Two years ago today Anonymous kicked off Operation Tunisia, as mass uprisings that would change the social fabric and political landscape of North Africa and the Middle East to its core were just getting started.
In a social movement that became known as the Arab Spring, the people of MENA showed tremendous determination to cast out autocratic regimes that had ruled over them for 20, 30, in some cases 40 years, and reclaim their nation's future for themselves. Many called it the "Death of Fear" because the people showed time and again that they would not be silenced even by murder.
The rulers looked upon the masses as their mules so they responded with the usual mixture of the "stick" and the "carrot" applied by oppressive regimes the world over. The "carrot" was generally the promise of political and economic reforms. The "stick" was mainly detention, pain compliance, including torture, and worst.
All of the regimes faced with revolt in the Arab Spring heavily favored the use of the "stick" as compared to the "carrot". Owing to the world economic crisis and the rate of inflation, the cost of real "carrots" was seen as prohibitive and the Arab street was not inclined to put much value on promises, so the "stick" was considered to be the only thing holding its value to these dictators. Plus there are many international subsidies available from arms makers and imperial governments for the stick approach whereas money for reforms may be hard to come by in this economic climate.
The ultimate "stick" is simply murder and all repressive states reserve the "right" to use it. Killing an opponent is at the same time the ultimate suppression of that opponent and the ultimate warning to others. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the presidents used murder as a tool to suppress the protests before they fled, but they used murder in small ways like having police shoot into demonstrations and killing people taken into custody. They never used the "big stick" of military power, the army, to murder wholesale, their political opposition.
Qaddafi did in Libya, and with international support, the Libyan people overthrew him, at a cost of some 30,000 lives in 2011.
Assad preferred the "stick"
Bashar al-Assad in Syria also relied almost exclusively on the "stick" as his answer to the demands of masses. From the very beginning, about 22 months ago, he had snipers shooting protesters and he has escalated his use of murder as a tool to suppress the rebellion steadily since then to the point that now President Obama and many other world leaders are warning him not to resort to the use of chemical weapons in his murder spree.
Most recently this dairy has been using the SOHR figures of ~45,000 deaths to date but today the United Nations came out with the results of a exhaustive, 5 month study of conflict deaths in Syria and said that more than 60,000 Syrians had been killed in the conflict.
In addition to the wholesale use of air power against civilian neighborhoods, one of the more criminal methods the regime has use to simply murder civilians has been to bomb or shell them while they are standing in line at the bakery or shelling the bakery. This tactic is favored because it spreads terror. In addition it kills not only the people lining up for bread, but also those who must do without.
I knew this was happening a lot in 2012 but I didn't know that it had happened an astounding 33 times until I saw this video put on YouTube by Translator Syrian which describes itself as "a group of independent young people, our goal is to distribute and publicize all the crimes of Bashar Al Assad against the unarmed Syrian people to the whole world."
The two minute video they have created and released on New Years Eve described how the Assad regime first started using systematic attacks on bakeries in Homs in January 2012 and has escalated the practice as the year progressed. Aleppo saw 24 such attacks as Assad has attempted to starve the population into submission. More recently he has also been using his warplanes against the bakery crowds.
There's no big mystery
One advantage a foreign observer has with regards to the Syrian conflict as compared to any other conflict that has ever happened anywhere on the Earth before in history is the availability of first hand information. Thanks to the proliferation of cell phones, cameras and computers, not only is virtually everything recorded and generally recorded from more than one angle, it is all available to a worldwide audience via the Internet.
Therefore there should be no excuse for the careful observer to be confused about what the Syrian conflict is: 1.) The regime started murdering non-violent protesters. 2.) The protests grew and demanded regime change, i.e. the protests became a revolution 4.) The regime responded with military violence and the use of mass murder as a method to suppress the rebellion. 5.) The revolutionary forces organized an armed self-defense, the core of which has been Syrian soldiers that have defected from the regime, they have been joined by citizens that have taken up arms and others that came to Syria specifically to support their armed struggle.
Where the "hearts and minds" of the masses of Syrian people stand in all of this can best be determined by the order of battle, and the people are winning.
The Assad regime has had all the advantages that come with holding state power for 40 years. In addition to its control of the very formidable Syrian armed forces, it has had the military backing, including military specialists and a seemingly endless supply of ammunition, from Russia and Iran. While on the other side, the international "community" has refused anything like the help it extended to the Libya people and the United States has even been imposing an anti-aircraft weapons embargo on the people being bombed.
This international "community" has also put very limited restrictions on instruments of mass murder at his disposal. In August, President Obama gave Assad a green light to use anything below "a whole bunch of chemical weapons." President Assad has murdered ~30,000 since then without crossing Obama's red line.
The truth is that most of these world powers would like to preserve at least the Assad regime even if they are forced to throw Assad under the bus, and all of them would like to reserve the "right" to use such violence against their own populations should that ever be necessary.
Yet, in spite of this "License to Kill," Assad is not prevailing. The ranks of the revolutionaries is growing, not shrinking. He can't kill fast enough! He can't use his regular infantry, they will defect, his best people already have. The terror just isn't working anymore.
And neither is the refusal of most international support. The revolution has armed itself from Assad's armories and now they have announced that they are at long last imposing a "no-fly" zone over parts of Syrian themselves, thank you!
The only reason it looks like a stalemate now is that Assad still has a very brutal killing machine that doesn't require much human support to strike at opposition areas and he has a lot of foreign support, including personnel, the masses of Syrian people are with the revolution. If they didn't whole heartedly support the fighters, their struggle would turn to dust.
Using the logic of US laws, I believe all the 60,000 deaths caused by the Syrian conflict should be considered people murdered by Assad. Clearly, he has sought to maintain his rule by criminal means. He has openly wielded the tool of mass murder to suppress his population. So just as a bank robber is charged not only with the deaths of the patron and policeman he shot, but also the murder of his partner shot by the cops, Assad must stand not only for the slaughter of civilians and self-defense fighters, but also for the deaths of the SAA soldiers he employed in his criminal undertaking.
Hurray for the good guys!
What is going on in Syria now is a struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between the people and a dictator.
Those that say there is no good side in this war serve that dictator.
Certainly it is a very complicated situation and there are many forces at work. This is bound to be the case in any world-historic struggle as more and more forces get involved, but that should not blind us as to the nature of the main struggle.
Certainly, the revolutionary forces have included some unsavory characters, have killed innocent civilians and been guilty of war crimes. This is always the case for all sides in every war. This must not be allowed to stand in the way of choosing sides. We can see that while those mistakes are the exception for an opposition still trying to free itself from the methods of the old order, as well as its dictatorship; they are the rule for the Assad forces.
Civilian deaths are not damage that is collateral to the Assad mission of wiping out just its armed opposition. That is why the murder of civilian protesters in large numbers predated that armed opposition. Civilian deaths are a key part of the strategy the Assad regime is using to maintain its power. It is now quite openly using mass murder in ever growing proportions, in an increasingly desperate attempt to hang on to state power.
And the international powers are letting him have at it. That is the truth of Annan and Brahimi, all else is rhetoric. Of course, if the people should triumph, and Assad survive, the ICC is standing by to take possession and save him from the death penalty, otherwise its all good!
And it is not just people waiting in line for bread that get slaughtered. Just today, an Assad regime warplane bombed a gas station outside of Damascus and killed dozens of people waiting to buy gas. You can find amateur video of the charred bodies on line. i will try to find some and post them here for the doubting Thomases among you.
Defections fuel this Struggle
The main thing that shows that this struggle is one with a good side and a bad side, between a side that is deserving of support and a side that should be condemned, is that it is fueled by defections. The tide of battle is turning because those closest to the struggle and with the most to lose are overwhelmingly choosing the side of the revolution. Even those in the pay of the regime, that have professed loyalty to it and with much to fear by deserting it, are defecting to the revolution, whereas no one is moving in the opposite direction. Therefore it is a dynamic entirely with the Syrian people that the revolution gets stronger and the Assad regime gets weaker with every defection.
Recent high-level defections included two generals and three reporters from Syrian government radio. After describing how they were forced to denigrate the opposition, toe the SANA line, ignore the facts and report government lies as truths. Lama al-Khadra, who was the head of political and cultural programming at Radio Damascus summed up her work with the grim phrase:
"Our mission was to kill with words."
I think those on the Left in the US, such as certain Kossacks here, that never fail to show up in my diaries and promote the view that this is somebody else's fight, that both sides are equally bad, or that the number of deaths claimed is an exaggeration, and those that parrot the lies of the Assad regime in the name of "balance"
should consider it they aren't doing the same thing.
Below is more background related to today's diary.
From Reuters we have this report on the UN announcement:
Over 60,000 dead in Syria conflict, UN says
GENEVA | Wed Jan 2, 2013 9:45am EST
Jan 2 (Reuters) - At least 60,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said on Wednesday, citing an "exhaustive" U.N.-commissioned study.
Over five months of analysis, researchers cross-referenced seven sources to compile a list of 59,648 individuals reported killed between March 15, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012.
"Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," Pillay said. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking." More...
The sad truth is that even this 60,000 figure is deceptively low. The UN used the "Iraqi Body Count" method which requires that the dead be identified by name and the death be verified. This method is known to seriously undercount conflict deaths because it refuses to count deaths that don't meet these strict requirements. In addition, in the case of Syria, there are an estimated 185,000 Syrians that have been arrested or disappeared by the Assad regime. While we can hope that all those presumed detainees are among the living and will eventually be liberated, the history of the regime's treatment of those in its custody allows no room for such fantasies.
The main reason the Syrian death toll is so high is that the Assad regime has used high civilian deaths as there main "stick" in its effort to force the Syrian people to submit to its continued rule. Few examples show this cleared that the repeated attacks on people lining up at bakeries for their daily bread.
The Assad regime has attacked bakeries and the people queuing for bread 33 times in 2012 and the fact that this has happened so many shows exactly what the war policy of the regime is.
More than 33 bakeries were shelled in 2012 according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. More than 300 people were killed and more than one thousand were injured due to shelling on bakeries. We hold the regime fully responsible for the massacres that were committed against the innocent people there.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom
carried interviews with the three defecting journalists:
Three state journalists defect
Three radio journalists state leave Syria for Lebanon before moving to Paris with the help of the French authorities.
The one-time head of the station's political and cultural programmes, Khadra said she had for months toed the regime's line in reporting events of the uprising that began in mid-March 2011.
"We were confined to following reports from (state news agency) SANA and denigrating the opposition, it wasn't easy," she said.
The newsroom was beset by paranoia, she said, with no one daring to watch anything but state television.
"It was dangerous to watch Al-Jazeera without looking like a revolutionary," she said. "Within the official media, many journalists are suffering along with the people."
The journalists said they were under near-constant watch and faced frequent intimidation.
"Some of us were called in by the secret services," said Kamal Jamal Beyk, the station's programme director, who fled along with Khadra and Baddur Abdul Karim, the former head of the station's cultural programming.
"We were threatened, as were our families," said Jamal Beyk, who said he was questioned three times by secret police.
"Working for the state media in Syria is like living in an invisible prison," said Abdul Karim.
"We were no longer journalists," she said, describing a newsroom where "some support the regime and don't hide it, while others stay because they have no choice."
Jamal Beyk said "Iranian information experts" had been brought into the newsroom to train journalists and that the "most zealous" pro-regime reporters were sent to Beirut to study with Hezbollah's Al-Manar satellite television channel.
There stories sound very similar to those told by another defector from Syrian state media. Ghatan Sleiba, who worked for both the state-owned al-Akhbariya network and the al-Dunya channel, and defected in July, was one of the first high level propaganda agents to escape from Assad. He told the Guardian
Sleiba, 33, arrived in Turkey last Wednesday after a long journey from Hassaka in eastern Syria, where he had been responsible for television coverage of the east of the country. He is now being hosted by rebel groups.
He claimed opposition guerillas are now in quasi-control of much of the east, especially the countryside surrounding main towns and cities.
"This is one of the things they never wanted us to talk about. What we were doing was not reporting. It was simply acting as the tongue of the regime. I stayed as long as I could to help the revolutionaries, but I couldn't take it any more.''
Al-Dunya is part-owned and supervised by Bashar al-Assad's maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf, a key member of the inner sanctum. It has pushed the official narrative that the Syrian uprising is a plot by the west and key Sunni Arab powers to use al-Qaida-linked insurgents to overthrow the regime.
Sleiba said that before interviews he regularly gave people answers to questions he was about to ask them. "Those answers and the subjects of things to talk about were given to us by the head of the Ba'ath party in the area, or by the political security division."
He said he developed doubts about the official version of events about two months into the uprising, which started in March last year. "Many of us knew then it wasn't terrorists they were fighting. It was people wanting their rights. But it was very difficult to do anything about it. We have families and we need to protect them."
Last November he made contact with the Free Syria Army, first near Hassaka and then in Turkey, saying he wanted to flee. "They told me that I was more use to them if I stayed in my job. And so from then on we talked on Skype and I told them what I could about regime and military movements."
Sleiba accused regime intelligence units in the east of sending a gang to maim him with a knife and rob him of more than $2,000 (£1,300), then blame the attack on the rebels. "I know who did this to me," he said, pointing to a deep gouge on his forehead. "The Free Syria Army needs to win people's confidence in our area and they have done that. We know who their members and their commanders are and they did not do this, no way. It was the regime."
One of the three Assad radio programmers to defect on Sunday was Kamal Jamal Beyk [Bik], Damascus Radio's program director. He spoke to France 24
Bik said that continuing to work at Radio Damascus had made him “an accomplice to the regime” and called on his colleagues he left behind not to believe claims by the regime that his defection was part of “a foreign agenda”.
Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Syria
Deploring the lack of truth, Bik conceded that he had finally been forced to take a position in a conflict he said was “not a civil war, as is being reported, but an ongoing revolution against a tyrannical regime.”
“We can’t remain silent, we have to take a position, to take sides,” he said. “It is because of this that we had to leave Syria.”
Bik's colleague Lama al-Khadra repeated that their defections were “about taking a side” and that she would rather be “announcing the victory of the revolution on Syrian radio than announcing our defection from a foreign country.”
“From the beginning of the uprising, all our radio broadcasts made us feel like we were killing the Syrian people with our words,” she said. “It was like committing suicide.”
Explaining why she had stayed so long at the radio station, she said: “We had the choice between carrying on with our jobs or going to prison, in the hope that we would find a solution and be given the opportunity to report the truth and to work differently. We were hoping in vain.”