Archive for the ‘State Department Human Rights Country Reports’ Category

Julia Smirnova of Die Welt lays out proof that Russian regular troops are fighting in the eastern Ukraine

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Despite Vladimir Putin’s blatant lies asserting that Russian troops have not entered the Ukraine, seasoned reporter Julia Mirnova of Die Welt lays out irrefutable evidence that Russian regular forces have been and are fighting and dying in the eastern Ukraine, in Putin’s “secret war”. Repercussions at home, back in Russia, are starting to be felt.

See Julia Smirnova, “Putins Soldaten wissen nicht, dass sie in den Krieg ziehen,” Die Welt, 26. August 2014 (22:34 Uhr).

Putins Soldaten wissen nicht, dass sie in den Krieg ziehen; Erstmals gibt es Beweise dafür, dass Russland die Separatisten in der Ostukraine nicht nur mit Technik, sondern auch mit Soldaten der regulären Armee unterstützt. Das belastet die Minsker Gespräche.

To acess this article in languags other than German, use Google Translate, found here.

The Trenchant Observer

Extraordinary rendition in Italy: Inside details revealed in 2003 CIA Milan abduction of Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr

Sunday, July 28th, 2013


Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says,” McClatchy, July 27, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Ex-CIA operative convicted in Italy of kidnapping Muslim cleric is detained,” July 18, 2013 (updated July 19 8:58 a.m.).

See also

“European court of human rights condemns Macedonia for “extraordinary rendition” to cooperating CIA officials, in Khaled el-Masri case,” The Trenchant Observer, December 28, 2012.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And the claims of law for justice, the claims of international law for punishment of violators of fundamental human rights so that justice be done, are dogged, persistant claims. They will not go away. Violators will always have those claims hanging over them. They will always be subject to arrest and punishment for their crimes, even if it takes 50 years to bring them to justice.

The Trenchant Observer

U.N. Commission of Inquiry Report on Syria (Doc. A-HRC-23-58); Seizure of al-Qusair; Use of Chemical Weapons by al-Assad

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The latest report Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was released on June 4. 2013.

See Human Rights Council, United Nations, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Advance Unedited Version, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/23/58, June 4, 2013.

The full text of the report in English is found here.

The full text of the report in Arabic is found here.

The Human Rights council held a dialogue with the Commission on June 4.

See “Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria,” United Nations Human Rights, June 4, 2013.

The Report provides a superb account of the facts of atrocities by the al-Assad regime in Syria, and also reports on war crimes and abuses by the insurgents.  But it falls short when it suggests, in conclusion, that the best path forward is “a diplomatic surge”.

The phrase “diplomatic surge” is meaningless.  It’s use is equivalent to throwing one’s arms up into the air. Diplomats have been working on the issue of Syria for over two years.  Diplomacy is not what has been lacking, but rather action on the ground that might halt the commission of war crimes, cirmes against humanity and other atrocities by the Syrian regime and its accomplices, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and China. Still, the task of the Commission was to report on the crimes that have been committed, and in accomplishing this task they have done a superb job.

A good account of the report is provided by Daniel Serwer in the following article:

Daniel Serwer, “Wishing doesn’t make it so,”, June 5, 2013.

The Report describes the horrors of the war taking place in Syria. Those horrors continue to unfold, day after day. Among the most important recent developments have been the taking of the town of al-Qusair by the forces of Bashar al-Assad joined by Hezbollah militia members from Lebanon, and the surfacing of evidence that the al-Assad regimes has used chemical weapons, crossing Obama’s so-called “red line”. Britain and France have stated publicly that they are convinced by the evidence. Indeed, France’s Le Monde had reporters who were with the rebels for a two-week period during which such attacks took place. Obama, not surprisingly, said more investigation and evidence are needed.


Liz Sly (Beirut), “France says it is ‘certain’ that Syrian government has used sarin gas,” Washington Post, June 4, 2013 (9:53 a.m.). Sly reports:

France “now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way,” according to a statement issued by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, which said tests carried out by a French laboratory on samples taken from victims showed the presence of the nerve gas.

Fabius said his government is confident that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for at least one of the two instances in which France had confirmed the use of the gas.

“In the second case, there is no doubt that it is the regime and its accomplices,” Fabius told the France 2 television station in an interview. “We have integrally traced the chain, from the attack, to the moment people were killed, to when the samples were taken and analyzed.”

His comments followed an eyewitness account by two reporters with France’s Le Monde newspaper describing how canisters containing small quantities of what appeared to be a nerve agent had repeatedly been fired at rebel positions during their two-week stay with opposition fighters in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, a hotly contested battleground where the regime has made significant advances in recent weeks.

–Liz Sly, Washington Post, June 4, 2013

See also:

Le avec Christophe Ayad, “Syrie : la France “a la certitude” que du gaz sarin a été utilisé ‘à plusieurs reprises’,” Le Monde, le 4 juin, 2013 (mis à jour le 5 juin à 8:28 h).

Le Monde, AFP/Reuters, “L’armée syrienne “contrôle totalement” la région de Qoussair,” Le Monde, le 5 juin 2013 (8:22 h).

The Trenchant Observer

Where are the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

U.S. law requires that the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights be published by February 25 of each year.

The seriousness with which the State Department views human rights is reflected by its compliance with this statutory deadline.

The reports are not supposed to be massaged in order to further the foreign policy interests of the United States. The delay in the date of their publication, which has become egregious under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, fosters perceptions that that is exactly what the foreign policy leaders of the United States are doing.

The fact that the reports are to be delivered to the Congress does not diminish the force of the law, even when Congress does not complain about the delay. The law is not for the benefit of interested Congressmen, but rather for the benefit of the people of the United States.

In the case of the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, the delay is an indication of the importance he gives to compliance with U.S. law, as well as the subject of human rights. Put differently, the delay suggests the extent to which the U.S. stands–in deeds and not just in words–for the rule of law.

To what extent do U.S. officials seek to comply with U.S. law?

Finally, a state characterized by the rule of law is one in which the government takes the requirements of law seriously. Given the history of extended delays in the publication of the country reports on human rights, in this regard at least the United States does not appear to meet this standard.

The Trenchant Observer

John Kerry, Barack Obama, and the future of U.S. foreign policy

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

The most decisive foreign policy dynamic at the moment is the developing relationship between John Kerry and Barack Obama. Kerry needs to be careful not to travel too much, so he can be in Washington, where he should be building a strong team at the State Department, and strong working relationships with other foreign policy principals, including Chuck Hagel at Defense and John Brennan at the CIA. He also needs to establish good working relations with the White House foreign policy team headed by NSC Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy Ben Rhodes.

Nothing is more critical to the future foreign policy of the U.S. than Kerry’s building strong working relationships with these individuals, and in particular with the president. Kerry brings to the table considerable strengths in precisely those areas where the president is weakest: an understanding of diplomatic history, a grasp of international law and its usefulness in achieving U.S. objectives, a deep appreciation of the importance of foreign assistance, and a good sense of the constructive role Congress can play, including the critical function of the Senate in ratifying treaties.

The key question is whether Obama will delegate significant pieces of foreign policy making to the Secretary of State, or rather view him simply as an adjunct of his centralized White House foreign policy operation. Will he listen carefully to Kerry and take his suggestions into account, e.g. prior to a speech on Israel, or just have Ben Rhodes go and write an eloquent document to be read?

If he is to succeed as Secretary of State, Kerry must now place his primary attention on developing a full and flexible relationship with the president, through regular meetings and establishing easy access to the Oval Office. This argues for limiting travel during his first year.

For an optimal relationship to be forged, Obama too will need to make a major effort to empower his secretary of state with lead responsibility in a number of key areas, and to leave him with enough space to take the lead in areas Kerry himself deems to be priorities.

Whether this can be achieved is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the president’s last chance to recover from the diastrous foreign policy of his first term, and to set the nation on a more positive and promising couse, depends on his and John Kerry’s ability to forge a close and collaborative working relationship, with John Kerry taking the lead on foreign policy issues.

The Trenchant Observer

Smart drones, the goal of peace, and the future of mankind

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

In an Op-Ed piece by Bill Keller published in the New York Times on March 16, 2013, Keller describes the high probability that “smart drones” will be introduced in the future, in which the aerial-borne robotic machine and its computer will decide which targets and individuals and groups to fire upon, without human intervention. Keller notes that Israel, in fact, has already introduced such an aircraft, the Harpy. Keller notes,

Israel is the first country to make and deploy (and sell, to China, India, South Korea and others) a weapon that can attack pre-emptively without a human in charge. The hovering drone called the Harpy is programmed to recognize and automatically divebomb any radar signal that is not in its database of “friendlies.” No reported misfires so far, but suppose an adversary installs its antiaircraft radar on the roof of a hospital?

–Bill Keller, Op-Ed, “Smart Drones,” New York Times, March 16, 2013.

The entire op-ed piece speaks of advances in warfare based on the underlying assumption that continued warfare is inevitable, and that the most we can aspire to is to limit some forms of warfare or weapons used, such as land-mines. While there is a great deal to be said for international treaties and institutions that limit types and the extent of warfare–international humanitarian law or “the law of war” has precisely that aim, it seems that humanity has fallen into a downward spiral in its thinking and aspirations relating to war, and into what is in fact a profound moral abyss.

In 1945, no one doubted that the goal of international society and the new United Nations Charter and Organization should be the prevention of war, and the maintenance of international peace and security. This goal was almost self-evident to generations which had suffered the ravages of World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945).

But today our leaders no longer espouse the goal of international peace. Like President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech or Lecture in 2009, they have no vision of peace as an overriding goal to which other objectives should be subordinated. Rather, permanent war is in the minds of the leaders of today. Obama, in thinking about his pivot to Asia, is thinking about military deployments in the region to check China’s rising military power. In the stand-off with Russia and China in the United Nations Security Council over Syria, the larger question of the goals and vision of international society has been lost, primarily but not exclusively as a result of Russian and Chinese obstinacy.

At best, particularly under Obama, we have a dearth of American leadership in world affairs in general and in the maintenance of international peace and security in particular. Here, France has stepped into the vacuum, first acting as a catalyst in Libya and more recently, acting by introducing French forces into Mali to halt the fall of that country to Islamic terrorist groups and Tuareg guerrillas.

But who, and in which countries, dares today to articulate a powerful vision of peace and how to get there?

Without a powerful vision of peace, such as that originally laid out in 1945 in the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter, humanity will continue to stumble down the terrible path of war, now to be mechanized with smart drones, and also soon to be characterized by an imminent breakdown in the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

In five years, or at most 10, Iran will have nuclear weapons. In five years, or at most 10, North Korea will have weapons and delivery vehicles that can land a nuclear bomb in Seattle or Los Angeles, if not Washington, New York, Moscow or London.

Is it not time that we in the United States seek to purify ourselves of the flawed thinking of the Bush and the Obama administrations about the inevitability of war, about the malleability of our most sacred moral values such as the inviolability of the human person, about the central importance of respect for fundamental human rights, of every person–even enemy combatants–and begin to concentrate with all our mental, social and political powers on the question of peace, and how to achieve it?

Is not war, and the pursuit of war, evil, and are not the pursuit of international peace and the fundamental human rights of all persons in all countries goals which embody our highest moral values?

Should we, then, not act on the basis of those values, and turn all of our efforts to developing our visions of peace and our roadmaps on how to get there?

It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that a positive future for mankind depends on our visions of peace and our efforts to achieve them, far more than it depends on the technological “advances” we might make in developing ever-better machines of war.

Now, let’s think one step further and ask whether peace can be established without international rules that are binding in nature. Is there any realistic vision of peace that does not rest, ultimately, on the development and observance of international law and institutions? That was the vision of the founders of the League of Nations in 1919, and of the founders of the United Nations in 1945.

Is it not time for a renewal of hope, of positive goals, of our own deeply-felt visions of peace, and of our own stalwart and courageous actions to secure that peace?

The Trenchant Observer

Instead of issuing statements with no legal force, the Security Council should act now to maintain international peace and security in Mali

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

ECOWAS and the African Union may provide the troops for military intervention to assist the French and Malian forces in repelling the advances of Islamist groups and Tuareg insurgents in Mali, but they are not up to the task of leading and coordinating the whole effort.

Such leadership must come from the U.N. Security Council, which must work much harder now than it did before in passing Resolution 2085 on December 20, 2012.

Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining and restoring international peace and security. Instead of issuing meaningless Press Statements which, though they have no legal force, mislead the world into thinking they are actually doing something when they are not, the members of the Security Council should get on with it, and take effective action under Chapter VII of the Charter.

Otherwise, they will become as irrelevant in Mali as they have become in Syria.

At the end of the day, someone has to lead. If it is to be the French, with American support, let them lead through the Security Council. All the ideological language about the intervention force being “African-led” should be dropped at once.

The objective here is not to have an “African-led” force, but rather to have an effective force that is capable of defeating the jihadists and revolutionaries who have seized much of Mali, and–at least until the French intervened–were advancing on Bamako.

The world does not need another Afghanistan, or a country like what Syria is becoming. The world must act, and the institution through which it must act is the Security Council.

Leadership is needed, now. If France is to take the lead, the U.S. and the other Security Council members should pull behind France and provide full support, acting through the Security Council.

In any event, the terms of Resolution 2085 have been overtaken by events on the ground. Consequently, the Security Council needs to immdiately negotiate and adopt a new resolution on Mali which takes current realities into account.

The Trenchant Observer

Reflections on the struggle for justice and the rule of law: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and President Jimmy Carter

Friday, January 18th, 2013

There was an article in the Washington Post recently that suggested that Barack Obama plans to draw the maximum mileage out of the coincidence that his second inauguration will take place on the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.

See Wil Heygood, “Inauguration will cement ties between Obama, Martin Luther King Jr.” Washington Post, January 15, 2012.

The Observer thinks of Martin Luther King’s courageous struggle as one to liberate not only black people but also white people from the scourge of racism that has plagued our country. The leitmotifs of that struggle were non-violence and a deep moral demand for legislation that gave effect to the fundamental civil and human rights of all Americans, and in particular the black citizens of America who had for so long been deprived of the benefit of the fundamental rights promised to them in the Constitution.

King fought for justice and the rule of law in the United States, and also had a deep appreciation of the struggles of other peoples to achieve respect for their fundamental rights.

On January 21, 2013, the day celebrating his life and moral perserverance, and also the day the first African-American president will be inaugurated for a second term, what are we to make of the connection between Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, the racial progress that has undeniably been made in America since 1968 and yet the vast progress that remains to be achieved, and the fact that we have  a an African-American, a black man, as President of the United States?

King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, is worth recalling. He said, in part:

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the mount with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together; to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom forever, knowing that we will be free one day.

And I say to you today my friends, let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

That so much of King’s dream has been accomplished, in 50 years, is cause for celebration, and also cause for a rededication of efforts to achieve that part of his dream which has not been realized with, in a phrase used elsewhere in the speech,  “the fierce urgency of now”.

Yet we must also recall that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not represent African-Americans alone. He also represented white people, and others. He drew on the non-violent tradition and spiritual force of Gandhi, who helped inspire South Africans early in the 20th century, and later to liberate the subcontinent of India from British rule.  King’s own message and moral example also inspired others, most notably Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who shared a similar dream and acted effectively to bring it about.

On January 21, 2013, we must also acknowledge that Martin Luther King, Jr. was the moral hero of millions of white men and women in the United States, as well as in Europe, and of many millions of men and women of other ethnicities throughout the world. He does not belong to African-Americans alone. Indeed, he belongs not only to all Americans, but to all of humanity, to “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.”

By 1967, when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam, if not long before, King made it clear that “all of God’s children” were not limited to those who lived in the United States.

If he were alive today, there can be little doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be an ardent supporter of the struggle for human rights and democracy throughout the world.

In this connection, it is worthwhile to consider again the points made by former President Jimmy Carter in his op-ed in the New York Times on June 24, 2012, in which he seeks to hold America to account for its human rights violations.


Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: ‘A time to break silence': Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations,” January 6, 2013 (originally published June 27, 2012).

Jimmy Carter was also an heir of Martin Luther King, Jr., and one who  has done more than any other recent American president to advance the cause of respect for international human rights throughout the world.

So, as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King on January 21 with the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States of America, let us also celebrate those other individuals of all races and from all countries who, like former President Jimmy Carter and former President Nelson Mandela, have fought valiantly for the respect and observance of the fundamental human rights of all individuals, from whatever country or ethnic group they may come.

That struggle, too, is a critical part of Dr. King’s legacy, and one which the first African-American president should take up in his second term, with “the fierce urgency of now.”

President Obama could start by pushing for Senate ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights, signed by President Jimmy Carter and submitted to the Senate for ratification in 1979. Almost all the countries of the Americas have ratified the treaty, though the new authoritarian states of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua are now attacking its institutions and threatening to withdraw their ratifications. Without Senate action, the president could immediately renew cooperation with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with respect to cases brought against the United States.

The Trenchant Observer

Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of “enhanced interrogation techniques”

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Developing story

You can’t make this stuff up.

Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official deeply involved in the Bush torture program, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post on January 3 in which he takes issue with the new film, “Zero Dark Thirty,” for inaccurately portraying the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” including waterboarding. These “techniques” amount to “torture” as that term is used in the U.N. Convention against Torture.

Rodriguez’ point is not that the techniques were not used, but rather that their use was inaccurately depicted in the film.

In what morally twisted universe are we living now?

Could it be that Rodriguez and other officials involved in the torture program (presumably including John Brennan, Obama’s in-house theologian of death and keeper of the drone “targeted killings” lists) have a bad conscience and are desperately looking for vindication?

Time is not on their side. The U.S. was obligated to prosecute them under the Convention Against Torture, but didn’t, leaving open the possibility that some prosecutor, somewhere, will issue an international arrest warrant for them to be arrested and brought to justice.

Within five years or so, they may need to be very careful with their travel plans.

In the meantime, the renewed debate over the efficacy of torture in general, and whether its use led to Bin Laden, continues.

The moral leaders of the nation are silent, too tired perhaps to make their points once again that the problem with torture is not its efficacy, but its morality.

As we wrote some time ago, “Torture will not be through with America until America is through with torture.”

For America to be through with torture would require that those responsible for its use be brought to account. That means removal of all officials responsible for torture and “extraordinary renditions”, including Brennan, from any high positions of authority in the government, prosecution of those who were complicit in torture, and perhaps a truth and reconciliation process through which those who admit their actions and cooperate with investigators might eventually receive reduced sentences or be pardoned.

The irony here, of course, is that by not prosecuting officials responsible for torture under Bush, those same officials cannot be acquitted or pardoned, leaving them exposed for the rest of their lives to the possibility that a prosecutor in another country will have them detained and brought to trial for commission of the international crime of torture.

The United States, in fighting terrorism, has wandered far off the track of the “rule of law” and its most fundamental values.   Will Barack Obama be the president who brings the country back to a strict adherence to the rule of law, who reintroduces “international law” (“law” as in “binding law”, not “standards” as in “aspirational standards”) into our political discourse and agenda, or will it be one of his successors?

Will foreign judges, such as the 17 judges of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, who just condemned Macedonia for complicity with the CIA in the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of a Khaled el-Masri, play a catalytic role?

Could Rodriguez himself one day be arrested, in Europe or Latin America, for his involvement in torture?

That is a profoundly interesting question.

The Trenchant Observer

60,000 killed in Syria—REPRISE II: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #91 (January 2, 2013)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Barbarism in a Leaderless World

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights now estimates there have been “59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012.” This number may in fact be well short of the actual number as tens of thousands of people are reported to have disappeared with no word as to their fates.

See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Data analysis suggests over 60,000 people killed in Syria conflict: Pillay,” United Nations Human Rights, January 2, 2012. See Megan Price, Jeff Klingner, and Patrick Ball, “Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic,” The Benetech Human Rights Program, 2 January 2013, here.

At such a juncture it is appropriate to reprise the article whose text appears below, yet again. See also Jacques Prévert’s poem “Barabara”, in The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III” —Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #53 (June 19)

Originally published July 28, 2012

The Opening of the XXX Olympic Games

It was a poignant moment, as world leaders gathered in London last night (July 27) for the opening of the XXX Olympic Games, with the performance of an extraordinary spectacle, in which at one point five Olympic rings appeared suspended in the heavens over the Olympic Stadium. Over a billion people were said to have watched the opening ceremonies on television.

Here, in the very heart of the democratic civilizations of Europe, the Olympic ideal shone brightly.

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were preceded by a “Sacred Truce” among the warring city-states, in which athletes were guaranteed safe passage to and from the games, and all fighting was to be halted for a period of one month. This period was eventually extended to allow the athletes and visitors to return home.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. The Modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896, and have been held every four years or more often since then except for 1916, 1940 and 1944.

–“Brief History of the Olympic Games,” NOSTOS (Hellenic Information Society, UK).

Importantly, the Olympic Games today stand as a symbol for humanity’s goal of one day achieving universal peace. The alternative, it seems, is either the goal of endless war, or the resignation that goes with the sense of helplessness we feel when we reject the goal of peace.

The Battle for Aleppo, and the Response of the World

Meanwhile, in Aleppo in Syria, a country where the international community and the Security Council have been unable to reach agreement to act effectively to halt the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the portents of death and destruction were all too palpable yesterday and today, as the regime’s troops, tanks, artillery, helicopters and war planes began a concerted assault on the lightly armed rebels of the Syrian Liberation Army, in what a pro-Assad Damascus newspaper termed “the Mother of all Battles”.

Today, on Saturday, July 28, the battle was joined in earnest.

For news of recent developments on the ground in Syria, see

Luke Harding (in Anadan, on the Aleppo front line), “Syrian rebels near Aleppo: ‘We are besieging Assad’s army'; Regime forces have been pulverising rebel-held districts using artillery and helicopter gunships. But the rebels are upbeat,” The Guardian, July 28, 2012 (11:35 EDT).

Damien McElroy (in Aleppo), “Badly armed rebels face tanks as Syria’s mother of all battles begins,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2012 (6:57PM BST).

Álvaro de Cózar (Special Correspondent in Marea), “El Ejército sirio avanza para tomar Alepo; Las tropas de El Asad atacan con bombas y tanques los barrios en manos rebeldes; Las líneas de teléfono y el suministro de energía han sido cortados, El País, 28 Julio 2012 (23:45 CET).

Kareem Fahim and Ellen Barry, “Syrian Military Intensifies Assault on Rebels in Aleppo,” New York Times, July 28, 2012

Unfortunately, Americans accessing the Internet do not find it easy to gain a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground, due to “The Filter Bubble” which prevents most U.S. observers on the Internet from seeing the search results for newspapers outside of their own country (including, e.g., British and other newspapers which have correspondents on the ground in Syria).  To get around The Filter Bubble, see the directions in the bottom right-hand column on the right on our Home Page, or go here.

Thus, as the world turns its attention to the joyful spectacle of athletes from countries throughout the world competing on the basis of individual merit, as humanity comes together for its quadrennial celebration of the richness and diversity of the human family, the people in Aleppo and in Syria are left to face the absolute terror and barbarism of the Bashar al-Assad regime, alone.

Russia and China, along with the Syrian regime, are clearly to blame for this state of affairs, and populations who follow international affairs throughout the world are aware of the role they have have played in thwarting effective U.N. Security Council action. Memories of how they have backed the murderous regime of al-Assad are likely to be long indeed in the Middle East, and also in the democracies of the world.

The United States and other Western countries warn of an impending massacre in Aleppo, as if anyone but they themselves could save the day.

It is a new role for Americans: Eyewitness News reporters without an inkling of any sense of moral responsibility that might lead them to act. In this role, they are following the lead of their president.

The Americans, the Europeans, top U.N. officials and others loudly deplore the lamentable state of affairs in Syria in general, and the unfolding of the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo, in particular.

Leaderless, they stand helpless and paralyzed before the terror and barbarism of al-Assad.

They provide countless declarations of moral outrage, and call for the nations of the world to increase their “pressure” on the al-Assad regime.

The “pressure” of which they speak is a “pressure” of words, of plaintive moral appeals directed to war criminals whose moral depravity is beyond dispute. Or perhaps the “pressure” may even consist of voluntary economic sanctions, imposed by different countries outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, whose impact is uncertain and in any event will take much time.

Neither words nor economic sanctions, however, will stop al-Assad’s armies.

These leaders are at once appalled by the terror, the barbarism, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity before their very eyes, and caught in their own moral cowardice, impotent, helpless, with verbal reproaches the only weapons they have the courage to wield. Paralyzed by their own cowardice, they will not act—not effectively, not in time to save the thousands of additional deaths that the grinding gears of war portend to claim, and of which they so earnestly warn.

Enough with Words!

These leaders can all do the world one big favor:  Stop denouncing al-Assad’s atrocities, at least until they are willing to do something really effective to bring them to a halt.

With their moral energies thus freed, they can pay close attention to the facts on the ground, to what is actually happening to thousands of human beings in the maw of war, and then they can seek quiet solace in their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, and the other spiritual refuges in which they must, as individual human beings, come to terms with what they have seen, and what they have not done.

Enough with words!

Enough with the self-absolving declarations these leaders offer to the world, and to themselves, so they can sleep at night, knowing they were present at Srebrenice, present at Auschwitz, present in Rwanda, over a very long period of time, and did nothing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, on Words and Deeds

As for President Obama, who reportedly likes to think of himself as emulating the great American presidents, the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, come to mind. Roosevelt declared:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

President Obama and the other leaders of the world would do well to take these words to heart, today, and every day hereafter until they find the courage to take effective action to halt the barbarism and the terror in Syria.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.