Posts Tagged ‘The Daily Star’

Michael Young of The Daily Star (Beirut): “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out.”

Friday, January 31st, 2014

More details of the atrocities in Syria continue to emerge. See:

Michael Young, “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out,” The Daily Star, January 23, 2014 12:25 AM.

Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard, “State Dept. Learned in November of Photos Said to Show Torture in Syria,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

ian Black (Middle East editor), “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees; Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees,” The Guardian, January 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

“When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed.”

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Michael Young, the Opinion Editor at The Daily Star in Beirut, is a keen observer of events in the region, including in particular Syria. He brings to bear in his analysis and reporting the regional context, memory of events, and perspective of one who has followed events closely for many years. On November 14, he wrote a poignant column calling out the West for its callous indifference to the atrocities and human suffering in Syria.

See Michael Young, “Typhoon Assad and Western indifference, The Daily Star (Beirut), November 14, 2013 12:16 AM (Last updated: November 14, 2013 12:50 PM).

Young wrote of how the West is now using fear of the jihadists as the latest excuse for indifference to the suffering in Syria, and for inaction. His observations are sharp, and deserve widespread attention:

You can sympathize with Syrians looking longingly at the extended coverage in Western media of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan. When it comes to Syria, no such concern is evident. There is an assumption that saving the Syrian people from their regime only means reinforcing Al-Qaeda.

Not surprisingly, on the ground the regime has also given a wide berth to the most extreme jihadist groups, letting them gain ground and sowing dissension among rebels. Western publics, little concerned by the details and utterly credulous when it comes to the media’s jihadist focus, has swallowed the Assad version hook, line and sinker.

This has been compounded by the peerless incompetence of the Syrian opposition….

But not everything can be blamed on the opposition. The images from Syria have shown a far more complex picture. Not a day seems to go by without new images of civilians, many of them children, killed or injured in government bombardments or retaliation by the regime’s thugs. One can become inured to violence after a while, but something is profoundly wrong when this sense of hopelessness is transformed into indifference of the kind that greeted the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons last August. In opinion polls, majorities in the West opposed punitive military action by their governments, even if the regime had used chemical weapons.

When societies cannot be bothered by mass murder occurring elsewhere, then a perilous threshold has been crossed. Americans and Europeans are not obliged to empathize with Syrians, but somehow when room is left only to debate the economy, health insurance, and gay marriage, it doesn’t say much about a society’s commitment to its stated humanitarian values. One cannot in the same breath loudly lament the killing of some 3,000 civilians on Sept. 11, 2001, and yet say that nothing can be done at all about a regime responsible for the death of an estimated 36 times that number since 2011.

Young Americans and Europeans are brought up on the memory of the Holocaust, particularly the complicity of many societies in Europe with the slaughter of Jews during World War II. One theme that keeps coming back is how blameworthy were those who preferred to look the other way on the crimes that were being perpetuated.

The Trenchant Observer

Details in U.N. inspectors’ report on chemical weapons massacre at Ghouta point ineluctably to al-Assad (with link to report); more commentary

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Developing–check back for updates

The text of the UN Chemical Weapons Inspectors’ Report is found below (with link).

United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, “Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,” September 16, 2013

Latest News Reports and Commentary

(1) Raniah Salloum, “Uno-Bericht: Spur des Giftgases führt zu Assads Berg,” Der Spiegel, 18. September 2013 (14:20 Uhr).

Der Uno-Bericht über die Giftgasattacke in Damaskus gibt einige Hinweise auf die mutmaßlichen Täter: So ist die genaue Flugbahn einiger Raketen aufgelistet, sie wurden offenbar vom Kassiun-Berg aus abgeschossen. Dort befindet sich das Hauptquartier von Assads Elite-Einheit.

(2) Editorial, “Paper tigers”, The Daily Star (Beirut), September 18, 2013 (12:06 AM).

This Syrian chapter – quite apart from the thousands of deaths, the destruction of a country’s infrastructure and the millions of lives uprooted – will forever be a black mark in the annals of American history.

And this latest incident – the use of sarin gas to kill hundreds of people on Aug. 21 – will perhaps be a turning point in America’s standing in the world. A regime which has committed crimes against humanity, the U.N. tells us, is, it appears, about to get away with mass murder, yet again, a red line which Obama himself drew. Assad and his backers are aware that the forest is full of paper tigers.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), September 18, 2013

(3) David Ignatius, “Obama is criticized for right result on Syria,” Washington Post, September 18, 2013.

(4) Bernard-Henri Levy, “The Syria Deal Has a Hint of Munich; I fear that soon we will hear Assad, an enemy of humanity, praised for his cooperation and spirit of responsibility, Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2013 (8:03 a.m. ET).

(5) Sebastian Junger, “When the best chance for peace means war,” Washington Post, September 13, 2013.

The Trenchant Observer

The United States and Syria: Incoherent policy

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The Daily Star is one of a handful of outstanding English-language newspapers in the Middle East, and does not have an anti-Western bias. When it criticizes the United States, or Europe, its comments are directed at policies. The following editorial consequently merits close attention, because its caustic judgments come from writers who live in the vortex of events in the region and yet are not ill-disposed to the United States as a country.


Editorial, “Incoherent policy,” Yhe Daily Star, July 17, 2013 (12:43 AM).

The editorial is cogent, and makes its telling points in a few words:

Over the last two years, many have waited with bated breath over U.S. foreign policy in the region, and where exactly it was headed. But now it appears that all along there was no grand plan, and it is precisely as haphazard and shortsighted as it has seemed since the start of the Arab Spring.

Where once it seemed as if the American vagueness was based on calm and reasoned wisdom, a pragmatic approach gained after decades of experiences and learning in the Middle East, it now appears that its foreign policy, or lack thereof, actually stems from a gross misunderstanding of events on the ground.

This policy wavering would be a luxury if it were not for the thousands of lives being lost in the region, 5,000 a month in Syria alone, the U.N. said Tuesday. On this issue, the U.S. has flagrantly procrastinated and dithered….American “support” for the opposition, which transpires as little more than words, is perhaps more harmful to the rebels, and civilians than Russian arms handed to the regime.

This same tangled foreign policy approach has been witnessed in Egypt, where, three weeks after the ousting of Mursi and the U.S. still appears as lost and befuddled as ever, clearly not knowing what to do or who to ally with….

The only good that can come from this confused and incoherent policy is that now the veil has been removed. The people of this region can see the U.S. for what it is, and while the election of President Barack Obama once seemed to symbolize a future full of hope for the Middle East, his presidencies now stand for a nightmare.

These are words worth reflecting on and which call for taking urgent remedial action.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s “blind rhetoric”: Making speeches instead of foreign policy

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

The Observer has the impression that President Barack Obama has decided to take the easy route in foreign policy, and just go around the world delivering fine speeches articulating his visions of desirable developments in international affairs, but with little attention to the views of other critical countries, or the hard work of negotiating with adversaries and allies to develop effective initiatives that have any realistic chances of success.

It is intellectual speech-making divorced from the realities and requirements of building an effective foreign policy manifested in actions, and not just words.

Obama’s recent Berlin speech on the need for a reduction in nuclear weapons offers an important case in point. Arms control agreements require above all a minimum level of trust–between the nations that sign on to their provisions, and also among the two-thirds of the members of the Senate whose affirmative vote is required for their ratification.

That trust doesnot exist today between Moscow and Wasington, or among the members of the Senate, who only recently failed to ratify a United Nations covention to protect the rights of handicapped individuals.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry appears embarked on a similar journey of making the case for good actions and negotiated solutions, most recently on the Israeli-Palestine issue, but without a strategy for sustained use of U. S. power and inluence to achieve the desired result.

See “Editorial, ‘Blind Rhetoric,’ The Daily Star (Beirut),
June 27, 2013.

One almost has the sense that there are two groups of people in Washington: 1) those who have followed developments closely in a country or region for a number or years (e.g., Afghanistan, Syria), and 2) those who have only recently become interested in the country or subject in any detail, and whose understanding is limited to what they hear from others or read in their briefing papers.

And, as luck would have it, it is the second group, led by Obama himself, that seems to be making the decisions–and charting America’s foreign policy in the maelstrom of current events. They appear to be like sailors, cast about on storm-tossed seas, without a compass or even a sextant, or a course laid out before they left home port.

As The Daily Star put it, in the Editorial cited above,

Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton and others, appears to ignore the idea that a foreign policy based on making statements and performing positive spin control can run into trouble when people discover there is no actual vision or urgency behind such rhetoric. As a result, Washington’s credibility sinks even further, while the perception that the Obama administration has no true foreign policy steadily gains ground. The only question is whether U.S. officials are truly aware of the damage they are doing to their country’s interests.

Obama and Kerry are making great speeches. But after four years of words not backed by actions, is anybody listening?

The Trenchant Observer

U.N. General Assembly Adopts New Resolution on Syria (Doc. A/67/L.63) (May 15)–with vote tally

Friday, May 17th, 2013

(Developing story)

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution on Syria on May 15, 2013, calling on all parties to cease hostilities.

See “Press Release: General Assembly Adopts Text Condemning Violence in Syria, Demanding That All Sides End Hostilities.” U.N. Doc. GA/11372 (May 15, 2013).

The text of the draft Resolution (Resolution A/67/L.63), dated May 8, 2013, was adopted on May 15, 2013 by a vote of 107 in favour to 12 against, with 59 abstentions

The breakdown of the vote or vote tally was as follows:

The draft resolution on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (document A/67/L.63) was adopted by a recorded vote of 107 in favour to 12 against, with 59 abstentions, as follows:

In favour:

Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, Yemen.


Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Iran, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.


Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Zambia.


Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kiribati, Mauritania, Philippines, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan.

–Press Release, above, U.N. Doc. GA/11372, May 15, 2013.

Thus, while Secretary of State John Kerry pursues the Russians’ objective of holding an international peace conference in Geneva, as proposed by Kofi Annan and approved by a meeting there on June 30, 2012, there are other international actors determined to maintain a spotlight on the atrocities that have been committed and that are being committed in Syria.

See Michael Young, “Washington blunders yet again in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut). May 16, 2013 (12:57 AM).

The Trenchant Observer

Words and Deeds: President Obama delivers eloquent defense of free speech and democracy at U.N. General Assembly (with text and video links)

Saturday, September 29th, 2012


On September 25, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly, delivering a nuanced and eloquent defense of the right to freedom of speech, liberty, and democracy.

See Remarks by the President to the UN General Assembly, United Nations Headquarters, September 25, 2012. The text of the speech is found here. A video of the speech is found here.

The speech was one of the most significant President Obama has delivered during his presidency. Unlike his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which was carefully framed with deliberate ambiguity regarding compliance with international law, the September 25 address to the General Assembly constitutes a straightforward and powerful defense of democracy and the values of liberty which it expresses.

In particular, President Obama addressed directly the issue of freedom of speech and violent reactions to protected speech that offends Muslims or members of other religions, including the violent actions that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chirstopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on the night of September 11-12, 2012.

On Syria, however, the president did not say anything significant or new.

If this speech were to embody the real and guiding principles of a second-term Obama foreign policy, its content would be highly significant.

But as we and others have remarked, there is often a gap between the president’s eloquent speeches and the actions of his administration in the real world. As The Daily Star noted in its editorial following the speech,

A rough translation to English of lyrics to a popular Arabic song goes something like this: “When I hear your words I am fascinated, When I see your actions I am flabbergasted.”

These are the sentiments of many people in this part of the world on the occasion of Tuesday’s speech by President Barack Obama before the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

They might also apply to past addresses there by Obama’s predecessors George Bush, Bill Clinton, and other presidents over the past several decades.

The verbal prowess might differ, but the content is usually the same. People often hear positive, upbeat and principled rhetoric, the kind that used to give hope to the Palestinian people, or the wider Arab world.

While people in this region might have been genuinely impressed with the content of some of these speeches in the past, the audience these days has become considerably more cynical, and with good reason.

In order to realize any of the lofty goals laid out in such addresses, several things are required: political will, the tools to succeed and a feasible time frame.

When a politician who enjoys the stature and resources that Obama does makes a decision to talk about the burning issues of the day, he should be prepared to make an effort to put out the fire. Otherwise, the difference between words and actions will lose him more and more of the audience.

–Editorial, “Deeds, not words,” The Daily Star (Beirut), September 26, 2012.

If the speech does represent President Obama’s vision of his foreign policy for a second term, if re-elected, he will have his work cut out for him. For starters, he will have to deal much more effectively with the civil war in Syria, and address the human rights violations that were the subject of President Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece in the New York Times on June 24, 2012.

See The Trenchant Observer, “’A time to break silence’: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations,” June 27, 2012 (revised June 28, 2012).

This would seem to be a tall order for any president. Yet however skeptical if not cynical we may become, we should always hold out some hope that the President, freed from the perceived imperatives of a re-election campaign, might in his search for a place in history find a higher path that leads away from his vision of perrenial warfare, and towards a vision of peace.

If Obama were to focus on visions of peace and how to achieve them, instead of inevitable grinding war and warfare, he might well find in his 2012 address to the General Assembly a skeletal framework for a foreign policy which though deeds could help place him among the great presidents of the United States.

To achieve that goal, as David Ignatius has pointed out, he will need to emerge from the shadows and into the light where the world can see his and America’s actions.  For only from there, in the light of day, can he lead the international community in pursuit of a reinvigorated vision of international peace, and a strategy of concrete actions through which that vision might be achieved.

Without such a shift in approach, President Obama’s place in history will forever be diminished by his foreign policy failures, his violations of human rights and international law, and the failure of his strategic vision for America’s actions in the world.

The Trenchant Observer

Grave errors, repeated? The United States, France, the U.K. and Kofi Annan’s successor; Latest developments on UNSMIS, Joint Special Envoy—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #76 (August 16) Revised 20:00 GMT

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Updated August 16 at 20:00 GMT

Latest Developments:
– U.N. Security Council allows UNSMIS mission to end on August 19
– Russia pushes hard to continue mission of Joint Special Envoy, convoking meeting on August 17 of Syria Action Group (from Geneva conference convoked by Kofi Annan and held on June 30).
– Statements by Security Council President Gérard Araud (France) and Vitaly I. Churkin (Russian Federation) at Media Stakeout following August 16 Security Council meeting (video)
– Daily Star editorial on distraction of naming successor to Kofi Annan
– Sources report Brahimi has accepted appointment as Joint Special Envoy


Editorial, “Poor substitute,” The Daily Star, August 11, 2012.

“Algeria’s Brahimi agrees to be new Syria mediator-sources,” The Daily Star, August 16, 2012 (09:59 PM).

SC President, Gérard Araud (France) on Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout (16 August 2012)16 Aug 2012 – Press Statement and informal comments to the media by H. E. Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of August 2012 on the situation in Syria.

Vitaly I. Churkin (Russian Federation) on Syria – Security Council media Stakeout (16 August 2012)
16 Aug 2012 – Informal comments to the media by H.E. Mr. Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation on the situation in Syria.

Edmund Mullet on Syria – Security Council Media Stakeout (16 August 2012)
16 Aug 2012 – Informal comments to the media by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmund Mullet on the situation in Syria.


The United States, France and Great Britain: Fatuity as Foreign Policy

Syria shows us how the world is adrift.

The leaders of the three Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council not supporting the Syrian government’s atrocities, the defenders of freedom in the world, as it were, are on vacation or otherwise out to lunch. Some, such as Obama, checked out a long time ago.

No one in the foreign offices of these three countries with the power of decision could have paid close attention to the events that have occurred in Syria and in the capitals of the five permanent members of the Council, and logically and in good faith support a new mission by a new special envoy to mediate or negotiate (or ingratiate himself toward) a solution to the Syrian crisis.

All of the diplomatic camouflage deployed by Russia and China has now been stripped away. The reasons they adduce for their actions are specious, dishonest arguments demonstrably lacking in candor and persuasive force.

What Russia and China stand for is the right of any government to wipe out its opposition, as Vladimir Putin did in Chechnya, and as China stands ready to do in Tibet, or with the Uigurs. They stand for the right of a dictatorship to annihilate its opponents, even when these begin by peaceful means, through the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They stand for the proposition that a dictatorship has the right to bomb hospitals, and to use artillery and other heavy weapons, and even jet fighters to bombard civilian neighborhoods without discrimination between  military and civilian targets, or even with the full intention to kill or massacre civilians.

They each stand for the continuing right of any (friendly) dictatorship to undertake the brutal crimes against humanity and war crimes which each in its own history has itself committed in the past.

Here is the critical point: Both Russia and China argue not only that they had the right to commit these crimes in the past, but that they have a continuing right to repeat such crimes in the future, if necessary, without the international community having any right to intervene–even with economic sanctions–to halt such crimes.

For other articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page, here.

But what of the countries whose histories and whose constitutions say they stand for liberty, and which have fought wars in defense of that liberty, including World War II?

Where do they stand?

Well, they don’t stand. They are on vacation. It is not a matter of convincing them by logic that they should intervene to halt al-Assad’s atrocities. It is simply that they don’t care.

They don’t care enough to pay attention.

They weren’t awake when Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov showed up with Kofi Annan at the meeting of the Arab League in Cairo on March 10 and somehow secured their acquiescence in a five-point plan which included a ban or foreign military intervention to stop the killing, which then became Kofi Annan’s 6-point plan.

They weren’t awake to observe how Kofi Annan’s mission played into the hands of the Russians and al-Assad’s regime in Damascus, among other reasons because it put all the cards in the hands of the Dictator and his Russian and Chinese backers, and imposed no costs for dithering and interminable delays while he killed thousands of his citizens.

And now, after the total, complete, absolute failure of Kofi Annan’s mission and the 6-point peace plan, they stand poised to “go along” with Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of a “replacement” for Kofi Annan following his resignation.

They are not paying attention to the fact that the term of Kofi Annan’s mandate ends in August, and that Ban Ki-Moon by pliantly acceding to the pressures from Russia and China to quickly appoint a successor to Annan is by a sleight-of-hand finessing the more fundamental question of whether a new special envoy should be appointed at all.

By this slight-of-hand, Ban Ki-Moon is serving the interests of the Russians and the Chinese, with Kofi Annan in the background orchestrating things, including the selection of his successor as joint special envoy who he himself picked.

Logically, one would examine the record of Kofi Annan and the reasons he failed to end the civil war in Syria. Then one would ask whether the factors which caused him to fail, and indeed which caused his mission to be doomed from inception, still obtain.

Then, and importantly, a Security Council resolution would be adopted setting out the terms of reference for the new special envoy.  The idea being tossed around the Security Council that a presidential statement would be sufficient is legally deficient. If a new special envoy is to have a mission that goes to the very heart of the council’s responsibility to maintain international peace and security, it must surely be authorized by a resolution of the Security Council.

The Council cannot delegate its responsibilities by a non-binding “presidential statement”, but rather can do so only by a resolution adopted in accordance with the U.N. Charter.

The issuance of “presidential statements” on Syria by the Security Council during the last year has only served to confuse and misrepresent to the public that something has been done when, legally speaking, no action has been taken. This pattern should not be repeated here.

Only after these steps would the envoy actually be appointed, in the event the process advanced this far.

Are we to believe that Lakhdar Brahimi or whoever may be named as the new special envoy will halt the fighting in Syria, when none of the external factors have changed, e.g., the Russians and the Chinese remain intransigently opposed to any reasonable, effective action by the Security Council such as that proposed in draft security council resolution S/2012/538?

Are we to believe that anything Bashar al-Assad agrees to will have any meaning, any significance whatsoever, in view of his very recent track record?

What, precisely, could we expect any new special envoy to achieve, other than to distract the attention of the world from al-Assad’s ongoing atrocities on the ground, as Kofi Annan did, focusing the media attention of the world on the UN special envoy and whatever proposals he comes up with, and whatever the Russians say they will accept, or won’t accept, or whatever Bashar al-Assad says he will accept, or won’t accept?

Haven’t the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and France learned anything from the fiasco of Kofi Annan’s mission, at a cost of over 10,000 Syrian lives?

Is it conscionable, after this abysmal failure, to repeat the same basic mistake again?

The mistake involves negotiating with Bashar al-Assad while he is committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The mistake involves negotiating with the Syrian Dictator, when we know beyond any doubt that his agreement to any provision would be utterly worthless.

Further efforts at mediation will cost time, and thousands of more Syrian lives.  Do we have the moral right to contribute to the loss of those lives, by throwing a rope to a Dictator whose government may be crumbling, as the former prime minister of Syria, who recently defected, has asserted?

The last 17 months have taken place.  The events during this period are now historical facts.  Upwards of 20,000 civilians have been killed in Syria, in large part due to the inaction of the United States, France and the United Kingdom, and their allies and friends. These are facts. Those who have died cannot be brought back.

Is it morally defensible, or defensible on the international political plane, to offer as an excuse for going along with Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of a successor to Kofi Annan–a successor selected and recommended by Kofi Annan himself!–the fact that they are on vacation, or didn’t have time to pay attention?

History will be the judge, and the judgment is likely to be very harsh indeed.

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 handcorner 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.

Syrian rebels reportedly commit war crimes; U.N. Security Council should refer crimes in Syria to the ICC—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #71 (August 1)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Some units of the Free Syrian Army are reported today to have summarily executed opponents under their control, in Aleppo. This is a wrong turn for the opposition, a sad and erroneous step on the path leading to the more widespread commission of war crimes by the rebels, and to certain ruin.


(1) “Regime loyalists ‘executed’ in Syria’s Aleppo; Video of apparent execution emerges as fierce fighting continues over control of the country’s largest city,” Al Jazeera, August 2, 2012 (04:01 h). This article also includes a report on the massacre of some 50 men in a suburb of Damascus by al-Assad’s military forces.

(2) J. David Goodman, “Video Said to Show Execution by Syrian Rebels Stirs Debate,” New York Times, August 1, 2012.

(3) Ian Black (Middle East editor) and Martin Chulov (in Antaky), “Syrian army pounds Aleppo as video appears to show rebels’ revenge killings; Regime forces use artillery and aircraft to attack parts of Syria’s second city as Assad praises army for facing ‘terrorist gangs’, The Guardian, August 1, 2012 (14.05 EDT). Black and Chulov quote Bashir al-Haji, spokesman for the FSA’s Tawhid (“Unity”) Brigade, who told the Guardian in a telephone interview:

“We were able to kill 20 of them and arrest another 50,” he said. “We held a field trial for them. We have judges and lawyers who are in the opposition. They found that seven of the Berri clan were involved in killing and they decided to execute them. Others are being kept for trial after the collapse of the regime.”

The statement shows the FSA is aware of the laws of war. Whether field trials were actually held or not unknown. It sounds dubious.

(4) BBC, “Syria conflict: Aleppo shootings by rebels condemned; Human rights activists have condemned the public shooting in Syria of four apparent Assad loyalists by rebels in the battleground city of Aleppo,” BBC News, August 1, 2012.

(5) Erike Solomon, “Casualties of Aleppo’s grizzly war mount,” The Daily Star, August 2, 2012. Solomon quotes rebels approving of the killing of a government troop in detention, but also reports on the rebles field hospital treating governmnet soldiers as well as rebels.

(6) See also Amnesty International, “Syria: From all-out repression to armed conflict in Aleppo,” August 1, 2012. The news release contains a link to the full Amnesty International Report, “All Out Repression: Purging Dissent in Aleppo, Syria,” August 1, 2012.

By committing war crimes themselves, the rebels undercut the moral justification of their cause. Those who are supporting them now, with weapons, money, intelligence, and logistics and coordination, will come under enormous pressures to diminish or end their support of the insurgents if they continue to commit or tolerate the commission of war crimes.

Part of the problem is that foreign countries have not intervened enough, and soon enough, to help train the rebels in the laws of war (humanitarian law) and to establish processes for holding rebels accountable for the commission of war crimes when they occur. The Free Syrian Army obviously needs to expand its capacity for handling prisoners without abusing them, at the earliest possible date.

What many in Syria are fighting for is the opposite of al-Assad, involving respect for the fundamental rights of individual human beings, and the establishment of the rule of law.

The reports today of summary executions by the rebels constitutes a decisive turning point. If the rebels allow the commission of war crimes to pass without condemnation, they risk losing the moral legitimacy which has enabled their cause to elicit support from abroad.

At a second level, the reported summary executions carried out by insurgents in Syria makes it all the more imperative that the U.N. Security Council refer the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria to the International Criminal Court, at the earliest opportunity.

Both the government forces and militias of Bashar al-Assad and the forces which oppose him, including the Free Syrian Army, must be held accountable for the commission of war crimes, and other international crimes including crimes against humanity.

The Security Council should take up a resolution conferring jurisdiction on the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other international crimes committed in Syria, whether by the government or by rebel forces, forthwith.

The Trenchant Observer

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Immunity or safe-conduct for al-Assad? Can Kofi Annan fail? Conference before cease-fire?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #56 (June 23)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

A lot of wasted time and diplomatic effort could be saved if the world’s leaders insisted on their top international lawyers sitting in on critical decisions affecting foreign policy and national security.

The latest example is provided by the floating of the idea of the United Kingdom giving Bashar al-Assad a grant of immunity from prosecution (“clemency”) for the crimes he has committed–and is committing today–against the Syrian people, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

See David Usborne and Alastair Beach (Mexico City), “Assad could be offered new clemency deal,” The Independent, June 21, 2012.

Patrick Wintour (political editor), “Assad may be offered clemency by Britain and US if he joins peace talks: Initiative comes after Cameron and Obama received encouragement from Putin during G20 talks in Mexico,” The Guardian, June 20, 2012.

According to The Guardian,

Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage – and even clemency – as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.

The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.

…Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.

During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.

On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.

Participants would include representatives of the Syrian government, leading figures in the opposition, the five permanent members of the UN security council and key figures in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia has been pressing for Iran to be able to attend.

The meeting, under Annan’s chairmanship, would be held by the end of the month with an objective of establishing a broader-based government leading to elections in 18 months time.

A Small Problem: The U.N. Convention Against Torture

The United Kingdom, the U.S. and Switzerland are all parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention on Torture”).

The Convention defines “torture” as follows:

Article 1
(1) For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity….

Article 2 establishes:
(2) No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4 provides:
(1) Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
(2) Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Finally, and of particular relevance here, Article 5 establishes:
(1) Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:
(i) When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
(ii) When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
(iii) When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate
(2) Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.

Al-Assad’s pervasive use of torture is well-documented.

While the United States is quite accustomed to not prosecuting individuals involved in violations of the Torture Convention, the same cannot be said for the United Kingdom and Switzerland (the site of the proposed conference), who do not share the Obama administration’s disdain for international law. In the case of the U.S., a number of officials directly involved in the Bush torture policy have not been prosecuted, in violation of Article 5(2) of the Convention. These include, notably, John Brennan, President Obama’s direct assistant in selecting targets (and advisor on “just war theory”) in decisions regarding targeted executions.

In a word, the idea of granting safe passage and even clemency to Bashar al-Assad, to enable him to attend a conference in Geneva being arranged by Kofi Annan, is a total non-starter.

It would be the height of folly to begin an attempt to resolve the Syria question by committing violations of the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Obama and Cameron would know this if they were listening to their top international lawyers. The fact that Obama isn’t is not very surprising. But the fact that the British Prime Minister is apparently similarly unadvised is, in the context of British politics, somewhat shocking.

These leaders should do their homework before they start leaking to the press about the latest bright idea they have had.

For that matter, they might also bear in mind, in seeking to emulate “the Yemen model”, that Yemen itself is a party to the Convention on Torture and that, further, Saleh’s amnesty in Yemen is not only highly dubious under international law, but also not likely to stand up over time, as precedents in other countries such as Argentina and Chile suggest. Russia is also a party to the Convention on Torture.

Hiding Behind the Kofi Annan Smokescreen

As for the idea of organizing a conference under Kofi Annan’s leadership, the effort is just a continuation of the 6-point peace plan and the smokescreen the U.S., the U.K. and others have thrown up to give the impression they are doing something to stop the killing in Syria, when they are not–at least not publicly.

Kofi Annan and the Security Council’s adoption of his six-point peace plan, and the subsequent establishment of the UNSMIS monitoring mission in Syria, have been a total disaster. Nothing has been achieved, while thousands more have died and the country hurtles toward an all-out sectarian civil war as a direct result of the time that has been lost.

It is interesting to try to identify the indicators that would constitute a failure of the Kofi Annan plan, of his failure as a mediator, or of the failure of his latest effort to keep control of the action (acting on Russia’s behalf, many would say) by creating a “contact group” or organizing a political transition conference.

If these indicators or parameters of failure cannot be identified, we must necessarily conclude that the Kofi Annan plan is a plan that cannot fail, that Kofi Annan is a mediator who cannot fail, and that his next act, whether a “contact group” or a conference in Geneva, cannot fail either.

Who could oppose a peace plan that cannot fail, and a mediator who cannot fail? How, indeed, could anyone oppose a conference in Geneva that cannot fail?

Of course, one’s perspective could influence one’s answer. Unfortunately, those who have died and who will die in Syria as a result of the peace plan that cannot fail, the mediator who cannot fail, and the peace conference in Geneva that cannot fail, cannot speak. So, we cannot really know what they would have to say.

But we can use our imaginations.

It is as if one were living in and directly experiencing the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich, in 1943, and at the same time calling for a peace conference in Switzerland with representatives of all the participants in Germany and the leading outside powers to reach an agreement on the future of Germany.

It will not work, and much time will be lost.  The proposal plays directly into the hands of al-Assad, who can drag out the negotiations forever as he continues his atrocities. Similarly, it plays directly into the hands of the Russians, who seem to be able to keep the Americans and the British on the hook by continually dangling in front of their eyes the illusion that someday, somehow, Russia might go along with a Security Council resolution with some teeth in it.

If the U.S., NATO, the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world have not yet learned that any agreement signed by al-Assad would not be worth the paper it was written on, they have taken historical stupidity to a new height.

As the head of the editorial page of  the Daily Star, Michael Young, wrote on February 23, 2012, some months and many thousands of lives ago, the policy of the U.S. in Syria is “pathetic”.

It consists of cynically pretending there is a community of interests with respect to Syria among Russia, China and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, NATO, the Arab countries and rest of the civilized world, on the other, while unbridled barbarism continues to unfold before our eyes.

To be sure, in the shadows (but leaked to the press), the United States is now actively assisting and coordinating the provision of arms to the rebels in Syria, together with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries including Turkey.

This covert policy is being pursued without any public legal justification, which as we have suggested in previous articles is readily available. Whatever relative weaknesses such a legal justification might have, they would pale in comparison with the defects in the U.S. legal justification for the use of drones in Somalia and Yemen, in general, and for their use in “signature strikes” against unknown individuals, in particular.

Will the U.S. strategy of overtly supporting Kofi Annan and his hopeless plans while at the same time coordinating the supply of weapons to the insurgents in Syria help President Obama get past the finish line of the November elections? Or will it lead to Syria blowing up, a powerful Republican challenge to Obama on foreign policy, and his losing the election? Republican candidate Mitt Romney has been relying on kind of a Team B for foreign policy advice up until now. Once the party’s foreign policy heavyweights, from Henry Kissinger to Condi Rice, enter into the fray, joining John McCain, a formidable challenge to Obama could arise. Stay tuned.

You don’t negotiate a cease-fire or an armistice at a peace conference. The idea of trying to do so is absolutely wrong-headed, as wrong-headed as trying to use 300 unarmed peace monitors to force al-Assad to stop the killing.

The assumption that you can negotiate with al-Assad, and that if he agreed to any settlement it would mean anything, is contradicted by every piece of evidence that we have.

The whole idea of Kofi Annan and a conference in Geneva, or a “contact group”, is just one more installment in the U.S. foreign policy fiasco in Syria brought to you by President Obama, “the covert commander-in-chief”, and his foreign policy juggernaut, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

Somehow, the word “pathetic” seems too weak.

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.