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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Marie Colvin's Killing and the Assad Files

Assad Files 2018 part 4
February 10, 2019

I've been following the "Assad Files" and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) imperfectly - I've put it wrongly as "Committee for …" in general, for one thing. Oops. I was so focused on how little evidence it seems they actually found, and how much spin they have to engage in to make it seem like they found a lot.

Brushing up now, I see I had also missed the CIJA's role last year in the court case over the death of Marie Colvin, the tough, eye-patched American war correspondent with the New York Times. She was famously killed by shelling after sneaking into terrorist-occupied Baba Amr, Homs, in February, 2012, as the government was trying to reclaim it. What could have been an accident - or even a terrorist false-flag operation - was widely suspected of being a deliberate assassination by the government. Colvin's family has been making that case in court, seeking accountability from top government officials they feel must have ordered the hit.

That's a very basic intro, and I still haven't analyzed this case in much detail. But it came up in my digging that the CIJA's trove of top-secret files was used as evidence in her case - nearly 200 files' worth of them.

Anne Barnard, NYT, 9 April, 2018 (Syrian Forces Aimed to Kill Journalists, U.S. Court Is Told) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/world/middleeast/syria-marie-colvin-death.html

The filings, nearly 200 in total, are part of a far larger cache of some 700,000 records that have been smuggled out of Syria by defectors, activists and others and meticulously collected by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which wants to build war-crimes cases against the Syrian government.

The Smoking Gun Evidence: From "Ulysses" - Not From the "Assad Files"
A Colvin family lawyer explained the documents “lay out the command and control structure and reveal things that even Syria experts don’t know,” about who was or would have been in charge of any criminal actions. And they "allow us to reconstruct the broader policy planning that identified media workers as targets from very early on in the conflict.”

That supposed policy might reflect on her case, but there's no mention of anything in those nearly 200 pages actually showing the suspected order to target Colvin herself. That's not to say there wasn't one, since the CIJA didn't necessarily get every order generated. But they find some targeting orders (see below), maybe others, maybe most or even all of them ... but not this one.

"Lawyers are also citing several sworn witness accounts," Barnard notes. In fact the key evidence, as before the paper chase, comes from the ramblings of a few Islamist chatterboxes full of stories of regime evil. This doesn't seem to be unusual; every criminal act blamed on the regime lacks documented order that can be found. Luckily, the CIJA also has several defectors on file (perhaps the same ones presented in court?) to help fill in the very large blank spots left by the touted paperwork.

In this case, the main details come from one man with a code-name. "Ulysses" - another defector with a classical Western nickname like "Caesar" - who claims he witnessed and learned about the plot, and in great detail at that. As Barnard put it:

"Ulysses, who remains in exile, told the lawyers that the military had ordered an attack on Ms. Colvin and her colleagues as part of a broader effort — directed from the top and laid out in the documents — to track, arrest and target demonstrators, coordinators and “those who tarnish the image of Syria” by talking to journalists and other foreigners."

We'll come back to this supposed policy and what we've learned of it previously. Ulysses - not the top secret files - had several points of evidence he allegedly learned to prove they killed Colvin:

* "Syria’s powerful intelligence chief, Ali Mamlouk, received information from “friendly Lebanese officials” that foreign journalists were crossing the Syrian border to reach Homs and instructed the commander of the military-security committee in the central Syrian city to “capture the journalists” and “take all necessary measures.” Ulysses said that phrase customarily “authorized killing if needed.”"
* "Syrian activists brought in Ms. Colvin and a British journalist, Paul Conroy, through a mile-long, four-foot-wide water pipe. Soon after, Ulysses said, an informant told intelligence officials that the journalists were at the activists’ media center and described its rough location."
* "Ms. Colvin issued a live report from the media center ... That, Ulysses said, allowed the government to use surveillance equipment to pinpoint the location, matching the informant’s report. He recalled the deputy head of the Computer and Signals Section of Branch 261 of the military intelligence department in Homs saying, “There was a broadcast tonight from the same location.” Then the official added: “The boss is very happy.”"

Then the following day, we're to gather, the regime figured they'd still be there and attacked. As survivor Paul Conroy described, there was shelling at a distance on one side of the media center and then the other, then again but closer and closer until they hit the center - as if to clarify it was no accident. I tend to believe that, and I don't suspect it was an accident. But it's irresponsible to ignore that the terrorists hosting them might have done it. Why not? Because they hadn't pinpointed their location in so many ways?

Now if the CIJA had their 750,000 or so pages of top-secret files, workers and software to comb through it, for several years now ... and they found some 200 pages with relevant information, mostly I guess to show who was the boss of what, but nothing directly related to the Colvin killing … it seems like no documents reflect the plot. One entirely plausible explanation is that, despite what this "Ulysses" says, there was no such order. Someone else targeted and killed Marie Colvin.

A Cited Targeting Order
At least and perhaps just one document, of the nearly 200 from the CIJA that was submitted, suggests deadly targeting of journalists.

Barnard describes the relentless shelling of "Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs where opposition activists had set up a media center to communicate with journalists." It's also where terrorists were abducting people, faking shelling videos, doing much unknown … but it's a place with a media center, and later Marie Colvin at that center, and it was shelled, so … this supports targeting of media.

But it gets more specific:

"One document shows how military and security forces intercepted communications between journalists and the activists" in Baba Amr, "in early 2012" (same place and close in time to the Colvin case, for what it's worth). "Intelligence officers passed on information about a journalist for Al Jazeera to a military special forces unit with the instruction, “Take the necessary measures."

As noted above, "Ulysses" says this basic phrase “authorized killing if needed.” But from the paperwork itself, without that bit of 'codebreaking' - it's not clear what those measures were - arrest, murder, arrest and torture to death, rescue from terrorist kidnappers, or other. The text likely did clarify but it didn't include kill, so the CIJA redacted the explanation, left the ambiguous quote, and presented that. If mood music could be attached, they would probably choose a few ominous notes by a string section here.

Also it must be noted some Al-Jazeera "journalists" are clearly in the same team and on message with allies holding guns, and sometimes hostages. Some of these terrorists get a camera, maybe "media training," and then get hired to provide propaganda videos Al-Jazeera and others run as news. He may have been targeted (for arrest, probably) not over his reporting, of facts or lies, but over his violent or criminal activities, or just for questioning, to find out where the bases and hostages are, perhaps.

Still, it seems no such orders relating to Ms. Colvin and her associates was located. They're limited to showing how there's at least one possible precedent - depending on those unclear details.

The CCMC Targeting Backdrop
But they had more color to share. "Ulysses" cites a clear pattern, which he includes Colvin in, by which the regime would, as Barnard put it, "track, arrest and target demonstrators, coordinators and “those who tarnish the image of Syria” by talking to journalists and other foreigners."

That 'tarnish" quote suggests he's referring to the CIJA's files on the August, 2011 creation of a Central Crisis Management Cell in Damascus. I've covered this previously in what could be called my linchpin article so far, run proudly at 21st Century Wire. The files describing this body became the "linchpin" of the CIJA case against Syrian officials, explaining who was in charge of what, allowing for a list of names. It was said the plan was to round up protesters for nothing more, and to do so in an organized way. The "crisis" was just one of free speech, and all the soldiers and policemen getting killed by foreign-backed militants (including in Hama just a few days before the CCMC's first meeting) was not even an issue.

But the only view we get of the actual document - thanks to a slip by the editors at El-Pais English - shows their names are all over a plan to stop "armed gangs" from some of these crimes, which they are known to have been engaged in at the time:

* "vandalism”
* “looting”
* “pillaging”
* “attacking state institutions”
* “killing and terrorizing citizens.”

These are the wanted people, in the CCMC's outlined plans. The orders are to "arrest them." Then, the document continues, some among those militants also "tarnish/harm the image of Syria" by speaking to the foreign media. The orders are to arrest them, especially. It's not mentioned here, but the government position (supported by much evidence) is these people speak to the media falsely, denying any militancy on their own side to help blame their own crimes on the government. That's not free speech, but part of a criminal operation. That's the government view; militants who also spread lies in the media were wanted as the especially dangerous class they are.

Folks who organize protests were also mentioned as targets. Indeed, "demonstrations/events" and related words appear in the apparently real orders we can finally see, but their meaning here seems a bit different than usual. These "demonstrations" are organized by militants, and involved funding and "armaments," the sources of which Damascus wanted to know. Further, any militants involved in these activities via the Local Coordinating Committees was especially wanted for arrest and questioning.

It seems "Ulysses" still finds the fake version of this policy and that 'tarnish' quote central to showing how the regime went around killing journalists. But in reality, that's attached to the anti-militant policy described above. How does a well-informed insider miss such details? I propose he does it on purpose, to further the information Jihad.

As Barnard explains, the CIJA documents filed for the Colvin case "appear to reveal the workings of the Central Crisis Management Cell, a committee reporting to Mr. Assad that was created to counter the uprisings that broke out across Syria in 2011." This, minus its crucial militant context, is central to the false picture painted in court, as it has been in the court of public opinion previously.

The skewed view of "Ulysses" was borne out here, not by other documents, but by two more defectors Barnard spoke with, and who were called on in the Colvin case.

The original smuggler of the CCMC documents, Abdelmajid Barakat "said he heard discussions of plans to fabricate evidence of rebels attacking civilians." There's been no mention of any documents relating to such plans. Could this be idle talk, or invented talk? Yes, the latter in particular. But it was taken as real talk, and a real plan that was acted on.

The same guy says he "saw documents that identified Syrians providing information to journalists as a top national security threat demanding a lethal response." But he only provided documents like the ones discussed above, with no mention of that on paper yet. The ones we can see only say "arrest them." If they were to shoot back during the attempt, they may get a lethal response, but that's a bit past speaking to journalists, right? Others have found these orders central, apparently failing to find anything juicier ... like the files Barakat could only recall seeing. False recall perhaps?

Anwar Malek, an Algerian who had been part of an Arab League monitoring mission, says Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, President Assad’s brother-in-law, and a member of the CCMC, told him openly that, as Barnard put it:
"...it was necessary to kill civilians to defeat “the terrorists,” that “he would have been able to destroy Baba Amr in 10 minutes if there were not any video cameras” and that foreign journalists reporting from Baba Amr were “agents” of Israel and other countries... "‘For us, these are terrorists,’” Mr. Malek quoted him as saying. “They are targets for our military services and our security forces.”

I highly doubt this is how the conversation truly went. According to Barnard's article, Malek is sure a 5-year-old boy was really killed by a regime sniper, and felt the Arab League mission was compromised for rejecting that claim, so he quit. He says he got death threat phone calls, "and his convoy to Damascus was shot at. The government blamed rebels, but Mr. Malek believed the attack was staged by the government." Sure he believes that. I mean, it only makes sense … to certain people. He's quick to believe every Islamist claim. He's characteristic of every selected source run by the corporate-controlled media-government system to explain the "truth" about Syria. It's supposed to be a big deal that he agrees with the others in his general tone.

And still, he didn't apparently have any specific information on the Marie Colvin case. Nor did Mr. Barakat, nor the "Assad Files." Just "Ulysses" did.

So there's the evidence against the regime in the Colvin case, from this best effort to make it seem convincing. It's not very convincing. Mr. Malek especially was there to provide the color, or mood music, to help conjure belief in a crime for which there seems to be no reliable evidence.

The "Assad Files" were there to make it seem like top-secret papers agree with these handy omniscient defectors, all reflecting a real government policy. But the documents, which seem to reflect reality, call these liars out. They don't work well on the same team.

Which part should be demoted? If "justice" over all these alleged crimes is your interest, clearly it's the reality-reflecting "Assad Files" you'll want to lose. And they already do, for the most part. They skip over hundreds of thousands of pages entirely, to focus on a select few, used simply as pools from which to extract spooky-sounding quotes, and the names of people they want to see in jail, ignoring or deleting all the context they need to achieve that.


  1. "Dead journos are bad for Damascus" https://www.channel4.com/news/by/alex-thomson/blogs/hostile-territory

    Surely there is an accepted risk when entering a country in that way and reporting from front lines in a war. To me, an 'assassination' like this doesn't quite seem comparable to e.g. abduction and execution, there have also been many activists/propagandists since then they would arguably have more motivation to target but haven't (or cannot?).

    1. Yes, great add. It's suggested Damascus is also moronic/suicidal, and doesn't understand what's bad for them. Alex was wrong or being coy about those 'regime' snipers willing to shoot whoever the 'rebels' sent their way, but otherwise, a great tale I'm glad he lived to tell.

      Also, Jacquier … another case I don't know well. His wife thinks regime forces killed him with a gun or knife, but French Intel thinks oppo. forces did it?

      The author here proposes Colvin's death was an accident, but doesn't seem to really know. All we can add here is there's been no found order, which supports accident OR intentional hit by the terrorists hosting her.

      Or … an order they just didn't find? Hard to rule out case-by-case. but I suspect every suspected order of any importance, from shoot protesters, to massacre these families in Houla, to starve that town, or drop any chemical bombs, torture, mass-exterminate prisoners, fabricate crimes to blame rebels … all such orders will be in this class - perhaps existent but never to be found. They'll just keep finding names to add to their 'arrest for whatever' file.

    2. An interesting read, it looks like Paul Conroy disputes some of those details -

      But who to believe when by Conroy's own admission they were there to try and convince the west to intervene (and still pro-intervention complete with Hollywood adaptation to sell)?

      And, as that article points out, 'indiscriminate strikes' morph so rapidly into 'precision targeting' whenever a 'hospital', 'bakery' or other place with PR value gets hit.

      How Conroy determines SAA accuracy is down to "caring" as opposed to any other factor I am not sure, or if there was an order to kill him personally that they ran past the SARC man.. or just an order for any journalist in an ambulance?

    3. https://cja.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/6-Declaration-of-Paul-Conroy-dated-October-24-2017.pdf

      "one of our fixers on that trip told me that Lebanese intelligence had intercepted Syrian army radio traffic reflecting orders to kill any Western journalists found in Homs."

      "intercepted radio communications indicated that the Assad regime was still actively looking for me in Beirut"

      "FSA sources in Horns had warned her that a "dead or alive" bounty had been put on our heads."

      Just 2 of 3 or maybe all via opposition sources, did they have independent evidence of these? It doesn't seem a very practical strategy.

    4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/paul-conroy-marie-colvin-syria-homs-war-photographer-ptsd-free-syrian-army-a8520576.html

      “We have vast amounts proving this down to what they were rewarded, what cars they were given for killing Marie and getting me [a million dollar dead-or-alive bounty was placed on his head]. It was systematic. There was a whole military unit set up to track and kill journalists – we have that evidence.”

    5. I can only see one car, the black Hyundai. So they get $1m.. or a Hyundai?

  2. According to the Mirror it was an FSA rebel who told him "do not get in that ambulance" not SARC. Seems to stem from old accusations investigated and rejected by ICRC?


    Perhaps the SARC saying it is a better story, after all, "propaganda's half the war"

    The documentary "Under The Wire" is at least a better watch than the dreary White Helmets attempts where they buy some fish.

    1. (ICRC above is a typo, should be SARC)

      A bit after the fact to add much of use, but (if even mentioned) Conroy's account of the Red Crescent story seems to change every time. This is the Under the Wire version. Or maybe it was this: "A delegation member who was trusted by the Free Syrian Army ... said that he heard Syrian state television planned to film the two being put on ambulances, then government forces would stage an attack that they'd later blame on the Free Syrian Army". In any case, someone from SARC turns up to confirm FSA horror stories.

      I think I believe SARC over Conroy

      Conroy says he stayed impartial but describes the people he was with as "friends" - the Farouq Battalion.. no military targets, just the one jihadist (with bag on head) and only women and children doesn't seem very convincing.

      My impression is that Conroy is completely in bed with the FSA and their stories, so even if there was a legitimate military target near the 'media building' would he even know or admit it?

    2. https://youtu.be/bnZyvhOZPAo?t=2623

    3. Off topic but with recent interest in Marie Colvin someone else out there might be wondering, the context of Conroy's statement in the video above that Nusra were the only ones "protecting" civilians from the 'regime':

      According to Reuters, if the date of the Frontline Club talk is accurate, Nusra had been "formally designated a terrorist organization by the United States" months before.

      They had kidnapped and murdered journalists, all a bit more clear cut than shelling. Even the Guardian quotes someone describing being ruled by Nusra as having got "rid of one despot [Bashar] and replaced him with another".

      So it seems a very strange thing for someone like Conroy to say.

      Also, (obviously) strange is supposedly Syria being so angered by their broadcast that they tracked the signal.. and then waited until the next morning to actually shell them.

    4. Or maybe it was *two* SARC members that told Conroy it was all a big trap.

      According to Linsey Hilsum's book it was actually Hala Jaber who managed "to persuade the Syrian military to negotiate a ceasefire with the FSA to allow an ambulance from the Red Crescent" .. "To this day Hala maintains that if the injured journalists had got in the ambulance, they would have been treated well when they reached the government side"


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