News Release Archive - 2018

The U.S., Macron and Syria

Trump is currently hosting French President Emmanuel Macron on a state visit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit the U.S. on Friday.

KAMAL DIB, kamaldib at videotron.ca
Dib is a professor at the University of Ottawa. He is fluent in Arabic, French and German as well as English. His specializations include Canadian social policy and multiculturalism and the social and economic histories of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Germany. His books include Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment (in English) and in Arabic, Syria in History and The Damnation of Cain: The Natural Gas Wars From Russia, Iran, and Qatar, to Lebanon and Syria.

He said today: “It’s certainly notable that France is so pro-intervention in Syria while it is the former colonial power there during the mandate period — between World Wars I and II. But France is mostly being used by the U.S. government as dubious international cover right now. While Germany has focused on building its domestic economy, France — instead of reforming their own economic system — is seeking foreign adventures in the belief that that will somehow aid its economy — targeting natural resources of countries like Mali while selling weapons.

“The main dynamic we’re seeing is that the U.S. government continues to interfere in countries all over the world with the message: Do what you’re told. This means imposing the economics of neoliberalism, the so-called the Washington Consensus — or suffer the consequences. In the Mideast, the U.S. government has supported the so-called traditionalists (such as the monarchies) and attacked the secular modernists, most recently Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Libya under Muammar Gaddafi and now Syria under Bashar Assad.

“An objective view would assess the good and bad of all these groups in that region. Both the Arab traditionalists and modernists are clearly authoritarian. But we virtually only hear about the bad of these secularists — and in a manner that is often propagandistic. The U.S. government has been attempting to interfere in Syria since at least the 1950s. Since that time, Syria has managed to have remarkably positive outcomes in education, health care, clean water and electricity. That’s clear if you contrast it with Egypt, which was supposed to have such massive benefits from its treaty with Israel, but which has developed very poorly with Western aid and investment.”

From WikiLeaks to Whistleblowers: “Assault on Truth Telling”

Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm write in The Intercept: “The DNC’S Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom.” Timm writes in Columbia Journalism Review: “Forget Comey and McCabe. Support FBI whistleblower Terry Albury.” Also see “The Isolation of Julian Assange Must Stop,” signed by Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, John Pilger and others.

CHIP GIBBONS, [in D.C.] chip at rightsanddissent.org, @rightsdissent
Policy and Legislative Counsel at Defending Rights & Dissent, Gibbons said today: “Our society is faced with an assault on truth telling. From the DNC’s reckless lawsuit against WikiLeaks, which could have a far reaching impact on journalists who publish newsworthy information, to the continued criminal prosecutions of whistleblowers, those in power have made it clear they will punish the messenger to keep the people in the dark.”

Defending Rights & Dissent recently published the statement “End Espionage Act Prosecutions of Whistleblowers” signed by a number of journalists, whistleblowers and activists: “We the undersigned organizations and individuals call for an end to the use of the constitutionally dubious Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who give information to the media on matters of public concern.

“It is entirely inappropriate to use a law supposedly aimed at actual spies and saboteurs, against individuals who act in good faith to bring government misconduct to the attention of the public. Yet, we have seen this statute used with greater frequency against whistleblowers.

“Last month, the Department of Justice charged former FBI agent Terry J. Albury under the Espionage Act for alleged disclosures to the media. According to charging documents, the government alleged Albury gave two documents to the media — most likely The Intercept. Allegations by the government are just that — allegations. However, the documents in question are of immense public interest. One deals with how the FBI assesses confidential informants. The FBI’s use of confidential informants has continuously raised concerns about profiling, surveillance of First Amendment protected activity, and entrapment. This is to say nothing about the general concerns about the FBI’s confidential informant program. For example, according to documents obtained by The Intercept, the FBI, in its pursuit of informants, investigates individuals without probable cause of criminal wrongdoing and hunts for information that can be used to pressure them into becoming informants.”

AUMF “Reform”: Codifying Perpetual War?


Elizabeth Goitein recently wrote the piece “The Corker-Kaine Bill Would Codify, not End, the Forever War” which states: “Senators Corker and Kaine want Congress to get back into the game. Unfortunately, however, their bill would do little more than codify Congress’s abdication. It would authorize the use of military force against the groups the United States is currently fighting, in the countries where we are fighting now. But it would not limit the conflict to those groups or countries.”

MARJORIE COHN, marjorielegal at gmail.com, @marjoriecohn
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

She said today: “In 2001 and 2002, Congress enacted Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Although the authorizations were limited, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump, have used them as an excuse to attack whatever country they wished. Efforts to repeal and replace these AUMFs have been unsuccessful.

“Now, under the guise of fulfilling its constitutional power to authorize military force, Congress is poised to consider legislation that would give the president a blank check to make war. A bipartisan group of Senators has introduced a new AUMF that would authorize the president to use military force, with no limits, in at least six countries and against several groups. The president could add countries and groups as he or she pleased, with little congressional oversight. And the bill would have no expiration date. Moreover, it would run afoul of the United Nations Charter.”

Cohn has written “Mattis, Tillerson Want Blank Check to Wage Illegal War” and “Congress Must Reclaim War-Making Authority.”

Syria Attack: Seeing Through the Propaganda

Award-winning reporter Robert Fisk of the British Independent just reported from Douma, Syria: “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma — and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack.”

Former Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ritter (who, before the invasion of Iraq, was stating that Iraq had been stripped of any weapons of mass destruction) was just interviewed on the Syria war, and the role of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, by David Swanson, audio here.

The OPCW announced on Thursday, April 12 that they would begin their work in Douma on April 14. This announcement received minimal media attention in the U.S. at the time. Trump announced the U.S. attack on Syria from the White House on Friday, April 13.

The Washington Post and other major media have recently amplified charges such as “Russia accused of tampering with the site of alleged Syrian chemical attack” and “chemical weapons inspectors in Syria said Monday that they are being denied access to the site of an alleged chemical attack.” The sources for these charges are respectively, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, Kenneth Ward, and the Twitter feed of the British delegation of OPCW.

JAMES CARDEN, jamescarden09 at gmail.com
Carden wrote the new piece “Trump Just Launched Another Illegal Attack Against Syria,” which states: “Is it possible that Assad is behind the chemical-weapons attack? Of course. But there are several things to bear in mind, beginning with the fact that, as recently as February, Secretary Mattis, responded to questions about recent accusations of chemical weapons use by Assad, by replying that ‘We do not have evidence of it.’ [Also see “Anatomy of a Chemical Attack” at Consortium News by Barry Kissin for more recent such statements by Mattis.]

“And while last November’s OPCW-UN report pinned the blame for the April 2017 chemical-weapons attack on Assad, the late investigative journalist Robert Parry pointed out that the report also contained evidence that ‘more than 100 victims of sarin exposure were taken to several area hospitals before the alleged Syrian warplane could have struck the town of Khan Sheikhoun.’

“And then there is the issue of motive: On the verge of victory after a brutal and costly war, does it make sense that Assad would opt to commit the one sure thing that would unite the international community against him, draw airstrikes by the United States and its coalition partners — and perhaps more?

“This of course doesn’t rule out Assad, but it does raise some uncomfortable questions for those cheering yet another illegal U.S. military attack against a country that has been under attack for the past seven years by the same forces that attacked us on 9/11.”

Claims about Syria Attack “Unraveling”

AFP reports: “At destroyed Syria lab, workers deny producing toxic weapons.” Similarly, CBS News reports: “One of the targets of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Syria was still smoldering late Saturday afternoon, reports CBS News’ Seth Doane, the only American network correspondent inside Syria. The U.S. military says the Barzeh complex in Damascus was a ‘center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons.’ Scientist Sayed said his office was there. …

“He said it’s ‘totally incorrect’ that chemical weapons were being developed there. ‘The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) visited here and didn’t report anything wrong with this place.’ … A package on the side of the road is anti-venom, which Sayed says is what they were producing.”

Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “OPCW will play it close to the political power realities. It always does. Expect studied ambiguity but aimed at Bashar al-Assad.” See recent piece by former weapons inspector Scott Ritter: “Trump’s Rush to Judgment on Syria Chemical Attack” in The American Conservative. Also see by the late editor of Consortium News, Robert Parry: “How U.S. Pressure Bends UN Agencies.” Parry notes that John Bolton — newly installed as National Security Advisor — had ousted the head of the OPCW in 2002, Brazilian diplomat Jose Bustani, in order facilitate the invasion of Iraq. Parry also critiques the current head of the agency, Turkish diplomat Ahmet Uzumcu.

REESE ERLICH, ReeseErlich2 at hotmail.com
Erlich is author of Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect. A freelance journalist who began reporting from Syria in 2002, he writes the syndicated column “Foreign Correspondent.”

He said today: “The official version of the U.S. missile attack on Syria is already unraveling. The supposed chemical weapons factory bombed by the U.S. didn’t leak chemicals. There have been no independent confirmations that the bombed sites had any connection to chemical weapons. In 1998 President Bill Clinton directed a missile strike against a ‘chemical weapons’ factory in Sudan, which turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant.

“Chemical weapons inspectors are currently in Damascus waiting to visit Douma where the alleged chemical attack took place. Why didn’t Trump wait for them to make an inspection?”

BEAU GROSSCUP, bgrosscup at csuchico.edu
Grosscup is author of several books, including: The Newest Explosions of Terrorism and most recently, Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment. He is professor emeritus at California State University-Chico.

He said today: “Last Friday’s U.S.-led air strikes on Syria are part of a battle royal being waged between two powerful constituencies within the U.S. government, both of whose goals are the extension and permanence of U.S. power abroad. …

“With the appointment of John Bolton as President Trump’s National Security Advisor, the neoconservatives, whose policy is encapsulated in the goal of ‘regime change’ via military intervention in ‘rogue’ nations opposed to U.S. power (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea) are intent on a last ditch effort to remove Assad’s Syrian regime via military force so they can get on with a regime change in Iran. The other constituency, now represented by Defense Secretary James Mattis and embedded in the National Security bureaucracy … are more intent on avoiding another ground war in the Middle East, preferring limited air strikes, diplomacy and aid to ‘Syrian rebels’ (ISIS and Al Qaeda) to do the fighting.

“Differences aside, both laid the use of chemical weapons on the Assad regime, (with no proof produced) even through strategically it is only the U.S./French-backed opposition who gain from the use of chemical weapons, i.e. provoking increased U.S./French military involvement. The problems for both are that Assad is winning on the ground (thus doesn’t need to use chemical weapons) and Russian military backing of the Assad regime, thus raising the chance of a superpower confrontation, something Mattis is trying to minimize but Bolton’s neoconservatives relish. For them, the ultimate ‘regime change’ is in Russia. All this is troubling for President Trump who seeks a ‘victory’ in Syria to distract from his domestic woes …

“Either way, the war in Syria will go on, much to the delight of the Israelis, who seek a weakened Syria on their border and a U.S. commitment to regime change in Iran. The neoconservative capture of President Trump’s ear suits them just fine.”

Syria Bombing “Illegal,” Likely to “Prolong” Syrian War

The U.S., France and Britain bombed Syria Friday. This took place just before inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were to begin their work in Syria.

CHARLES GLASS, [currently in England], charlesglassbooks at gmail.com, @charlesmglass
Glass was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent and has written extensively on Syria, including covering the civil war on the ground. He said today: “The Trump-May-Macron bombardment of Syria did not kill many people, and it has not caused World War III. What more could anyone hope? Far from ending the war in Syria, it is likely to prolong it.”

Glass’ books include Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. A year ago, he wrote the piece “Think the War in Syria Is Winding Down? Think Again.” His most recent piece is “The Result of a Loyalist Victory in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta? More Violence.” See his website: CharlesGlass.net.

ALFRED DE ZAYAS, [in Geneva] alfreddezayas at gmail.com, @alfreddezayas
Alfred de Zayas is the UN Independent Expert (Special Rapporteur) on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. He was just on The Real News: “Trump’s Attack on Syria Violates International Law.”

FRANCIS BOYLE, fboyle at illinois.edu
Boyle is professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. He was recently on an IPA news release: “Attacking Syria ‘Impeachable.’” See his recent interview on WMNF. He also recently wrote the piece “America’s ‘Unlimited Imperialists’” for Consortium News. Boyle’s books include Foundations of World Order (1999) and Destroying World Order (2015).

* Inspectors in Syria * Resisting Illegal Orders

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons “confirms that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) team is on its way to Syria and will start its work as of Saturday 14 April 2018.” See from Agence France-Presse: “OPCW experts to begin arriving in Syria: Syria’s UN envoy.”

The Local, one of the largest English-language Swedish media outlets reports: “Sweden drafts proposal to rid Syria of chemical weapons ‘once and for all.’

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter recently wrote about the OPCW inspectors in “Trump’s Rush to Judgment on Syria Chemical Attack” for The American Conservative.

GERRY CONDON, gerrycondon at veteransforpeace.org, @VFPNational
Condon is president of Veterans For Peace, which recently warned: “a U.S. attack on Syria could lead to a nuclear war. … Russia has said it will shoot down U.S. missiles, and attack the ‘platforms from which they are fired,’ i.e. U.S. ships.”

Said Condon: “Why the rush to war? … Why is the mass media cheerleading for war instead of asking hard questions? Why are Democratic and Republican politicians trying to out-do one another with calls for ever more massive attacks on Syria?

“There is no proof yet of a Syrian government gas attack, only a video made by a fundamentalist rebel group that wants more U.S. intervention. Even if the reports are true, a military response will only lead to more death and destruction, and dangerous escalations.

“We are talking about a direct confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers. Why would the U.S. risk nuclear war over dubious chemical weapons claims?

“Veterans have longer memories than the press and the politicians. We remember how we were lied into the Iraq War with false reports of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ U.S. wars throughout the Middle East have caused millions of deaths and destroyed entire societies. Our soldiers and their families have also paid an extremely high price.”

“Veterans, GI’s and their families will not accept another war based on lies. We will be protesting in the streets, in the suites, at media outlets and at military bases.

“All military personnel, from low-ranking GI’s to the top generals and admirals, have an obligation to disobey illegal orders. Orders to carry out acts of war against a sovereign nation that is not threatening the U.S. are illegal orders.

“We swore an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Right now those enemies are those who would rush our country recklessly into another devastating war.”

Syria: UN Independent Expert Warns About Propaganda for War, Rush to Judgement

ALFRED DE ZAYAS, [in Geneva] alfreddezayas at gmail.com, @alfreddezayas
Alfred de Zayas is the UN Independent Expert (Special Rapporteur) on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.

He said today that he “urges all parties to the Syrian conflict to pause for a moment and give reason and law a chance. An international investigation into all allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria (and elsewhere) must be conducted. Only a thorough professional investigation can establish the facts and the responsibilities, which may necessitate referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“A fundamental component of the rule of law is due process, which encompasses conventional and customary rules intended to prevent arbitrariness and consequent miscarriages of justice. No one is served by rushing to conclusions, least of all the war victims. What is important is to expedite humanitarian aid to civilians and to obtain a cease fire. Violating the fundamental rules of penal law, including the presumption of innocence, weakens the credibility and predictability of legal institutions and could constitute a grave threat to regional and international peace within the meaning of article 39 of the UN Charter, undermining a democratic and equitable international order.

“Sabre-rattling, war mongering and propaganda for war are incompatible with the UN Charter and with article 20, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ‘We the peoples’ of this planet want peace, and that requires good will and perseverance in reaffirming the rule of law and the culture of dialogue and negotiation.

“Violating the prohibition of the use of force stipulated in article 2(4) of the UN Charter could entail not only the crime of aggression under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Law, but would almost certainly lead to crimes against humanity and war crimes. There must be no impunity for those who use chemical weapons and no impunity for those who commit crimes of aggression.” See his personal website.

Attacking Syria “Impeachable”

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 09: National Security Advisor John Bolton (R), listens to U.S. President Donald Trump as he speaks about the FBI raid at lawyer Michael Cohen’s office, while receiving a briefing from senior military leaders regarding Syria, in the Cabinet Room, on April 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. The FBI raided the office of Michael Cohen on Monday as part of the ongoing investigation into the president’s administration. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

FRANCIS BOYLE, fboyle at illinois.edu
Boyle is professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. He said today: “Any U.S. attack targeting the Syrian government or its forces would clearly violate both U.S. and international law. When Obama was in a similar position in 2013, his advisor Ben Rhodes [see below] has since commented that they turned back largely because they were afraid of impeachment. That fear is well founded. While the prospect of impeaching Trump is thrown around frequently for partisan purposes, on this issue, the constitution is clear: Initiating a war or any such attack without authorization is clearly impeachable.

“Last year, at the National Press Club, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., claimed the authority to target the Syrian government stemmed from the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Gen. Dunford was totally incorrect. The AUMF passed after 9/11 has indeed been used to justify the bombing campaign purporting to target ISIS, but it cannot possibly be used to justify targeting the Syrian government.

“Excuses of ‘humanitarian intervention’ have no basis in international law and in these circumstances are transparently hollow. Israel apparently just attacked Syria (illegal) from Lebanese airspace (also illegal). Israel itself just openly admitted that it is killing Palestinian civilian protesters — part of a decades-long brazenly illegal policy. The U.S. representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, prevented even an inquiry by the UN into the matter. There’s no evidence of any humanitarian concern here, simply a search for pretexts to pursue geopolitical goals which may well include carving up Syria.”

Boyle’s books include Foundations of World Order (Duke University Press).

In 2017, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor, and foreign policy speechwriter, told Politico that President Obama feared impeachment if he targeted the Syrian government:

Rhodes: “The only country in the world that was prepared to join us [in attacking the Assad government] was France. And we had no domestic legal basis. We actually had Congress warning us against taking action without congressional authorization, which we interpreted as the president could face impeachment.”

Politico: “Really? Was the prospect of impeachment actually a factor in your conversations?”

Rhodes: “That was a factor. Go back and read the letters from Boehner, letters from the Republican members of Congress. They laid down markers that this would not be constitutional.”

House Speaker John Boehner wrote to Obama in 2013: “It is essential you address on what basis any use of force would be legally justified and how the justification comports with the exclusive authority of Congressional authorization under Article I of the Constitution.”

Syria: “Propaganda Machine Goes into High Gear”

CHARLES GLASS, [currently in England], charlesglassbooks at gmail.com, @charlesmglass
Glass was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent and has written extensively on Syria, including covering the civil war on the ground. His books include Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring. A year ago, he wrote the piece “Think the War in Syria Is Winding Down? Think Again.” His most recent piece is “The Result of a Loyalist Victory in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta? More Violence.” See his website: CharlesGlass.net.

JAMES PAUL, [in NYC] james.paul.nyc at gmail.com
Author of Syria Unmasked and the recently released Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy and Power in the UN Security Council, Paul was executive director of Global Policy Forum, a think tank that monitors the UN, for nearly 20 years. He was also a longtime editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and executive director of the Middle East Research and Information Project.

Paul said today: “As the media celebrate the U.S. visit by Saudi prince Salman, author of the catastrophic bombing and starvation of Yemen, they castigate Syria’s president Bashar for a chemical weapons attack and denounce him once again as the nastiest dictator on earth. Washington, Israel and their Western allies are turning up the heat on Moscow, Tehran and Damascus. The battle over oil and Middle East hegemony continues. The propaganda machine goes into high gear, with John Bolton, Trump’s new national security advisor, bringing his own special poison to the table. A Russian-brokered peace deal appeared to be near just days ago, so something had to be done! The hawks are offering Western publics a stark ‘choice’ between two repulsive options: Bashar and his cronies or a U.S.-backed regime, imposed by force of arms. Or perhaps even a devastated no-go zone like Libya today where civil war goes on and on after the Western regime-change intervention. Who would know that a large and lively democratic movement exists in Syria, opposed to both these options and critical of the self-serving ‘great powers’ who have not hesitated to destroy Syria to achieve their geo-strategic aims. The Islamist ‘opposition’ backed by the Saudis and Washington is certainly not the answer to a democratic and peaceful future. No to all interventions!”