US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently met with people from Syrian opposition groups – including the “first responders” – the White Helmets. Somebody recorded the discussion and it has now been leaked (see Audio Reveals What John Kerry Told Syrians Behind Closed Doors).
The discussion is quite revealing, for a number of reasons, including divisions within the US ruling political circles and Syrian opposition beliefs that the US is not doing enough for their cause. But here I will just concentrate on aspects relevant to the anti-Syrian propaganda our news media seems to be saturated with.
I think this is important because there is a section of the US political system lobbying for military intervention, such as attacking Syrian armed forces or attempting to enforce a no-fly-zone. Kerry, who originally supported military intervention, pointed out that the US people did not have an appetite for this. However, as we saw with Libya, such an appetite can be promoted by carefully playing the card of suffering civilians (and especially children) and arguing for “humanitarian intervention.”
That is certainly happening at the moment. One could be excused for believing that the Syrian war is all about the government and their allies, the horrible “Russkies,” purposely attacking civilians, destroying civilian buildings and, particularly, burying young children in rubble.
This image is typical of what we are exposed to – and news services like Al-Jazeera seem to present variants of this image almost every day.
Of course, if this was the true intention of Syria and its allies the war would be over by now. But in fact, the Syrians and their allies are fighting armed “rebels”/”terrorists,” very many of them from outside the country. Armed and financed by external powers directly or indirectly. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, USA, UK and other NATO countries.
Civilian casualties, including children. may, at times, be an accidental by-product of this sort of war (what the US calls “collateral damage”) and can be caused by either side. But it is disingenuous to portray this as the intention of Syria and their allies. On the other hand, let’s not forget that terrorists very often deliberately target civilians, including children.
Aleppo has become the Middle Eastern Stalingrad. I sometimes wonder what sort of propaganda the German citizens at home were served with during the Stalingrad battle in World War II. Did they get images of children being pulled out of the rubble and hysterical complaints about those horrible Russians bombing and shelling the city indiscriminately – perhaps purposely bombing hospitals, schools and civilians? That sort of propaganda seem ludicrous to us now – but how different is it to what we are currently fed by most of our media?
And how often does our media cover the civilian casualties caused by “rebel”/”terrorist” attacks on areas under government control? Very rarely – and when they do we are often still left with the impression that the guilty parties are Syrians and Russians and not the terrorists. A recent classic example was UK newspaper, The Independent, report of the death of a Syrian Olympic swimmer and her brother in Aleppo (See Syrian swimmer and her 12-year-old brother killed by shelling in Aleppo). These deaths were originally reported as a result of Russian and Syrian bombing – but many readers protested because the swimmer was killed in the government-held part of Aleppo during a terrorist missile attack. The Independent backed away (slightly), adding this sentence:
“A number of commentators claimed the deaths were a result of a rebel-led attack, although those claims could not be verified.”
But their report still claimed the deaths occurred “amid a sustained assault on the city by pro-Assad forces backed by Russian warplanes.”
Images and videos like those produced by the White Helmets are very effective. News readers are inclined to weep and it is hard not to empathise. After all, these are children. And the “first responders” rescuing them, the White Helmets, must be angels. Hell, they have even been recommended for the Noble Peace Prize and who would deny them that?
Well, I would – but more of that below.
Kerry’s concern about this propaganda
The Syrian opposition people referred Kerry to images videos like this as reasons for the US to become more involved – to impose a fly-free-zone in Syria. But the US officials present pointed out that these images and videos were of no use to them. If these opposition people have video cameras around to film such events they should be filming the attack itself. Providing evidence that it is specifically the Syrians or Russians who are attacking civilians. These officials believed such information would be more useful to their cause.
The US officials also directed this critique at the White Helmet coverage of the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo province. A White Helmets’ spokesperson fronted images of burning trucks, claiming the attack was by Syrian helicopters, barrel bombs, and Russian bombers (he didn’t seem to want to miss anything out). But the officials’ response was that coverage was not useful – they need images of the attackers themselves. They need evidence of the munitions used.
Incidentally, the White Helmet spokesperson in this report leads a double life – see below.
As an aside, this plea for evidence, especially the munitions used, shows how hypocritical is the US claim it was the Russians who were responsible for the attack on the aid convoy. Unfortunately, such unfounded (or at least evidence-free) claims from John Kerry and other US spokespersons are not new to us. But also, unfortunately, this claim is being used specifically to justify breaking off diplomatic negotiations on Syria and to argue for “Plan B” – the military option of a fly-free-zone or outright attacks on Syrian armed forces.
Who are the white Helmets?
This brief video from The Friends of Syria in Australia provides some information and background on the White Helmets organisation.
If nothing else, the fact that the group operates only in areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists” (despite claiming in its propaganda that it is neutral) is telling. The fact they receive funding from anti-Syrian governments including the US and the UK (despite claiming they don’t) is also telling. Their spokespeople also never seem to miss any chance to attribute all the damage and loss of life to “the regime,” barrel bombs and the Russians – often in hysterical tones.
I referred above to the White Helmet coverage of the humanitarian aid convoy attack. The image on the right is taken from the White Helmet report video. That on the left shows that the same guy is also involved in an armed “rebel”/”terrorist” group.
Armed “rebel”/”terrorist” in Aleppo dons white hat and becomes an unarmed member of “aid” group – the White Helmets – reporting the attack on the humanitarian convoy. Image Source Friends of Syria.
Investigators have published on-line a number of similar images portraying White Helmet people in action as “first responders” but also of the same people posing with rifles and along with other “rebels”/”terrorists.”
There are also plenty of images and videos online showing members of the White Helmet group cooperating with “rebels”/”terrorists” in demonstrations They are easily seen in groups where Al Nusra flags are flying. And this video shows a White Helmet member participating in the assault on a prisoner captured by “terrorists.”
And isn’t this revealing, although not surprising considering where the White Helmets are active. A spokesperson for the Al Nusra front (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) describes the White Helmets as Mujahideens
Another charge sometimes laid against the White Helmets is that some of their videos are staged and involve actors. News media often reenact actions from wars (although they usually acknowledge their video is a reenactment). The report “White Helmet” “Save Aleppo” Protest Proves How Easy it is to Dress Up Actors as “War Victims” shows how easy it is to make such staged videos to promote as news.
Of course, that charge is also easy to make and hard to prove. But there has been at least one official complaint to the BBC about them running videos of staged scenes in their programmes about Syria.
I find it suspicious that the White Helmets always seem to go into action with a sizable camera crew in attendance – or at least with mobile phones recording the events. And there seems to be a common elelementf a guy, wearing a white helmet and White Helmet logos or uniform, carrying a child and urgently rushing forward or away from the camera. I can’t help feeling such videos are contrived.
Contrived or not the White Helmets’ videos are certainly emotively picked. They know what works. And our media goes along with the game – ignoring the children and civilians injured and killed by “rebel”/”terrorist” missiles in government-held areas.
The above video shows the aftermath of a “rebel”/”terrorist” attack in west Aleppo. Not a single White Helmet in sight!
The video and photographic propaganda promoted by the White Helmets is not “proof” of their claims – but it is very effective in promoting a narrative. A narrative which can be used to justify direct military attacks by the US and NATO on the Syrian forces and their allies. (Yes, the US and NATO already illegally bomb Syria and have armed forces on the ground – but so far these have not intentionally been directed at Syrian forces).
That narrative fits in with the agenda of a section of the US political establishment promoting “humanitarian intervention” aimed at regime change. It fits in with the often repeated chant of politicians in the US and other NATO countries that “Assad must go!”
We saw what this led to in Libya – it was disastrous. And considering the support Assad has in Syria this regime change, or attempted regime change, would be much worse.