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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Case Against "Syria's Disappeared"

(quick version)
March 31, 2017

Note: quick version still doesn't mean short version. I weigh in heavily on one aspect. I may do a fuller review later, but maybe not. This may be good enough.

Syria's Disappeared: The Case Against Assad
I was late to learn of this mockumentary recently aired by UK's channel 4, and since gone "viral." Some first links:

from the Guardian link:
"Mansour al-Omari, who courageously smuggled out details of other prisoners written on scraps of cloth in rust and blood." That's got to be real, right? In the program, Omari says a tailor in the cell sewed them up into his collar to smuggle out. We have the smuggled "Caesar Photos," the smuggled "Assad Files (see below)" and now ... "The Mazzeh Scraps"? Like Schindler's List via the Turin Shroud via the Tailor of ... whatever, I'm not good with this part... This is quite a story. It's allegedly been sitting there since (late 2012?) and so far, no one I've noticed has even mentioned it until just now. Is that because it was just dreamed up and fabricated recently? Or because someone was keeping it secret as war crimes evidence? I mean, you don't go smearing that all over the TV news.... at least not until just now, for some reason.

I haven't watched the whole program (various postings around - this one has worked for me so far). Of course, I'm not the target audience, but I for one am never too choked-up-to-think-straight by how the piano notes and "human stories" line up in such videos. I don't trust these people. One important alleged former prisoner is Mazen Alhummada - they show documents that name this guy and say he's wanted for arrest in connection with something - that was alrady noted, and he's stuck to the story he told to Ben Taub last year as Mazen al-Hamada for the New Yorker. For the most part then, 'nuff said already.

I could share my thoughts on him and the other witnesses, but I don't have time to analyze them all, and my initial thoughts were coming out terse and almost vulgar, so ...  let's skip what some would call victim-blaming until I'm better-informed, and take a good hard look at what the hired Euro-American white guy professionals are bringing to the picture.

How Bill Wiley Found Nothing and Spun It
And let's skip that smiley goofball Stephen Rapp. He could be just a clueless, senile prop who "might remember the holocaust" and really knows nothing of the direct evidence or the tricks being pulled, and get all his assessments from someone who looks at it for him. (He could also be a directly involved slimeball, I'm not at all sure.)

Let's skip to Bill Wiley, the aged but fit Canadian investigator of war crimes, and at once skip to - paperwork! The video emphasizes this, perhaps knowing their witnesses seem dubious and need the help. To get any screen time, paperwork better be damn interesting. They say it's "thousands" of official documents relating to mass arrests, which rebels seized in various overrun spots. I'll consider what glimpses of these are shared. I'd love to have a look at these things (well-translated), but that won't be allowed.

This is something I took a decent (but somewhat cursory) look at last year when it came up in the New Yorker as the "Assad Files," in the piece by Ben Taub citing Mr. Hamada. Bill Wiley was cited in that, apparently having introduced the witness and the journalist in the first place. He was working on these documents with US lawyer Chris Engels, who led (then if not now) "the regime-crimes unit of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body founded in 2012, in response to the Syrian war." (read: privately-funded think-tank/whatever they want - funding isn't clear, but likely Saudi, Qatari, etc.).

Engels doesn't seem to appear in this new film, but Wiley does, eagerly, as a central narrator and guide for "Syria's Disappeared." 

After the papers were seized by foreign-supported militants, the CIJA pored over them. It seems evident to me they found nothing real to support their case, just a few things that could be spun as seemingly ominous. (The rebels who found the papers probably saw no value in them either, and gladly let some Western lawyer-types have a whack at the useless stuff. Good call!)

While it's reasonable to wonder if the documents are fake, to me they seem to be genuine, reflecting the methods of stopping what they call a "crisis." Did they know it was all peaceful? It seems like they thought it was violent, but the selective quotations leave this unclear.

Consider: as explained in the last review, the best mention of torture offered so far was the head of Deir Ezzor’s military intelligence branch expressing his "outrage" (is that code?) on hearing some moderately sever torture (including electrocution and sodomizing with soda) was being used in some places. It's not certain it was, but maybe, and he heard it said. He ordered that if it was happening it be stopped. Apparently no order to start, or to start anything worse, anywhere, has been found yet.

Seeing how weak this was, it seems the CIJA or at least Mr. Wiley have endeavored to connect that with lots of outside information. - mainly the highly dubious "former prisoner" stories - and tried to tie it in with other allegations like the "Caesar photos." And they try to do so in the media to influence the public, for some reason (will the public be calling in the verdict like some reality TV show when it comes to trial?)

So in a roundabout way, they seem to almost prove there was no systematic criminal repression, mass torture-extermination-genocide program, etc. as constantly alleged over the years. There was a lot of this alleged. If it was true, authorities would have to talk about at least some of it in these documents, and the CIJA would find it and show us that. But so far they're holding back anything good they might have found. Every time they offer what seems to be an example, it fails, like the "outrage" memo. I wonder if they realize that.

"You Ought to Listen to What They Have to Say"
At 22:35 in the video is what should be one of the stronger points in these documents, the way it's highlighted.  Wiley reads from a certain document dated September 11, 2011 (as I read the bottom date). They don't mention the date maybe because it reminds folks of crisis and terrorism, which is something they're not mentioning in regard to this "crisis" in Syria.

Wiley says "quote," then continues with presumably continuous language from one spot on the page.
"Parents and relatives of the arrested persons are daily asking about the fate of sons, fathers, and brothers. You ought to listen to what they have to say. The hospital refrigerator is full of unidentified corpses that have disintegrated since they have been there for a long period of time."
I think this was already quoted. I don't have it all memorized. In fact, yes... they already shared this with Ben Taub. This one seems important to them, and to Taub as well. This "dramatic" passage closes a section in the New Yorker piece:
In September, the public attorney in Deir Ezzor sent three faxes—later retrieved by the CIJA’s investigators—to the governor, the Syrian minister of justice, and the head of the province’s joint investigation committee, urging them to stop violating Syrian law. In one, he wrote, “Parents and relatives of the arrested persons are asking daily about the fates of sons, fathers, and brothers. You ought to listen to what they have to say. The hospital refrigerator is full of unidentified corpses that have disintegrated, since they have been there for a long period of time.”
I didn't analyze the passage then, but will now. The bolded part should have a better supporting quote. No direct quote about the law or bending or breaking it is shared. It might be supported, but sounds more like this is someone's wording for a notion poorly inferred from the part they do share.

I'll see about getting a translation of the header as shown, to get more context. But ... basically, someone's explaining how people have been arrested (by them? or is it possible he's cutting out the "abducted by terrorists" part?). Their relatives are asking about them daily, and they're saying something that makes him (or her) say "you ought to listen to what they have to say" - in what sense is not clear. (They have legitimate gripes? They're spouting terrorist propaganda and absurd accusations?)

Also, there are people winding up dead, probably just found and held by the government as unidentified bodies, whose families they can't locate, that are rotting. This is a real problem, it seems, which Damascus remains quiet about but would blame terrorists for. (see the Hamza al-Khatib/Saida massacre case) They'd probably be right. At some point as it got even worse, it seems they largely skipped the refrigeration and went straight to burial after documentation. I suppose those order will be selectively cited somewhere in the CIJA case.

So, in the quote above, I'm pretty sure the bodies clause is separate from the arrestees issue. It's possible that what the families "have to say" is that bodies are piling up in the hospital refrigerators. But that would be strange; that's more like a thing the hospital knows. So after laying out two apparent problems that happened to be mentioned side-by-side, Wiley notes this document was sent to the minister of justice. And so the highest levels were informed of  "THIS LOCALIZED PROBLEM." Singular. 

Which problem does he mean? The frustrated families or the dead bodies? Maybe both at once? THE PROBLEM, if one insists on squishing all that together, must be the arrested people are being killed and stuffed in refrigerators, and their families know about this and are telling authorities about it. And here that fact is being communicated to the minister of justice. (but they must have already known about it, having previously ordered it done ... somewhere Wiley didn't find yet?)

As the video narrator notes right after, the government knows just who they arrested. But in secret papers between themselves, they must pretend dead prisoners are "unidentified," as some kind of code? But isn't it the families saying there's "unidentified corpses" piling up? Or, wait ...

This all makes fairly little sense, so he's probably just misreading it, while I'm reading it right.I suggest he just found one spot like this in the thousands of papers, where worry over the fate of prisoners is mentioned right next to dead bodies, and ran it together in his wily style. That's probably no mistake, but an intentional, strategic misrepresentation of the evidence. He did it to earn a paycheck though, to be fair. And it was probably a big-ass check.

If this were a fluke, then most other documents probably wouldn't have such handy devices, with thoughts better organized into separate paragraphs, etc.. Hence this one oft-repeated best example. And they had thousands of communications, recall. This works against you when all you can come up with from all of that is a few apparent tricks like this. It means you have thousands of papers that don't support your case, and in fact pretty much disprove it.

Again, let's consider what they apparently didn't they find in this case:
- anything in this document to clarify it really says what Wiley implies it does.
- Any prior order to exterminate prisoners and stuff them in the hospital morgue
- Any other document explaining that "unidentified" is a code for "prisoner"

So ... how were these orders transmitted from the leaders who need to be held accountable (and we're not naming names)? Or ... gasp ... was Assad not in charge of this? Or ... gasp ... was this not even real to begin with? Are these crimes simply made up from such wordplay?

Put simply: The papers say arrest people. All that other stuff making it sound horrific and genocidal is coming from activists, some of whom claim to be direct witnesses. And it doesn't seem the paperwork supports any of their juiciest claims.
Re-Hashing Another Best Example:
Ben Taub helped tout another important document about a month before the above one. On Aug. 5, 2011, there was a national crisis management cell established to coordinate a national response to (crush all peaceful dissent?) the "crisis." It seems they felt some need to find who was behind whatever and arrest them. The documents from that act form "the linchpin of the CIJA’s case against officials in the Syrian regime," as Taub put it. Wiley explained it would implicate officials, because “their names are all over those documents." 

Apparently, it shows all the top levels discussing the need to arrest more people in many areas, and try to coordinate the whole thing. Nothing criminal was found, or at least specified, in the documents.

Not mentioned: in the first days of August there was growing condemnation of Syrian forces for killing 100 peaceful protesters in Hama on July 31, for the first time hitting triple-digits in one place and one day. The US issued its first soft demands for Assad to "step aside" over this crime, and more support and weapons, and Libyans, would be flowing in soon. Bad news for the government - they shouldn't have killed all those people.

Best evidence says they didn't. Militants overran a police station in Hama, killing 13 soldiers and police, and abducting at least 13 others, who were executed  and dumped in the river the next morning, the killers shouting Allahu Akbar. This is video proven, geo-located, CNN reported on it, etc. Check if needed. The rebels didn't mention clashes or 26 police and soldiers killed, just about 75-85 unarmed civilian men shot dead somehow, and ... (unspecified, but it must be 15-25+ somebodies) for a total of "at least 100 deaths in Hama, after tanks and soldiers stormed the city" according to activists (Al-Jazeera). US President Obama said "The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime," while the video proof of an Islamist massacre against captured government servants there ... must be fake or whatever, as "activists" lamely argued. 

The rest of the August 5 document(s) will likely mention these events as backdrop, but this isn't given, maybe because Wiley et al. don't want you to see the real context. But taking this case as an example of alleged crimes there's still no support for ... still, it seems they have found:
 - no orders from those days to kill protesters and fake police deaths in Hama (all improvised locally?)
- no document praising local forces for killing like 75-85 civilians and faking some police deaths in Hama, as the kind of clever thinking they encourage

No. Instead, a few days later, they act like BAD things have been happening recently, and there's some growing CRISIS that needs addressed more forcefully. And this, again, is the CIJA's "linchpin" in their case of epic Human Rights abuses, simply put back in its proper context.  What gives?

What gives is the credibility of this Bill Wiley and any investigation he's involved with. This guy creeps me out. Career war crimes investigator, as he says near the beginning, hoping this Syria case will be his "last act." It seems to be a criminal act, but he'd know more of the details than me. Previously he helped put away Slobodan Milosevic as independent and powerful Yugoslavia was torn apart based on dubious claims, and he's worked on Rwanda. No need with Libya - officials are all dead or locked up in Libya with no cooperation. Lucky break there. But he's doing the Syria job, focused on these papers - but by and large, we can see these do not support the CIJA politicized case and in fact probably undermine it powerfully, when seen in their true context. 

I'll keep repeating this: they have found and will continue to find no orders:
- to stations snipers here or there, to shoot protesters,  and/or police and soldiers, to stoke tensions and create a pretext for mass arrests
- to kill soldiers who refuse to open fire,
- to fake attacks, plant weapons, or smear the protesters,
- to arrest innocents and everyone, make prisoners confess to false crimes
- to starve, neglect, beat, or torture the prisoners (there may some lines arguably to the effect of the last point, but so far just one guy who heard it might be happening, and ordering that it be stopped if it was),
- no orders to have "Shabiha" militias exterminate whole Sunni villages, either systematically or in any particular case
- to genocidally target Sunnis, steal their property, kill all their relatives, rape their women, attack mosques, make them kneel to photos of Assad and declare him their only god, etc. No orders will ever be found. ...
- to systematically drop barrel bombs only on big gathering of civilians and markets, and never on rebel fighters
- to target hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc.
- to impose a total siege, food and baby formula not allowed, etc. 
- to deploy the chemical weapons, in any of the many alleged cases 
 - any of the many, many alleged crimes Wiley would love to have support for. He has plenty of material and has it well-searched, he says - but no clear support for any of these things is mentioned. This suggests they never talked about any of that. They talked about some crisis, and about arrests.

Fake! I call his bluff on that stated confidence about this going to trial. If Damascus has the originals of these, hell yes they could cross-examine it in court. They could show the papers Wiley skips, the lines he skips, the context he must be willfully ignoring as he mines for these nuggets of fool's gold. He doesn't want that exposed. He wants the impression put on TV with good mood music added. He and others just want more vague, emotion-based group-think mobilized against those on their geopolitical hit-list. The usual. And this talk of "evidence" and "justice" is how you trick people into supporting that.  

Wiley definitely shouldn't keep talking on video and showing specific examples like that.  His dark magic works better in secret. Yugoslavia, Rwanda - I'd say his involvement constitutes a question mark over both of those cases. Who in Rwanda was on the West's hit list? I'd have to look into that. 

Side points:
@7:20 - dubbed audio? Apparent pro-gov protest, w/massive streamer in the Syrian national colors, and people even dressed in them? (A lot of red shirts together anyway). Audio: chants of the people want the fall of the regime. Anyone know this particular scene? This recurs: protests that look huge and pro-Assad, with clear anti-Assad audio. I won't call fake until I know. some early protests especially made a point of chanting "peaceful" and waving only Syria's flag. But were they ever that big? And here they say "fall of regime," and wave the flag, so ... Don't think I've seen that before. 

(Also, with those early protests, there were usually guys on motorcycles and rooftops and minarets at the same time, going around doing something, but who cares about that? The protests were peaceful peaceful lovey-dovey, and that's the only part Assad cracked down on, because he's a genocaidal maniac. Anyway, that's the basic picture that emerges here, in the "hidden story" of the Syrian Arab Spring ("hidden" meaning widely-repeated with no question)). 

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