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Media Paints Jihadist Commander Who Pledged Allegiance to ISIS as a Soccer Star With the Voice of an Angel

DAMASCUS, SYRIA — If you’ve read the headlines about the death of “Syrian activist” Abdel Basset al-Sarout, you probably think he was a pretty cool guy. Headlines referring to him as a “Syrian footballer, singer and rebel” make him seem like he could have been the love child of Pelé and Freddie Mercury with the politics of Che Guevara.

Sarout may have sang, played soccer, and rebelled, but he was certainly no peace-loving hippie. A more accurate version for the descriptor would read “Syrian footballer, singer [of al-Qaeda’s hymns] and [CIA-backed jihadist] rebel [commander].”

 

Sing it with me: “The World Trade Center is a pile of rubble.”

It is true that Sarout, as the media suggests, became the face of the revolution. So, fittingly, Sarout sang songs glorifying al-Qaeda’s destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, a terrorist attack that left 3,000 innocent civilians dead.

In one video, Sarout led a group of America’s beloved “moderate rebels” in singing al-Qaeda’s most famous song:

We destroyed America with a civilian airliner. The World Trade Center is a pile of rubble. The World Trade Center is a pile of rubble.”

Osama Bin Laden — the one who terrorizes America. With the strength of our faith and our weapon is the PIKA [PK machine gun]. With the strength of our faith and our weapon is the PIKA.”

Video shows Abdel Baset Sarout leading a chorus of terrorists singing a famous Al-Qaeda song which boasts about destroying the WTC and turning it into a pile of rubble on 9/11 and praises Osama Bin Laden. This is the same man who is being hailed as a hero by Western Media. #Syria pic.twitter.com/cZRmf0ZW1h

— Walid (@walid970721) June 9, 2019

In another video, Sarout is among a group singing about how they intend to kill Alawites, a religious minority to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs:

If they say terrorist, it is an honor to me. Our terrorism is a blessing and a divine call. Alawite police, be patient, oh Alawites. We are coming to slaughter you without an agreement.”

In other videos, Sarout calls not just for genocide against the Syrian Alawite minority but also for the expulsion of Shias:

We are all jihadists! Homs has taken the decision. We want to exterminate the Alawites. Shias must leave!”

Western thought leaders are lionizing Abdel Baset al-Sarout who was killed fighting the Syrian army. They conveniently omit that he fought in a militia allied with al-Qaeda and pledged allegiance to ISIS. From my mini-documentary: The Syria Deception https://t.co/MpdkUbJkP7 pic.twitter.com/vLThkIMZFB

— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) June 8, 2019

That was from a rally in Homs, Syria, where Sarout made a name for himself as a supposed “rebel icon.” Shortly before he left the city before it was liberated by the government, Sarout recorded a video of his analysis of where the opposition to Assad should go next. In it, he calls for an alliance between the rebel groups of Homs and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, and Daesh.

We know that these two groups are not politicized and have the same goals as us and are working for God and that they care about Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately some among them consider us apostates and drug addicts, but God willing we will work shoulder to shoulder with them when we leave [Homs].

We are not Christians or Shia, afraid of suicide belts and car bombs. We consider those to be strengths of ours. God willing they will be just that. This message is to the Islamic State and our brothers in Jabhat al-Nusra: that when we come out [of Homs] we will all be as one, hand fighting Christians and not fighting internally.”

After leaving Homs, Sarout went even further than before, personally pledging allegiance to ISIS, according to an Al-Jazeera Arabic report. Photos even show him holding their infamous flag.

I for one am shocked to see the media whitewashing the legacy of Abdelbaset Sarout, a commander of Jaish al-Izza (Army of Glory), which received weapons and training from the CIA. pic.twitter.com/2eD5qeWrrj

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 10, 2019

Sarout would go on to become a commander in the Jaysh al-Izza (Army of Glory) group. Once a branch of the nebulous Free Syrian Army, Jaysh al-Izza was reportedly supported by the Central Intelligence Agency with training and equipment under its program. Weapons supplied to the group reportedly include anti-tank missiles. Underscoring Jaysh al-Izza’s close relationship with Jabhat al-Nusra, which later rebranded as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), HTS has reportedly used the CIA-supplied weapons in its fighting with the Syrian government and bombings against civilians.

 

From pledging allegiance to ISIS to “rebel icon”: anatomy of the media’s whitewashing

Despite his terrorist affiliations, the mainstream media has rewritten Sarout’s legacy to their liking. Even al-Jazeera, which reported Sarout’s pledge to ISIS, called him a “rebel icon” in its English-language video report on his death. That video made no mention of any of Sarout’s terrorist ties.

Other news outlets from gulf petro-monarchies funding the proxy war on Syria even call Sarout a “martyr.” Meanwhile, an analysis from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper worried over the fate of other “fighting poets.” While the BBC’s headline played it straight, opting to just provide his name and that he died, the British public broadcaster called him “a symbol of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad” and quoted another commander in Jaish al-Izza calling him a “martyr” in the article’s body.

Eulogies for Abdelbasset Sarout go like..
"He may have made some mistakes, but …"

A mistake is not checking the date on the milk before pouring it into your coffee, not urging the "revolution" to unite with ISIS in order to kill Christians. pic.twitter.com/wOyY1IL2Qs

— Lina Arabi (@LinaArabii) June 8, 2019

 

Did media fact-checkers all take the day off?

Below are a sample of headlines whitewashing Sarout’s jihadist “activism:”

American publications:

New York Times — Syrian Soccer Star, Symbol of Revolt, Dies After Battle

The Daily Beast — Syrian Soccer Goalie and Rebel Icon Killed in Northwestern Syria

NBC News — ‘Guardian of freedom’: Syrian soccer goalie who became rebel icon dies in battle

SFGate — Soccer goalie who joined Syrian rebel fighters dies in battle

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — World briefs: Syrian soccer goalie who became rebel icon dies in battle

Israeli publications:

Haaretz — The Syrian Nightingale Is Dead, and Soon Other Fighting Poets May Be Silenced

Haaretz — Syrian Soccer Player and Icon of anti-Assad Movement Dies From Battle Wound

Jerusalem Post — Star Footballer Turned Rebel Icon Dies in Syria Fighting

Times of Israel — Hundreds attend funeral of Syrian soccer goalkeeper who became rebel icon

British publications:

Daily Mail — Hundreds of mourners attend funeral of Syrian goalkeeper who became figurehead of the opposition before being killed by Bashar al-Assad’s forces

The Guardian — Syrian footballer and ‘singer of revolution’ killed in conflict

Middle East Eye — Syrian footballer, singer and rebel Abd al-Basset al-Sarout killed in northern Syria

United Arab Emirates publications:

The National — Abdelbaset Sarout: Syria’s ‘singer of the revolution’ dies defending Idlib

The National– Abdelbaset Sarout: showman Syrian rebel who declined adulation

Wire services (publications that provide other outlets with syndicated services, allowing them reprint their articles):

Reuters — Syrian rebel town buries goalie who became ‘singer of the revolution’

Associated Press — Syrian soccer goalie who became rebel icon dies in battle

Rudaw (Kurdish publication) via Agency France Presse — Syrian soccer goalkeeper killed in Idlib clashes — Rudaw

Turkish publications:
Anadolu Agency — Syrian revolution hero martyred after Hama clashes

Daily Sabah — Hero of Syrian revolution killed after Hama clashes

Hong Kong:

South China Morning Post — Abdelbasset Sarout, star soccer player turned rebel icon, dies in Syria fighting

Qatar:

Al Jazeera — Syrian goalkeeper who became rebel icon dies in Hama battle

While Sarout’s open calls for genocide and sectarianism were totally whitewashed by the press, his case takes its place in a long tradition of deception regarding the proxy war. In perhaps the most sophisticated propaganda campaign in the history of modern warfare, Syria’s White Helmets have worked hand-in-glove with jihadists while on the payroll of Western governments, while Western journalists have upheld ISIS recruiters as “experts” on the war. Sarout’s death is a sober reminder that citizens must fact check the media, since they refuse to do it themselves.

Feature photo | Abdel Basset al-Sarout

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News

The post Media Paints Jihadist Commander Who Pledged Allegiance to ISIS as a Soccer Star With the Voice of an Angel appeared first on MintPress News.

In the Western Media Narrative, SAA-Targeted Underground Bunkers and Terrorist-Run Prisons Become “Hospitals”

IDLIB PROVINCE, SYRIA (Report) — In recently liberated Qalaat Al Madiq — 500 meters from As Suqaylabiyah, a predominantly Christian town near Syria’s embattled Idlib province — the White Helmets, a controversial rescue group financed primarily by the U.K. Foreign Office, was found to have an established presence in a network of tunnels. The tunnels zigzagged under a former wheat factory that had since been converted into a headquarters of Nusra Front/HTS — Al Qaeda in Syria.

Syrian army finds yet another "White Helmet" and "al-Nusra" joint headquarters
Video by Russian war correspondent Oleg Blokhin pic.twitter.com/ambtRijaDS

— R&U Videos (@r_u_vid) May 12, 2019

This has been a pattern repeated in many of the areas liberated from extremist groups in Syria: a White Helmets presence alongside the Nusra Front, or whichever extremist group happens to dominate specific districts of the occupied territories. Invariably, the majority of the White Helmet operatives departed upon the seemingly endless stream of green buses that carried the various cadres of armed groups from liberated regions of Syria into Idlib.

Underground hospital in Zamalka, Eastern Ghouta; April 2018. (Photo: SANA)

In Eastern Ghouta, many of the temporary medical centers, which provided treatment almost exclusively to extremist armed factions, were also built underground. I visited a number of them after Eastern Ghouta was liberated in early 2018. They were linked by a vast maze of tunnels that snaked below most of the districts controlled by the armed groups, providing cover for the fighters during SAA military campaigns.

A recent video from occupied Northern Hama, neighboring Idlib, shows members of Jaish Al Izza, an armed terrorist organization, gathering in a series of underground tunnels and caverns used as meeting rooms. The video shows Jaish Al Izza General Commander, Major Jamil al-Saleh, congratulating a group of fighters on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. At least one of the fighters is wearing an Al Qaeda armband in the video, which was apparently later doctored to conceal the Nusra Front affiliation.

Despite Jaish Al Izza’s well-established affiliation with Al Qaeda, South Front, a website that provides extensive coverage of the Syrian conflict, revealed that when Jaish Al Izza was established in 2013 it was initially listed among a group of “moderate” rebels eligible for U.S support through the CIA’s Timber Sycamore train-and-equip program, which was approved by then-U.S. President Barack Obama:

The group received loads of weapons from the U.S. including Grad rockets, as well as Fagot and TOW anti-tank guided missiles [ATGMs]. … Jaysh al-Izza’s ‘special relationships’ with HTS and its high-tolerance to al-Qaeda ideology confirms the radical views of the group’s fighters and leader. Jaysh al-Izza members are not even making much efforts to hide this after the suspension of the U.S. support in 2017.”

The hospital masquerade

This use of underground facilities as makeshift medical centers for fighters and the conversion of existing hospitals into Sharia courts, military centers, prisons and torture chambers was demonstrated in East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta prior to the Idlib campaign.

A wing of the Ibn Khaldoun mental health hospital in Aleppo, occupied by a succession of armed groups including Nusra Front and Free Syrian Army. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

Ahmad Aldayh, prisoner of the armed groups in the former Eye and Childrens hospital complex in East Aleppo. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

In May 2017, I interviewed Ahmad Aldayh, who had been imprisoned by Jabhat Al Shamiya, another of Syria’s myriad anti-government extremist groups and an Al Qaeda affiliate, in the Eye and Children’s Hospital complex in East Aleppo. Aldayh described a hospital that had been converted into a Sharia court, prison and torture chambers and was simultaneously being used as a military center by the succession of armed groups that took control of the complex during the five-year occupation of East Aleppo. Aldayh gives a detailed account of the brutality and savagery of the armed groups towards civilians detained in the former hospital buildings.

 

After liberation of East Aleppo from Nusra Front-led occupation, Russian medical teams established makeshift hospitals in Jibreen to treat civilians, the majority of whom had received no medical care during the five-year occupation. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

This context is often airbrushed by Western press and NATO-aligned “humanitarian” organizations — including Amnesty International, which reported on the targeting of Idlib “schools, hospitals and blood banks” without mention of the daily war crimes carried out by the armed groups against civilians in government-secured border areas.

Why are you showing alleged CCTV footage from East #Aleppo (Al Quds hospital) which was not destroyed, as described by media in 2016. Are you claiming this hospital is in #Idlib? https://t.co/cuBisBdLXa

— vanessa beeley (@VanessaBeeley) June 5, 2019

Media outlets affiliated with some of these terrorist groups have been exposed trying to recycle footage of hospitals allegedly destroyed in East Aleppo in 2016 to criminalize the Syrian government in Idlib 2019, but this falsification seems not to have deterred some in the Western press who persevere with the “Syrian-government-targeting-hospitals” narrative regardless of the questions that should be raised.

Today, claims that the Pulse of Life Hospital in Hass, Idlib has been targeted: https://t.co/XTvHCz67JG

— vanessa beeley (@VanessaBeeley) May 5, 2019

The Pulse of Life example

Recently, it was claimed that the Pulse of Life (POL) hospital in the town of Hass, south of Idlib, had been destroyed. Images of what looks suspiciously like an underground military bunker were shared liberally across a number of media platforms, including in the opening scene of a Sky News report from inside Idlib.

However, in September 2018, Al Qaeda supporter and journalist, Hadi Al Abdullah, informed us that the POL hospital had been ‘destroyed by Russia.’ In his report, members of the White Helmets can be seen clambering over the smoldering rubble of the alleged remains of the hospital. It is hard to imagine how such a structure could have been rebuilt in time to be re-destroyed less than a year after the initial reports.

Screenshot from Saudi-financed Orient News channel showing aftermath of alleged attack on POL hospital. (Photo: Via @MichaKobs)

If the POL was fully destroyed as a working hospital in September 2018, why have media outlets in the West not questioned what the underground complex is currently being used for? Is it still a makeshift medical center servicing armed groups? If it is a civilian hospital, as the media is claiming, why is there no evidence of civilian presence, no cars, no ambulances, no patients? In Saqba, Eastern Ghouta, I was told by civilians that the White Helmet center was out of bounds for civilians — is that the case for this alleged hospital? None of these questions have been asked or answered in the mainstream media reports.

This didn’t stop the likes of Sky News and EA Worldview from republishing the images in reports demonizing the Syrian Army and its allies for targeting hospitals. Here, the alleged second destruction of the POL leads a report from Sky News:

#Idlib | @SkyNews May 28
Hospitals in Idlib have been targeted by the #Syrian regime to drive out civilians from the country's last rebel-held city.

full story from Sky's sp| correspondent @AlexCrawfordSky in Idlib https://t.co/WkfzK6S4ej pic.twitter.com/Tp0VhJfgBI | #Trump #MAGA

— ???????????????????? ???????????????????????? (@trump020) June 3, 2019

EA Worldview is managed by Professor Scott Lucas, an aggressive advocate of regime change in Syria. Lucas is employed by Birmingham University but is also a consultant at the The Toran Center for Strategic Research and Studies, which claims to foster the intellectual and scholarly understanding of modern-day geopolitics and to facilitate analysis of foreign policy strategy and outcomes. The Toran Center is comprised of a cartel of sympathizers and even former members of the various armed groups fighting Syria’s government and heavily promotes regime change in Syria.

Lucas was swift to employ images of the “destroyed” POL hospital to push “Russia-Regime war on Syria’s hospitals” headlines.

Doctors halt sharing of coordinates of medical facilities after Russia & #Assad regime attack the hospitals and clinics in NW #Syria https://t.co/OXPVzEkUbt#Hama #Idlib pic.twitter.com/eitkBM5o4E

— EA WorldView (@EA_WorldView) June 4, 2019

One-eye-blind reporting

Author Janine Di Giovanni, another vehement supporter of NATO-backed regime change in Syria, recently penned an article in the New York Times entitled “In Syria Even the Hospitals are not Safe.” Di Giovanni claims that “Bashar Al Assad [personally] attacks medical facilities to break the will of the people — and to destroy evidence of his war crimes.”

Di Giovanni fails to mention the rebuilding and restoration of the hospitals in areas of Syria that were previously occupied by the multi-faceted armed groups, which had either destroyed or systematically taken over hospitals and schools before converting them into detention centers, sharia courtrooms, and torture chambers.

Di Giovanni also fails to mention, for example, the 2013 destruction of the Al Kindi hospital in Aleppo by armed extremist groups. Al Kindi had been one of the largest and most progressive cancer specializing hospitals in the Middle East prior to the double suicide truck attack that reduced much of it to rubble. Professor Tim Anderson, author of The Dirty War on Syria, outlined the Western-sponsored armed groups’ campaign to decimate health services and hospitals across Syria in his May 2016 article, “Aleppo hospital smokescreen:”

Dr al Nayef (former Health Minister) told us that, since March 2011, 67 of the country’s 94 national hospitals had been attacked and damaged, with 41 out of service. 174 health workers had been killed, 127 wounded and 33 kidnapped. Further, 1921 primary health centres had been damaged, and 678 were out of service. 421 ambulances had been lost or were out of service, and 197 support vehicles had been damaged, with 169 out of service.

In the New York Times article, Di Giovanni promotes a letter written by “medics” and the Al Qaeda-affiliated White Helmets, whose center was directly below the military center of the armed group in freshly liberated Qalaat Al Madiq, northern Hama. The letter, published by the Syria Campaign, calls for the cessation of bombing in Idlib, “which is supposed to be a demilitarised zone” — a misleading statement by Di Giovanni that encourages her readers to believe that all of Idlib is a demilitarized zone and that Al Qaeda offshoots are not legitimate targets of the Syrian allied forces.

Perhaps Di Giovanni didn’t comprehend the terms of the Russian/Turkish Sochi agreement, which created a 15-20 kilometer buffer zone that was supposed to be emptied of heavy weapons and hardcore radical groups such as HTS. Perhaps she doesn’t know that the demilitarization never happened, or that HTS and its affiliates have been systematically targeting towns in the Syrian government-protected territories bordering their enclaves.

Perhaps Di Giovanni doesn’t understand that Turkey has been exploiting the ceasefires to reinforce and multiply the hardcore factions that could serve Turkey’s interests in the region. If so, Di Giovanni has a responsibility to her readers to inform herself of the facts rather than producing unsubstantiated and misleading narratives.

Di Giovanni dismisses Syrian government claims that targeted hospitals are occupied by the terrorists and armed groups, without addressing the evidence that hospitals and schools were occupied by militant factions in East Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta, Quneitra, Daraa, Homs, and across Syria. She seems to have forgotten that the U.S. Coalition excused their pulverization of Raqqa, Mosul and their targeting of hospitals in those cities and in Deir Ezzor because they claimed ISIS occupied those buildings.

In Yemen, 375 hospitals have been destroyed by the Saudi Coalition using bombs predominantly supplied by the U.S., U.K. and France. To date, Di Giovanni has not condemned how the United States supplies weapons to a Saudi regime that is conducting wholesale slaughter and waging a deliberate campaign of starvation against the Yemeni people, whose only crime is to reject Saudi colonization and decades of corruption.

Di Giovanni states, “the most threatening way you can terrorize a population is to bomb hospitals and kill doctors.” She is right, of course, but the doctors being targeted are in government-secured border towns like Mhardeh and As Suqaylabiyah, and districts of West Aleppo, where hospitals are routinely targeted by armed extremist groups. In May of 2019, the local hospital emergency room in As Suqaylabiyah was hit and damaged by Grad missiles fired by HTS from areas north of Qalaat al Madiq and the hospital and its perimeters were targeted multiple times.

The wanton destruction of medical facilities in liberated areas of Syria is irrelevant to Di Giovanni and the Western press. Medical centers in Syrian government-controlled areas are being crippled by economic sanctions that profoundly affect their ability to provide healthcare for civilians in wartime and in post-war Syria.

An apparently U.K. Fire Service-supplied Hazmat suit found in the White Helmet center underground below the Nusra Front military center in Qalaat Al Madiq, Northern Hama. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

While the White Helmets and Western sponsored hospitals effectively serving the armed-group communities in Idlib receive endless supplies of materials and state-of-the-art medical equipment from their NATO member-state sponsors and associated organizations, Syrian hospitals in the 80 percent of Syria back under the control of the Syrian government are literally starved of even the most basic essentials needed to provide adequate health care for civilians.

The White Helmets’ role

During a 2018 visit to refugee centers in Hama that are harboring families that fled the armed-group invasion of Idlib province — particularly from Idlib City in March 2015, when the city was fully taken over by Nusra Front-led armed groups — I met with a young volunteer for Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). This volunteer had worked in the armed-group occupied territories until it became too dangerous. When I asked her for an informed opinion on the White Helmets as a supposed “humanitarian” NGO, she told me:

White Helmets are terrorists. They are specialists in acting & drama, not humanitarian work. The White Helmets abuse the “humanitarian” title to gain trust and to brainwash people in Syria and outside. They are a big lie. There are many foreigners working in the #WhiteHelmets.”

Her analysis was echoed by the Director of SARC in Aleppo when I interviewed him in January 2018. He told me:

We never saw them [White Helmets] operate in East Aleppo; they belonged to the terrorists. They received money from outside, from more than one country.”

A recent video has just been unearthed by an independent researcher on Twitter showing White Helmets demonstrating with Jaish Al Fatah (Army of Conquest) in Idlib 2015. Jaish Al Fatah were a coalition of extremist armed groups that included Nusra Front. The coalition was co-ordinated by Riyadh-trained and -financed Sheikh Abdullah Muhaysini, who has a reputation for training child suicide bombers in Syria and for orchestrating some of the most horrifying atrocites committed against Syrian civilians and army personnel.  

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Di Giovanni persists in the unequivocal defense of the U.K.-manufactured White Helmets accused by Syrian civilians of child abduction, organ trafficking, participation in executions of civilians and prisoners of war, and the faking of “chemical weapon” events in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, April 2018. Events that fraudulently facilitated the unlawful bombing of Syrian territory by the U.S Coalition on 13th April 2018. These “chemical weapon” events will be covered in more detail in another part of this Mint Press Idlib series.

Child injured in West Aleppo by missiles fired from Nusra Front strongholds in Idlib. (Photo: SANA)

The civilians affected by the daily missiles showered down upon them by the armed groups working alongside the White Helmets are to be ignored by Di Giovanni and written out of the script she presents to her Jackson Institute, Yale audience. For her, the children hunted down, maimed and killed in As Suqaylabiyah, Mhardeh, the surrounding villages, and West Aleppo simply do not exist.

 

Who created the cycle of violence?

War is destructive and during a war, it is sadly inevitable that civilians will die or be injured. They are caught up in its ferocity and their lives are devastated. What Di Giovanni fails to do is to explain who created the cycle of violence that has ravaged Syria for eight years. Di Giovanni fails to express outrage over the fact that the United States and its allies in the U.K., European Union, the Gulf States, Turkey and Israel have been equipping, arming, financing and promoting extremist armed factions that have laid waste to cities, historical heritage sites, and civilization across Syria.

The Syrian government has no choice but to liberate Idlib from the terrorist infestation it endures because Syrian civilians will keep dying if these groups are allowed to expand and put down deeper sectarian roots in the region

No other government in the world would tolerate such an invasion of its territory and persecution of its people by foreign mercenaries and hardcore radical factions among its own society. The fact that the Syrian government has offered amnesty and reconciliation to Syrian armed militants during all liberation operations is a testament to its ability to forgive and heal the country.

Meanwhile, the majority of Western states that sit in judgement of the Syrian government wage perpetual war against weaker nations that will not come into line with their globalist policies and engage in ever-increasing forms of repression of free speech and dissent at home and abroad. The recent hounding of journalist Julian Assange is a perfect example of the West’s hunting down and incarceration of those who challenge the establishment narratives or threaten their hegemony.  

Anyone who pretends they are anti-regime change while bashing the Syrian state’s efforts to annihilate terrorists is, in effect, pro-regime change and supportive of Al Qaeda and other terror groups. As the FSA once said: “We are all Nusra.”

— Sharmine Narwani (@snarwani) March 24, 2018

As Peter Ford, former U.K. Ambassador to Syria from 2003 to 2006, has said recently:

Geir Pedersen, the UN special envoy for Syria, continues to call forlornly for a ceasefire and a ‘political solution.’ A ceasefire would mean abandoning the people of Idlib indefinitely to jihadi control and allowing the consolidation of an Al Qaida caliphate and safe haven. HTS scoff at any idea of political negotiations.”

 

Idlib’s hospitals: the official statistics

As I was countering the “hospital” narratives in Aleppo, I highlighted the number of official, state-registered hospitals compared to the often sensationalist numbers being touted by media in the West, whose statistics were often provided by armed ‘opposition’ groups, their affiliated “citizen journalists/activists,” and the discredited White Helmets.

Screenshot of Syrian Ministry of Health records of hospitals in all provinces of Syria, 2017.

The official number of hospitals in Idlib province, as reported, by the Syrian Ministry of Health’s website, is 34, including private and public institutions. The names of the hospitals and the town or city where they are situated are also published by the ministry. These statistics were updated in 2017.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has been responsible for much of the sensationalist reporting on the Syrian conflict. SNHR are the primary purveyors of the “barrel bomb” propaganda and have recently been pushing the latest “chemical weapon” narrative during the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) military operations in Idlib and the surrounding countryside

SNHR statistics claim that 24 hospitals have already been destroyed or damaged by the SAA and its allies in Idlib. There is scant identification of the hospitals and no cross-reference to the official Syrian register of hospitals. On May 5, 2019, SNHR reported that the Kafr Nabel “surgical hospital” was targeted by Russian warplanes. According to the Syrian Health Ministry, there are two hospitals in Kafr Nabel: the Al-Khatib Hospital — general surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, orthopedics — and Dar Al Hikmah, a general hospital. Identification should have been clarified by SNHR.

Let us pause for a moment and compare the information I have just provided, on the hospitals in Idlib, to the recent information fed to Western media, NGOs, and governments by the White Helmet “propaganda construct:”

Hmm…

Interesting map of "hospitals" in #Idlib "made by #WhiteHelmets"

*15! hospitals*! on a short stretch along the frontline#Syria pic.twitter.com/uk0H0q3RWS

— MalinkaTanya P (@Malinka1102) May 17, 2019

Another enterprising Twitter account pointed out that even Google maps show only two hospitals in the same area, while the White Helmets claim the existence of 15 hospitals and four White Helmet centers. That information should, at the very least, raise doubts over the veracity of their analysis

Many of the “hospitals” described by the Western media and “humanitarian” organizations may well be underground triage units serving armed extremist groups. They may be official hospitals that have been taken over and converted into military centers and civilian detention centers and torture chambers.

Di Giovanni featured one such “hospital” in her New York Times article. The Hope Hospital for Children was allegedly built in three months in 2017 by “British trained Syrian anesthetist Rola Hallam” in Ghandoura, “a small town in the northern Aleppo countryside.” Di Giovanni describes how Hallam passes through several “armed checkpoints” to reach the site of the hospital. Of course, she fails to explain that those  checkpoints will be manned by Al Qaeda or one of the myriad affiliates operating in the area, and that Hallam somehow manages to pass through them unharmed or unchecked.

She also fails to remind us that Hallam featured in a 2013 BBC Panorama report, “Saving Syria’s Children,” which has since been forensically investigated and proven by researcher Robert Stuart to almost certainly have been a staged event. Hallam has a fiercely pro-NATO-intervention background and position. Her father, Dr. Mousa Al Kurdi, was “involved politically” with the controversial Syrian National Council originally supported by Hillary Clinton during the early stages of the U.S. war against Syria. While Hallam has denied these allegations, according to a report for Sputnik News, Al Kurdi personally confirmed his affiliations:

…[I]n a 2012 Al Jazeera interview, he [Dr. Mousa Al Kurdi] passionately advocated for the Syrian National Council’s recognition as the “sole representative” of all Syrians. He also boasted of how at that year’s Friends of Syria summit in Istanbul — attended by Hillary Clinton — he told the foreign ministers of several governments, including Victoria Nuland of the U.S. State Department, ‘either you defend us or you arm the Free Syrian Army to defend us — you have the choice.’”

 

Seeing through the lies and half-truths

It is important to remain vigilant amid what is effectively an emotive and misleading media “hospital” campaign designed to secure public support for the financing, arming and promotion of armed groups that threaten the lives of Syrian civilians on a daily basis.

We owe this vigilance to the families of the children killed or injured in As Suqaylabiyah, Mhardeh, West Aleppo, and all the towns and villages under threat of Grad missile attack by armed groups often idolized in the West as “rebels.”

Mhardeh came under attack from HTS and affiliated armed groups June 6, 2019.This is the power plant in Mhardeh being targeted during previous attacks. (Photo: Supplied by NDF)

On June 6, 2019, for example, armed groups, including Jaish Al Izza, attempted to infiltrate the surroundings of Kafarhoud and Tal Melh, villages in the northwestern countryside of the Syrian Christian town of Mhardeh. The threat against the already beleaguered civilians of this town was elevated until the SAA was victorious in driving back the advance.

A resident of Mhardeh has just informed me that during the armed-group attacks yesterday, Mhardeh Hospital was hit four times by Grad missiles — thankfully no injuries were incurred among the medical staff or patients, but two rooms were destroyed. We will not see outrage in Western media over these criminal militant attacks on a civilian hospital.

I was informed by civilians in the area that the SAA also simultaneously targeted armed-group gatherings in the area and destroyed essential supply routes of Jaish Al Izza (Al Qaeda-linked) in Morek, Kafar Zita, al-Arbaein and Hasraya, in Hama northwestern countryside. In my on-the-ground experience, this is the reality of this military campaign: a defensive campaign by the Syrian allied forces to protect civilian lives. Depicting it any other way or defending the armed groups is putting these civilian lives at risk.

Enough. No more child martyrs in Idlib and Hama border towns like As Suqaylabiyah; May 12, 2019, under daily attack by Western-sponsored terrorists. (Photo: Salm photography)

If we fail to question and counter the overwhelming bias on display in the Western press, we condemn these civilians to the sustained threat of the deaths of more children and the destruction of more homes and hospitals that serve the majority of people across Syria who have chosen to reject the sectarian tyranny forced upon them by the neocolonialist governments in the West.

We should be outraged that these child murderers have been let loose by our governments to prey upon the people of Syria. We should not allow ourselves to be collectively hypnotized into believing the media hype that would portray murderers as heroes, and the Syrian people and government struggling to expel them from their country as the villains.

Feature photo | After liberation of East Aleppo from Nusra Front-led occupation, Russian medical teams established makeshift hospitals in Jibreen to treat civilians, the majority of whom had received no medical care during the five-year occupation. (Photo: Vanessa Beeley)

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. You can support Vanessa’s journalism through her Patreon Page.

The post In the Western Media Narrative, SAA-Targeted Underground Bunkers and Terrorist-Run Prisons Become “Hospitals” appeared first on MintPress News.

Sky News and the Western Press Have Once Again Failed Syria

Recent storylines from the Western press on the “Idlib” narrative, particularly the extraordinary spate of “on-the-ground” reports from Sky News reporter Alex Crawford, have failed to paint an accurate picture of the reality faced by Syrian civilians.

Brett McGurk – the U.S. government’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL — described Idlib as “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” adding that the presence of Al Qaeda in Idlib was a “huge problem” and had been so “for some time.” Mint Press journalist Whitney Webb covered McGurk’s statements and U.S. policy in Idlib in late 2018.

McGurk’s statement seems to have been forgotten by both corporate media and “human rights” commentators alike since the Syrian Army’s military campaign to liberate areas of Idlib began in earnest a few weeks ago. In fact, there seems to be an ongoing campaign by the Western press to normalize militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda.

On May 27, 2019 a headline in a Reuters article read “Idlib government chief urges defense against Assad attack” (emphasis added). The “head” of the Idlib “Salvation Government,” Fawaz Hilal, was calling upon Turkey to intervene on their behalf to protect them from SAA military advances.

While Reuters openly admits that the Salvation Government is heavily backed by Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS)/Al Qaeda, there is minimal reference to the daily war crimes committed by armed groups against civilians in Syrian government-secured territory as a valid reason for the uptick in Syrian military operations to liberate areas of Idlib province.

The reader is ultimately left with the impression that the Salvation Government is legitimate Syrian “opposition” rather than an Al Qaeda construct established with the involvement of the notorious Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants in Idlib execute Syrian civilians accused of working with Russia. These extrajudicial executions are commonplace in terrorist controlled areas of Syria. Photo | Iba’a

Even the partisan Crisis Group, which tends to lean heavily in favor of the U.S. Coalition, described the Salvation Government’s clear Al Qaeda affiliations and its role in securing financing for the violent, extremist organization. A January 2019 Crisis Group report concluded:

The centrepiece of HTS’s project is the ‘Salvation Government,’ formed in November 2017 … For HTS, the Salvation Government seems to be both a political project and a money-making tool.”

 

Supposed to be a safe place

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and former European director of Human Rights Watch, told the BBC:

Idlib was supposed to be a safe place. Where war should not be, so it has to end. We cannot have war take place in what is essentially a refugee camp.”

SYRIA: As air raid attacks intensify across #Idlib, Secretary General @NRC_Egeland tells @BBCWorld news: "Idlib was supposed to be a safe place. Where war should not be, so it has to end. We cannot have war take place in what is essentially a refugee camp."

— NRC (@NRC_Norway) May 29, 2019

Egeland “disappeared” the estimated 120,000 terrorist fighters controlling the majority of Idlib province and pockets of northern Hama. Aleppo MP and head of the Aleppo Chamber of Commerce, Fares Shehabi, told the BBC in September 2018 that 100,000 extremist fighters were controlling Idlib, 40,000 of whom were “hard-core radicals.”

Shehabi has since told me that he believes the numbers to have increased to 120,000 extremist fighters, with up to 50,000 hard-core radicals that Shehabi says includes large numbers of foreign mercenaries, hardline soldiers from around the world. While these numbers may be on the high side, it is clear that the size of the Al Qaeda-dominated force in Idlib is alarming.

Armed extremists leaving Al Waer, Homs for Idlib in January 2018. Some of the fighters’ clothing bore Nusra Front insignia. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

Considerable numbers of “hard-core” extremists were bused to Idlib after the liberation of East Aleppo, Homs, Eastern Ghouta and southern provinces of Syria from December 2016 through July/August 2018 as part of Syrian government amnesty and reconciliation deals.

By whitewashing the role of the Idlib mercenaries and extremist groups — which include Jaish Al Islam, who ruled Douma with a regime of torture, execution, slave labor and imprisonment — the Western press has acted as de facto protection racketeers for the very forces exploiting civilians as human shields in Idlib and preventing their exodus via the Russian/Syrian-established humanitarian corridors.

MUST WATCH
.
Residents of refugee camp in #Atme village (northern #Idlib CS) suffer from #HTS activities. Motivated by financial benefit, jihadists force displaced #Syria|ns to leave the camp! It would be useful video for western audience to realize who rules in Idlib… pic.twitter.com/G11ntjPjeY

— SMM Syria (@smmsyria) June 6, 2019

This is a familiar pattern that was seen previously during the liberation of East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, when extremist groups would shell or snipe fleeing civilians, often blaming the crimes on advancing SAA forces.

 

A narrow escape?

Sky News’ Alex Crawford first produced a story from inside Idlib, claiming her team had been “deliberately” targeted by Syrian government forces. Crawford and her team said a Syrian drone had zeroed in on them, relaying their location to the SAA.

“The Sky News crew – clearly identified as journalists – was deliberately targeted and attacked by Syrian regime forces using military drones to pinpoint our location, before launching a series of strikes.” https://t.co/E2xVkMsHOE

— Louisa Loveluck (@leloveluck) May 23, 2019

Crawford most likely entered Idlib via the Turkish border and was being escorted by the HTS fighters on motorbikes, which were visible in a longer video published by Sky News. Under these circumstances and in the midst of an ongoing military campaign, traveling with a known extremist group through their enclave while they were actively engaged in combat with the Syrian Army would indicate that the SAA was not targeting journalists, but instead the extremists with whom they traveled.

The military drones — which Crawford alleges were used to “pinpoint” her team’s location prior to a “deliberate” attack — were never shown in the video produced by Sky News, nor is there any sound of drone activity in the video. This reporter has heard drones in action in Gaza during the 2012 Israeli offensive and their sound is very audible, particularly when they descend to attack or close-surveillance altitude.

A screenshot from the Sky News report shows Crawford’s team lacking any ‘press’ tabards

Crawford and the Sky News team also don’t appear to be wearing “Press” tabards or helmets in their video report, although it is difficult to distinguish much at all in the report, save a lot of confusion and expletives from Crawford.

An HTS or affiliated fighter on a motorbike in footage from Sky News. Screenshot | Sky News

Crawford’s Sky News report carried the headline: “Syria: Sky News witnesses horrors of Syria’s last rebel outpost” (emphasis added), reducing HTS — an established terror group — to simply “rebels.”

The “civilian activist” described by Crawford  in her report is none other than Nusra Front acolyte Bilal Abdul Kareem, who is (by his own admission) on the U.S terrorist “kill list.” In a July 2018 Rolling Stone article, Kareem claimed that he was tipped off by a Turkish source that “he had been put on a list of targets at Incirlik Air base, a launching pad for American drones.

Bilal Abdul Kareem is pictured with the leader of an armed militant group in Aleppo, Syria. Photo | OGN

Crawford’s working with Kareem, while wearing a “long black abaya” without any press identification in HTS-held territory, was not only a foolhardy enterprise, but a very risky endeavor in a time of war.

Sky News is not the first media outlet to collaborate with Kareem. In a July, 2017 article for Mint Press News, journalist Whitney Webb delved into Kareem’s working relationship with CNN when Kareem assisted in the making of the Clarissa Ward award winning documentary, “Undercover in Syria”.

Kareem was responsible for organising access to the extremist-held territory for the CNN team. In the article, Webb highlights the armed group members who were interviewed by journalist Max Blumenthal – who “confirmed that Kareem was a well-known member of al-Nusra and was commonly referred to as the “American mujahid.”

Was Crawford unaware of Kareem’s ties to Al Qaeda when the Sky News team chose him as their “activist” escort and fixer?

According to its report, Sky News retreated to the town of Khan Sheikhoun, another Nusra Front/HTS stronghold in Idlib. The ease of movement with which Sky News was able to traverse Idlib territory, which is amongst the most densely populated by Al Qaeda offshoots and extremist underling groups, without threat of kidnap or worse is perplexing. Journalists are regularly targeted or kidnapped by terrorist groups operating in Syria.

 

The last “last hospital”

When challenged on the veracity of her maiden report from Idlib, Crawford resorted to a tried and tested rallying cry for Western journalists still clamoring to paint Syria’s opposition forces as legitimate anti-government resistance – the last hospital:

To the apologists: targeting hospitals is a war crime whatever has happened in previous conflicts and whoever the attackers – east, west, whoever. No proper journalist is suggesting otherwise.

— Alex Crawford (@AlexCrawfordSky) May 29, 2019

Crawford expressed outrage at the alleged targeting of “hospitals” by the Syrian government and its allies. The “last hospital” narrative, previously used heavily in East Aleppo, comprised repeatedly recycled sensationalist headlines that the Syrian government and its allies were deliberately targeting the last remaining hospital in a given area during the final stages of liberation from armed groups — a narrative discredited by independent journalists reporting on the ground in Aleppo during the final stages of the military campaign to liberate East Aleppo from the grip of international terrorism.

Civilians arrive at the Jebrin registration center in December 2016 after fleeing armed militant groups to government-controlled areas during the liberation of East Aleppo. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

I covered the “last hospital” narrative in a separate article for MintPress, where I highlight how this narrative is deployed by many in the Western press as a distraction from the reality in Syria. It was previously brought into play — as the SAA were sweeping East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta clean of the occupying sectarian gangs — in order to effectively protect the extremist militants who had ruled these areas for more than five years, inflicting their brutal, violent ideology upon captive civilians. The narratives served to effectively delay the release from occupation for these civilians, who were desperate to escape to the safety of government-held areas.

 

Idlib reality succinctly described

Peter Ford, former U.K. ambassador to Syria, explained the current operations in Idlib very succinctly:

In brief, what is happening at the moment is not a full-scale assault by Syrian government forces aimed at liberating the whole of Idlib. Rather it is a limited operation, the main goal of which is to chip away at the southern fringes of what is effectively the Al Qaeda caliphate.”

The reporting from the likes of Alex Crawford and Sky News does not convey this reality nor does it reveal the existence of the Al Qaeda caliphate described by Ford. Crawford has entirely disappeared the extremist group’s aggression against the border towns and villages which has been ongoing since the establishment of the “deconfliction zones” in September 2018 and which entirely validates the Syrian military response to defend civilians against further bloodshed to halt those violations.

It must also not be forgotten that another of the Sochi agreement terms was the freeing up of the M5 highway that links Idlib to the rest of Syria and ultimately serves as the main trade route from Turkey to Syria and on into Jordan, whose trade borders with Syria have been successfully reopened after liberation of the south of Syria from the armed-group’s occupation.

Screenshot from an AJE video depicting hard-core extremists still occupying Idlib “deconfliction zones” after deadline had expired according to Sochi agreement; October 2018.

The HTS control of significant areas of the M5 route has prevented this agreed-upon development and is another reason for the recent intensification of Syrian allied military activity in Idlib — again ignored completely by the majority of the Western press, whose selective coverage plays into the hands of these extremist groups.

Were Sky News to adhere to true journalism ethics, it would identify Turkey, a member of NATO, as the cause of the recent military confrontation that is threatening civilian lives on both sides of the Idlib/Hama border. As Peter Ford states:

The jihadis have been bolstered with arms supplied by Turkey (including tanks and deadly U.S.-made TOW anti-tank weapons) and paid for by Qatar, which also pays salaries. As long as Turkey continues to prop up the jihadis and Qatar to fund them, fighting is likely to continue, with the [Syrian] government continuing to put its faith in softening up with aerial bombing and artillery shelling rather than risk its sparse ground forces.”

Ford even offers a pragmatic solution in Idlib, never presented or even examined by the Western press:

The only way realistically to limit the fighting is for Turkey to withdraw its support for the jihadis and let them melt back into the Turkish border zone where they could affiliate with the Turkish-controlled militias there. This would still leave a problem for later but Idlib could breathe.”

 

A deliberate attempt to mislead

There is no nuance to the Sky News reports, no analysis of complexity, no diverging opinions or context. Therefore, in my opinion, this is not journalism; it is a deliberate intent to mislead a gullible public fed a media diet of “war on terror” fear and insecurity for years. It is information bias and cynical misdirection of narratives designed to support U.S. military adventurism in Syria and the region.

After Crawford was taken to task by educated Twitter accounts, she put out a Tweet stating:

Sometimes, just sometimes, twitter and some on it, make me want to explode with frustration at the unregulated untruths and constant misrepresentation of facts without check.”

No, Ms. Crawford, what is happening is that people who inform themselves no longer accept unregulated untruths and constant misrepresentation of facts without check from media channels whose public trust has been irreparably eroded by years of falsification and obfuscation of “facts” in relation to the U.S. Coalition war waged against Syria since 2011.

The recently published documentary, The Veto, a collaboration between Syrian journalist Rafiq Lutf and this correspondent, exposes the depth of media complicity in sustaining the Syrian conflict and the level of fabrication by CNN and other mainstream channels that have heavily influenced public opinion against the Syrian government since the early days of the campaign to topple President Bashar Al Assad from power and to destabilize the country.

The true frustration explosion is the public response to the conversion of their media into a fifth column for power and the resulting mayhem, bloodshed and misery it brings to the peoples of countries targeted for regime change or resource plundering by the U.S. and allied globalist nations — powers that have zero regard for “human rights” when it comes to achieving their aims and no qualms about usurping any government or population that stands in their way.

We live in an unprecedented age of media and state deceit and the expression of frustration is a natural reaction when we wake up to this gaslighting abuse. Crawford and other establishment journalists who have effectively served the abusers — the state mind-controllers — need to be aware that the long-time victims are finally turning against them. They have two choices: to continue serving power or finally becoming agents of the people. Which will it be?

Feature photo | Armed extremists leaving Al Waer, Homs en route to Idlib in January 2018. The fighter at the forefront of the photograph is wearing a Nusra Front/Al Qaeda armband. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. You can support Vanessa’s journalism through her Patreon Page.

The post Sky News and the Western Press Have Once Again Failed Syria appeared first on MintPress News.

For Fourth Year Saudi Barrages Bring Death and Loss to Yemeni Families on Eid

HODEIDA, YEMEN — “This is our Eid gift from Saudi Arabia,” a visitor to a private hospital in Hodeida told MintPress as he pulled back a blood-soaked blue plastic cover draping the lifeless body of his child. The girl, whose torso and arms were dotted with holes from high-caliber bullets, did not make it to her second birthday — she was killed in a barrage of gunfire let loose by Saudi Coalition gunmen as they peppered residential neighborhoods on Al-Shuhada Street in the al Hali directorate of Hodeida. An elderly woman and a man were also killed in the attack, which severely injured at least three other residents.

The attack on Al-Shuhada Street was one of many carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition in the first three days of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan. Dozens of civilians, including women and children, were also killed in the attacks.

On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, three people were killed and nine were wounded when Coalition warplanes swarmed villages in the Hasha district of Dhal’i province. That attack came less than two weeks after Coalition gunmen shelled a family home in the same province, killing two women and injuring a child.

In Hajjah, scores of civilians were killed when missiles launched by military vessels moored in Yemen’s territorial waters rained down upon the province’s residents. “That two massacres were committed by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led Coalition in Dhali and Hajjah on Eid al-Fitr proves [the Coalition’s] criminal bloody and brutal policy in Yemen,”  Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for Ansar Allah, said in the wake of the attacks.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Yemen since January 2016 according to a new report by the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data Project (ACLED) issued last Thursday, including 10,000 people who were killed in the past five months alone. The ACLED report recorded 3,155 direct attacks that targeted civilians, resulting in more than 7,000 civilian deaths.

 

Another Eid, another barrage

For the fourth consecutive year, Eid al-Fitr has done little to bring quiet to Yemen’s war-weary residents. In Hodeida, airstrikes have been replaced with a new norm: snipers, artillery shells, and missiles. Despite a Houthi withdrawal from three key ports in the province under a U.N.-sponsored cease-fire deal, the Saudi-led Coalition continues to hammer the strategic port city, leaving its residents increasingly pessimistic about internationally backed efforts to end the four-year war.

Blue plastic body bags have become a familiar site in Yemen’s hospitals following Saudi airstrikes. Photo | Ahmed Abdulkareem

On Tuesday, Saudi airstrikes leveled Hodeida’s Zubariyah water and sewage station, which services 80 percent of the city’s residents. The attack fell on the same day that Saudi Arabia announced it was taking “humanitarian steps” to rescue an Iranian sailor from Yemen’s coastal waters “for medical reasons.” The accident was the talk of many of Hodeida’s residents, who questioned the Saudi claims and their reason for saving a stranded sailor while causing civilians in Hodeida to die of thirst.

Most humanitarian groups maintain that since the United Nation brokered a truce between Yemen’s Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition in Stockholm, Sweden, the lives of thousands of civilians in Yemen, especially in Hodeida, have actually worsened. The number of internally displaced people has increased to 3.3 million according to the UN’s own figures, marking a sharp uptick from the 2.2 million people recorded last Eid.

For Yemen’s residents, Saudi-led Coalition attacks have affected their ability to celebrate Eid, as they have affected every aspect of their lives. Loved ones are no longer present, lost to the brutal war; the blockade, the diseases and the famine have all radically altered what has traditionally been a joyous occasion.

 

“We have surprises”

For its part, Yemen’s army —  loyal to the Houthis — has vowed a strong military response to ongoing Saudi attacks. Houthi fighters recently seized more than 20 military positions in Saudi Arabia’s southern Najran province in a 96-hour period, killing 200 Saudi troops and their allied mercenary forces. Saudi military equipment was seized and at least 20 armored vehicles were destroyed. The media branch of Yemen’s Ansar Allah released footage on Friday showing Saudi military locations in Najran being overrun by Houthi fighters. Saudi Arabia has yet to comment on the attacks.

Yemen’s Defense Minister, Mohammed Nasser al-Atifi, recently told reporters that Yemen has made great strides in its defense sector which will, “surprise Saudi Arabia and its allies. We have surprises that they can never see coming.” He added that Yemen is currently in the final stages of developing various air defenses.

Although Saudi Arabia is equipped with the latest U.S.-supplied weaponry — everything from M1A2 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley fighting vehicles to AH-64D Apache helicopters — as well as having an air force equipped with a high-tech arsenal, footage of the attacks shows Saudi troops fleeing their posts upon confrontation, leaving behind weapons caches including American-made armored vehicles, Kalashnikovs, and sniper rifles.

In the oil-rich province of Al-Jouf, which sits adjacent to the Saudi border, a convergence of fighters from the Yemeni army, the Houthis and local residents recaptured 26 military sites and an estimated 40 square kilometer area in Khab and Sha’f. The area had been used as a staging ground by Saudi Arabia. At least 10 armored vehicles were reportedly destroyed in the battle.

A source inside of Yemen’s military, who wished to remain anonymous, told MintPress that Yemeni forces plan to launch more military operations in a bid to control more Saudi military sites in the regions of Jizan, Asir, and Najran, as long as the Coalition continues its attacks on Yemen.

 

300 targets

In the Coalition-controlled port city of Aden, Yemen’s army launched a drone attack on a Saudi military parade at the Ras Abbas military camp on Monday. The attack was carried out using a domestically manufactured Qasef-2K (Striker-2K) drone and reportedly killed high-level Saudi -led Coalition officers. The Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television channel later quoted sources claiming that air defenses had shot down a drone west of Aden.

Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the spokesman for Yemeni armed forces, said of the Aden attack, “The enemy should have learned a lesson from the Al Anad Air Base incident, but taking the Yemeni wisdom and talent lightly will open the gates of hell to them.” Saree was referring to a drone strike in Lahij province on January 10 that killed several Saudi military commanders, including Hadi’s top intelligence official and deputy army chief of staff. “The bank of targets is widening day by day,” Saree added.

The attack was among 300 Saudi-led Coalition targets announced last month by the Houthis. The targets are said to include military headquarters and strategic facilities inside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Saudi-led Coalition military targets inside Yemen. Attacks on the 300 targets began with an attack on a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia with explosive-laden drones on May 14.

 

Learning from an enemy

In a bid to secure Yemen’s skies from the ever-present threat of Saudi-led Coalition drones, the Houthis and their allies are investing heavily in the development of a nascent air-defense system. On Friday, a U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down in Hodeida. In Najran, a Saudi drone was downed on Wednesday. Last month a U.S.-made General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone was shot down using a surface-to-air missile.

شاهد | الدفاعات الجوية اليمنية تقلب معادلة التفوق الجوي الاستطلاعي للعدو بإسقاطها لـ 4 طائرات استطلاعية حديثة #انفروا_خفافا_وثقالا #أعيادنا_جبهاتنا#اليمن #Yemen

للتنزيل عبر التيليجرام:https://t.co/cc6aOmzfQs pic.twitter.com/JTa4AQPy79

— المركز الإعلامي لأنصار الله (@AnsarAllahMC) June 7, 2019

Saudi warplanes often target the wreckage of their own downed aircraft hoping to hinder the Houthis’ ability to reverse engineer the highly-prized U.S. technology. The MQ-9 Reaper — which can travel vast distances, be piloted from thousands of miles away, hover in the sky for hours, and unleash a fury of Hellfire missiles — would be a rare prize for the Houthis, who have had some success in reverse-engineering military technology for their own gain.

Yemen’s Defense Minister, Mohammed Nasser al-Atifi, said the country has already made great strides in its defense sector, which he vowed would “surprise” Saudi Arabia and its allies. Speaking at the gathering of troops on the Saudi-Yemen border on Thursday, al-Atifi said that the military had developed advanced weapons as well as technology that met the country’s need to defend its sovereignty, unity, and independence. He went to say that Yemeni armed forces are moving forward with manufacturing missiles as well as armed and offensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rockets, and other kinds of weapons.

Drones are an ever-present reality in Yemeni and Saudi Arabian skies, offering the Houthis more opportunities to down them and thereby develop their own technical abilities — which the Houthis hope that, combined with some semblance of an air-defense system, will create enough of a deterrent to end the U.S.-backed war on their country.

Feature photo | A malnourished child looks out from the door of his family’s shelter in Hodeida, Yemen, May 26, 2019/ Khaled Abdullah | Reuters

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post For Fourth Year Saudi Barrages Bring Death and Loss to Yemeni Families on Eid appeared first on MintPress News.

LGBTQ Protest Under Fire from Zionists for Banning Pro-Israel Symbols

A “Dyke March” scheduled for Friday in Washington is under attack by Zionist groups for its ban on Israeli pride flags at the event.

Dyke marches are a tradition in the U.S. that typically precede regular pride marches: they are distinguishable because they tend to engage in direct action, such as dropping banners and blocking traffic, and the participants typically hold more radical politics.

In 2017, a group of activists with a pro-Israel lobbying group called A Wider Bridge instigated a massive scandal in the media after they went to the explicitly anti-Zionist Chicago Dyke March and unfurled Israeli flags with rainbows on them. After screaming at activists participating in the march, they were asked by organizers to ditch the flags.

What followed was a media firestorm and denunciations of the Chicago Dyke March by online influencers and journalists, claiming it was an example of anti-Semitism on the left. Their argument was that because the flags had Stars of David on them, they were symbols of queer Jewish identity.

At the time, the media told the story as though the women who disrupted the march were just regular participants, erasing their membership in A Wider Bridge. The lobbying group’s primary funders also bankroll anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and pro-settlement activists.

At the time, I argued in an opinion piece that the flags were not Jewish symbols; that there is no universal conception of the meaning of symbols — including the Star of David — nor are they dissociable from their material contexts. Thus, in that sense, a Star of David around a person’s neck is not a Zionist symbol but a Jewish one, whereas a Star of David painted on a boulder at a checkpoint in the illegally occupied West Bank is a Zionist symbol.

Zionism refers to the idea of Israel belonging to Jews as their exclusive, God-given right. Once a more religious movement, the creation of the Israeli state and its repeated land grabs, ethnic cleansings, and violations of human rights have rendered the movement one of far-right ethnonationalism.

Facing relentless charges of anti-Semitism over my view of the flag as a Zionist symbol, I wrote at the time: “My earliest experience with [the Star of David] was probably as a charm around my mother’s neck. In adulthood, it was on the tag of the yarmulke I would wear when I’d help make a minyan.” It was a distinction that I think was and still is important.

The context of the Star of David on a rainbow flag is one of Israel’s most vital symbols in its international Hasbara (a term for Israeli propaganda) campaign: that being Israel’s supposed friendliness to gay rights. Armed with talking points like that, apartheid Israel is able to get away with claiming that it is the only democracy in the Middle East, even though Palestinians don’t have equal rights and Benjamin Netanyahu currently occupies the positions of prime minister, defense minister, health minister, education minister and, for a brief period earlier this week, justice minister.

On Thursday, private messages between the DC Dyke March and a Jewish woman named AJ Campbell started making the rounds to journalists, likely having been forwarded to them by the woman. She asked the DC Dyke March whether she would be allowed to bring the Israeli pride flag. Following the lead of the Dyke March in Chicago, DC organizers deliberated internally and told her no.

 

Alleged anti-Semitic group stacked with Jews

MintPress News has confirmed that at least five organizers working with the DC Dyke March are Jewish, and some of them are central figures in the organizing process. Two have written an op-ed explaining their position. They note that symbols of Judaism are allowed, but symbols of “oppressive nationalism” are not. They write:

The Star of David represents more than just Israel when not on a flag and can be brought to the march in many other forms without question. It is not the only symbol available to us. We welcome yarmulkes, tallitot, tefillin, rainbow pomegranates, Lions of Judah, Hamsas, chai, a menorah and anything that doesn’t directly replicate nationalist images and symbols.”

One Jewish anti-Zionist organizer, Bethany Zaiman, spoke to MintPress News yesterday after reports started emerging of the ban. Zaiman elaborated on the reasons for the ban:

It’s a symbol of the Israeli state, not of all Jews everywhere but the Israeli state in particular, and the Israeli state is involved in military apartheid and occupying Palestinian land.

Pinkwashing is something that Israel has been famously a part of, which is where they embrace symbols of queer identity and queer liberation to prove they are a democratic state; that they’re welcoming and open. But it erases the existence of violent state regimes that they are also a part of and actually isn’t for queer liberation. Queer liberation has to involve all queers, including and especially Palestinian queers or it’s not really liberation.

The DC Dyke March has taken an anti-Zionist stance, which means we have asked that people not bring Israeli flags with rainbows on them. We’re asking people to not bring any signs of nationalist identity that overtly oppresses other people who may also be at the DC Dyke March.

It’s important to us that our identity as Jews is celebrated in a way that makes space for others, especially Palestinian dykes who will also be there tomorrow.”

“We stand on a long history of Jewish lesbian feminists who have done this sort of organizing work,” Zaiman added.

Bethany Zaiman @bzaiman says Zionist groups are painting the DC Dyke March as not inclusive of Jews & even anti-Semitic even though many Jews are involved. She says Israel uses queer symbols to try to prove they are open & democratic & distract from their military apartheid pic.twitter.com/zRLE4szTJA

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) June 6, 2019

Despite the careful messaging, the DC Dyke March has been condemned as anti-Semitic. As can be seen with Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., painting leftist critics of Israel as anti-Semites is a top priority of the super-powerful Hasbarist groups around the world

 

A well-coordinated opposition

A number of articles have already been published criticizing the DC Dyke March, including from major Jewish publications like The Forward, the Jerusalem Post and more. One op-ed from Julie Tagen, who does not disclose that she is Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-MD) chief of staff, states that she had worked with A Wider Bridge previously. She was also Deputy National Finance Director for the Democratic National Committee for a few years:

Several years ago, I had the privilege of going on one of A Wider Bridge’s LGBTQ Leadership Missions to Israel. A Wider Bridge is a North American organization that is building support for Israel and LGBTQ Israelis. I was able to build a personal rather than political relationship with Israel through my experience with A Wider Bridge.”

But her relationship isn’t entirely personal, it seems. She has shared articles claiming “I’m done apologizing for Israel,” “If you love Israel, don’t boycott it,” and “I stand with Israel.”

Meanwhile, A Wider Bridge has put out a statement attacking the DC Dyke March. The organization’s slogan: “Equality IN Israel and Equality FOR Israel.”

Signed on to the statement is AJ Campbell, the woman who initially corresponded with the march, learning that she could not bring the Israeli pride flags.

Campbell is the former director of Nice Jewish Girls and founder of the Jacob’s Tent Project, both of which are Jewish LGBTQ organizations with apparent Zionist leanings. Also signed on to the statement is Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Zioness Movement.

A Wider Bridge, the Zioness Movement, and the Jewish Democratic Council of America are planning a counter-protest to the DC Dyke March, encouraging people to bring banned flags and noting “We will have Zioness posters.”

The counter-protest planners say they will “show up proudly to fight” anti-Semitism.

Bethany Zaiman, one of the Jewish organizers working with the DC Dyke March, told MintPress News that they suspected they would face opposition. She says that the counter-protesters will find no anti-Semitism.

MintPress News will cover the march on Facebook Live and with videos on Twitter after 5:00pm EST.

Feature photo | Israelis attend a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Sept. 18, 2014. Tsafrir Abayov | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News

The post LGBTQ Protest Under Fire from Zionists for Banning Pro-Israel Symbols appeared first on MintPress News.

As Suqaylabiyah: The Syrian Christian Town Near Idlib the West Has Never Heard Of

On the 12th of May, 2019, Jaish Al Izza — an armed affiliate of Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) — an Al Qaeda rebrand that controls the majority of Idlib province and Northern Hama — targeted the Syrian Christian town of As Suqaylabiyah, situated on the border of terrorist-held areas.

The attacks came just after the Syrian Arab Army liberation of Qalaat Al Madiq, a town only 500 meters from As Suqaylabiyah. The civilians of As Suqaylabiyah had seen this advance by the SAA as a victory — many of the attacks on their town had emanated from Qalaat Al Madiq, a Nusra Front stronghold intermittently populated by other extremist groups, among them Jaish Al Islam, which was evacuated from Douma in April 2018, and Jaish Al Izza, the HTS/Nusra affiliate.

The Monastery in As Suqaylabiyah, frequently targeted by extremist militant groups in Northern Hama and Idlib. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

“We thought we could finally begin to breathe, that we could finally allow our children back out onto the streets of our city and into the schools again…,” one mother told me after the attacks.

The HTS terrorists targeted residential areas and the town’s monastery. Set high on the hill overlooking As Suqaylabiyah, the monastery doubled as a community center and school. HTS deliberately targeted the monastery, falsely claiming it to be a military center.

Families grieving the loss of children killed in As Suqaylabiyah, May 12, 2019. Photo | Gaith Al Abdullah

The HTS-linked Amjad News media channel reported on their Telegram group that “Jihadists targeted Skeilbiyyeh Operations room. Grad missiles achieved direct hits. 3 Shabiha killed.”

Shabiha is the derogatory term used by terrorist groups to describe anyone loyal to the Syrian government or army but in reality, it is used to excuse the murder of virtually anyone who does not adhere to the violent, sectarian ideology of many of Syria’s armed groups.

This callous dismissal of the deaths of innocent civilians and children is not only a common theme among the armed-groups’ media reports but is often mirrored in the Western press’ dismissal of civilians murdered by the militant groups they promote as rebels, government supporters or loyalists.

It is a familiar technique deployed to effectively dehumanize civilian deaths, in many cases to erase them from Western public consciousness, while amplifying the narrative that the Syrian government and Army are carrying out “unprovoked” attacks against civilians in areas under terrorist control. A prime example of this heinous information bias was the media reporting of the massacre in Rashideen in April 2017, when evacuees from the Nusra Front-besieged Idlib villages of Kafarya and Foua were massacred in the southern Aleppo district by a suicide truck attack.

I was present in Aleppo on the day of this horrific attack and interviewed survivors and families of the victims. I wrote a full report on the massacre in Rashideen and the media betrayal and politicization of the deaths of more than 100 civilians, the majority of them children. The following excerpt is taken from my article for 21st Century Wire where I expose the cynical CNN and Telegraph description of murdered children as “government supporters:”

Both CNN and the UK Telegraph were quick to dismiss the deaths among these persecuted minority communities inside Syria as a “hiccup” or the unfortunate demise of “supporters of Bashar Al Assad” – once more politicizing the death and mutilation of children to serve their narrative.The Telegraph edited its report after it was called out by RT for its cold-blooded dismissal of the murdered children as “government supporters” but a screenshot was taken beforehand.”

The four children killed in the HTS attack on As Suqaylabiyah on May 12, 2019. Photo | Gaith Al Abdullah

Four children — Bashar Nemeh, Jessica Karajian, Suhair Adnan and Engi Faisal Razouk — along with an adult woman, Hala Mkashkash, were murdered in the horrifying attack on As Suqaylabiyah, their young lives wiped out by Grad missiles almost certainly supplied to the extremist groups by the U.S or its allies.

Funeral of the four children killed in the HTS attacks on As Suqaylabiyah May 12, 2019. Photo | Salm photography

Five other children were injured by shrapnel, including Marcel, the brother of Bashar Nemeh, one of the children killed in the attack. Marcel suffered terrible head injuries and was rushed to Hama national hospital for emergency treatment. Just six days later, he succumbed to his wounds and died in the hospital.

The Nemeh brothers’ father was killed in 2014. He had joined the Syrian Arab Army to defend his country against the influx of Western-sponsored terrorist groups that began in 2011. Yasmeen Zarrouf, their mother, was left entirely alone in the world, her husband and two precious boys torn from her life in a war that has been enabled and sustained by Western media, governments and aligned institutions.

Marcel and Bashar, two of the children killed in the HTS attack on As Suqaylabiyah, May 2019, and their father, killed in 2014 fighting Western-backed militants in Syria. Photo | As Suqaylabiyah Facebook page

I have visited As Suqaylabiyah many times over the last year and have personally experienced a number of the attacks on the town by the HTS-dominated terrorist groups embedded in the surrounding countryside. In September 2018, As Suqaylabiyah and the neighboring town of Mhardeh were targeted with prohibited ground-launched cluster munitions and Grad missiles. In Mhardeh, 13 civilians were killed in the attack, another massacre that barely registered in Western reporting.

The shock that resonated throughout As Suqaylabiyah after the deaths of four children in May 2019 was unprecedented. I visited the town about a week after the attack. Mothers spoke to me of their grief and fears. Exams were about to begin and children would have to be gathered in the school every morning for a number of days. The panic was palpable. For days, the children would be sitting targets and the terrorists would clearly not hesitate to strike at the heart of the community in their long-standing efforts to drive these steadfast people from their land.

Relatives of the children killed in an HTS attack light candles in the streets of the Old City in As Suqaylabiyah. Photo | Ghaith AlAbdullah

Hundreds of candles were lit, illuminating the streets that the martyred children used to play in. Mothers, siblings who would never see their loved ones again stood by the flickering lights that were all that remained of the laughter that had echoed only a few days before in the narrow streets where the children rode their bicycles and kicked their football against the missile-scarred stone walls.

The funeral of Marcel Nemeh, six days after his mother buried his brother, Bashar Nemeh, May, 2019. Photo | Ghaith AlAbdullah

The funeral of Marcel Nemeh, just six days after his mother had buried his brother, was another brutal blow to the already traumatized citizens of the town. I spoke to a friend of Yasmeen, Marcel’s mother, who told me that this was a dark time for a mother whose world had been left a bottomless pit of despair and loss. These children have not been honored or even registered in any Western press, they have been ignored and dismissed like so many before them.

A memorial to the child martyrs in As Suqaylabiyah. Photo | Ghaith AlAbdullah

The grief of the entire town has been “disappeared” in the West, while in As Suqaylabiyah the images of the children join those of the more than 106 victims of terrorist attacks, whose photographs line the walls of the town in honor of the volunteer National Defence Forces (NDF) and other civilians whose lives have been lost defending the town against terrorist attacks since 2011.

Children killed in As Suqaylabiyah are immortalized in a memorial to the 106 residents of the town killed since 2011. Photo | Ghaith AlAbdullah

This recent intensification of attacks against As Suqaylabiyah has led to the establishment of a local initiative to train the wives and female relatives of those killed as snipers to defend the town against the increasing threat of an armed invasion by militants, as the Syrian Arab Army pushes them out of the so-called “deconfliction” zones established by Russia and Turkey in September 2018.

Turkey has repeatedly violated the agreement that led to the creation of the “deconfliction” zones.  They have established military points inside Idlib and have systematically been reinforcing armed extremist groups with military operatives, weapons and equipment. As Suqaylabiyah, Mhardeh, surrounding villages, and even West Aleppo have been repeatedly targeted by armed groups in the faux “deconfliction” zones, where terrorists are still using heavy weapons that were supposed to have been removed as part of the  Russian/Turkish Sochi agreement.

I spoke to a group of female snipers in As Suqaylabiyah, their names withheld for their own security. Each spoke to me about the martyrdom of her husband, son or brother and told me that the taking up of arms gave them all a sense of purpose, a way to turn their loss into constructive, defensive action, a way to serve their town and to support the young men from the town who volunteered in the NDF.

I could not help feeling a deep sadness that women my age and younger should feel that the only way to assuage their grief was to fight in a senseless war not of their making — but this is Syria, where time and time again I am told that every Syrian will take up arms to defend their country against international terrorism.

What many people in the West are unaware of, thanks to the deliberate misrepresentation by their state-aligned media, is that the Syrian Arab Army is the Syrian people. It is an inclusive conscript army, its soldiers come from every sect and community across Syria. They are a reflection of Syria’s secular society in total contrast to the grim sectarian composition of the extremist forces promoted by the West as “freedom and democracy fighters”.

Members of the National Defence Forces and their commander, Nabel Alabdalla (center) carry children’s coffins through the city. Photo | Salm Photography

The National Defence Forces of As Suqaylabiyah were among the coffin bearers on the day of the funeral of the child martyrs. These young men and their Commander, Nabel Alabdalla, have defended their town and their country for eight years. Many have sacrificed their lives so their families and the people of Syria may survive this war with their secular state intact.

They are of the people, for the people. Any media narrative that fails to defend these Syrian soldiers who are fighting international terrorism on behalf of their people and their homeland is heinously misrepresenting the conflict and the Syrian military role in removing the Western-incubated terrorist cancer from this world, in my opinion.

Commander of the As Suqaylabiyah National Defense Forces, Nabel Alabdalla. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

As Nabel Alabdalla said to me after one Grad missile attack on the town:

We confirm that we always carry the candles of love and peace in one hand and the other hand is on the trigger of our gun. We will never leave this land.”

This is Syria.

Feature photo | Families grieving the loss of children killed in As Suqaylabiyah, May 12, 2019. Photo | Salm Photography

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. You can support Vanessa’s journalism through her Patreon Page.

The post As Suqaylabiyah: The Syrian Christian Town Near Idlib the West Has Never Heard Of appeared first on MintPress News.

The Trust Project: Big Media and Silicon Valley’s Weaponized Algorithms Silence Dissent

After the failure of Newsguard — the news rating system backed by a cadre of prominent neoconservative personalities — to gain traction among American tech and social media companies, another organization has quietly stepped in to direct the news algorithms of tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

Though different from Newsguard, this group, known as “The Trust Project,” has a similar goal of restoring “trust” in corporate, mainstream media outlets, relative to independent alternatives, by applying “trust indicators” to social-media news algorithms in a decidedly untransparent way. The funding of “The Trust Project” — coming largely from big tech companies like Google; government-connected tech oligarchs like Pierre Omidyar; and the Knight Foundation, a key Newsguard investor — suggests that an ulterior motive in its tireless promotion of “traditional” mainstream media outlets is to limit the success of dissenting alternatives.

Of particular importance is the fact that the Trust Project’s “trust indicators” are already being used to control what news is promoted and suppressed by top search engines like Google and Bing and massive social-media networks like Facebook. Though the descriptions of these “trust indicators” — eight of which are currently in use — are publicly available, the way they are being used by major tech and social media companies is not.

The Trust Project’s goal is to increase public trust in the very same traditional media outlets that Newsguard favored and to use HTML-embedded codes in favored news articles to promote their content at the expense of independent alternatives. Even if its effort to promote “trust” in establishment media fail, its embedded-code hidden within participating news sites allow those establishment outlets to skirt the same algorithms currently targeting their independent competition, making such issues of “trust” largely irrelevant as it moves to homogenize the online media landscape in favor of mainstream media.  

The Trust Project’s director, Sally Lehrman, made it clear that, in her view, the lack of public trust in mainstream media and its declining readership is the result of unwanted “competition by principle-free enterprises [that] further undermines its [journalism’s] very role and purpose as an engine for democracy.”

 

Getting to know the Trust Project

The Trust Project describes itself as “a consortium of top news companies” involved in developing “transparency standards that help you easily assess the quality and credibility of journalism.” It has done this by creating what it calls “Trust Indicators,” which the project’s website describes as “a digital standard that meets people’s needs.” However, far from meeting “people’s needs,” the Trust Indicators seem aimed at manipulating search engine and social-media news algorithms to the benefit of the project’s media partners, rather than to the benefit of the general public.

The origins of the Trust Project date back to a 2012 “roundtable” hosted by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, a center funded by former Apple CEO Mike Markkula. That roundtable became known as the Roundtable on Digital Journalism Ethics and was created by journalist Sally Lehrman, then working at the Markkula Center, in connection with the New Media Executive Roundtable and Online Credibility Watch of the Society of Professional Journalists. Lehrman has explicitly stated that the Trust Project is open only to “news organizations that adhere to traditional standards.”

The specific idea that spurred the creation of the Trust Project itself was born at a 2014 meeting of that roundtable, when Lehrman “asked a specialist in machine learning at Twitter, and Richard Gingras, head of Google News, if algorithms could be used to support ethics instead of hurting them, and they said yes. Gingras agreed to collaborate.” In other words, the idea behind the Trust Project, from the start, was aimed at gaming search-engine and social-media algorithms in collusion with major tech companies like Google and Twitter.

Sally Lehrman discusses the Trust Project at 2018 WordCamp For Publishers

As the Trust Project itself notes, the means of altering algorithms were developed in tandem with tech-giant executives like Gingras and “top editors in the industry from 80 news outlets and institutions,” all of which are corporate, mainstream media outlets. Notably, the Trust Project’s media partners, involved in creating these new “standards” for news algorithms, include major publications owned by wealthy oligarchs: the Washington Post, owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos; the Economist, directed by the wealthy Rothschild family; and the Globe and Mail, owned by Canada’s richest family, the Thomsons, who also own Thomson Reuters. Other Trust Project partners include The New York Times, Mic, Hearst Television, the BBC and the USA Today network.

Other major outlets are represented on the News Leadership Council of the Markkula Center, including the Financial Times, Gizmodo Media, and The Wall Street Journal. That council — which also includes Gingras and Andrew Anker, Facebook’s Director of Product Management — “guides the Trust Project on our Trust Indicators.”

These “Trust Indicators” are the core of the Trust Project’s activities and reveal one of the key mechanisms through which Google, Twitter and Facebook have been altering their algorithms to favor outlets with good “Trust Indicator” scores. Trust Indicators, on their face, are aimed at making news publications “more transparent” as a means of generating increased trust with the public. Though a total of 37 have been developed, it appears only eight of them are currently being used.

These eight indicators are listed and described by the Trust Project as follows:

  • Best Practices: What are the news outlet’s standards? Who funds it? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
  • Author/Reporter Expertise: Who made this? Details about the journalist, including their expertise and other stories they have worked on.
  • Type of Work: What is this? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
  • Citations and References: What’s the source? For investigative or in-depth stories, access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
  • Methods: How was it built? Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a story and how they went about the process.
  • Locally Sourced? Was the reporting done on the scene, with deep knowledge about the local situation or community? Lets you know when the story has local origin or expertise.
  • Diverse Voices: What are the newsroom’s efforts and commitments to bringing in diverse perspectives? Readers noticed when certain voices, ethnicities, or political persuasions were missing.
  • Actionable Feedback: Can we participate? A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas. Readers want to participate and provide feedback that might alter or expand a story.

How the Trust Project makes these indicators available to the public can be seen in its new project, the Newsroom Transparency Tracker, where it provides a table of “transparency” for participating media outlets. Notably, that table conflates actual transparency practices with simply providing the Trust Project with outlet policies and guidelines related to the above indicators.

For example, The Economist gets a perfect transparency “score” for having provided the Trust Project links to its ethics policy, mission statement and other information requested by the project. However, the fact that those policies exist and are provided to the Trust Project does not mean that the publication’s policies are, in fact, transparent or ethical in terms of their content or in practice. The fact that The Economist provided links to its policies does not make the publication more transparent, but — in the context of the Newsroom Transparency Tracker’s table — it provides the appearance of transparency, though such policy disclosures by The Economist are unlikely to translate into any changes to its well-known biases and slanted reporting towards certain issues.

 

Trust Indicators manipulate big tech algorithms

The true power of the Trust Indicators comes in a form that is not visible to the general public. These Trust Indicators, while occasionally displayed on partner websites, are also coupled with “machine-readable signals” embedded in the HTML code of participating websites and articles used by Facebook, Google, Bing and Twitter. As Lehrman noted in a 2017 article, the Trust Project was then “already working with these four companies, all of which have said they want to use our indicators to prioritize honest, well-reported news over fakery and falsehood.” Gingras of Google News also noted that the Trust Indicators are used by Google as “cues to help search engines better understand and rank results … [and] to help the myriad algorithmic systems that mold our media lives.”

A press release from the Trust Project last year further underscores the importance of the embedded “indicators” to alter social-media and search-engine algorithms:

While each Indicator is visible to users on the pages of the Project’s news partners, it is also embedded in the article and site code for machines to read — providing the first, standardized technical language that offers contextual information about news sites’ commitments to transparency.”

Despite claiming to increase public knowledge of “news sites’ commitments to transparency,” the way that major tech companies like Google and Facebook are using these indicators is anything but transparent. Indeed, it is largely unknown how these indicators are used, though there are a few clues.

For instance, CBS News cited Craig Newmark — the billionaire founder of Craigslist, who provided the Trust Project’s seed funding — as suggesting that “Google’s search algorithm could rank trusted sources above others in search results” by using the project’s Trust Indicators.

Last year, the Trust Project stated that Bing used “the ‘Type of Work’ Trust Indicator to display whether an article is news, opinion or analysis.” It also stated that “when Facebook launched its process to index news Pages, they worked with the Trust Project to make it easy for any publisher to add optional information about their Page.” In Google’s case, Gingras was quoted as saying that Google News uses the indicators “to assess the relative authoritativeness of news organizations and authors. We’re looking forward to developing new ways to use the indicators.”

Notably, the machine-readable version of these Trust Indicators is available only to participating institutions, which are currently corporate, mainstream publications. Though WordPress and Drupal plug-ins are being developed to make those embedded signals to search engines and social media available to smaller publishers, it will be made available only to “qualified publishers,” a determination that will presumably be made by the Trust Project and its associates.

Richard Gingras, in a statement made in 2017, noted that “the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism — and help us to better surface it to consumers.” Thus, it is abundantly clear that these indicators, which are embedded only into “qualified” and “authoritative” news websites, will be used to slant search-engine and social-media news algorithms in favor of establishment news websites.

The bottom line is that these embedded and exclusive indicators allow certain news outlets to avoid the crushing effects of recent algorithm changes that have seen traffic to many news websites, including MintPress, plummet in recent years. This is leading towards a homogenization of the online news landscape by starving independent competitors of web traffic while Trust Project-approved outlets are given an escape valve through algorithm manipulation.

 

The tech billionaires behind the Trust Project

Given the Trust Project’s rich-get-richer impact on the online news landscape, it is not surprising to find that it is funded by rich and powerfl figures and forces with a clear stake in controlling the flow of news and information online.

According to its website, the Trust Project currently receives funding from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Google, Facebook, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (often abbreviated as the Knight Foundation), and the Markkula Foundation. Its website also states that Google was “an early financial supporter” and that it had originally been funded by Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist. As previously mentioned, the Trust Project’s co-founder is Richard Gingras, current Google vice president of News. The Trust Project’s website described Gingras’s current role with the organization as “a powerful evangelist” who “can always be counted upon for expert advice and encouragement.” Newmark’s current role at the Trust Project is described as that of a “funder and valued connector.”

Google VP Richard Gingras testifies at a British Committee Hearing on “Fake News”

Newmark, through Craig Newmark Philanthropies, who provided the initial funding for the Trust Project, and has also funded other related initiatives like the News Integrity Initiative at the City University of New York, which shares many of the same financiers as the Trust Project, including Facebook, Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, and the Knight Foundation. The Trust Project is listed as a collaborator of the News Integrity Initiative. Newmark is also very active in several news-related NGOs with similar overlap. For instance, he sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a longtime recipient of massive grants from the Omidyar Network, and Politifact.com, which is funded in part by Omidyar’s Democracy Fund.

Newmark is currently working with Vivian Schiller as his “strategic adviser” in his media investments. Schiller is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, former head of news at Twitter, and a veteran of well-known mainstream outlets like NPR, CNN, The New York Times and NBC News. She is also a director of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian.

The Markkula Foundation, one of the key funders of the Trust Project, exercises considerable influence over the organization through the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, which originally incubated the organization and whose News Leadership Council plays an important role at the Trust Project. That council’s membership includes representatives of Facebook, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Financial Times and Google, and “guides the Trust Project on our Trust Indicators and advises on core issues related to information literacy and rebuilding trust in journalism within a fractious, so-called post-fact environment.”

Both the Markkula Foundation and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics were founded by A. M. “Mike” Markkula, former CEO of Apple. The Markkula Center’s Journalism Ethics program is currently headed by Subramaniam Vincent, a former software engineer and consultant for Intel and Cisco Systems who has worked to bring together big data with local journalism and is an advocate for the use of “ethical-AI [artificial intelligence] to ingest, sort, and classify news.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is another interesting funder of the Trust Project, given that this same foundation is also a key investor in Newsguard, the controversial, biased news rating system with deep connections to government insiders and self-described government propagandists. There is considerable overlap between Newsguard and the Trust Project, with the latter citing Newsguard as a partner and also stating that Newsguard’s demonstrably biased ratings use the project’s “trust indicators” in its full-length reviews of news websites, which Newsguard calls “nutrition labels.” In addition, becoming a Trust Project participant is a factor that “supports a positive evaluation” from Newsguard, according to a press release from last year.

Notably, Sally Lehrman, who leads the Trust Project, described the project’s trust indicators for news as ”along the lines of a nutrition label on a package of food” when the Trust Project was created nearly a year before Newsguard launched, suggesting some intellectual overlap.

A previous MintPress exposé revealed Newsguard’s numerous conflicts of interest and a ratings system strongly biased in favor of well-known, traditional media outlets — even when those outlets have a dubious track record of promoting so-called “fake news.” It should come as no surprise that the Trust Project’s goal is to increase public trust in the very same traditional media outlets that Newsguard favored and to use HTML-embedded codes in news articles to promote their content at the expense of independent alternatives.

 

A familiar face in the war against independent media

The Democracy Fund, another top funder of the Trust Project and a bipartisan foundation that was established by eBay founder and PayPal owner Omidyar in 2011 “out of deep respect for the U.S. Constitution and our nation’s core democratic values.” It is a spin-off of the Omidyar Network and, after splitting off as an independent company in 2014, became a member of the Omidyar Group. The fund’s National Advisory Committee includes former Bush and Obama administration officials and representatives of Facebook, Microsoft, NBC News, ABC News and Gizmodo Media group.

The Democracy Fund’s involvement in the Trust Project is notable because of the other media projects it funds, such as the new media empire of arch-neoconservative Bill Kristol, who has a long history of creating and disseminating falsehoods that have been used to justify the U.S. war in Iraq and other hawkish foreign policy stances. As a recent MintPress series revealed, Omidyar’s Democracy Fund provides financial support to Kristol’s Defending Democracy Together initiative and also supports Kristol’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund think tank that is best known for its cryptic Hamilton68 “Russian bot” dashboard. Omidyar’s Democracy Fund has also donated to the German Marshall Fund’s Defending Digital Democracy project and directly to the German Marshall Fund itself. In addition, Charles Sykes, a co-founder and editor-at-large of Kristol’s new publication The Bulwark, is on the Democracy Fund’s National Advisory Committee.

An acolyte of Kristol’s who works at the German Marshall Fund, Jamie Fly, stated last October that the coordinated social-media purges of independent media pages known for their criticisms of U.S. empire and U.S. police violence was “just the beginning” and hinted that the German Marshall Fund had a hand in past social media purges and, presumably, a role in future purges. Thus, the Democracy Fund’s links to neoconservatives who promote the censoring of independent media sites that are critical of militaristic U.S. foreign policy jibe with the fund’s underlying interest in the Trust Project.

Omidyar’s involvement with the Trust Project is interesting for another reason, namely that Omidyar is the main backer behind the efforts of the controversial Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to become a key driver of which outlets are censored by Silicon Valley tech giants. The ADL was initially founded to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all” but critics say that over the years it has begun labeling critics of Israel’s government as “anti-Semites.”

For example, content that characterizes Israeli policies towards Palestinians as “racist” or “apartheid-like” is considered “hate speech” by the ADL, as is accusing Israel of war crimes or attempted ethnic cleansing. The ADL has even described explicitly Jewish organizations that are critical of Israel’s government as being “anti-Semitic.”

In March 2017, the Omidyar Network provided the “critical seed capital” need to launch the ADL’s “new Silicon Valley center aimed at tackling this rising wave of intolerance and to collaborate more closely with technology companies to promote democracy and social justice.” That Omidyar-funded ADL center allowed the ADL to team up with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft — all of whom also collaborate with the Trust Project — to create a Cyberhate Problem-Solving Lab. Since then, these companies and their subsidiaries, including Google’s YouTube, have relied on the ADL to flag “controversial” content.

Given the fact that the Trust Project shares with the ADL a key funder (Pierre Omidyar) and several external tech partners, it remains to be seen whether there is overlap between how major tech companies like Google and Facebook use the Trust Indicators in its algorithms and the influence of the ADL on those very same algorithms.

 

Outsourcing censorship

Of course, the most interesting and troubling donors of the Trust Project are Google and Facebook, both of which are using the very project they fund as a “third party” to justify their manipulation of newsfeed and search-engine algorithms. Google’s intimate involvement from the very inception of the Trust Project tags it as an extension of Google that has since been marketed as an “independent” organization tasked with justifying algorithm changes that favor certain news outlets over others.

Facebook, similarly, funds the Trust Project and also employs the “trust indicators” it funds to alter its newsfeed algorithm. Facebook’s other partners in altering this algorithm include the Atlantic Council — funded by the U.S. government, NATO, and weapons manufacturers, among others — and Facebook has also directly teamed up with foreign governments, such as the government of Israel, to suppress accurate yet dissenting information that the government in question wanted removed from the social-media platform.

The murkiness between “private” censorship, censorship by tech oligarchs, and censorship by government is particularly marked in the Trust Project. The private financiers of the Trust Project that also use its product to promote certain news content over others — namely Google and Facebook — have ties to the U.S. government, with Google being a government contractor and Facebook sporting a growing body of former-government officials in top company positions, including a co-author of the controversial Patriot Act as the company’s general counsel.

A similar tangle surrounds Pierre Omidyar, funder of the Trust Project through the Democracy Fund, who is extremely well-connected to the U.S. government, especially the military-industrial complex and intelligence communities. And partnering with media outlets like the Washington Post, whose owner is Jeff Bezos, spawns more conflicts of interests, given that Bezos’ company, Amazon, is also a major U.S. government contractor.

This growing nexus binding Silicon Valley companies and oligarchs, mainstream media outlets and the government suggests that these entities have increasingly similar and complementary interests, among which is the censorship of independent watchdog journalists and news outlets that seek to challenge their power and narratives.

The Trust Project was created as a way of outsourcing censorship of independent news sites while attempting to salvage the tattered reputation of mainstream media outlets and return the U.S. and international media landscape to years past when such outlets were able to dominate the narrative.

While it seems unlikely that’s its initiatives will succeed in restoring trust to mainstream media given the many recent and continuing examples of those same “traditional” media outlets circulating fake news and failing to cover crucial aspects of events, the Trust Project’s development of hidden algorithm-altering codes in participating websites shows that its real goal is not about improving public trust but about providing a facade of independence to Silicon Valley censorship of independent media outlets that speak truth to power.

Feature photo |  Trust Project founder Sally Lehrman speaks at the 2018 organization of News Ombudsmen conference. Photo | ONO

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post The Trust Project: Big Media and Silicon Valley’s Weaponized Algorithms Silence Dissent appeared first on MintPress News.

Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction

The Chief Military Advocate General of the Israeli army, Sharon Afek, and the US Department of Defense General Counsel, Paul Ney, shared a platform at the ‘International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict’, which took place in Herzliya, Israel between May 28-30.

Their panel witnessed some of the most misconstrued interpretations of international law ever recorded. It was as if Afek and Ney were literally making up their own law on warfare and armed conflict, with no regard to what international law actually stipulates.

Unsurprisingly, both Afek and Ney agreed on many things, including that Israel and the US are blameless in all of their military conflicts, and that they will always be united against any attempt to hold them accountable for war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICC).

Their tirade against the ICC mirrors that of their own leaders. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-ICC position is familiar, last April, US President Donald Trump virulently expressed his contempt for the global organization and everything it represents.   

“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a writing on April 12.

While Trump’s (and Netanyahu’s) divisive language is nothing new, Afek and Ney were entrusted with the difficult task of using legal language to explain their countries’ aversion for international law.

Prior to the Herzliya Conference, Afek addressed the Israel Bar Association convention in Eilat on May 26. Here, too, he made some ludicrous claims as he absolved, in advance, Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians.

“A soldier who is in a life-threatening situation and acts to defend himself (or) others (he) is responsible for, is receiving and will continue receiving full back-up from the Israeli army,” he said.

The above assertion appears far more sinister once we remember Afek’s views on what constitutes a “life-threatening situation”, as he had articulated in Herzliya a few days later.

“Thousands of Gaza’s residents (try) to breach the border fence,” he said, with reference to the non-violent March of Return at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel.

The Gaza protesters “are led by a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians to carry out attacks,” Afek said.

Afek sees unarmed protests in Gaza as a form of terrorism, thus concurring with an earlier statement made by then-Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on April 8, 2018, when he declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Palestinians shot in the legs during protests at the Gaza border with Israel await treatment at a Gaza City clinic run by Doctors Without Borders. Felipe Dana | AP

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, however, is not confined to the Gaza Strip but is also implemented with the same degree of violent enthusiasm in the West Bank.

‘No attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive,’ Lieberman said in 2015. His orders were followed implicitly, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem for allegedly trying to attack Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Unlike democratic political systems everywhere, in Israel, the occupation soldier becomes the interpreter and enforcer of the law.

Putting this policy into practice in Gaza is even more horrendous as unarmed protesters are often being killed by Israeli snipers from long distances. Even journalists and medics have not been spared the same tragic fate as the hundreds of civilians who were killed since the start of the protests in March 2018.

Last February, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Gaza’s protests concluded that “it has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

In his attack on the ICC at the Herzliya Conference, Afek contended that “Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC.”

The Israeli General goes on to reprimand the ICC by urging it to focus on “dealing with the main issues for which it was founded.”

Has Afek even read the Rome Statute? The first Article states that the ICC has the “power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute.”

Article 5 elaborates the nature of these serious crimes, which include: “(a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

Israel has been accused of at least two of these crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – repeatedly, including in the February report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Afek may argue that none of this is relevant to Israel, for the latter is not “a party to the Rome Statute,” therefore, does not fall within ICC’s legal jurisdiction.

Wrong again.

Ayman Hamed, 18 was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers for allegedly throwing stones in Ramallah, Jan. 26, 2019. Nasser Nasser | AP

Article 12 of the Rome Statute allows for ICC’s jurisdiction in two cases; first, if the State in which the alleged crime has occurred is itself a party of the Statute and, second, if the State where the crime has occurred agrees to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court.

While it is true that Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, Palestine has, since 2015, agreed to submit itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, in April 2015, the State of Palestine formally became a member of the ICC, thus giving the court jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in the Occupied Territories since June 13 2014. These crimes include human rights violations carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza in July-August of the same year.

Afek’s skewed understanding of international law went unchallenged at the Herzliya Conference, as he was flanked by equally misguided interpreters of international law.

However, nothing proclaimed by Israel’s top military prosecutor or his government will alter the facts. Israeli war crimes must not go unpunished; Israel’s judicial system is untrustworthy and the ICC has the legal right and moral duty to carry out the will of the international community and hold to account those responsible for war crimes anywhere, including Israel.

Feature photo | A Palestinian boy looks at a damage after an Israeli raid killed Ashraf Naalweh in the Asker refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, Dec. 13, 2018. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a widely published and translated author, an internationally syndicated columnist and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter (2015), and was a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB. Visit his website at  www.ramzybaroud.net.

The post Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction appeared first on MintPress News.

The US is Waging a Quiet Scientific War Against Iran

Science diplomacy has long been recognized as one of the most powerful reconciliation tools and has a proven track record in building bridges and helping pave the way for cooperation on broader issues, especially between politically opposed countries. Over the past few decades, successive American administrations, along with experts and scientists, including those at the National Academies, have traditionally encouraged greater scientific exchange and collaboration.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy established a science cooperation agreement with Japan, following appeals to repair the broken dialogue between the two countries’ intellectual communities after World War II. That agreement helped round out a tenuous relationship at the time, rooted only in security concerns. In the 1970s, US diplomats took several science initiatives during their talks with China, and when official diplomatic ties were established in 1979, science played a big role in the shaping of renewed efforts.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had a number of programs facilitating collaboration and exchange between the two countries’ scientific and technical communities. The science diplomacy again gained popularity during the administration of Barack Obama. In 2009, President Obama called for partnership during his “A New Beginning” speech in Cairo, Egypt. These partnerships would include a greater focus on engagement of the Muslim world through science, technology, and innovation building and connecting scientists from the US to scientists in Muslim-majority countries.

 

US-Iranian scientific cooperation

Iran, the country whose scientific output is reported to be the fastest in the world over the last four decades, is no exception to the aforementioned form of collaboration and globalization of science. Iranians welcome scientists from all over the world to Iran for a visit and participation in seminars, scientific associations, or collaborations. Many Nobel laureates and influential scientists such as Bruce Alberts, F. Sherwood Rowland, Kurt Wüthrich, Stephen Hawking, and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes visited Iran before and after the Iranian revolution. Some universities also hosted American and European scientists as guest lecturers.

Although sanctions have caused a shift in Iran’s trading partners from West to East, scientific collaboration has remained largely oriented towards the West. Over the last two decades, Iran’s top partners for scientific collaboration were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, in that order. Iranian and American scientists have coauthored thousands of articles in scientific publications.

This collaboration has been fostered through a number of mechanisms; in the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have advanced these efforts. These organizations have fostered formal and informal exchange of scientists, clinicians, bioethicists, and others, resulting in collaborative research that has contributed to important gains in knowledge of a range of medical and health conditions and concerns.

Sami Erol Gelenbe, right, and Amin Shokrollahi receive lran’s $500,000 Mustafa Science & Tech award at ceremony in Tehran, Dec. 3, 2017. Vahid Salemi | AP

The NAS prioritized foodborne illness, with particular attention to disease surveillance and approaches to addressing food contamination. The activities comprised workshops, joint planning meetings, individual exchanges, and a three-year pilot project related to food-borne disease surveillance carried out in Iran. More than 500 scientists representing 80 institutions in the United States and Iran were involved during the first decade of the initiative. The NAS also reports that hundreds of additional scientists in the two countries met with their scientific peers during the visits and that thousands of others were present, in person or virtually, at scientific lectures.

Another important area of cooperation is on researching stem cells. The relevant announcement was made in 2002 by Ali Khamenei, who praised research on surplus embryos created as part of fertility experiments as a lofty mission that could help Iran and the Islamic world reclaim its position as a globally important player. The result has been that scientists have had the freedom to conduct experiments that are rather envied by many in the United States, for example, where comparable research has been precluded by the interventions of conservative and influential religious figures.

Iranian scientists thus enjoy a level of freedom in their scientific endeavors not typically seen even in the programs of larger Western countries, due to the regulatory practices of those countries and questions surrounding the ethical viability of using embryonic stem cells for research purposes. The American-like debates surrounding the relationship between conception and life are not found in the Iranian stem cell community.

According to data released by Iran’s Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology, by the end of 2016, Iran ranked 20th in the world with a total number of 6,360 scientific papers in the field of stem cell sciences and regenerative medicine including cell therapy, gene therapy, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, tissue engineering, and biomaterials. In terms of published papers in the field of stem cell sciences and regenerative medicine, Iran is ranked first in the Middle East and Islamic world.

“It’s remarkable that they were able to do what they’ve done,” Konrad Hochedlinger of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital said in 2009. Even with their limited infrastructure, Iranian scientists have managed to isolate six human and eight mouse embryonic stem cell (ESC) lines over the past decade, and then successfully turn these cells into functional pancreatic, heart, splenic, and liver cells.

Iran was the 10th country in the world to successfully isolate human ESCs in 2003, and the fifth country to reprogram human skin cells to an embryonic-like state to create so-called induced pluripotent stem cells in 2008. Other landmark achievements include the application of stem cell therapy for treating the spinal cord injury, coaxing human ESCs to become mature, insulin-producing cells in 2004, cloning the country’s first sheep at the Royan Institute in 2006, conducting the world’s first human ESC proteomics study in 2006, the use of bone marrow cells to repair the cornea, and a new method to speed up tissue recovery in cornea transplant operations. More interestingly, under Iran’s highest political and religious authority Barkat Pharmaceutical Group, a substituent of Headquarters for Executing the Order of Imam Khomeini (EIKO) or Setad, in cooperation with Royan Institute in 2014 established CellTech Pharmed to meet the ongoing demands for stem cell therapy in Iran. It is a recognized leader in the manufacturing and distribution of cell-based therapies that is developing a therapeutic stem cell platform technology using discoveries made at the Royan Institute and Barakat Pharmaceutical Group.

 

Lured and detained: the case of Masoud Soleimani

Top Iranian stem cell scientist Dr. Masoud Soleimani, a professor and biomedical researcher at the Tarbiat Modares University (TMU) in Tehran, was one of numerous Iranian scientists who freely cooperated with their US counterparts. In mid-2018, Soleimani had been invited by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to conduct a research program and to undertake a six-month study there, so he left for the US on 22 October 2018.

However, upon arriving at the Chicago airport, his horror had begun. He was immediately arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), his visa was canceled and he was transferred to Dayton prison in Atlanta, Georgia for unspecified reasons. According to Leonard Franco, his Atlanta attorney, Soleimani has since been held behind bars without bond. Neither the FBI nor the US prosecutors have so far officially commented on his detention. During Soleimani’s sole court appearance on 14 May, he was told he was charged with “trying to transfer some ‘growth hormone vials’ via two students to Iran.”

Soleimani’s attorney also revealed that Byung Jin Pak, the US attorney in Atlanta, secured Soleimani’s indictment on 12 June 2018, just a month after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal, and Soleimani had been fully unaware of such an indictment when he flew to the US. Franco said that Soleimani’s treatment by federal authorities, the revocation of his visa and the decision to detain him without bond doesn’t square with Soleimani’s international reputation as a scholar, professor, and doctor widely known in the field of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. Soleimani has no criminal history anywhere in the world.

Well-known Iranian stem cell researcher Masoud Soleimani

Franco and Page Pate, another Atlanta lawyer, said that they had been puzzled by the federal government’s decision to prosecute Soleimani and two of his former students, Mahboobe Ghaedi and Maryam Jazayeri, for purported trade sanction violations over eight vials of human growth hormone. The hormone, which is a form of synthetic protein, was seized from Jazayeri in 2016 by customs authorities in Atlanta when she was heading to Iran to give it to Soleimani for research purposes. Jazayeri had received the hormone from Ghaedi.

The seizure occurred at a time when Washington was still a signatory to the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA) and anti-Iran sanctions had not been reimposed yet. The growth hormone is not banned in the US or Iran and was being used exclusively for medical research, which is still considered largely exempt from US sanctions, Franco said. However, Ghaedi and Jazayeri faced similar federal charges for attempting to supply Soleimani with the growth hormone. Ghaedi is a permanent American resident and an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine, and Jazayeri is a naturalized US citizen and Kentucky resident and has conducted medical research at the University of Louisville. Both are currently free on $250,000 and $200,000 bond, respectively. Pate, who represents Jazayeri, said his client was “completely confused by all this.”

Franco also stated that he “truly don’t understand the government’s decision to prosecute,” adding that it appeared to be “some type of policy argument.” Motions to dismiss the charges are pending in federal court in Atlanta in front of US District Judge Eleanor Ross. However, Federal prosecutors in Atlanta have not yet responded to the motions. According to TMU authorities, hearing this case has been adjourned for at least three times since October and the TMU and Soleimani’ family have so far paid $70,000 to his lawyers to prove his innocence, but all to no avail.

“For months, we weren’t given any clear answers until we managed to find out where he was by hiring a lawyer and following up,” Soleimani’s brother Rasoul said. “The vials were not subject to sanctions and have a purely medical use… the Americans’ absurd claims have baffled everyone inside and outside the country,” he added. Rasoul also revealed that the professor had been pressed to confess that the purchase of the growth hormones had been made with an intent to “circumvent the American sanctions” against Iran. US authorities said such a confession would pave the way for a plea bargain, his brother said, adding, however, that Soleimani refused to accept the offer.

The brother of Masoud Soleimani also detailed how he and his family have been suffering as a result of poor contact with the prisoner and no clear prospect of his release. Speaking to the Iranian media, Rasoul said Masoud has not spoken of being tortured in incarceration, deflecting the matter during the conversation he has been able to have with him. “He would not speak comfortably, and immediately change the subject every time,” he said, adding that his brother would not broach the matter because conversations were being recorded at the facility. “This prison is not safe,” he added, calling the detention center among the worst in the United States.

Rasoul had emphasized that his brother is certainly the hostage of the US government. “How can a researcher and a physician, who does not have any criminal record and boasts numerous articles published in international circles, be placed in detention?” he asked. Masoud’s brother also regretted that their mother had suffered apoplexy following his detention and slipped into a coma.

 

From science diplomacy to anti-science terror

The case of Masoud Soleimani is not unique, taking into account that almost 50 Iranian nationals are currently imprisoned in the United States under various pretexts, mainly bypassing the US sanctions. Mansour Gholami, Iran’s Minister of Science, Research and Technology, explained that the United States identified a number of Iranian professors and issued visas for them, but arrested them upon their arrival in the US’s soil.

Massoud Shadjareh, the chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said that the US government is determined to pursue the policy of harassing Iranian scientists and intellectuals. “They have created hellhole to abuse individuals and deny them justice and this seems part and parcel of a policy of targeting not just the scientists but in order to pull back the Iranian scientific achievements,” Shadjareh argued.

Not so long ago, scientists were true diplomats of pacifism, but today they became a favorite target to decelerate the national progress and discourage future generations of scientists. Intimidation, harassment and even killing of Iranian scientists is nothing new, given that Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan were victims of terrorist assassinations in the early 2010s, while Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani survived a similar attempt.

Responsibility for all these attacks lies with the same political elites that have recently imposed unilateral sanctions which are indiscriminately targeting the entire Iranian population, especially the most vulnerable ones like hospital patients and flood victims. Iranian scientists are no exception. The only difference is that previously they had been victims of covert operations, and today they are victims of the unconcealed official policy.

Feature photo | Iranian scientists work on animal cloning at the Royan Research Institute in Isfahan, Iran. Vahid Salemi | AP

Ivan Kesic is a Croatia-based freelance writer and open-source data analyst who has contributed to “Balkans Post” & “Sahar Balkan.” He worked as a writer at the Cultural Center of Iran in Zagreb from 2010 to 2016.

Published with special permission from the author from Antiwar.com

The post The US is Waging a Quiet Scientific War Against Iran appeared first on MintPress News.

Following US Lead on Assange, Australia Goes on Assault Spree Against Free Press

SYDNEY — Since the United States charged journalist Julian Assange with 17 counts of Espionage Act violations — charges that could see Assange facing the death penalty — Australia appears to be following America’s lead and cracking down on free press, particularly journalists and publications that publish government secrets.

Australia — Assange’s nation of origin and a Five Eyes member — has conducted two raids in as many days. The first was on Tuesday, when Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided journalist Annika Smethurst’s home with a warrant to search her phone and computer.

The raid was in response to an article Smethurst published last year that used leaked documents and correspondences from the country’s defense secretary and the head of the Home Affairs Department seeking to allow the Australian Signals Directorate, which is equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency, to spy on its own citizens.

Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo, in the leaked document, seemed to indicate that Australia had been relying on Five Eyes partners to spy on its citizens for them:

Traditional law enforcement does not have the technical capacity to fully identify, detect and disrupt systemic transnational organised crime and is ordinarily limited to dependence on foreign partners.”

The proposal would have allowed Australian spies to bypass that burden and spy on their own citizens themselves.

 

As with Assange, journalist/publisher may face prosecution for leaks

The police raid on Smethurst’s residence was done in response to “the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret, which is an extremely serious matter with the potential to undermine Australia’s national security,” AFP said. The emphasis on the act of publishing, rather than the leaking from whomever blew the whistle, indicates that Smethurst may be the subject of prosecution down the road. Following the raid, AFP said it would not be arresting anyone “today.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was grilled on the raid while visiting London. He said it “never troubles me that our laws are being upheld,” adding that the matters pertain to the AFP “and not the government.” He also refused to comment on Smethurst’s original story.

“Australia believes strongly in the freedom of the press and we have clear rules and protections for the freedom of the press,” he told reporters.

.@BenFordham on the Home Affairs Department's leaked information that up to six boats are attempting to come to Australia: There is not a hope in hell of me revealing my sources. I work in a business that’s based on freedom of the press.

MORE: https://t.co/8OO6XZzVYi #SkyLiveNow pic.twitter.com/4H8hDIO5Xc

— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) June 4, 2019

 

Knocks on a second door

Hours after the raid, radio broadcaster Ben Fordham was contacted by the Home Affairs Department over a story he covered the day prior regarding a group of six boats filled with refugees attempting to reach Australia.

“We were told Home Affairs would investigate the disclosure and they would like me to assist that investigation,” Fordham said on the radio. He said he was repeatedly told that he was not the subject of the investigation and added that “there is not a hope in hell” that he would reveal his sources.

He has been contacted two more times since. On one of those occasions, he was told that the Home Affairs investigation could lead to a criminal investigation by the AFP.

15 sandwiches and 12 flat whites arrive. Raids aren’t what they used to be pic.twitter.com/JDuJ7PUHZY

— John Lyons (@TheLyonsDen) June 5, 2019

 

And a third — with warrant to “add, copy, delete or alter” files

On Wednesday, AFP arrived at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News office with a warrant naming two reporters and the news director (Daniel Oakes, Samuel Clark, and Gaven Morris respectively). According to ABC Executive Editor John Lyons, who viewed and tweeted the first two pages of the warrant, it allows police to “add, copy, delete or alter” materials in ABC’s computers.

Morris tweeted that Clark and Oakes are two of ABC’s “finest journalists,” adding that they are “honest and committed to telling the truth… just like Annika Smethurst.”

The raid was in response to a report published by ABC that showed evidence of extrajudicial killings of unarmed men and children in Afghanistan by elite special forces. It also provided additional information on the Australian soldier who severed the hands off of dead insurgents with scalpels.

“I've never seen an assault on the media as savage as this… I've never seen a warrant this comprehensive & I'd say scary… The chilling message is not so much for the journalists, but it's also for the public,” head of ABC Investigations @TheLyonsDen tells @PatsKarvelas #auspol pic.twitter.com/8sB4KVe8WY

— ABC News (@abcnews) June 5, 2019

According to Lyons, AFP seized 9,214 files in total. “There are six AFP officers and about four ABC lawyers,” he added. “I’ve never seen an assault on the media as savage as this one we’re seeing today.”

Lyons went on to discuss the scope of the warrant and how it allows for the deletion and alteration of ABC files. “I don’t think it is standard,” he said, adding:

Australian Federal Police have come into the ABC and have the power now to be going through those 9,214 documents and essentially deleting anything they want. They can just decide that that email, or that particular correspondence, has never existed. They can change material. They have the power to go into an email and change what anybody wrote: what a manager of the ABC wrote to the Defense Department’s media unit.”

 

Emboldened and not backing down

While a number of pro-press freedom groups have denounced the raid, the Australian government does not appear to be backing down.

While Australia passed “sweeping” anti-espionage laws in 2018, the current crackdown follows the example of the United States in its charges against and attempt to extradite Julian Assange. Those new anti-espionage laws allow for the prosecution of a journalist on charges of unauthorized disclosure, according to the Australian Law Council.

Nonetheless, in the case of the two journalists in Australia, as well as ABC, the raids and investigations have been conducted against reports on classified material, Assange’s bread and butter. Australian authorities are clearly emboldened to violate press freedom norms following the extradition attempt by the United States against Australia’s own citizen. Indeed, Australia’s actions against journalists this week are likely only the beginning.

Feature photo | A man stands next to a pile of subsidized food to be distributed under a Maduro government program named “CLAP,” in the Catia district of Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 31, 2019. An independent U.N. human rights monitor says economic sanctions are compounding a “grave crisis” in Venezuela. Rodrigo Abd | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Following US Lead on Assange, Australia Goes on Assault Spree Against Free Press appeared first on MintPress News.

Washington Office on Latin America Gets Behind US Regime Change Agenda in Venezuela

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a self-described “human rights” NGO (non-governmental organization), has been circulating a June 1 press release ostensibly urging the return of democracy to Venezuela.

The press release cites the “value” of “pressure mechanisms” such as “multilateral” sanctions when they are “linked to clear outcomes, and avoid harming the broader population.” But sanctions against Venezuela are largely unilateral coercive measures by the United States aimed at fomenting regime-change fever among the population and have resulted in the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelans during the Trump administration.

Addressing one round U.S. sanctions, WOLA touted the “several virtues” of the measures before generally condemning unspecified and “broad” sanctions that worsen the humanitarian crisis.

“We believe that a peaceful, democratic solution to Venezuela’s crisis must also involve creative and persistent diplomacy,” WOLA continued, adding a call for support for new elections.

It is convenient timing for the so-called human rights NGO to posture, since Venezuelan opposition leader and self-appointed “interim president” Juan Guaido has already demonstrated his inability to conduct a large-scale military coup, and his other attempts to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela have failed spectacularly.

WOLA goes on to state that it “supports” the mediation efforts between the government and the opposition by “the Norwegian government.” It does not disclose that its largest donor is, in fact, the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Moreover, those talks hit a stalemate. As the Miami Herald notes:

Between the different points discussed, the Guaido delegation went with a mandate that any proposal concerning a presidential election was conditioned on Maduro not holding power.”

In other words, the opposition refused to agree to reconcile through democratic elections if Maduro runs. Yet, twice in the press release, WOLA made clear its support for new elections. The press release is, in fact, the latest in a long list of provocations against the Venezuelan government by the so-called human rights organization.

 

Human rights NGO or imperial think tank?

WOLA’s presentation as a human-rights NGO is dubious at best. Its Wikipedia page reads more like that of a Beltway think tank, with funding from foreign governments and a myriad of various foundations and private individuals – including the George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and the Ford Foundation- which comprise the United States’ soft-power apparatus.

WOLA provides information and analysis for the White House and Congress and receives wide circulation in the media as an authority on Latin America, characteristics more indicative of a foreign policy think tank than a human rights NGO.

The group’s hypocrisy in its unequivocal support for the Venezuelan opposition while branding itself as pro-human rights has spurred Noam Chomsky and a handful of other academics and intellectuals to write at least two open letters to the organization, objecting to the group “endorsing much” of the Trump regime change gambit.

While WOLA is now supporting the mediation efforts of its biggest benefactor, the Norwegian government, Chomsky and his cohorts argued in a March 5 open letter that WOLA’s “opposition to the offers of mediation by Pope Francis as well as the neutral governments of Mexico and Uruguay” was “dangerous.”

“WOLA even rejects the involvement of the UN in negotiations, which the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed, claiming that a UN role should be limited to overseeing a transition [of power,]” Chomsky and the other intellectuals added, concluding:

It is good that WOLA has distinguished itself … by opposing U.S. military intervention and the manipulation of humanitarian aid for political purposes. But that is not enough. It should unequivocally oppose the whole sordid regime change operation, the violations of international law, and the illegal sanctions that are causing so much suffering.”

WOLA responded to the letter but, according to the intellectuals, failed to address its main points. Moreover, “WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde wrote in The New York Times that “Countries throughout the region and the United States … should continue to pressure Mr. Maduro by deepening the current sanctions regime.”

While not explicitly recognizing Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela, WOLA takes a consistent line against Nicolas Maduro. “I think what happened with Juan Guaido declaring himself president, or interim president, was in the works for a long time. It was not dictated from the United States,” Smilde assured Democracy Now! listeners, though a number of clues indicate the opposite.

 

Support for CIA-cutout USAID

WOLA’s hawkish stance on Venezuela may seem surprising for a “human rights” organization, but it is less of a shock for those familiar with WOLA’s history.

Jeremy Bigwood, a journalist who focuses on Latin America, writes:

WOLA also supports [the United States Agency for International Development] ‘democracy promotion.’ In most of Latin America, this has involved the creation, or outright buying, of local NGOs and unions by USAID with the aim to carry out U.S. policy, something that has nothing to do with democracy.”

MintPress News has covered USAID extensively. The CIA cutout is a favorite tool of U.S. regime-change efforts and has even trained the police forces of right-wing Latin American governments in torture techniques.

The organization has also held questionable views on the U.S.’s war on drugs, releasing a long-winded 2005 policy analysis of the U.S. drug war in Latin Ameria in which it advocated for “Rockefeller-style drug laws and private prisons.”

 

“You’d have to be suicidal”

Anthropologist and Honduras expert Adrienne Pine wrote of WOLA in 2010:

Since I moved to D.C. last June, at least two dozen D.C. grassroots and non-profit activists have confided in me that they’ve been wishing for years that someone would challenge WOLA, but that, as one of them told me, ‘you’d have to be suicidal to do it.'”

That’s because the organization is “so powerful and well-connected that challenging it could seriously jeopardize organizations.”

In the aftermath of the coup d’etat in Honduras — which saw a military operation forcibly remove the leftist president, Manuel Zelaya, from power — WOLA Executive Director Joy Olson suggested that instead of Zelaya living in exile, he could instead be incarcerated inside Honduras.

Pine notes that WOLA founder Joseph Eldridge’s wife, María Otero, served as the United States Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs under Hillary Clinton during the coup, and WOLA worked closely with the State Department during that period to legitimize the coup government.

While it has not explicitly supported the faux government of Juan Guaido, WOLA’s stance in support of lethal sanctions against the Venezuelan people — sanctions that violate international law and the basic tenets of human rights — puts the organization once again squarely in the camp of U.S. empire and human-rights violations.

Feature photo | A man stands next to a pile of subsidized food to be distributed under a Maduro government program named “CLAP,” in the Catia district of Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 31, 2019. An independent U.N. human rights monitor says economic sanctions are compounding a “grave crisis” in Venezuela. Rodrigo Abd | AP

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Washington Office on Latin America Gets Behind US Regime Change Agenda in Venezuela appeared first on MintPress News.

Media: Zombie Sightings, Like Unicorns, Are a Frequent Occurrence in North Korea

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA — If the mainstream media is to be believed, North Korea is a land full of prison camps, zombies and unicorns.

On Friday, the right-wing South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that an anonymous source had informed them that Kim Yong Chol, the country’s envoy to the U.S., had been sent to a labor camp over the failure of talks with the Trump administration in Hanoi. Those claims were reported ubiquitously in American media, often without attribution to the original, singular anonymous source. Claims that four other high-ranking officials were either fired, executed or sent to prison camps also circulated widely. Now, media are being forced to walk things back after Kim Yong Chol was spotted with Chairman Kim Jong-un at an art performance.

When asked about the story, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “We’ve seen the reporting … we’re doing our best to check it out.”

While the other officials who were said to have been disappeared in various ways have not yet been spotted, there is an abundance of reasons to be skeptical of their reported fates.

 

The walking living

The State Department may also want to worry less about North Korea’s nuclear production and more about its apparent advanced necromancy program, because Kim Hyok-chol is far from the only person executed in the country still walking around and conducting business as usual.

In 2016, a North Korean defector claimed that military officer Ri Yong-gil had been executed and the media regurgitated the claim uncritically, as did South Korean politicians and military brass. Perhaps it was only when he passed over to the other side that he learned the necessary skills that qualified him for a promotion in 2018 to the position of Chief of General Staff.

In 2013, Hyon Song-wol, a famous singer in North Korea, was reported to have been executed by authorities in a “hail of machine gun fire while members of her orchestra looked on.” It appears that the bullets didn’t do any lasting damage to her lungs, however, as she is still singing her heart out with her all-girl pop band.

In 2010, South Korean media reported that a soccer coach had been executed in North Korea. So reporter Jean H. Lee was probably shocked when she “ran into him at the Pyongyang airport.”

Zombies aren’t the only mythical creatures endemic to the DPRK, if the media is to be believed. In 2014, it was widely reported that DPRK state news services announced the discovery of the lair belonging to a unicorn. That, however, turned out to be a mistranslation, but one not discovered prior to former Fox News firebrand Bill O’Reilly telling his massive audience that “the North Korean government announced that it found a unicorn.”

One article, which was updated after the mistake was realized, regurgitates a number of other odd claims, arguing that Koreans believe that Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current chairman, “reportedly invented the hamburger, wrote 1,500 books in college and shot 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf, according to Time magazine.”

These claims are easy for Americans to believe because they have been conditioned to demonize North Korea since the 1950’s when America killed a fifth of the country’s population and bombed 85 percent of the buildings there.

 

A nation seen in caricature

North Korea has its problems, as do all other countries; but outsized claims about it proliferate in the West.

For example, Kim Jong-un did have his uncle executed. He did not, however, do it by having him “stripped naked and thrown into a cage before being eaten alive by 120 starving dogs.” It is also untrue that, as reports have stated, North Korean officials have been executed over “bad posture.”

Likewise, reports of a ban on sarcasm are as fake as reports that all North Korean men are forced to get the same haircut as Chairman Kim. The latter claim was debunked by a pair of YouTube comedians who actually traveled to North Korea to get a haircut and do a comedic documentary exposing the stenographic nature of the media’s reporting on the country.

The report last year that said that North Korea had accidentally dropped an intermediate-range ballistic missile on one of its own cities remains uncorroborated by satellite footage.

If this isn't more fake news about North Korea, I'll eat my own IRBMhttps://t.co/MdsTU6Gbln

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) January 4, 2018

The reason fake news proliferates the way it does with North Korea is not just Western orientalism. It is difficult to verify information from the country, and those with first-hand knowledge of it — for example, the man who “defected” last year but turned out to be a fugitive from murder charges — typically have gripes against the government and find no shortage of incentives to lie.

In 2017, the South Korean government upped its reward for North Korean defectors with juice on DPRK state secrets to $860,000. Meanwhile, defectors are paid a generous hourly wage to share their horror stories with human-rights workers and the media.

“Cash payments in return for interviews with North Korean refugees have been standard practice in the field for years,” writes Jiyoung Song, who has been interviewing North Koreans as a human-rights researcher since 1999. He continues:

A government official from the South Korean ministry of unification told me the range of fees could vary wildly, from $50 to $500 per hour, depending on the quality of information.

But this practice raises a difficulty: how does the payment change the relation between a researcher and an interviewee, and what effect will it have on the story itself?

This practice also drives the demand for ‘saleable stories:’ the more exclusive, shocking or emotional, the higher the fee.”

In other words, there is an entire industry that incentivizes the creation of fake news about North Korea with cash rewards that would make even a journalist living in America begin to salivate like a pack of 120 starving dogs. The problem is that there is no incentive for journalists to actually get it right — in fact, it’s just the opposite because such explosive stories generate disproportional ad revenue through clicks.

But that’s all many of these news articles are: fairytales of zombies and unicorns.

Correction | A previous version of this story incorrectly named Kim Hyok-chol as the North Korean envoy to the United States allegedly sent to a labor camp, but Kim Yong Chol is the North Korean envoy to the United States. Hyok-chol was reported to have been executed, a claim which later turned out to be false.  We regret this error. 

Feature photo | The Arirang in Pyongyang, North Korea. Stephen | Flickr

Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.

The post Media: Zombie Sightings, Like Unicorns, Are a Frequent Occurrence in North Korea appeared first on MintPress News.

Bipartisan Support for Trump’s Aggressive Iran Policy Reveals the Hollowness of Russiagate

In early May, MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow — known as one of the top promoters of the new Cold War and Russiagate in American media — emphatically endorsed regime change in Venezuela after she claimed that President Donald Trump’s hawkishness towards the South American country had changed, all because of a single phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Though Maddow’s claims were arguably the most extreme in suggesting that Trump was “taking orders” from Putin on Venezuela, she wasn’t alone in making them. For instance, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks also made the claim that the Trump-Putin phone call on Venezuela was “direct evidence that he is literally taking orders from Putin.” In addition, several corporate media outlets supported this narrative by suggesting that Trump “echoed” Putin’s Venezuela stance after the phone call and directly contradicted his top staffers and even himself in doing so.

Yet now, strangely, those same corporate media voices remain silent on the Trump administration’s other regime-change project — in Iran — despite the fact that the Putin-led Russian government is set to be the biggest winner as tensions between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic boil over and threaten to send the Middle East into a fresh bout of destruction and chaos.

 

How Russia wins

As tensions between the U.S. and Iran have grown in recent months, analysts in both corporate and independent media have speculated about what country is set to benefit the most from the U.S.’ campaign of “maximum pressure” and regime change against the Islamic Republic. Of the many analyses, two countries have stood out as likely beneficiaries: Russia and China.

The cases for China and Russia’s benefit are somewhat similar given that the Trump administration’s focus on Iran results in less pressure on both Russia and China. This is despite the fact that, officially, the U.S.’ current National Defense Strategy explicitly calls for focusing attention on preparing for a “long war” against Russia and China to prevent either from superseding the U.S. as a global superpower. Yet, with the U.S. focused on regime change in Iran and Venezuela, Russia and China can avoid bearing the brunt of U.S. military adventurism, either directly or by proxy, while the U.S. wears itself thin by trying to do it all at once.

Several U.S. military analysts have been warning against war with Iran for precisely this reason. Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, recently wrote in The Hill that the U.S. faces a lose-lose scenario by pursuing a militaristic, aggressive Iran policy:

To gear up for a major conflict with Iran, the U.S. would be forced to de-emphasize Europe’s eastern flank, allowing Russia more time and breathing space to consolidate its position. On the other hand, a U.S. campaign that is defined more by bellicose rhetoric and less by action will buttress Russia’s claim, already seemingly validated in Syria and in Venezuela, that the U.S. talks a good game but has no real stomach for projecting its power.”

Both countries also stand to benefit from Iran’s increasing desperation for trading partners unwilling to bow to the U.S. Currently, China represents 30 percent of Iran’s international trade and the current U.S. sanctions on Iran have pushed Tehran to rely more heavily on Russia, especially for weapons purchases, than it had while the Iran nuclear deal (officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) was in force.

However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that China, though it benefits to some degree, is not a clear winner amid current tensions, while Russia stands to gain the most. The reason for this is the effect of current and future U.S.-Iran tensions on the oil market. While China trusts Iran to be a key oil supplier even if there is a breach in U.S.-China relations, any shock to the oil market and any jump in oil prices — both of which are likely to occur if U.S.-Iran tensions continue to escalate — will spell disaster for the Chinese economy, given that China is now the world’s largest importer of oil.

Russia, on the other hand, stands to benefit massively from the chaos that U.S.-Iran tensions are set to unleash on the oil market and, by extension, oil prices. With the U.S. seeking to starve Iran of any and all oil export revenue, all countries that had been purchasing Iranian oil must seek new suppliers. Yet, with the prospect of a U.S-Iran conflict still ever-present, it will be those oil producers outside of the Middle East that will come out on top, since oil supply routes that do not pass through the Middle East do not risk supply disruptions that would be caused by a war in the region. Thus, Russia, owing to its location, will emerge as an oil producer of extreme importance. Furthermore, given that such instability in the Middle East will lead to a surge in global oil prices, Russia will be able to export more oil at a higher price and will see its economy and geopolitical clout benefit greatly as a result.

 

A potential geopolitical killing

In addition to a great boost to its oil sector, Russia also stands to make unique geopolitical gains, particularly in the Middle East and beyond. For instance, in Syria, Russia is increasingly seeking to use its pull with Syria’s government as a major bargaining chip with Israel and the U.S., as made clear by the upcoming trilateral summit on the Middle East between Russia, Israel and the U.S. The main focus of that summit will likely be the fate of the presence of foreign militaries in Syria, particularly Iranian and U.S. forces.

The summit will likely be dominated by Russia and Israel, given Israel’s influence over the U.S., and particularly over National Security Adviser John Bolton, who will represent the U.S. at the summit. Israel’s key interest in Syria at this stage of the conflict is the removal of Iranian forces from Syria. Russia is likely to oblige that request, as doing so would allow Russia to dominate a post-war Syria at Iran’s expense. This seems to be a current Russian objective in Syria, given recent reports of in-fighting among Russian and Iranian forces in Northern Syria.

Russian soldiers next to an American armored personnel carrier on a train displaying war trophies from Syria, May 9. 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

However, Russia is unlikely to help reduce Iran’s Syria presence if doing so would favor the United States’ occupation of Syrian territory or threaten to upset Russia’s own interests in Syria. Thus, in this case, Russia is counting on Israel’s influence on the Trump administration to ensure that, if Iranian forces vacate Syria, it will be Russia that will dominate the country post-conflict.

Russia also stands to gain geopolitically from the isolationism being forced on Iran by the Trump administration. Indeed, U.S. pressure on Iran has already served Russian interests by pushing Iran further towards Russia, giving Moscow the status of an increasingly important economic partner of Tehran. While benefiting the Russian economy, closer economic ties between Moscow and Iran would also give Russia a leg up in discussions with the U.S., as Washington may then need to make concessions to or coordinate with Russia in future efforts to pressure Iran.

Meanwhile, Russia stands to reap major profits by selling more weapons to Iran, and to gain geopolitical clout by further cementing is role as a mediator of conflict by promoting compliance with the JCPOA and opposing regime change. Iran’s dwindling options for strategic alliances with non-U.S. aligned countries will make it difficult for Tehran to resist Russian demands on key issues, including the Syria conflict.

Another major geopolitical win for Russia that has resulted from the U.S.’ current Iran policy is the tension that that policy has engendered between the U.S. and its European allies. When the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, it began the development of a rift between the U.S. and its key European allies who are also JCPOA signatories — particularly France, Germany and the United Kingdom. As a signatory, Russia’s stance on Iran has revolved around the JCPOA, with Russia having urged Iran to remain in the deal “no matter what,” advice that Iran does not now seem keen to follow.

Russia’s stance on JCPOA is likely aimed just as much at Europe as it is at Iran, since promoting the agreement amid the U.S. unilateral withdrawal paints Russia as more predictable and stable in terms of its political stances and diplomacy in comparison to the U.S. If nothing else, Putin is known for excelling at taking advantage of the missteps made by his geopolitical adversaries.

This i all part of a careful public image that Russia is seeking to cultivate with European countries as it hopes to attract them to do business with Russian oil and gas companies as the Middle East now seemingly approaches another era of extreme instability. By promoting the JCPOA alongside Europe, Russia makes increased Russo-European cooperation seem more attractive.

As U.S.-Iran tensions mount, particularly if armed conflict breaks out, importing goods from Russia, especially oil and gas, will appear more attractive and safer in comparison to goods that originate from or pass through the Middle East before arriving in Europe. Depending on how the situation plays out, Europe — driven by concerns about stability and reliability — may be willing to risk angering the U.S. to pursue increased economic cooperation with Russia, even though doing so would run counter to current U.S. and NATO objectives.

 

Putin plays Netanyahu

While it is often difficult to find accurate, honest reporting on Vladimir Putin –reporting that is neither too biased against him nor too much in his favor — it is generally acknowledged that Putin, above all else, is interested in advancing Russia’s national interest and is a cunning strategist who often thinks several steps ahead of both his allies and his adversaries.

In viewing the ratcheting up of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Putin’s modus operandi remains unchanged and, upon closer examination, it is clear that he is giving the hotheads driving this still-escalating situation just enough rope to hang themselves. Meanwhile, Russia is waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces and further cement its already acknowledged role as the new foreign “peacemaker” in the Middle East while gaining economic and geopolitical clout in the process.

Prior to the Israeli election earlier this year, Israeli media noted on several occasions that Putin was backing the reelection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including when Putin hosted Netanyahu at a sudden pre-election summit. Israeli newspaper Haaretz described Putin’s decision to host Netanyahu at the time as aimed at helping Netanyahu secure the “crucial Russian vote” among Russian-Israeli Jews in order to “outflank” his competitors. In another instance, Putin was alleged to have further helped Netanyahu’s reelection odds by having Russian special forces find and deliver the remains of Zachary Baumel — an Israeli soldier who had gone missing in Lebanon in 1982 — to Israel just ahead of the election.

Putin and Netanyahu meet at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

Putin’s direct support of Netanyahu may seem odd to observers of geopolitics, given that the two have often been at odds over Syria. However, Putin and Netanyahu have developed an effective working relationship and Russia and Israel enjoy relatively strong bilateral ties and economic agreements.

Yet, beyond the ties that have been forged between the two countries in recent years, Putin likely knows that he can play Netanyahu’s weaknesses to his advantage. For instance, Putin is acutely aware of the benefits to be reaped from increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran and is also aware of the key role that Netanyahu has played and continues to play in driving the Trump administration’s Iran policy. Netanyahu’s near-obsession with regime change in Iran and the practical likelihood that a U.S.-Iran war would be “unwinnable” for the U.S. and would leave its military weakened and distracted are points that Putin is likely eager to exploit in pursuance of Russian geopolitical goals.

Russia seeks to play the role of mediator but only to a certain extent and has kept its attitude towards Iran intentionally vague when dealing with the Israeli government, so much so that Israeli officials have cited Russia’s unknown stance towards Iran as a major difficulty in negotiating the deconfliction of Russian and Israeli forces in Syria. This is likely because Russia doesn’t seek to aid either side amid escalating tensions, instead waiting for the current tensions to play out, as it stands to make gains in either case.

That Russia stands to gain from current U.S.-Iran tensions hasn’t been lost on all Israeli officials, however. Earlier this month, a former Israeli intelligence official, Yakkov Kedmi, openly stated that not only is a war against Iran “unwinnable” for the U.S. and its regional allies, but further that Russia would be the only major country to benefit from any military conflict pitting the Americans against the Iranians. Appearing on Russian television program Evening with Vladimir Solovyov, Kedmi stated that, if war does break out, the U.S. “won’t remain whole” after the conflict and that “if anyone wins, it’ll be Russia.”

“If the price of oil exceeds $100 per barrel, it hits the Chinese economy. Most of all, it hits the European and American economies,” Kedmi stated. “If you double the price,” he added, “[global] industry will be ruined. First of all, it will happen in the U.S.” To that, the program’s host, Vladimir Solovyov, asserted that “Their [American] industry will be [ruined]. It’ll be the opposite in our country. Our economy will begin to develop. We’ll feel like kings with golden diamond-studded wheels on our cars.”

 

Why the Russiagaters are silent on Iran

Given Russia — and Putin’s — clear benefit from the continuing U.S. escalation with Iran and a potential military conflict, it is striking that Putin’s fiercest critics in the American media have remained silent about this clear pay-off as the Trump administration continues to pursue an aggressive, hawkish Iran policy that hardly benefits the U.S. and instead benefits its supposed adversary. This is especially notable in light of the fact that these same American critics of Russia and Putin’s leadership were recently accusing Trump of “taking orders” from Putin by altering his Venezuela policy in a way that was perceived to benefit Russian over American interests.

This dichotomy is most easily deconstructed by noting that top promoters of Russiagate and news personalities known for their hyperfocus on Putin rarely call for any policy that would involve a reduction in tensions or less militarism abroad. Indeed, all too often, the “solutions” offered by these journalists involve sending weapons to U.S. proxy forces, shooting missiles at Russian allies, sanctioning Russia and its allies, and other “useful reminders of the military strength of the Western alliance” between the U.S. and NATO.

Without fail, the suggested solutions of how to counter Putin from the U.S. media and political establishment almost always involve “pushing back” with force equal to or greater than the perceived aggression. Rarely do they involve backing down or unwinding tensions, even in the cases where doing so would clearly challenge key geopolitical objectives of the Russian government.

In the case of Russia’s benefit from Trump’s Iran policy, the benefit is so clear that it has been voiced in several mainstream media outlets — including CNN, The Hill, Forbes and Bloomberg —  with most of those reports focusing exclusively on the oil angle. However, while Russia’s advantage has been noted, it is also clear that Trump’s current Iran policy has avoided inflaming the Russiagate hysteria that has marked media coverage of other Trump policies and statements that were perceived as being “pro-Putin” for the past few years.

One reason that the media has skipped a prime opportunity for another Russiagate frenzy is the fact that many of the driving forces behind Russiagate are also supportive of regime change in Iran. Indeed, while Russiagate has recently been cast by Trump and prominent Republicans as a “hoax” narrative exclusive to Democrats, prominent neoconservatives have long been pivotal in creating and fomenting Russigate for over five years.

For instance, the origins of the infamous Steele dossier — which was used to assert that Russia’s government had a litany of salacious blackmail on Trump that it would use to manipulate him as president — trace back to top neoconservative Republican donor Paul Singer. That dossier was subsequently circulated within the Obama administration during the 2016 campaign by neoconservatives Victoria Nuland and the late Senator John McCain.

Many of the same neoconservative figures who have helped stoke Russiagate and pounced on the resulting climate of hysteria to promote increased militarism as the solution, also support regime change in Iran. Michael McFaul — U.S. Ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration — is both a strong advocate for aggressive U.S. measures to counter Putin and also a vocal proponent of U.S.-led regime change in Iran. Similarly, on the supposed other side of the political spectrum, Bill Kristol — well-known neoconservative writer, an icon of the establishment “resistance” to Trump, and a promoter of Russiagate — also strongly supports hawkish measures to contain Russia and is a long-time, vocal supporter of regime change in Iran.

While the tense situation between the U.S. and Iran is undeniably troubling, the relative silence among figures in U.S. media and politics who claim to be Putin’s fiercest critics with regard to Trump’s aggressive Iran policy reveals a stark truth about Russiagate. The goal of Russiagate is not actually about “countering” Putin or Russian geopolitical influence; it is about promoting the expansion and widespread adoption of hyper-militarism by both the establishment left and establishment right in the United States.

While Russia often serves as a useful “boogeyman” in service to this agenda of promoting militaristic policies, the odd moments when those same policies actually benefit Russia and do not run into hysterical opposition from the political and media establishment provide a rare glimpse into the real motivations behind Cold War 2.0 and the dubious validity of the media-driven narratives upon which current anti-Russian hysteria is based.

Feature photo | August 26 2018: wanted posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Berlin wall. Putin’s face is shown dripping in blood with the caption “bloody Vladimir.” Robert David Hart | Shutterstock

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Bipartisan Support for Trump’s Aggressive Iran Policy Reveals the Hollowness of Russiagate appeared first on MintPress News.

For the US and Israel, Iran Works Best as a Perpetual Threat

JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — According to a story in Haaretz, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said recently that “the United States will respond with military force if its interests are attacked by Iran.” However, there are several reasons why Israel and the U.S. will not attack Iran, at least not directly.

Al Jazeera reports that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, said that the idea of war is “far-fetched” because Washington and its allies know they would pay a heavy price. Nasrallah is most likely right.

 

Drums of war

Notwithstanding the rhetoric coming from Washington, where the national security advisor and secretary of state have been busy pushing for war, the U.S. is not prepared to pay the consequences for attacking Iran. While it is hard to dispute that the U.S. has superior military strength and, should it decide to do so, can destroy Tehran, there is more to war than just sheer military power.

The same can be said for Israel. While politicians and commanders in Tel-Aviv tend to flex their muscles in public, it is unlikely they could stomach an all-out war with a well trained and motivated army.

According to a piece in the New York Times, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should a war with Iran take place. There is most likely another report somewhere that says how many of them will return in body bags, and that is the report they are not likely to make public.

 

The cost of war

Neither Israel nor the U.S. could possibly be prepared for the cost of such a war. The cost in dollars is one thing, but then there is the cost in human life, which includes the heavy toll that will be paid for the day and days after an initial attack takes place. Maintaining an ongoing war against what will surely be a dedicated and relentless ground resistance to any foreign presence on Iranian soil is something Israel and the U.S. are likely to avoid at all costs. Israel faced a dedicated resistance during its occupation of South Lebanon and eventually left, licking its wounds, in 2000. When in 2006 it attempted to invade with ground forces, the Lebanese fighters proved too much for Israel’s elite forces and they once again escaped in humiliation.

The U.S. does not have the stomach to face a motivated, patriotic resistance the likes of which it saw in Vietnam, and to a large degree still faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some voters in Israel and the U.S. may see attacking Iran favorably today, once the cost becomes clear and once the bodies start coming back, it would be a completely different story.

 

Why attack?

While attacking Iran would prove to be fruitless, threatening an attack on Iran and not attacking is far more useful. Both Israel and the U.S. need Iran: they need to be able to point to Iran as a threat, as a menace, as the source of terrorism and evil in the world. That threat is also an important part of any election campaign for politicians in both countries. The fact that Iran is none of those things is beside the point.

Both Trump and Netanyahu have hyped the Iranian threat to bolster their campaigns. Photos | AP

Iran supports forces of resistance like Hamas and Hezbollah that would never have existed had it not been for Israeli violence and occupation of Palestine and southern Lebanon. Israel needs an enemy it can point to as a threat to its existence. While it still claims that the Palestinians are an existential threat, at least militarily that has never been true and fewer people are buying it. Iran, on the other hand, is persuasively painted as evil and menacing thanks to a dedicated and vociferous campaign in Israel and the U.S. that has worked to demonize it for many years. Never mind the fact that Iran’s resistance to Israel and its support of the Palestinian struggle is politically and morally right.

 

Fear

Israel has not fought a war against an organized army since 1973. The Israeli air force pilots, who operate state-of-the-art warplanes, have not faced any serious force that possesses effective anti-aircraft capabilities in decades. Judging by Israel’s confrontations with Hamas and Hezbollah fighters, it is quite clear that Israeli ground forces are not capable of standing up to, never mind defeating, a well trained, motivated fighting force, even when it possesses inferior weapons.

U.S. forces have not successfully fought an actual regular army since World War II. The wars in which it has been engaged since then, with the exception perhaps of the Korean War, were largely against guerilla forces and the U.S. paid a heavy toll in its attempts to fight them. So it is not at all clear whether it can succeed in defeating the Iranian army.

Both Israeli and U.S. leaders are given reports that estimate the body count in case of a war. It is not unlikely that the leaders of both countries have seen these reports and fear the consequences of an all-out war with Iran.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk towards the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post For the US and Israel, Iran Works Best as a Perpetual Threat appeared first on MintPress News.

Netanyahu is Gambling on New Elections to Stay in Power

JERUSALEM — For the first time in the history of the state of Israel, the head of the party that won the largest number of seats has failed to form a coalition government. Rather than allowing the head of the party that came in second to attempt to form a government, the Knesset voted to hold re-elections only six weeks after Israelis first cast their ballots.

Could this be the end the political career of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? It seems that this is indeed what the heads of several political parties here are determined to achieve. Not unlike hyenas who see a broken down and weak lion and go for the kill, the same Israeli politicians who made a coalition government with him impossible see a weak Netanyahu and hope that another election will finish him off. Still, elections are a risk for all involved — one that Netanyahu decided to take.

 

Election results

In Israel’s government, no one party ever wins the 61-seat majority in the Knesset needed to form a government. This means that coalition agreements between the large parties and the smaller ones are needed before a government can be presented. The elections that took place on April 9 ended with a win for Netanyahu. However, even though he received more seats in the Knesset than ever before, he had only a slim lead over the party that came in second. The question is always whether or not the head of the party who won the most seats can put together a coalition with enough votes to form a government and the assumption was that Netanyahu, the master of this trade, would be able to do so. But that was not the case.

 

What happened

When the dust settled and the horse trading commenced, Netanyahu began to work with anyone who would support him. The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish or Haredi parties, which between them received 16 seats in the Knesset, were obvious partners. They have serious issues regarding the State’s attempts to force the Haredi community to serve in the army, breaking away from a seven-decade status quo in which they were exempt. Pending satisfaction on that score, they were in.

Netanyahu needed more partners to reach the required 61 votes. Two other partners brought him to 56 but he still needed another party to join the coalition, and that is where the wheels came off the wagon. The next logical party to join him was led by Avigdor Lieberman, a corrupt, violent politician about whom volumes can be written. Lieberman served as Netanyahu’s minister of defense and then resigned because he felt that Netanyahu was not tough enough on Hamas in Gaza.

Lieberman said he would not compromise on the issue of the Haredi draft — he supports a law that would force that community to be conscripted into the army — and thus it was impossible for him to join a coalition with the Haredi parties. The only other option was a national unity government, where the two largest parties unite and create a broad coalition. This is quite common in Israel, as the leaders of two parties that fought each other tooth and nail stand together and say that for the sake of the nation they will “put their differences aside.“

Related | How Israel’s Conscription Law Assaults its Own Ultra-Orthodox Community

This would have been a win-win situation. Netanyahu would have remained in his post, and the political newcomer, former Army chief Benny Gantz, would likely have been minister of defense. Yet Gantz’s joining would mean the departure of the Haredi parties, as his party supports the Haredi draft. This would have been a worthwhile trade for Netanyahu, as Gantz brings 35 seats to the Knesset. However, Gantz announced that while his party was willing to join a coalition government with the Likud Party, they would not do so with Netanyahu at its helm.

Legally, Gantz as the head of the next largest party, was to be given a chance to form his own coalition. However, Netanyahu made an unprecedented move to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections.

 

What’s next is anyone’s guess

Netanyahu clearly believes he has a chance to get more seats if the Israeli electorate has another chance to vote. The rest of the political leadership in Israel clearly wants Netanyahu out. Now it is a war of attrition and whoever has the toughest nerves and the best campaign will win.

Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician who can demonstrate any real achievement. Having been in office for a decade, he has impacted the economy, and most people living here would say they are quite happy with his policies. He was behind the passing of the Nation-State Law, which codifies and give a constitutional stamp of approval to the violation of Palestinians rights, and he can show that he has had the support of every U.S. administration, including the Obama administration, notwithstanding the fact that relations between the two heads of state were known to be cold.

The next three months will either see Netanyahu removed from the political scene in Israel — an unlikely scenario — or, more likely, with the next election bringing similar if not identical results as the first, see Netanyahu keep his post, bringing Gantz to work for him as minister of defense.

Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during statements to the press in Jerusalem, May 30, 2019 after meeting with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to push the Trump administration’s long-awaited ‘deal of the century.’ Ariel Schalit | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Netanyahu is Gambling on New Elections to Stay in Power appeared first on MintPress News.

Mass Demonstrations Against Saudi Summit and US “Deal” Mark Quds Day in Yemen

SANA’A, YEMEN — Massive demonstrations took place across Yemen’s major provinces on Friday to oppose a meeting of leaders of Arab and Islamic countries who gathered in Saudi Arabia. Demonstrators also rallied against the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” — as Friday is also international “Quds Day,” when protests are held across the world to show solidarity with Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia hosted Arab leaders for three summits in the holy city of Mecca in a bid to rally support against Yemen, and to curb what they claim is Iranian-backed terrorism. The summits come amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran and follow a series of Houthi retaliatory attacks against a Saudi oil pipeline deep inside Saudi territory, which resulted in the temporary shutdown of the pipeline.

In Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, hundreds of thousands of residents from the suburbs of the city and from neighboring provinces gathered on Airport Street carrying Yemeni flags and holding banners emblazoned with messages challenging the Saudi regime and encouraging Yemen’s Army to continue to target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In Hodeida province in western Yemen, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets despite the ever-present threat of incoming artillery shells, snipers’ bullets, and Saudi warplanes hovering above. Saudi warplanes are ever-present in the skies over Hodeida but intensified their presence as residents began preparations for the upcoming rallies.

The demonstrations, which were organized by the Houthis with the support of local residents, featured a military parade of Houthi armored vehicles, tanks, military crews, and weapons, as well as infantry forces. The move was an intentional message to the Saudi-led Coalition, who has beefed up its military presence in the port city in violation of the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.

Houthi military vehicles take part in demonstrations in Hodeida

In the Sada’a province in northern Yemen, hundreds of thousands rallied in Ibb, Taiz, al-Jawf, Reimah, Dhamar, Amran, the northwest province of Hajjah, and the central province of al–Mahweet.  

The protests drew crowds from across Yemen’s deceleration divides: Shaafa’is, Salafis, Zaydis, and Twthis, as well as most major national parties, were among the protests. The Grand Mufti of Yemen — Shams al-Din Sharaf al-Din, the highest religious authority in Yemen — was the keynote speaker at the rally in Sana`a, where he derided the gathering of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and said that the summit was little more than cover for the Coalition’s hideous crimes and would serve as a pretext to mobilize more mercenaries to Yemen under the pretext of protecting Mecca.

For more than four years Saudi Arabia, backed by the collective military might of the world’s most powerful nations, has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead and causing the collapse of the country’s health services.

According to Yemeni military leaders who spoke to MintPress, the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are a direct response to the crimes committed Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes in Yemen, which have been repeatedly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups for intentionally targeting civilians.

 

Quds Day celebrated, U.S. “deal” condemned

Demonstrations also focused heavily on solidarity with Palestinians on international “Quds Day.”  Quds Day falls on the last Friday of every Ramadan and rallies are held across the globe in a show of support for the Palestinian cause. Demonstrations condemned the so-called U.S. Deal of the Century and vowed to support Palestinians facing the prospect of losing their rights under the U.S.-brokered plan.

On Thursday, the leader of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement reiterated his country’s support for Palestine in the face of Israeli occupation, calling on the Yemeni people to express their solidarity with Palestinians by partaking in International Quds Day rallies.

This year’s Quds Day rallies come weeks before a high-profile summit to be held in the Bahraini capital Manama, where the Trump administration is expected to unveil its so-called “Deal of the Century” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Protesters in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Bahrain also took to the streets on Friday to mark Quds Day, in an impassioned show of opposition to the “deal.”

 

Saudis fanning the flames with Mecca allegation

Saudi Arabia recently accused the Houthis of launching ballistic missiles towards Mecca, which hosts millions of Muslim pilgrims around the year, especially in the month of Ramadan. However, the Kingdom provided no evidence to back its claims and the accusation is being seen by many as an attempt to rally the support of the Muslim world against Yemen. Any attack on Mecca would be seen in the Muslim world as a sacrilegious act and would serve to galvanize popular support for the Saudi-led Coalition war in Yemen, which has drawn international condemnation and engendered support for the Yemeni people.

Col. Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, points to a screen showing what he said was evidence of Iranian support to the Houthis in Yemen in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. Amr Nabil | AP

In fact, from the very first moment that Saudi Arabia made the claim of a Houthi attack on Mecca, Arab social media was hit with a wave of posts rife with sectarian hatred and praise for the Saudi royal family. “The claims that we targeted Mecca seem like a desperate attempt to gain justification for a war which has killed thousands of civilians,” Mohammed al-Houthis told demonstrators in Yemen.

Indeed, as Arab leaders arrived at the International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, they were greeted by a government-organized exhibition that included a number of fragments of the wreckage of Yemeni missiles and drones.

Mohammed Abdulsalam, spokesman for the Houthi movement, said in response to the exhibition that it is a Saudi attempt to divert attention from its brutal crimes, which it couldn’t cover with a thousand exhibits. He added: “You are the ones who ignited the aggression against Yemen, so stop your aggression and our response will be stopped.”

On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, launched a large-scale attack on Yemen under the pretext of reinstating ousted former President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and defeating the Houthi Ansar Allah movement, which had gained popular support following the Arab Spring.

After four years of war, the Saudi Coalition has been unable to defeat the Houthis, nor to restore the popularly-ousted Hadi to power. The Houthis, who comprise a major component of Yemen’s resistance to Saudi interference in their country, have recently begun a series of retaliatory attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arabia Emirates.

Feature photo | Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni take part in Quds Day protests in Sana’a Yemen. Photo | Ansarallah Media Center

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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MintCast Interviews Filmmaker Robbie Martin: The Neoconservative Endgame

MintCast co-hosts Alan MacLeod and Whitney Webb recently spoke to Robbie Martin (@FluorescentGrey), a filmmaker whose recent documentary series A Very Heavy Agenda explores how prominent Bush-era neo-conservatives have continued to dominate the Washington foreign policy debate and have been instrumental in creating and fomenting Russiagate and Cold War 2.0.

Neoconservatives, or Neocons, have been a key force in Washington for decades and seem to maintain their influence regardless of what political party controls the presidency or Congress. MintCast’s discussion with Martin first focuses on the origins of the term and the movement and follows its trajectory to the present. Martin makes the case that the ultimate goal of the neoconservative movement is to gain favor from both the establishment left and establishment right in order to indefinitely dominate U.S. foreign policy, and that the neocons are closer to that goal now more than ever.

MacLeod, Webb and Martin then discussed the role of the neocons in creating what is now known as “Russiagate” years before Trump was even a presidential candidate and how a top neoconservative donor in the Republican party was largely responsible for the controversial “Steele dossier” despite the fact that the president and other prominent Republicans have since accused Democrats of having been exclusively responsible for promoting the Russiagate narrative.

The discussion concludes with a focus on neoconservatism in the Trump era, with a special focus on National Security Advisor John Bolton and the push for war in Iran and Venezuela. Here, Martin asserts that Trump and Bolton are playing “good cop” and “bad cop”, respectively, with Trump casting himself as a dove compared to Bolton’s hawkishness as a foreign policy negotiating tactic and as a means of placating his base domestically.

If you enjoyed this episode of the MintCast, please consider supporting future episode by donating to MintPress News at Patreon.

Watch the trailer for A Robbie Martin’s A Very Heavy Agenda:

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My Son Needed Medical Help, Not an American Bomb: A Yemeni Father Grieves

SANA’A, YEMEN — “I struggled for 30 years to build a house and an airplane comes and destroys it in seconds,” 55-year-old Ahmed al-Sulmi al-Hubeishi told MintPress. Ahmed lost four of his children last week — Seham, Abdul Rahman, Khalid, and Waseem — when Saudi airstrikes targeted a residential neighborhood in Sana`a’s al-Ruguss district. “Now, there is nothing left — even the games that remind me of my children have been destroyed.”

During Friday’s funeral procession, mourners vowed not to allow the blood of the Yemeni victims to be wasted and that those responsible for destroying Yemen would be punished sooner or later. The mourners laid to rest the bodies of Ahmed’s four sons, as well as the two sons of the head of Yemen’s journalist syndicate, who were also killed in the attack.

“The Saudis killed my four children for no reason — may God take revenge upon them,” Ahmed said. According to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, thousands of Yemeni families like Ahmed’s have lost their loved-ones since Saudi Arabia began its war on the country in 2015. Estimates place casualties from the Saudi-led war at over 60,000 since January 2016 alone.

There is an old saying that the definition of madness is to do the same thing again and again, expecting a different result. Yet this strategy seems to underpin the Saudi-led Coalition’s approach to the war. Four years and tens of thousands of airstrikes have netted little in the way of tangible battlefield victories for the Coalition, but the staggering cost of the war in terms of both human life and treasure has done little to push the Coalition towards a peaceful solution. In the past two weeks alone, nine civilians have been killed and several others wounded after Saudi jets targeted what they claimed were drone storage facilities in Sana`a and a civilian petroleum-derivatives plant in Taiz.

So far the Coalition — armed, trained, and protected by the United States — has provided no evidence that any of these targets, which often exact a heavy civilian death toll, were legitimate military objectives. The Coalition repeatedly claims that it takes necessary precautions to minimize civilian deaths, yet still insists on calling its deadly attacks on civilians legitimate.

 

Needing medical help, Abdul Rahman got an American bomb

Standing atop the rubble of what was once his home, Ahmed searches for any remnants of his children’s toys; he clutches a photo of his sons in his hands. “This is Abdul Rahman,” he says with pride, indicating on the photo which of his sons is Abdul Rahman. “He was disabled and very helpless — what he needed was medical help, not an American bomb.”

MintPress documented the rescue efforts as victims, including Abdul Rahman, were pulled out from the rubble. “Since I lost Abdul Rahman and my other sons, I am not able to sleep,” Ahmed said, “all I do is look at these pictures and cry.”  Four days later, MintPress accompanied Ahmed as he visited his destroyed home.

Ahmed is not associated with any political party. He is an ordinary Yemeni citizen and, like other Yemenis, he grapples with how the United States continues to support the Coalition’s campaign: “They did not pity Abdul Rahman — they killed him with an American-made aircraft and an  American-made bomb and nobody cares.” Yemenis feel ignored by the general public in the United States, and they plead for those outside of the country to see their suffering at the hands of foreign weapons.

In March of 2015, the Saudi-led Coalition began a campaign to return its ally, deposed President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, to power after he was ousted following Arab Spring-style mass protests. The Coalition quickly set its sights on the Houthis, who declared a revolution following the protests and demanded an end to Saudi interference in Yemen’s domestic affairs. Since the fighting began, UN investigators have repeatedly warned of the heavy civilian death toll from the Coalition’s bombing campaigns, which use almost exclusively U.S.-made munitions. Yet the U.S. has continued selling arms to Saudi Arabia, resulting in the massacre by Saudi-led airstrikes of tens of thousands of families like Ahmed’s.

 

Nowhere is “safe”

In the al-Ruguss district, where airstrikes have shattered the windows and blown out the doors in most homes, most families have already fled to the homes of family members or friends. Others, unable to flee as a result of poverty or simply because they have nowhere to go, hide in basements.

Mohammed al-Mansour fled al-Ruguss with his family to a rented home in southern Sana`a. “We fled because we were sacred, and our children were scared. My wife had to sell her jewelry just so we could escape,” Al-Mansour said. “My family is still terrified — even by the sound of thunder — thinking it is from airplanes coming.”

Even in Yemen’s “safer areas” families live in horror. “We are living in constant fear — my children are so traumatized, they are wetting their beds at night,” Ahlam, a mother of six, told MintPress. Ahlam lived in al-Ruguss for twenty years; now she lives with a relative of her husband in Qabil village outside of Sana`a. “The children are sent running for cover even by the sound of a door slamming,” she says.

Saudi-led Coalition attacks have displaced more than 2 million people and terrorized the population. Bombed-out roads and bridges make travel difficult and in safer areas displaced families face shortages of shelter, food, and water.

 

So much is wrong

Ahmed’s wife suffered fractures in her legs and of her skull following the airstrike on her Sana`a home. She is very ill and every few days needs blood work, but without fuel the hospital’s labs are unable to operate. Yemen is suffering from an acute lack of diesel fuel, which is used to transport medicine and patients, operate factories, and run generators at the hospitals. Many people, especially in outlying towns and villages, have had to resort to using firewood and charcoal to cook meals. This comes as Yemen faces a crisis of acute malnutrition.

Then, at least 8,100 dialysis patients lack treatment owing to a lack of dialysis equipment and supplies amid the ongoing Saudi blockade, according to Yemen’s health minister, who added that the number of cancer patients has also increased following relentless bombardment and use of internationally banned ammunition.

Nearly 400 hospitals and medical facilities in Yemen have been destroyed during the four-year war, most the result of Coalition airstrikes. Health Ministry spokesman Youssef al-Hadhri told MintPress that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen has led to the deaths of more than 700,000 people.

 

No breadwinner, no help — only a will to keep fighting

Ahmed has been unemployed for 12 years. His son Waseem — who was killed in the airstrike on Ahmed’s home — was working in a desalination plant and was the sole breadwinner for the family. “Now we do not have a breadwinner and I am unable to work,” Ahmed said. The Saudi blockade on Yemen has relegated most of the population to poverty, leaving most of Ahmed’s neighbors, relatives, and friends unable to render financial help.

Five million Yemeni workers, 60 percent of the overall workforce, have lost their jobs as a result of the ongoing war in the country, according to the ministry of social affairs. Most of them lost their jobs after local and foreign companies ceased operating in the country. Yemen was one of the poorest countries in the world even before the war began.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Yemen ranked 153 of 177 included countries on the Human Development Index, 138 in extreme poverty, 147 in life expectancy, 172 in educational attainment, and was already in the World Bank’s low-middle income category.

“Now I’m wounded and I can’t fight, but I hope that the Yemeni army will take revenge for my sons,” Ahmed, who sustained injuries in the attack, told MintPress. Ahmed’s wish is not driven by anger or even by a sense of oppression — rather it’s rooted in a sense that fighting back against the Saudi Coalition is the only option to stop the madness.

Feature photo | People inspect the site of an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sana’a, Yemen, May, 16, 2019. The Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes on the capital, Sana’a on Thursday, targeting the Houthis and killing civilians. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

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Contracts Reveal How the DEA Exercises Control Over Television, Film Productions

Nearly 200 pages of Drug Enforcement Administration contracts with producers were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. They show for the first time how the agency interacts with television and film productions.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is quite active in the entertainment industry. It exercises stringent control over how the agency is represented in documentaries, reality shows, and dramas.

With several projects, the DEA carefully reviews their own files to pick out select cases that made them look good, which then form the basis for either fictional or factual productions.

The contracts [PDF] cover 2011 to 2017. Over that time period, DEA supported dozens of projects, including “Cops and Coyotes” and multiple episodes of “Drugs Inc.” and “Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.” They support the fictional drugs drama “Pure,” too.

Other supported projects were “Lethal Cargo,” “The Notorious Mr. Bout,” and “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies.” They even worked with the U.S. government-funded Middle East Broadcasting Network for a program that featured the DEA museum..



Strangely absent from the contracts are “Narcos” and “Breaking Bad,” despite various reports that both shows employed DEA employees as consultants.

In response to a separate FOIA request asking about their input on “Breaking Bad,” the DEA claimed they couldn’t find any records whatsoever. The released documents also do not include “Finding Escobar’s Millions” and “Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario,” even though the DEA was credited on both documentaries.

The contracts show the near-total control the DEA wields over productions they assist.

Some producers are given permission to embed film crews within DEA Enforcement Groups but only under the provision that “DEA supervisors on the scene shall have the final say in approving any filming during real-time law enforcement operations.”

The production support offered by the DEA is completely free. It costs the producers nothing and ranges from granting permission to use the DEA name and logo to filming at DEA installations and interviewing their agents.

Some of the DEA’s restrictions apply to certain projects. The producers of “Canada: Drug Kingpin” were told they weren’t allowed to “accompany DEA employees to Canadian-U.S. border ‘hot spots’ known for the transit of illicit substances.”

The makers of “Lethal Cargo” were only permitted to interview one DEA employee, and the contract specifies several topics that he was not allowed to talk about. The forbidden topics included, “Information relating to the production and consumption status of a country and that country’s law enforcement approach to drug trafficking,” “the port of Valencia as an ingress point for cocaine,” and “the Nigerian mafia as couriers.”

In more recent years, with marijuana legalization a growing issue and reality, the DEA began including a clause saying that any interviews with “DEA personnel regarding marijuana operations or related issues” had to be approved in advance by the agency’s chief of congressional and public affairs.

On all supported projects, the producers must grant a “senior DEA official” control over the final edit, to ensure a project doesn’t compromise an “ongoing investigation or prosecution, investigative practices or techniques, or the identities of confidential sources or DEA special agent or task force officers.”

The official “may make that determination at any time during the editing and production process,” and the “producer agrees to abide by DEA requests to modify, delete or otherwise change” anything that is deemed objectionable.

While some of these restrictions are reasonable and protect the rights of those accused of crimes, the DEA-imposed limits also ensure they are depicted in a positive light.

Shadowproof spoke with author Doug Valentine, who has written extensively on the DEA’s culture and corruption. “Positive P.R. is more important [to the DEA] than accurate portrayal,” he said.

The contracts list several specific scenarios that cannot be shown under any circumstances. They include, “Recording of any shooting incident, regardless of who fires,” “filming of suspect interrogations,” “filming where an individual’s communications are being monitored in any fashion,” and “footage that exposes DEA’s confidential or sensitive investigative techniques.”

As a consequence of these restrictions, the productions all maintain the same basic message—that the DEA are heroes, who are fighting evil people who threaten American society.

“It’s propaganda B.S. pure and simple,” Valentine said. “I talk a lot about the myth of the hero. They want to portray themselves as heroes on a noble cause. They demand total control over the narrative.”

Asked whether these shows were inaccurate representations of the real relationships between DEA agents and drug dealers, Valentine replied, “Depends on the agent and the trafficker, but the trafficker can never arrest the agent. So agents have the power of the law. Where it gets sticky is with informants and special hires and undercover ops. CIA stuff.”

In addition to asserting control over the final edit of a production, the documents have clauses saying the DEA “reserves the right to perform background checks and, if necessary, deny access to those individuals who DEA believes may compromise DEA operations. DEA also reserves the right to limit the number of representatives who may have access to DEA.”

Like the FBI, the DEA is not just concerned with the content of the productions they support but also with the backgrounds of the people producing them.

“It’s another way of assuring control. DEA is obsessed with control and being the superior force,” Valentine added.

Further demonstrating the DEA’s obsession with control, the contracts require the producers to destroy any materials provided by the DEA (photos, documents, statistics, b-roll footage and so on) as soon as the production is released or broadcast.

The producers must provide the DEA with a DVD copy and a non-exclusive license to use the resulting film or TV show for the purposes of “recruiting, training, professional development, community relations, or demand reduction efforts.”

Feature photo | Reporters work outside the Rancho de la Campana compound in the city of Ciudad Juarez. Jose Luis Magana | AP

Tom Secker is a British-based writer who covers the security services, Hollywood and the history of terrorism. He runs the SpyCulture blog which can be supported via Patreon.com. His work has been covered by The Mirror, The Express, Salon, TechDirt and elsewhere.

Source | Shadowproof

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New Website Credder Aims to Fight Fake News, Promote Real Journalism

Do you trust the media? Most people don’t. A 2017 study of nine Western countries found that in not one did a majority of people think traditional news or social media sorted fact from fiction well. Trust in media has been falling since the 1970s, and particularly in the last few years, as alternative media challenged mainstream narratives and companies like Facebook and Google AdSense deprived traditional media of advertising income.

Public Confidence in Media. Source | Reuters Institute

Fake news is not reserved only for low-quality, clickbait websites. Some 72 percent of Americans agree that traditional media consistently report stories they know to be false or purposefully misleading for political or financial gain. Even some of the most trusted news outlets like the BBC have told their staff to “emulate Buzzfeed” in producing viral, clickbait-y articles and videos. Can this terminal decline in quality and accuracy be halted? Or is the future of media more “junk food news,” as Project Censored’s Mickey Huff fears?

 

“Like Yelp, but for news”

Credder, a website and browser extension launched this week, aims to spark a revolution in high-quality journalism and a crowd-sourced fight-back against fake news. Credder is a news aggregation service where users can view and rate news and opinion articles for their accuracy and credibility. The aggregate score is displayed to inform readers of the community’s judgment on articles, websites and individual journalists. Both users and verified journalists can rate any article from sites that have agreed to be ranked on the platform.

Credder’s Rating Page for a CBS article. Source | Monday Note

Credder was founded by three news junkies: Jared Fesler, Austin Walter and Chase Palmieri. Mint Press News spoke to Palmieri, who told us the idea was born out of his experience in the restaurant industry:

I saw how when Yelp came in to the restaurant space it really changed the behavior of restaurant owners; customers holding restaurants accountable drastically changed their behavior and allowed a smaller restaurant like ours to win, because now we had an online reputation and were competing on the quality of the experience.”

As news consumers, the three saw the rise of sensationalism and clickbait and realized, given the advertising model of the mainstream media, the problem would soon become the norm. Palmieri said that at that time:

The only solutions being proposed were Google or Facebook censoring on our behalf or some AI for news that would come save the day. Ultimately, all the proposed solutions were about outsourcing our critical thinking skills. So we thought ‘what if there was a Yelp for news, connecting news consumers?’”

Since then, the three have spent two years working to get to the point where they were ready to launch the platform. Just as Yelp promotes and highlights the highest-rated restaurants in a location, Credder displays and encourages the most trustworthy and highest-quality articles while penalizing low-quality clickbait and fake news, regardless of what website it is hosted on. Thus, Chase hopes, it will “make news compete for trust instead of clicks, and then we will drive traffic to the most trusted sources.”

This could be a boon for smaller, independent media and even solo bloggers who struggle to compete with the massive reach and power of the mainstream press, by helping them develop a reputation for good journalism and compete, just as Yelp helps mom-and-pop restaurants compete against the big chains. If you think your blog or website can go toe-to-toe with the big boys in terms of quality and accuracy, then Credder might help you.

Mickey Huff — who, in addition to his leadership of Project Censored, is president of the Media Freedom Foundation and a critical media literacy expert — told Mint Press News:

Credder’s idea warrants experimentation and deserves a fair run in order to see if in fact it can produce the outcome that the team hopes for, building credibility on their platform for those journalists who are doing truthful, transparently-sourced, factual news stories.”

Palmieri pitches Credder as an alternative to the “whack-a-mole censorship” that Google, Facebook and Twitter have implemented in response to the crisis — which has primarily hit alternative media and promoted corporate media, regardless of its quality — and the “top-down” and “poorly nuanced” approach of its competitors.

 

NewsGuard: your friendly fact checker (run by the CIA)

Here Palmieri is diplomatically referring to NewsGuard, a browser extension launched last year to great fanfare in the mainstream press. NewsGuard also claims to fight online fake news by using a traffic-light system, judging outlets to be either credible (green) or untrustworthy (red). Reliable outlets receive a green shield next to their links while fake news comes with a red warning symbol.

Unlike Credder’s, these judgments are decided by NewsGuard’s own private team of “trained analysts” who deem Fox News and virtually the entire corporate media as trustworthy. Meanwhile many alternative media outlets are tarred with a red warning symbol. After publishing an exposé of the company, Mint Press News was deemed “untrustworthy” by NewsGuard. Thus, NewsGuard’s ratings are exactly what one would expect when examining the group’s advisory board, which is a who’s-who of high state officials, including:

  • Tom Ridge, First Secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush
  • Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy under Obama
  • Don Baer, former White House Communications Director
  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, ex-Secretary General of NATO
  • General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA.

When people like this are deciding for Americans what is true and what is false, what is real and what is fake news, it is state censorship by any other name. At a panel discussion about combating fake news at the Council on Foreign Relations in May 2018, Stengel described himself as the State Department’s “chief propagandist” and explicitly advocated the use of propaganda on American citizens. Worse still, NewsGuard is also linked to a PR agency employed in whitewashing the Saudi government’s human-rights record and its role in the Yemen genocide.

“It is so cynical, it is like putting Henry Kissinger in charge of the 9/11 Commission,” Huff said of NewsGuard. “There’s a lot of chicanery behind the scenes and not a lot of transparency; …it reeks of dishonesty.”

NewsGuard has partnered with Microsoft and the extension is built into Microsoft Edge, the tech giant’s browser on iOS and Android devices. The company is lobbying government agencies to install it as standard in public libraries, schools and universities as well as all smartphones and computers sold in the United States. Hawaii recently became the first state to install it on its computers at public libraries.

Palmieri distances his new product from Microsoft’s anointed entry in the field, explaining:

Where NewsGuard gets it wrong is that they are trying to build a trusted solution for news consumers without letting news consumers participate. Credder takes a bottom-up approach.”

He explains that he and his colleagues are trying to level the playing field:

Before Yelp, people would go get breakfast at IHOP or Denny’s or McDonald’s because they knew what they were going to get. It wasn’t until these mom-and-pop restaurants had an online reputation through Yelp that it became less risky for restaurant goers to spend their money at the smaller, independent restaurants. Some of the busiest restaurants in any city are the small, independent ones, and they can compete with the marketing and name recognition of IHOP or Denny’s because now they have a reputation people can see online. And that’s what we are trying to create for independent authors and outlets.”

 

Troubles ahead?

There are certainly many hurdles to overcome to become the Yelp of news. For one, the problem of bad-faith reviews and gangs of trolls that has dogged similar rating sites. For instance, anti-feminists mass-downvoted the latest all-female Ghostbusters movie on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB.com. Credder’s reviewers consist of both verified journalists and users who are encouraged to optionally verify their identity to improve their own rater’s credibility score. Users can rank only articles, and not websites or individual journalists, which could reduce dishonest reviews. Furthermore, the community can upvote or downvote reviewers’ evaluations as well, meaning bad-faith reviewers’ opinions will carry less weight in the algorithm. Credder’s team hopes these measures will dissuade such bad behavior, but that remains to be seen.

Breaking even will pose another challenge, and Palmieri calculates he will need 10,000 users to achieve a critical mass and make the project viable. His plan to make money is to “become the Patreon for news media,” enabling users to tip their favorite outlets or journalists directly and taking a cut of the transaction. Sponsored articles from outlets or individuals, allowing people to share their work with targeted audiences with whom they believe it would resonate is also an option, although these articles will then be at the mercy of the user base, and rise or fall accordingly, encouraging sponsors to promote only their highest quality work.

“One of the main challenges is just getting it out there in terms of visibility and getting people on the platform and using it so they can see how effective it can be,” said Huff, who is also Professor of Social Science at Diablo Valley College and has advised Palmieri:

Reaching a critical mass and breaking through the noise is going to be their biggest test. But Credder is first on the scene in terms of crowd-contested media and they have really been working out the bugs on it for the last couple of years.”

In this brave new online world, there is a pressing need for more critical media literacy. With disinformation all around us the battle for the means of communication rages silently in cyberspace. Credder hopes to be a player in this fight. But whether the restaurateurs have served up a Yelp for news remains to be seen.

Feature photo | Credit | Shuttershock

Alan MacLeod is an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.

The post New Website Credder Aims to Fight Fake News, Promote Real Journalism appeared first on MintPress News.

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