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During the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991 I went with other journalists on a government-organised trip to what they claimed was the remains of a baby milk plant at Abu Ghraib which the US had just destroyed, saying that it was really a biological warfare facility. Walking around the wreckage, I found a smashed-up desk with letters showing that the plant had indeed been producing “infant formula” milk powder. It had not been very successful in doing so, since much of the correspondence was about its financial and production problems and how they might best be resolved. It did not seem likely that the Iraqi government could have fabricated this evidence, though it was conceivable that in some part of the plant, which I did see, they might have been manufacturing biological weapons (BW).

I was visiting a lot of bombed-out buildings at the beginning of the US-led air campaign and I did not at first realise that “the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory” would become such an issue. I was more impressed at the time by the sight of a Cruise missile passing quite slowly overhead looking like a large black torpedo. But, within hours of leaving Abu Ghraib, the true purpose of the plant there had become a topic of furious controversy. The CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who was on the trip, had reported that “whatever else it did, it [the plant] produced infant formula”. He saw a lot of powdered milk and, contrary to the Pentagon claim that the place was guarded like a fortress, we could only see one guard at the gate. Arnett did not deny the US government version that the place was a BW plant, but he did not confirm it either. He simply reported that “it looked innocent enough from what we could see”.

Even such mild dissent from the official US version of the bombing turned out to be unacceptable, producing an explosion of rage in Washington. Colin Powell, the US chief of staff, expressed certainty that the Abu Ghraib plant had manufactured BW. The US air force claimed that it had multiple sources of information proving the same thing.

Arnett was vilified as an Iraqi government stooge by the US government. “This is not a case of taking on the media,” said the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. “It’s a case of correcting a public disclosure that is erroneous, that is false, that hurts our government, and that plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein.” US news outlets, none of which had correspondents in Baghdad, vigorously toed the official line. Newsweek derided Iraq’s “ham-handed attempt to depict a bombed-out biological weapons plant near Baghdad as a baby-formula factory”.

It took years for the official version of the bombing to fall apart. Even though I had been in the plant soon after it was destroyed, I could not prove that it did not produce biological weapons, though it seemed to me highly unlikely. Media interest waned rapidly: the best study I could find about how the destruction of the milk factory was spun by official PR is a piece by Mark Crispin Miller, from which the quotes above are taken, published in 2003.

Proof came slowly, long after public interest had waned. A Congressional report in 1993 on US intelligence successes and failures in the Gulf War revealed the shaky reasoning behind the US air force decision to bomb the site. It turned out that “mottled camouflage” had been used on the roofs of two known BW facilities. The report said: “at the same time, the same camouflage scheme was applied to the roof of the milk plant”. This was enough for the US Air Force to list it as a target. Confident official claims about multiple sources of intelligence turned out to be untrue. One has to burrow deep into an unclassified CIA paper on Iraq’s BW programme, to find a sentence admitting that another plant, which was the real centre of Saddam Hussein’s BW effort, was unknown to the US-led coalition and “therefore was not attacked during the war, unlike the Abu Ghurayb (sic) Infant Formula Plant (the Baby Milk Factory) that the Coalition destroyed by bombing in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW facility”.

The story of the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory is worth retelling because it underlines – in the wake of the US, British and French air strikes on alleged Syrian BW sites on 14 April – the need for permanent scepticism towards claims by governments that they know what is happening on the ground in Syria or anywhere else.

But government duplicity is scarcely new and denunciations of it may obscure an even greater danger. Look again at the attack on Peter Arnett’s story by the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater who was wrong – and Arnett was right – in saying that it contained “a disclosure that is erroneous, that is false”. But he adds correctly that it was a disclosure “that hurts our government and plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein”.

So it was in a minor way and this brings us to a toxic attitude towards those who question the official version of events increasingly common in Britain and the US. It is overwhelming freedom of speech in Hungary and Poland and has already triumphed in Turkey and Egypt. In all cases, opinions diverging from those of the powers-that-be are branded as disloyal and unpatriotic and “false facts” are being spread by “useful idiots”, to use two ghastly clichés much in use. Marginalisation of dissenting is followed by its criminalisation: Turkey once had a flourishing free press but now any criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or words or actions of which he disapproves can be labelled as “terrorism” and punished accordingly.

ORDER IT NOW

There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.

A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies.

Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: American Media, Russia, Syria 
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  1. “In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.”

    But this is true, isn’t it?

    And when communist governments do it, it’s a fair game, because they’re honest about it: anything you do in politics, it’s either beneficial to the working class, or it’s harmful for the working class and beneficial to its enemies. And the enemies should be suppressed or eliminated. That’s the ideology; official, open ideology. I don’t see anything wrong with a government consistently following its own official and openly advertised policies. In fact, it’s refreshing.

    The only problem with Western governments doing it is that they ostensibly champion a completely different ideology, the ideology of liberalism, pluralism, tolerance, freedom of speech, etc. In fact, all these elements are vital for Western elites’ justification of the socio-economic and political system they impose. Without those, I reckon, almost anyone would’ve chosen the one that explicitly – and ruthlessly – benefits the working class.

    And then they, the elites, turn around and eliminate all that good stuff. Then what’s left is most ruthless pursuit of the interests of the owner class.

    Tsk, Oh well. What could go wrong with that…

    Read More
    • Replies: @jtgw
    I think your reasoning is sophistical. Ideologies are not neutral; some are good and some are bad (or better or worse). Communism is a terrible, destructive ideology that can put a prospering advanced economy back into the Stone Age in only a few years if followed rigorously. We should therefore welcome it when a Communist government behaves hypocritically and does not practice what it preaches (like the "Communist" government of China today). Those Communist governments that stayed true to their principles, like those of Mao or Stalin, were by far the bloodiest and most destructive.

    The Western Enlightenment values of liberalism, pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of speech are all good values. Societies that practice those values prosper, while societies that undermine them falter. We should prefer it that a government preaching those values should also practice them, of course. But when our governments fail to practice their values, it is not their hypocrisy that should most concern us but their failure to uphold all those good values.
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  2. El Dato says:

    Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.

    And I don’t see what’s wrong with “supporting” Mssrs Putin or Assad in the first place.

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  3. actually it’s simpler than patrick cockburn makes it out to be.

    the winners write the history not the losers.

    in the syrian war it is not london, paris and washington.

    they neither control the ground under the alleged attack, the skies above it or the internet which relentlessly chews through lies in real time until all that remains however improbable, as sherlock holmes supposedly stated, must be the truth..

    it isn’t 2003 any longer.

    the descendants of colin powell holding a magic vial or weapons of mass destruction in his hand at the UN no longer commands trust, respect or credulity.

    merely embarrassment

    Read More
    • Replies: @Simon Grey
    "the descendants of colin powell holding a magic vial or weapons of mass destruction in his hand at the UN"

    I didn't know Nikki Haley was African-American!

    Well, she is from S.Carolina, and there was always a lot more of that going on than most people ever talked about. :)
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  4. It has been the opinon of the British state for several centuries that Christian leaders must be helpful to the British State.

    See the story of Thomas More and Henry VIII. A 1960′s movie called “A Man for all Seasons” does a good job of telling the tale.

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  5. @paraglider
    actually it's simpler than patrick cockburn makes it out to be.

    the winners write the history not the losers.

    in the syrian war it is not london, paris and washington.

    they neither control the ground under the alleged attack, the skies above it or the internet which relentlessly chews through lies in real time until all that remains however improbable, as sherlock holmes supposedly stated, must be the truth..

    it isn't 2003 any longer.

    the descendants of colin powell holding a magic vial or weapons of mass destruction in his hand at the UN no longer commands trust, respect or credulity.

    merely embarrassment

    “the descendants of colin powell holding a magic vial or weapons of mass destruction in his hand at the UN”

    I didn’t know Nikki Haley was African-American!

    Well, she is from S.Carolina, and there was always a lot more of that going on than most people ever talked about. :)

    Read More
    • Replies: @paraglider
    political decendants not genetic.

    haley is actually of subcontinent indian descent born nimrata of parents Ajit Singh Randhawa, Raj Kaur Randhawa although born in south carolina.

    she does however carry on as ambassador buffoon for the united states to the UN.

    her cringe worthy performance is up there with over the top, incredibly embarrassing samantha power, obamas Irish poser to the UN

    the us state department appears to have devolved into farce appointing B level talent over the past 30 years.
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  6. @Simon Grey
    "the descendants of colin powell holding a magic vial or weapons of mass destruction in his hand at the UN"

    I didn't know Nikki Haley was African-American!

    Well, she is from S.Carolina, and there was always a lot more of that going on than most people ever talked about. :)

    political decendants not genetic.

    haley is actually of subcontinent indian descent born nimrata of parents Ajit Singh Randhawa, Raj Kaur Randhawa although born in south carolina.

    she does however carry on as ambassador buffoon for the united states to the UN.

    her cringe worthy performance is up there with over the top, incredibly embarrassing samantha power, obamas Irish poser to the UN

    the us state department appears to have devolved into farce appointing B level talent over the past 30 years.

    Read More
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  7. “There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.”

    Worse. They’re not content with merely censoring what you say; they want your neighbors and kids to rat you out. This appeal appears at the end of the recent HuffPo article “Militarized Cops At Tiny Georgia Neo-Nazi Rally Arrest Counterprotesters For Wearing Masks”.

    “America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.

    Do you have information you want to share with HuffPost? Here’s how.”

    And these people regard themselves as Liberal!!!

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  8. “We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events”

    There, fixed it for ya……

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  9. anonymous[359] • Disclaimer says:

    We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria?

    This essay is ironic to the extreme, especially because this same “journalist” has also submitted another essay here;

    http://www.unz.com/pcockburn/yazidis-who-suffered-under-isis-now-face-forced-conversion-to-islam/

    I’ll take his own advice given above.

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  10. Read More
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  11. Ken52 says:

    Patrick Cockburn is the same guy who claimed without any evidence that the Syrian government was behind this year and last year’s chemical attacks. Now he says beware of people who claim to know what’s going on in Syria. Sounds like he’s trying to rehabilitate himself.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mikhail

    Patrick Cockburn is the same guy who claimed without any evidence that the Syrian government was behind this year and last year’s chemical attacks. Now he says beware of people who claim to know what’s going on in Syria. Sounds like he’s trying to rehabilitate himself.
     
    I kind of noticed that myself. In fairness, he wasn't so point blank in that assertion - at least in so far as the most recent alleged Syrian government chemical attack. Rather, he noted World Health Org claims in support of such.

    Related:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/13/cruising-for-bruising-with-russia.html

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/17/latest-atlanticist-tough-guy-act.html

    Counterpunch and Democracy Now have featured some flawed mainstream commentary:

    https://www.mintpressnews.com/democracy-nows-alt-media-platform-for-humanitarian-imperialism/240800/ & https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/24/the-left-syria-and-fake-news/ (originally posted at Truthdig)

    From the above linked Counterpunch run piece:

    Within hours of the chemical attack, Jaysh al-Islam forces caved to Assad’s tactics and gave him what he wanted when they fled the city. Why would rebels frame Assad only to leave their stronghold right afterward?

    ****

    More like an alleged and yet to be established Syrian government chemical attack. The rebels were losing with or without chemicals being used against them. Hence, it makes no sense for the Syrian government to have used them. The rebels have been accused of staging chemical attacks for the purpose of getting the US to bomb Syrian government positions. Just prior to the recently alleged Syrian government chemical attack, the US president said that he wanted US forces out of Syria soon.

    Another excerpt from the same article -

    Fisk made no attempt to explain the many reports of a chemical smell and of white foam at the mouths of victims. His report directly contradicts that of Associated Press and Guardian newspaper journalists who managed to corroborate with multiple sources including survivors that there had been a chemical attack from the sky. Earlier investigations by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times also concluded that the claims by survivors of the attack were accurate. Are we to believe that The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, AP and The Guardian are all part of some grand conspiracy to push the U.S. to bomb targets important to Assad?

    ****

    Which so-called "multiple sources"? Should they be fully trusted without a clear confirmation? Like the AP, Guardian, Al Jazeera and NYT haven't misrepresented past occurrences. Regarding journalists on the ground at issue after the alleged Syrian government chemical attack, One America News' Pearson Sharp cast doubt that there was a Syrian government chemical attack.

    Omitted from the above article is the account of one of the children filmed during the alleged Syrian government chemical attack. That child appears to be in good health. He said that the filming had a scripted characteristic.

    Numerous Western sources have second guessed the prior claims and most recent claim of the Syrian government using chemical weapons. None of them are mentioned in the above linked Counterpunch article.

    Another excerpt -

    We can condemn the mass atrocities being committed by Assad and Putin and oppose any U.S. military interference in the region. Both these things can be true at once.

    ****

    The author who wrote that emphasizes the Syrian government and Russia committing mass atrocities in the Middle East. In contrast, US activity is described as "interference", with no mention of atrocities committed by some of the people who've benefited from US support in that region, which includes Iraq and Libya, in addition to Syria.

    On a related note, CNN's Christiane Amanpour is appropriately called out:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/24/media-used-my-son-for-their-purposes-cnn-amanpour-challenged-talk-aleppo-boy.html

    I don’t recall Amanpour making political hay out of civilians killed and/or injured by armed US involvement in Iraq and elsewhere.
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  12. jtgw says:
    @Mao Cheng Ji
    "In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on."

    But this is true, isn't it?

    And when communist governments do it, it's a fair game, because they're honest about it: anything you do in politics, it's either beneficial to the working class, or it's harmful for the working class and beneficial to its enemies. And the enemies should be suppressed or eliminated. That's the ideology; official, open ideology. I don't see anything wrong with a government consistently following its own official and openly advertised policies. In fact, it's refreshing.

    The only problem with Western governments doing it is that they ostensibly champion a completely different ideology, the ideology of liberalism, pluralism, tolerance, freedom of speech, etc. In fact, all these elements are vital for Western elites' justification of the socio-economic and political system they impose. Without those, I reckon, almost anyone would've chosen the one that explicitly - and ruthlessly - benefits the working class.

    And then they, the elites, turn around and eliminate all that good stuff. Then what's left is most ruthless pursuit of the interests of the owner class.

    Tsk, Oh well. What could go wrong with that...

    I think your reasoning is sophistical. Ideologies are not neutral; some are good and some are bad (or better or worse). Communism is a terrible, destructive ideology that can put a prospering advanced economy back into the Stone Age in only a few years if followed rigorously. We should therefore welcome it when a Communist government behaves hypocritically and does not practice what it preaches (like the “Communist” government of China today). Those Communist governments that stayed true to their principles, like those of Mao or Stalin, were by far the bloodiest and most destructive.

    The Western Enlightenment values of liberalism, pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of speech are all good values. Societies that practice those values prosper, while societies that undermine them falter. We should prefer it that a government preaching those values should also practice them, of course. But when our governments fail to practice their values, it is not their hypocrisy that should most concern us but their failure to uphold all those good values.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mao Cheng Ji
    To discuss the 'Good' and 'Bad' you may want to comment on some church website. In this earthly life, what you call 'values' are pragmatic reactions to prevailing conditions. Under certain circumstances cannibalism might become your 'value'.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  13. @jtgw
    I think your reasoning is sophistical. Ideologies are not neutral; some are good and some are bad (or better or worse). Communism is a terrible, destructive ideology that can put a prospering advanced economy back into the Stone Age in only a few years if followed rigorously. We should therefore welcome it when a Communist government behaves hypocritically and does not practice what it preaches (like the "Communist" government of China today). Those Communist governments that stayed true to their principles, like those of Mao or Stalin, were by far the bloodiest and most destructive.

    The Western Enlightenment values of liberalism, pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of speech are all good values. Societies that practice those values prosper, while societies that undermine them falter. We should prefer it that a government preaching those values should also practice them, of course. But when our governments fail to practice their values, it is not their hypocrisy that should most concern us but their failure to uphold all those good values.

    To discuss the ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ you may want to comment on some church website. In this earthly life, what you call ‘values’ are pragmatic reactions to prevailing conditions. Under certain circumstances cannibalism might become your ‘value’.

    Read More
    • Replies: @jtgw
    And yet you expressed a clear moral judgment in favor of communist countries that were open about their destructive aims. You can't have it both ways. If you want to be a nihilist you can't express any value judgments of any kind.
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  14. jtgw says:
    @Mao Cheng Ji
    To discuss the 'Good' and 'Bad' you may want to comment on some church website. In this earthly life, what you call 'values' are pragmatic reactions to prevailing conditions. Under certain circumstances cannibalism might become your 'value'.

    And yet you expressed a clear moral judgment in favor of communist countries that were open about their destructive aims. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to be a nihilist you can’t express any value judgments of any kind.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mao Cheng Ji
    Who said anything about nihilism? All I said was that I prefer honesty.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  15. @jtgw
    And yet you expressed a clear moral judgment in favor of communist countries that were open about their destructive aims. You can't have it both ways. If you want to be a nihilist you can't express any value judgments of any kind.

    Who said anything about nihilism? All I said was that I prefer honesty.

    Read More
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  16. Mikhail says: • Website
    @Ken52
    Patrick Cockburn is the same guy who claimed without any evidence that the Syrian government was behind this year and last year’s chemical attacks. Now he says beware of people who claim to know what’s going on in Syria. Sounds like he’s trying to rehabilitate himself.

    Patrick Cockburn is the same guy who claimed without any evidence that the Syrian government was behind this year and last year’s chemical attacks. Now he says beware of people who claim to know what’s going on in Syria. Sounds like he’s trying to rehabilitate himself.

    I kind of noticed that myself. In fairness, he wasn’t so point blank in that assertion – at least in so far as the most recent alleged Syrian government chemical attack. Rather, he noted World Health Org claims in support of such.

    Related:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/13/cruising-for-bruising-with-russia.html

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/17/latest-atlanticist-tough-guy-act.html

    Counterpunch and Democracy Now have featured some flawed mainstream commentary:

    https://www.mintpressnews.com/democracy-nows-alt-media-platform-for-humanitarian-imperialism/240800/ & https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/24/the-left-syria-and-fake-news/ (originally posted at Truthdig)

    From the above linked Counterpunch run piece:

    Within hours of the chemical attack, Jaysh al-Islam forces caved to Assad’s tactics and gave him what he wanted when they fled the city. Why would rebels frame Assad only to leave their stronghold right afterward?

    ****

    More like an alleged and yet to be established Syrian government chemical attack. The rebels were losing with or without chemicals being used against them. Hence, it makes no sense for the Syrian government to have used them. The rebels have been accused of staging chemical attacks for the purpose of getting the US to bomb Syrian government positions. Just prior to the recently alleged Syrian government chemical attack, the US president said that he wanted US forces out of Syria soon.

    Another excerpt from the same article -

    Fisk made no attempt to explain the many reports of a chemical smell and of white foam at the mouths of victims. His report directly contradicts that of Associated Press and Guardian newspaper journalists who managed to corroborate with multiple sources including survivors that there had been a chemical attack from the sky. Earlier investigations by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times also concluded that the claims by survivors of the attack were accurate. Are we to believe that The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, AP and The Guardian are all part of some grand conspiracy to push the U.S. to bomb targets important to Assad?

    ****

    Which so-called “multiple sources”? Should they be fully trusted without a clear confirmation? Like the AP, Guardian, Al Jazeera and NYT haven’t misrepresented past occurrences. Regarding journalists on the ground at issue after the alleged Syrian government chemical attack, One America News’ Pearson Sharp cast doubt that there was a Syrian government chemical attack.

    Omitted from the above article is the account of one of the children filmed during the alleged Syrian government chemical attack. That child appears to be in good health. He said that the filming had a scripted characteristic.

    Numerous Western sources have second guessed the prior claims and most recent claim of the Syrian government using chemical weapons. None of them are mentioned in the above linked Counterpunch article.

    Another excerpt -

    We can condemn the mass atrocities being committed by Assad and Putin and oppose any U.S. military interference in the region. Both these things can be true at once.

    ****

    The author who wrote that emphasizes the Syrian government and Russia committing mass atrocities in the Middle East. In contrast, US activity is described as “interference”, with no mention of atrocities committed by some of the people who’ve benefited from US support in that region, which includes Iraq and Libya, in addition to Syria.

    On a related note, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour is appropriately called out:

    https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/04/24/media-used-my-son-for-their-purposes-cnn-amanpour-challenged-talk-aleppo-boy.html

    I don’t recall Amanpour making political hay out of civilians killed and/or injured by armed US involvement in Iraq and elsewhere.

    Read More
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