connections in Syria, insisting he had no hand in the violent de-stablization of the final Baath party government. He was sent to Damascus on a temporary basis, pending confirmation, and was there no later than January 27, 2011, when he met with president Assad (see here). This of course was just as Egypt's and Tunisia's U.S.-supported "Arab Spring" protests were beginning, and as Libya's and Yemen's were set to. As if to soften the connection, it would be more like six weeks before the same would begin unfolding in Syria. Officially, Ford would know nothing about prior arrangements or conspiracies surrounding that. 

Considering ambassador Ford's past in Iraq and actions in Syria, John Negroponte's intelligence activities in Iraq are relevant to consider. A 2005 article by Bill Van Auken cites Stratfor for revealing how "Negroponte ran his own "parallel intelligence service" in Iraq, because he did not trust the CIA's Baghdad station chief." The latter, Auken wrote, "filed an end-of-the year report giving a bleak assessment of the US occupation and warning that resistance could spiral out of control." But the ambassador filed his own contradictory report "painting a far rosier picture of what is widely seen as a debacle," but helping to briefly keep the true picture less clear than it could have been.

These are the capabilities an ambassador has to find valuable information and distort it strategically. He can learn there are death squads and torture centers, and use that fact as a reason to insist there are not. One could do the same with armed opposition groups in Syria.

What we see above is perhaps an advanced, but ultimately transparent, semantic system. Exactly where Ford needs a certain effect, he conjures the right words, even when those words are the most opposite of true.

As soon as he saw clear evidence in the July 31 attacks that the violent insurrection in Hama was really underway, he needed all the cover he could find to help the seeds take root. So as soon as there were armed gangs running streets and bridges in Hama, he became more vocal than ever about this being a regime lie, by definition.

I've noticed at least one later example of the same thing; the May, 2012 Houla Massacre, as we know, was unusually ambiguous. It appeared evident to seasoned journalists and possible even to the UN's investigators in New York that it was a rebel crime. Later, our work at ACLOS showed how the video records proves rebels must have done it, as they took over the town right before it happened. It's one of the most ambiguous massacres to occur so far. But it was also of course the most infamous massacre of children at the time, the most important yet to pin on the one side and not on the other. So ambassador Ford pulled out this as soon as he could: Houla was “the most unambiguous indictment of the regime to date.” (see here) His proof it was the regime, despite all the contrary evidence? Satellite photos (see same link) of a mass grave ... in a shot-up and suddenly rebel-held town. What could be clearer?

A Less-Heralded Visit, Sanitized
To support his view of no armed rebels in Hama, Ford cited his field visit to the city, so widely-heralded for its blow to the "Assad regime." Less-praised and barely mentioned is another field trip he went on a few weeks earlier. On June 20, the ambassador was part of an entourage taken to the northwestern city of Jisr al-Shughour, in Idlib province, near the Turkish border. The government also claimed armed gangs were running the streets and killing soldiers there, but he was given a chance to see some facts for himself. He could have cited both visits to argue against the government's lies, but chose to highlight just the Hama visit. Why?

Exhumation of a mass grave in Jisr al-Shughour, June 12
The events of June in Jisr al-Shughour present quite a story, traced out in large part on the ACLOS page, summary article forthcoming - armed protesters in a funeral procession attacked the post office and massacred workers there on June 3, allegedly after snipers there shot at them.

A group of fighters then besieged and took over the military security building, capturing over 70 soldiers by June 5. The government said around 120 soldiers and state workers were killed, with at least 49 and perhaps over 100 bodies found after order was restored. Some victims showed signs of torture, including eyes gouged out, and many were executed, some by beheading.

The Opposition (LCC, etc.) claimed that soldiers were ordered to kill Sunnis, but refused and weakly mutinied, and were then massacred by their Alawi commanding officers. But this sectarian rubbish was barely believed anywhere outside the Arabian peninsula. Syria expert Joshua Landis decided "there is little evidence of wide-scale mutiny of Syrian soldiers," and instead "some evidence that the young men of Jisr set a trap for Syrian soldiers" and then executed them. Even the BBC acknowledged the first opposition claims were untrue, and the attack "showed that the government was facing an armed uprising rather than mass peaceful protests."Also, it was clearly a twisted, sectarian, and deceitful uprising.

Landis also cited an unnamed source who was on the same officially-sponsored visit to the city as Ford, saw what the ambassador would see, and decided the government story made the most sense. As he was told "the Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) garrison was attacked ... The detachment, about 72 people, was overrun when they ran out of ammo," and then they were massacred and buried where he saw them dug up. Seeing the scene and thinking about it, he reported "I think the event happened, more or less."

The unit of defectors activists talked about existed, but it seems they did the killing, not the dying. They escaped the Army re-conquest, and made it to their handlers in Turkey with their leader, disaffected salafist Hussein Harmoush. They were supposed to report back, get re-equipped, and return to protest some more. But Harmoush was kidnapped by his own MIT case officer upon hearing the horrifying details (he bragged of having 138 people executed, more than reported), and shipped the scum back to Syria to stand trial, angering the Turkish leadership. The case officer was imprisoned for treason but escaped with help of awesome Turks. Harmoush was likely executed, but it's not clear, and rumors persist (one that's false). This may sound too dramatic to be true, but it all seems to be true.

More immediately after the massacre, the Syrian government reclaimed the city on June 12 and 13, after being beaten back when they first tried on the 5th. They found three mass graves of perhaps 109 bodies or more, on June 12th, 15th, and prior to the 20th, when the last one was exhumed during the press visit by Ford, Landis' source, and others.

CNN reported on this under the most boring headline ever - "2 killed in fighting in Syrian city" - and said as little as possible:
Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, traveled north with ambassadors and members of the media, all of whom appeared to be local, an American diplomat said. 
Two sites said to be mass graves were shown to the group. It was not possible to tell how many bodies were present, but the stench was strong." 
This photo credited to Bassem Tellawi/AP and captioned Ambassador Robert Ford, the U.S. diplomatic representative to Syria, covers his nose from the smell of dead bodies during a government-organized tour to a mass grave with other foreign diplomats in Jisr al-Shughour, Syria, June 20, 2011.

Ford at Jisr al-Shughour mass grave, June 20:
Why do "Sanitized" Visits Smell the Worst?

Otherwise, the only mainstream press this visit received was criticism; the ambassador to a nation listened to that nation's government as it tried to explain its problems, on a tour it arranged. Apparently someone was angry and pushed for an explanation. Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper (Salon, CBS News) voiced their concerns:
The Obama administration is struggling to explain why its ambassador to Syria participated in a sanitized trip to the country's restive north that President Bashar Assad's regime used to attempt to justify its military crackdown.
The big problem here was how the evidence of the attack could be used as virtual proof of the outside-backed terrorists Damascus claimed it was up against. But the State Department apparently bought the now-discredited mutiny story. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland could say in defense of the visit only that it allowed Ford to "see for himself the results of the Syrian government's brutality." Klapper countered "yet it was unclear how Ford would have gathered such evidence on the government-sponsored tour. ... It was sponsored by Syria's foreign ministry and military." The answer, in some minds, is that the ministries drove Ford right to the malodorous evidence of their own crime.

Consider the photo above of our detective, after seeing the decayed and mutilated human evidence: behind those glasses, ambassador Ford may be forming the same kind of notions he would later adopt in Hama, and maintain against all evidence. The mass graves of Jisr al-Shughour were "being used" to illustrate the existence of Syrian rebel death squads, but Ford surely had to see how it proved the regime was slaughtering its own soldiers already. But again, while he could have cited both visits to argue against the regime's brutality and lies, he and the State Department chose to highlight just the Hama visit. Why? 


A Lasting Legacy of Heroic Truth-Telling
Ambassador Ford was called back to Washington, not recalled, in October 2011 over fears someone was trying to have him killed, besides increasing attacks by mobs of Syrian citizens who were growing to hate him. This pull-out came as the U.S. accused Syria's ambassador of illegal surveillance of Syrian dissidents in America.

Ford was later confirmed and sent back, but then the US embassy was closed in February, 2012, and Syria's ambassador kicked out in May, after the rebels committed and lied about the Houla Massacre (with Ford's assistance). He continued working along the same anti-Assad lines, mainly off-site and on-line, until he formally resigned in February 2014. That was over disagreements with Obama's Syria policy that made it so, as he put it, "the regime of President Bashar al-Assad can drop barrel bombs on civilians and hold sham elections in parts of Damascus, but it can’t rid Syria of the terrorist groups now implanted in the ungoverned regions of eastern and central Syria.” 

This was cited in an op-ed for the Washington Post that called Ford "a hero in the Syria debacle" who "served honorably," "reported honestly about the goings-on there," then "resigned and now is telling inconvenient truths to the administration and the public." That op-ed was penned by by Jenifer Rubin, a controversial neo-con war-hawk with little regard for truth.

But even to more credible voices in the corporate-owned and controlled media, Robert Ford remained the guru with all the answers on how to fix the death and instability now wracking Syria. He spoke to Christiane Amanpour upon his resignation, arguing for more support for "moderate rebels." He challenged the notion that America and its allies no longer know who the opposition really is, saying “We've identified them quite well now.  ... We've worked with them for years. Over the past two years," from about Feb. 2012, not anytime in 2011, he said, "I met fighters from the Free Syrian Army many times. These men were not angels: Many were former regime officers; ... but they made clear that they did not accept Al Qaeda’s philosophy." In July, 2011 rebels had "made it clear" to him they only had one slingshot between them to fight with.

Ford rightly notes one problem in the way of a non-genocidal solution for Syria is the trust problems between the Sunni insurgents he must always support, and citizens of the Alawi ("Alawite") faith of president Assad (it is, or was, about 12-15% of the country). Of course the same issue exists with other Shia, Chritians, Druze, Atheists, and Sunnis who are secular, sane, and/or pro-government. Combined, it's a solid majority of Syrians that have opposed any kind of rebel victory from 2011 onward. But referring just to the one most-hated segment facing real genocide, the Alawi, Ford told Amanpour that almost three years in, finally...
“I think many of them are ready to jump if they had something to jump onto. But if the opposition doesn’t put anything forward, then they have nothing to jump onto, and they’re just kind of stuck. They’re terrified. They don’t want the Islamic State to take over Syria ... So I wouldn’t increase assistance to the moderate opposition..." 
The Alawi and other Syrians have been murdered by non-ISIS "moderate" rebels from the start. This is his solution, and he even acknowledges the same rebels he's talking about don't try or want to reach out to the Alawi (and unstated others...) “I haven’t seen the opposition put forward any of this stuff ... I think because they believe deep down, a lot of them believe that there’s just no use negotiating with the Alawis."

In fact they used to openly chant "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the Grave," with no verse about negotiating on that. Some among them were blamed, with Ford's assistance, for a growing string of barbaric crimes, for which the whole community was becoming unwelcome or even fit for murder, in the minds of many sectarian "activists." And as he insists they need more help and more weapons, Ford knows even these "moderates" can't be allowed to win outright; "Deep down, a lot of them still hope for enough American military intervention that they can win a military victory" and do as they like. But he thinks aid should be leveraged so as "to get elements of the regime to the table and negotiating seriously," which all credible "elements" from both sides have generally refused. It's not a good situation for compromise, with the demonic crimes and blood libel allegation on such a horrendous scale. But this fantasy is his solution, and his assessment of the people "we've worked with for years." All they need to pull it off is more guns sent in.

Ford acknowledges ISIS alone as the problem, but non-ISIS Sunni sectarian killers have plagued Syria from the first days - lurking in the shadows or even at the center of the first armed groups Ford denied. Considering the extra degree of religious hatred for Alawites among the extremist vanguard, it's little surprise how often their murders are done in classical and cruel ways, with blades and the gamut of dehumanizing abuses at the disposal of terrorists trying to terrorize. Just from this article:  
- the policeman in Hama with his throat cut on July 31 - that's quite possibly because he was Alawi.
- the four soldiers out of 10 in the first Jisr al-Shughour mass grave that were beheaded or hacked in the head:  were these the Alawi soldiers?


And going back a bit further, consider the city of Baniyas on their first bloody April 10, 2011 - along with nine soldiers killed in an ambush, Nidal Jannoud, an Alawi farmer, was the only civilian killed.

The horrible photo at right shows part of the mob assault that took his life. Were those Assad-aligned ISIS thugs that gashed his face and chased him with rocks and pistols before they murdered him? Is this a "slide into sectarian violence" caused by "Assad's brutality" and Shabiha massacres? This was the first civilian to be killed by anyone in Baniyas.

Robert Ford's solution is to tell the rebels, basically, "reach out to the Alawites, forgive them for killing thousands of your Sunni babies. They don't hate you, they're just scared because of Assad's sectarian lies." If they say they're prepared to negotiate with people who don't exist, he would urge the selected fighters get more guns, to lose or take with them as they defect to Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra. They do this often, but it's okay - "we know them quite well. We've worked with them for years." And for the first portion of that, officially, they didn't exist.




Thursday, July 23, 2015

Syria {Masterlist}

June 14, 2015
(last edits (minor) July 24)


A rather impressive amount of research has been done on Syria events at the ACLOS wiki (A Closer Look On Syria), collecting and citing work, reports, and videos by others. So far only select highlights have been brought to this blogsite. This list may not appear that impressive, but ACLOS links on these crossover subjects are given with each post, usually, and there's much more at the wiki. While not perfect, the quantity, quality, and consistency of our results increasingly make these side-lined "pro-regime" analyses much stronger than the flavor-of-the-day pro-opposition versions sold at the time.

This is more the shape any reasonable history book will take on the subject. The sharing invites the reader to get ahead of the curve.

The sharing works well when it's two-way. Readers with valuable  info, or relevant opinions, are encouraged to submit it in the comments. Preferably they'll be in a post about just that subject (note - not every subject has a post here, and comments sometimes get a bit random, let's limit that a bit more.) General Syria comments could best go in comments under this masterlist, for example.

6 Leading Propaganda Claims Addressed
Some of the events in Syria that came closest to triggering outright military intervention to "stop Assad" or get cited the most by those arguing for such moves.
  
2014 report, best evidence
1 Houla Massacre {masterlist} (Taldou, al-Houla, Homs, May 25, 2012) (note: the Masterlist mainly just points to a dedicated external site - http://taldoutruth.blogspot.com/ - with relevant links there) Alleged: 108 Sunnis killed, including 49 children, by army shelling and home invasions by Alawite Shabiha militia.

Instead, it seems rebels did it, just after they took over all the town's security posts. This was the last part of Houla the rebels didn't hold yet. Check and see, they finally took Taldou too, and it happened on May 25, 2012. And despite rebels trying not to show that happening, carefully analysis of the few videos of the day they did release, shows rebels taking over on that day.

The witnesses who correctly describe the battle for the Houla Massacre say the victors killed Sunnis who coverted to Shi'ism, Sunnis who supported the "Alawite regime," and - in a nearby town, killed by other rebels - Alawite civilians.

victims assembled in Douma
2 Ghouta Massacre(s) {masterlist}
Alleged: Sarin gas attack by rockets that killed over 1,400, allegedly - Damascus suburbs, August 21, 2013 - led to serious threats of US military attack.

Perhaps the best lead, linked at the masterlist post, was done by an ACLOS ally in his own detailed study that established one batch of victims -in Kafr Batna - was almost surely gassed by rebels with carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide gas, in a rebel-held basement.  And one victim was executed by a cut throat in the morgue upstairs, after he survived, and in between propaganda videos blaming "Assad" for all of it. So a good guess is: "Assad" responsible for none of it.

Other great leads: 
* Visual Evidence that the victims were prisoners (of the rebels)
* Death Toll(s) and estimates - body recycling
* by district {masterlist} (12 districts considered in detail in 10 posts - victims from, died in, clinical signs, background and observations - 5 posts up, 5 pending, more overview pending. See Part 2 Jobar for a WTF example)
* Zamalka: medical and media staffs decimated? bizarre allegations considered

Mohammed al-Taleb, treated then dead

3 Syria Chlorine Allegations (March-??, 2015, emphasis on the first incident, March 16 - overview, 3 posts)
* 1 Why Chlorine?  If hundreds allegedly killed by Sarin didn't get rebels a NATO air force, why would they bother faking barely-deadly chlorine attacks? Here's why.
* 2 What Killed the Talebs? March 16: Rebels and allied medical activists said it was chlorine dropped by the government, but  the visuals suggest the children at least were killed instead with a drug overdose.
* 3 Where was Dr. Tennari? The main source for the apparently false chlorine claims of March 16 is the director of the hospital where the children died. By the video record, doesn't even know where he was that night. Or is this intentional dishonesty?

victims near the mosque, opp. photo
4 Al-Bayda and Baniyas Massacres, May 2013 Alleged: Assad's Alawite Shabiha militias massacre Sunnis for no other reason in two Sunni-populated towns of an Alawite-majority province, in an almost universally accepted plan of ethnic-sectarian cleansing.

But surprise, the terrorists whose agenda is furthered by mayhem in every province of Syria - it seems - actually caused this mayhem as well. 
* Syria's al-Bayda-Baniyas Massacres and "Targeting Specific Communities" They killed a government loyalist Imam and dozens of his family, comprising at least half of all victims (counts are very complicated with this one, ranging from 70 to 250+) This seems to be the main target. Sunni, but no longer on the wrong side.

* Bayan Jalloul, Martyr for Truth? In the next massacre, the alleged Alawite militias did kill an alleged opposition activist and her family. The story tries to counter the one above, but it's bizarre and falls apart. Note: this time the 200 dead seems less debatable, but could well include laundered Alawite victims from the city, and maybe lots of them, depending.

5 Mass prison torture defector photos allegation
Fail Ceasar: Exposing the Anti-Syria Photo Propaganda (overview, 3 sub-posts)


Executed police thrown in river, Hama
6 The Peaceful Protests of 2011 that "Assad" crushed while fabricating a terrorist conspiracy... this is the primary argument for why "the regime must go" - because it didn't already when some citizens demanded it, and started instead shooting and arresting people, always blaming imaginary armed "terrorists," and a "conspiracy."

* The Peaceful Protests of 2011 {Masterlist} (forthcoming)
* Baniyas The Baniyas Ambush of Syrian Soldiers, April 10, 2011
* Hama Deaths by Shooting: The Rebellion Starts in Hama, part 1
* Hama Robert Ford, Weapons Inspector: The Rebellion Starts in Hama, part 2
* Hama To Kill a Mock-Nightingale: The Rebellion Starts in Hama, part 3
* Hama Crushing the Rebellion at al-Mazarb Bridge: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, part 4 
* Jisr al-Shughour: Peaceful Protests in Jisr al-Shughour (forthcoming)

===

Other/General Posts(newest events first)
Harbinafsah, laundered?
* Comparing Terrorist Victory Massacres March-June, 2015 in Idlib province: ISIS Commits victory massacres, while Jabhat al-Nusra just finds them? June 10, 2015

* Syria: the Zanuba Massacre and the Harbinafsah Laundering Center? Hama province - tracing out what seems to be one method rebels have used to launder Alawite massacre victims as victims of regime shelling in a different town. (two oddly-anonymized child examples at right)

* 2012, at the listing of JaN as a terrorist group - protest solidarity: we are all terrorists - a false visual summary of a real problem.

* Daraya Massacre August 24-26, 2012, Damascus suburbs, claims of several hundred innocents killed as the army re-conquered a rebel-hald suburb of Damascus. But it seems many were rebel fighters killed in that battle, and many others were civilian hostages held by rebels. Early post summarizing initial ACLOS research.

* Lessons for the Syria Situation: Old post, before any research on Syria, summarizing a few overall findings from Libya that it was thought might be relevant.

===
Districts of Homs city, ACLOS map
June Homs Massacres Crash-Course
- Homs Massacres (April, 2011 through 2014 - app. 1,558 - 3,089 dead). Posted June 18 - a decent recap and partial summary of the massive ACLOS page and sub-pages, since expanded more.

- Reviewing "The Societys Holocaust" June 22, after noticing a new report by the opposition SNHR, publicized on June 19. This one one was about sectarian massacres nationwide, but wound up half of them were in Homs. Check out their coverage of the Aqrab Massacre ... of 6 Sunnis. From there, largely as linked at the review, a bunch of massacres in the Homs orbit I missed before, from the SNHR report - considered in posts here, and then added to the ACLOS project.

This all took just over a week, finished before July, listed in event order:
- Massacre of Fertilizer Plant Workers of May 31, 2012
- Joseyeh bus massacre June 12, 2012
- Qalat al-Hosn Massacre, June 2012 June  28
- Second Shammas Massacre Aug. 11/12, 2012
- Tasnin Massacre, Jan 5-6, 2013
- Mshierfa bus massacre Jan. 6, 2013
- Mallouk family massacre, May 17/18, 2013
- Sukhna Massacre, July 2013 (and follow-up in Adra, in December)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

To Kill A Mock-Nightingale: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 3

July 22, 2015
(incomplete)

Opposition Version: Killed For Singing Against the Government, for Revolution
Ibrahim Qashoush is a Syrian rebellion superstar in death - called at the time "the nightingale of the revolution." He allegedly wrote - or famously sang - the original protest song "come on Bashar, leave" in early demonstrations in Hama. But Bashar Assad's thugs allegedly kidnapped and murdered him on the 4th of July, 2011, gruesomely and symbolically; the killers cut out his throat and vocal cords, and dumped him like trash in the Orontes river.

At least, that's what these sources, citing anti-government "activists," would tell you with little to no skepticism:
* Shabab Assafir (Arabic) - July 12
* Al-Arabiya (Arabic)  - July 8
* New York Times (Anthony Shadid) - July 22
* AP, Bassem Mroue (via Huffington Post)  - July 27
* Violations Documentation Center (entry added late - martyr #1758 - after this and this from March 2012) 
The last is the source for the photo above, the less graphic of the two provided.

The Times reported on 22 July
"Residents say security forces shot him, too. But people in Hama dwelled on the detail that stands as a metaphor for the essence of decades of dictatorship: That the simple act of speaking is subversive. “They really cut out his vocal cords!” exclaimed a 30-year-old pharmacist in Hama who gave his name as Wael. “Is there a greater symbol of the power of the word?”"
His death, activists felt, "could mark a new campaign to liquidate protest leaders." (Mroue) But he wasn't a leader or even, as we'll see, the writer or a known singer of that song. And it might surprise the foolish, but his horrific slaying didn't terrorize anyone to stop singing that - in fact, it just boosted the cause; it made the song he clearly died for immensely popular, sung every Friday to defy "the regime" and its clumsy - and highly useful - brutality.

Or ... Killed For Singing To the Government, About Terrorists
As usual, the government of Syria had its own explanation blaming terrorists - bolstered here by the method they're known for. the opposing claims, far from proven or being ruled out, are at least worth considering. The Truth About Syria has what seems the definitive English-language article on this: The Truth about Ibrahim Qashoush, the Alleged Singer and Composer of the so-called “Syrian Revolution” (February, 2012 - hereafter, TAS report) This fairly notes "there are no photos of him alive nor clear photos of him singing. Qashoush is a “media bubble” that surfaced after his death not before, which indicates that the whole thing is fabricated." Indeed, for such a pivotal figure, I didn't see any videos or pictures of him in a protest, singing or otherwise.

The TAS report offers a later Syrian state TV video confession from an arrested "activist" - potentially coerced, maybe true either way - that claimed Qashoush the songwriter was a myth of the terrorists he used to roll with:
The Syrian security managed to arrest terrorist “Fadi Zreik”, and what is actually may be surprising for many of you is what he said in his confessions."
“Ibraheem Qashoush” was a normal person who was slaughtered by Syrian rebels, because they thought he was an informant who works for the Syrian government."
The report lists three other men killed in Syria first called informants and then then martyrs. These are named as Hisham Al-Kharsi, “Mamdouh Al-Akrah,” and “Muhammad Maree.” Each case is accompanied by an explanatory video claiming to show screen grabs of death threats for collaborating with "the regime," and then the victims mourned publicly as, or at least listed and reported as, victims of "the regime." The same is being alleged for this heroic "nightingale of the revolution."

Sometimes truth works this conveniently, but ... what a convenient claim by this Fadi Zreik. In this context, the removal vocal cords carries the same symbolic potency. As Anthony Shadid put it, amended: "the simple act of speaking" - the wrong things to the wrong people - "is an act of subversion" - of the plans of the subversives.

Context Consideration
And that's besides the Islamist terrorist implications of throat-cutting, one of their MOs, and Orontes river dumping. A few weeks later in the same city, at least one throat-cutting victim was among 8 executed policemen dumped, by hate-filled terrorists, into the same river on the northern edge of Hama, as explained in part 1: "Deaths by Shooting". This happened undeniably on video (although it was denied anyway). One report covered there (Storyfull, 2011), includes some efforts at blaming the government for that crime; one of these had noted that cut throat and cited this Qashoush case as a precedent:
The throat of last corpse thrown in the river seems to have been slit. Remember Ibrahim Qashush? The man who composed an anti-regime chant? His throat was also slit, and was thrown in the same river, Orontes/al Assi..
In that case, the government had to fish its own dead cops out of the river, and filmed it as just that. But here the activists found their hero first, and quickly; the imagery shows not the slightest sign of decay,water-logging, or bleaching. He was in some water long enough for his hair to get wet.

As reported, he disappeared early on July 3rd and was found sometime on the 5th (Al-Arabiya). How were they so certain July 4 was the day he was killed? It almost seems the local "activists" knew when he was killed and where he was dumped, which was convenient when it came to having the body as a dramatic prop for their story.

Was the date chosen - by whoever- to heighten the impact of the story with U.S. audiences? Specifically, were they talking about independence to the US ambassador, Robert Ford? He would visit the city of Hama, controversially, on July 6, the day after Mr. Qashoush's body was pulled up (see part 2). The activists may or may not have known that, but the authorities had apparently cleared it - just not his decision to stay until Friday's protests, as he did to scolding from Damascus. Why would they squeeze in an optional murder of a beloved songwriter just before this visit? That's just what the "activists" alleged.

July 8 was the biggest demonstration yet in Hama, half a million they said, chanting “the people want the fall of the regime” and “We will only kneel to God,” and probably singing "Come on Bahsar, leave." And they raged about the death of their nightingale who blessed them with the verses, waved olive branches, and basked in the ambassador's approval as his SUV crawled amongst them.

Can we see how well that might have all worked out? Consider also "ambassador" (saboteur ringleader?) Ford then so emphatically denied any armed rebel presence in Hama - at what seems like just the time it was really taking off.

The Real Nightingale?
The Truth About Syria adds some further video and source analysis to pin down the actual songwriter for "Come on Bashar, leave." The death of Mr. Qashouh was a huge popularity boost for the song, Its originator survived to enjoy that, and  and as one would expect, he actually appears at protests, singing the song. "According to our connections in the city of Hama," they write, the songwriter was a young guy named Abdul Rahman Farhoud. For comparison, Shadid at the New York Times heard:
Obada and others insisted that the song was actually written by a 23-year-old part-time electrician and student named Abdel-Rahman, also known as Rahmani.
Shadid spoke at length with "Rahmani," who seemed to be unworried the throat cutters would ever come after him; "Asked if he was afraid, Rahmani answered, “Of what?”"

l-r: Q. Naasan, Abdelrahman and Ahmad Farhoud
TAS identify a cohort and public singing partner of Farhoud as Quteiba Naasan, and says "the two of them escaped before a while to Lebanon then came back and joined their fellow terrorists in the so-called “Free Syrian Army”." And further,
The DJ – with the black shirt – has also disappeared for sometime to show up again in Hama.  His name is “Ahmad Farhoud”, he is Abdul Rahman’s brother. Ahmad Farhoud was among the terrorists who set up barriers in the city of Hama before the army decided to enter to restore order in the city; Ahmad Farhoud chose to be a “hero terrorist” and he was killed in the clashes.
The VDC agrees on this - DJ Farhoud, matching photo included, was killed by shooting it says, in the battle of July 31, 2011, only a week after his brother spoke so fearlessly to NYT's Shadid. That seems pretty quick, at least relative to the July 3 abduction of Mr. Qashouh. Maybe their period of absence was earlier than this PR boost for their theme song. Was it in fact just ending with their return at just about that time? That might be worth digging up.

However Ahmad died, his brother apparently lived on, as the TAS report found, getting increasing credit as “Abdul Rahman Farhoud, the real nightingale of the Syrian Revolution”. A TAS comment added later that Farhoud had also become a correspondent and analyst for the Al-Jazeera channel (see 2:47 in this video - April, 2012).

The Victim as Reported: Confused Mumbling
But at one time, it was widely believed the nightingale had died, and for that cause - like killing a mockingbird for its freedom-loving song. Or for someone else's song he was even copying. It turns out that was someone else, a mock-nightingale ... Consistent with a made-up story, what was reported about this martyr never was very clear.

Shadid wrote for NYT "no one in Hama seems to agree on who wrote the song," although he fairly establishes that as FSA "Rahmani." Mr. Qashoush was perhaps a singer of the song, but that too wasn't certain. Shadid heard the man was "a young cement layer ... from Hadir district. He was relatively unknown before July 4," and after that he was "buried in the city’s Safa cemetery, near the highway." Why kill an unknown laborer? The allegation was he was killed as the most famous incarnation of an anti-regime song.
...rumors have proliferated ... some residents have suggested that Mr. Qashoush was not the real singer, that two men had the same name, that he was really a government informer killed by residents, that he is still alive."


“"Every day in the street, just while you’re sitting somewhere, you can hear five or six rumors, and they turn out to be wrong,” said an engineer who gave his name as Adnan.
To his credit, Shadid hovered over that important, bolded, rumor for a moment:
Many here see the government’s hand in everything. Lists of informers have circulated, but some believe security forces compiled them, hoping to discredit protesters or smear the reputations of businessmen helping them. When residents hanged an informer last month, some people in Hama suggested that government agents did it to make them look bad.
Note: he didn't buy the suggestion.

Side-note: These kinds of things can make a reporter nervous about reporting on Syria and/or likely to somehow die from it. Anthony Shadid died reporting in Syria, after insisting he'd rather not go back, just in mid-February 2012. It was officially from some asthma attack, but at the same time other journalists were being murdered and blamed on "the regime." Was he assassinated with a dusty wad of horsehair dropped on his head? Horses were his super-allergy, as everyone knew. Poor guy.  (see Wikipedia for one)

Shadid heard from one resident "the man killed was a second-rate wedding singer." The Shabab Assafir report (Arabic) adds little, but emphasizes wedding singing, and seemingly better than second-rate. He sang, at weddings, other places, - he could really sing, anything, to anyone. They give no word of other work, implying he was a dedicated professional. Still no images anywhere of that guy actually singing at a protest, a wedding, in the shower, anywhere.

Al-Arabiya (Arabic, translated) noted that it was "on the morning of Sunday (July 3)," the beginning of the work week in Arab/Muslim countries, when Mr. Qashouh "was going to work out, but was kidnapped by the security forces." Did we work singing 5 days a week, starting in the mornings? Or was that just an odd gig?  (Al-Arabiya also noted the victim "was not carrying a weapon and did not join the "armed gangs"" but they know it was the regime who killed him "because his body was found Tuesday." )

The latest report, July 27, was by AP's Bassam Mroue, which heard about work:
"The 42-year-old Qashoush, a father of three boys, was a fireman who wrote poetry in his spare time,said a close friend, Saleh Abu Yaman."
Fireman, age 42, father of 3, from a friend - sounds like perhaps the most credible account yet. But this is an effort to salvage the songwiter/singer mythos that totally ignores the information above.
The hometown son's star rose with the city. At nearly every protest, the crowds were singing his most popular lyric, "Come on, Bashar, time to leave." It was put to a bouncy tune, and his poems rang with a down-to-earth, jokey "Screw you, Bashar, and screw those who salute you. Come on, Bashar, time to leave!" hundreds of thousands sang behind a singer on stage in Hama's central Assi Square during a rally at the beginning of the month. "Freedom is at our doors. Come on, Bashar, time to leave!"
Two days later, on July 3, Qashoush disappeared.
Abu Yaman says he was told by witnesses that Qashoush was walking to work in central Hama when a white vehicle stopped, several men jumped out and muscled him into the car. They then sped away.
"We immediately knew he was captured by security agents," Abu Yaman told The Associated Press.
And yet, this famed hero fireman and protest-inspirer was called by others a "young concrete layer", unknown, and professional singer, well known. 

Shadid heard he was from Hadir district (likely northwest Hama, where Hader police station is), but the VDC says he's from Bab Qibli (city center on Wikimapia). The VDC, by the way, says little: nothing on profession, activism, the arts, not even age. Just the pictures, the district, and the note "He was kidnapped and killed , his dead body was thrown in Al-Aasi near Bab El-Nahr," and a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_3JKyOqS6s 

But the one source said he was a fire fighter. That might be true anyway, and it intrigued me to re-examine what (now) seems to be an unrelated incident somewhere else and later (I wasn't sure when I started). But just in case it matters here, I may add and link to a post on how apparent rebel/defected soldier terrorists sometimes get their hands on fire fighters to murder and blame on "the regime."