THE HOULA MASSACRE: Another systematic Western media manipulation

The appalling massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria, dominated the Independent on Sunday’s latest front cover. Above a few short lines of commentary the banner headline read:


The text beneath observed:

The Houla Massacre

‘There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?’ (Independent on Sunday, May 27, 2012)
Readers, then, knew exactly where to direct their anger – the ‘brutal’ Syrian ‘regime’ was responsible for the massacre.
It is not quite true that the ‘international community’ has averted its gaze. And the Syrian government is not the only party to have violated the April 12 ceasefire. Earlier this month, four weeks into the attempted pause in fighting, the Washington Post reported:
‘Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.’

The weapons were having an impact:
‘The effect of the new arms appeared evident in Monday’s clash between opposition and government forces over control of the rebel-held city of Rastan, near Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces who overran a government base had killed 23 Syrian soldiers.’
….. Within hours of Houla massacre being reported, a cartoon by Martin Rowson in the Observer depicted Assad with his mouth and face smeared with the blood of children. In the Independent, Assad was shown sitting in a bath filled with blood.

We challenged Rowson on Twitter: ‘On what actual evidence about the massacre in Houla is your cartoon based?’
Rowson replied: ‘I have no more evidence than media & UN reports, like anyone else. Also used cartoonist’s hunch – are you saying I’m wrong?’

Media Lens: ‘Would you rely on a “hunch” in depicting Obama and Cameron with mouths smeared with the blood of massacred children? Shouldn’t a cartoon also be based on fundamentally rational analysis, on credible evidence?’ We repeatedly and politely asked Rowson to supply some of the evidence (links to articles, quotes) that had informed his thinking. We received numerous and varied responses but no mention of evidence. Instead,
Rowson erupted:‘[Media Lens] has succeeded in riling me. Well done. If I’m proved worng I’ll apologise.
He finally pointed to one sentence in a BBC article quoting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:‘There is no doubt that the government used artillery and tanks and this has been reported by UN observers who have visited the scene.’This was indeed the initial Western focus in blaming the Syrian government.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said:‘We are appalled at what appears to be credible reports that the Syrian regime has been responsible for the deaths of 92 civilians in Houla, including 32 children. The UN Head of Mission has been able to confirm the numbers and also that artillery tank shells have been used. If this is the case then it’s an act of pure, naked savagery and we condemn it in the most strongest possible terms.’ (Our emphasis)
But it turns out that shelling was not the major cause of deaths. Associated Press has more recently reported:‘The U.N.’s human rights office said most of the 108 victims were shot execution-style at close range, with fewer than
20 people cut down by regime shelling.’
Two days after Rowson’s cartoon appeared, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Maj Gen Robert Mood, as saying: ‘the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear’. Mood commented: ‘Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria… is that I should not jump to conclusions.’

The typical of the propaganda that issues forth from the BBC. Under the headline, ‘Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows,’ the BBC website published a picture of a young child jumping over a huge number of white body bags. But the picture was actually taken on March 27, 2003 of a young Iraqi child jumping over bags of skeletons found in a desert south of Baghdad. The photographer who took the picture, Marco Di Lauro, said he nearly ‘fell off his chair’ when he saw the image being used to illustrate a story from Syria: ‘What I am really astonished by is that a news organization like the BBC doesn’t check the sources and it’s willing to publish any picture sent it by anyone: activist, citizen journalist or whatever.’

The Case For Critical Thinking

There are reasonable grounds for questioning the claim that the Syrian government, and Assad personally, was wholly responsible for the massacre. First, as the Sunday Telegraph noted:

‘Damascus has long accused activist groups of exaggerating and falsifying accounts to draw international attention to their plight, a charge that independent observers say has sometimes been justified.’ (Ruth Sherlock, Colin Freeman, Richard Spencer, Magdy Samaan, ‘Massacre of the innocents,’ Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2012)

A rare dissenting view was offered by the highly respected Syria analyst Alastair Crooke, founder and director of Conflicts Forum. On responsibility for Houla, Crooke commented:

‘We don’t know for sure yet… But one thing that stands out quite clearly, and which is very important, is that the methodology, this type of killing – of beheadings, of slitting of throats, slitting of throats of children, too, and of this mutilation of bodies – has been a characteristic, not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but really of what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that had been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States, who have perhaps returned to Syria, or perhaps Iraqis who have come up from Anbar to take part in it…. But this whole process of mutilation is so very much against the tradition of Levantine Islam that I think it’s very hard to see this will have come either from soldiers or even from others who might have been bent on revenge… I don’t think this speaks of soldiers going on the rampage.’

Crooke added: ‘This is very much a possibility; that what we’re looking at here is a deliberate and cold-blooded attempt to cast Syria into civil war, to initiate civil war, to bring Western intervention, if possible. But simply, again, to bring down the regime. And it is clearly, I think, perpetrated in the interests of those external parties and groups at the end of the spectrum of the opposition, which are jihadi groups, who want no part in the peace process but who want to bring down the system and for Syria to turn into civil war.’

John Bradley, author of After The Arab Spring:  How Islamists Hijacked the Middle East Revolts, wrote in the Daily Mail: ‘The expressions of outrage over Houla and the consequent threats of military action all feed into the conventional Western narrative of the Syrian crisis whereby Assad is portrayed as a bloodthirsty tyrant and the rebels as heroic freedom-fighters trying to liberate the Syrian people from oppression. It is a picture that has been sedulously cultivated by the anti-Assad opposition, who are masters of manipulative propaganda aimed at gullible Western politicians, broadcasters and protest groups. But the truth about the violence in Syria is far more complex than Assad’s enemies would have us believe.’

Massacres and crises of this kind (real, imagined, or manufactured) have been used to justify Western armed intervention in the past. In 1999, the contested Racak massacre provided the trigger for Nato military intervention in Kosovo. In 2003, as the Downing Street memo made clear, the US and UK conspired to manufacture a trigger event to justify war on Iraq. Britain and the US did not use UN diplomacy as a way to avoid war, but as a way to lure Iraq into supplying a casus belli for war. Last year, the alleged threat of a massacre in Benghazi was used to trigger an attack on Libya. Clearly, Syrian rebels are hoping for a ‘Benghazi moment’ enabling Western intervention in Syria.

Emails leaked by WikiLeaks from the influential risk analysis group, Stratfor, noted that ‘most of the opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue’. Stratfor argued that Syrian government massacres against civilians were unlikely because the ‘regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds’.

So why would the Syrian government order the one action that risks triggering Western intervention, regime change and the fate suffered by Gaddafi in Libya? Perhaps Syrian government forces, or allied militias were responsible. Would that mean the Syrian government, and Assad himself, ordered, or knew about, the killings? Might the killers be rogue supporters of the government acting independently? These would be natural questions if the finger of blame was pointing at the US or UK. They are almost unthinkable, now, when the latest official enemy is being targeted for destruction.

Sharmine Narwani, Senior Associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, quotes from the US 2010 Unconventional Warfare (UW) Manual of the US Military’s Special Forces on the dark art of generating regime change.

‘First, there should be local and national “agitation” – the organization of boycotts, strikes, and other efforts to suggest public discontent. Then, the “infiltration of foreign organizers and advisors and foreign propaganda, material, money, weapons and equipment.”

‘The next level of operations would be to establish “national front organizations [i.e. the Syrian National Council] and liberation movements [i.e. the Free Syrian Army]” that would move larger segments of the population toward accepting “increased political violence and sabotage” – and encourage the mentoring of “individuals or groups that conduct acts of sabotage in urban centers.”

‘Now, how and why would an uncommitted – and ostensibly peaceful – majority of the population respond to the introduction of violence by opposition groups? The UW manual tells us there is an easy way to spin this one:

‘“If retaliation [by the target government] occurs, the resistance can exploit the negative consequences to garner more sympathy and support from the population by emphasizing the sacrifices and hardship the resistance is enduring on behalf of “the people.” If retaliation is ineffective or does not occur, the resistance can use this as proof of its ability to wage effect combat against the enemy. In addition, the resistance can portray the inability or reluctance of the enemy to retaliate as a weakness, which will demoralize enemy forces and instill a belief in their eventual defeat.”’

Whatever the truth of Houla, the reaction of the corporate media has, yet again, made a mockery of the claim that it is a ‘free press’. Rather, it has propagandised relentlessly in promoting the US-UK view of the conflict. Once again, war in pursuit of regime change is the real goal behind the ‘humanitarian’ deceit.

With its usual depth of sincerity and compassion, Murdoch’s Times commented:

War, again war, always war – endless war! But then corporate greed is a form of eternal war in pursuit of profit. We are living, very clearly, in a pathologically violent and structurally insane society.“

Media Lens web-site of the article


Related Articles

CONFIRMED: US CIA Arming Terrorists in Syria 

By Tony Cartalucci

Global Research, June 22, 2012 –

As West berates Syria for “killing civilians” Western weapons flow into terrorist hands from NATO. 

The New York Times in their article, “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” confirms what many have already long known – that the West, led by the US and its Gulf State proxies, have been arming terrorists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, while berating the Syrian government for “violating” a UN mandated ceasefire and for “failing to protect” its population.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been combated by nations across the Arab World to stem the tide of their sectarian extremism, violence, and their targeted erosion of secular nation-states. Ironically, the US which has claimed to have been fighting the forces of sectarian extremism and “terrorism” for over a decade now, have been revealed as the primary enabler of the most violent and extreme terrorist organizations in the world. These include, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in Libya, Baluch terrorists in Pakistan, and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) currently based in Iraq and being used as proxies against Iran.

Video: Professor Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research gives perhaps the most comprehensive back-story on Syria’s conflict to-date.

VIDEO: US-NATO “Humanitarian Intervention” in Syria: Towards a Regional War?

Latest report now available on GRTV – by Michel Chossudovsky, Nile Bowie – 2012-06-08

The New York Times claims that, “the C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said,” a unsubstantiated claim that was similarly made in Libya before Al Qaeda flags were run up poles in Benghazi by rebels flush with NATO cash and arms used to collapse the government of Muammar Qaddafi. In fact, it is confirmed that Libyan LIFG rebels, led by Al Qaeda commander Abdul Hakim Belhaj, have now made their way by the hundreds to Syria (and here).

Despite months of the US claiming the “international community” sought to end the violence and protect the population of Syria, the New York Times now admits that the US is engaged in supporting a “military campaign” against the Syrian government aimed at increasing “pressure” on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Efforts to impose an arms embargo on Syria is now revealed to be one-sided, aimed at giving rebels an advantage in the prolonged bloodbath with the intent on tipping the balance in favor of Western proxy-forces – not end the violence as soon as possible as claimed by the UN, and in particular, Kofi Annan.

The Times also reported that Turkey has been directly delivering weapons to terrorists operating in Syria – Turkey being a NATO member and implicating NATO as now being directly involved in perpetuating bloodshed in the Middle Eastern nation. For months, Turkey has been allowing terrorists to use its border region as a refuge from which to stage attacks against Syria.

Despite this, however, the so-called “Free Syrian Army,” according to the New York Times, consists of only 100 or so small formations made up of  “a handful of fighters to a couple of hundred combatants,” betraying the narrative that the Syrian government faces a large popular uprising, and revealing that the “Free Syrian Army” is in fact a small collection of mercenaries, foreign fighters, and sectarian extremists, armed, funded, and directed by foreign interests solely to wreak havoc within Syria. It should be noted that these terrorist proxies were organized as early as 2007 by the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, specifically to enact regime change and transform Syria into a Western client regime.

As the West’s propaganda campaign imploded after a torrent of unsubstantiated claims of “massacres” and “atrocities,” all unverified, some in fact being revealed as the work of the West’s sectarian proxies themselves,  it appears that sidelining Syria in headlines while pursuing a clandestine proxy war is now the tactic of choice for the time being.

For the United States to claim Syria has “failed” to protect it population while simultaneously fueling the very armed conflict it claims it is seeking to end is not only hypocrisy of the highest order, but a crime against world peace – punishable under the Nuremberg precedent.


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