Syrian dictatorship, longtime Washington allies

This video from the USA is called Outsourcing Torture – 40min. documentary.

By Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Newspapers in the USA:

WikiLeaks: Bush, Obama Passed on Sanctioning Syrian Insiders

Thursday 4 August 2011

Washington – Two U.S. administrations declined in recent years to place sanctions on Syrian officials who now are involved in that country’s harsh crackdown on dissidents, despite the officials’ involvement in crushing internal opposition previously, according to secret State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

In one instance, the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus asked the State Department in 2007 to impose sanctions on Ali Mamluk, the chief of intelligence for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The role of the organization he heads in suppressing internal dissent is publicly known in Syria and stating as much in our statement would resonate well here,” wrote Michael Corbin, the embassy’s charge d’affaires.

But no action was taken against Mamluk until this April, after security forces had killed scores of civilians in the Syrian town of Deraa in protests that have since spread to much of the country.

In the same cable, Corbin opposed sanctions for Mohammad Suleiman, who at the time was a special Assad adviser for arms procurement and strategic weapons. Corbin argued that Suleiman’s activities weren’t well-known enough that the Treasury Department could impose the sanctions without revealing classified information.

“His activities are not widely known, which will make it difficult to obtain unclassified material” needed for the Treasury Department to cite when sanctioning Suleiman, Corbin wrote.

Suleiman never was sanctioned. On Aug. 1, 2008, a sniper killed him in the Syrian coastal town of Tartous. Syria blamed Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency but offered no proof. A secret cable dated April 9, 2009, offers another possibility: that Suleiman was killed because he had $80 million in cash in the basement of one of his homes, which investigators who were looking into his slaying later found.

How to deal with Assad’s inner circle clearly has been a difficult problem for the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, according to the cables, part of the vast trove of State Department communications that WikiLeaks has shared with McClatchy and other news organizations.

Despite suggestions as long ago as 2006 that Assad was falling short on promises to open his country’s political system, neither administration was willing to take firm action against his closest advisers, though such sanctions — which would have prohibited U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with them — often were discussed, the cables show.

That same ambiguity exists today, with the Obama administration refusing to call for Assad to leave office, even as the White House regularly denounces the harsh crackdown in which as many as 1,600 people are thought to have died. The most recent White House statement came Sunday, after Syrian troops moved into the restive city of Hama and killed an estimated 75 people.

A Jan. 4, 2006, confidential cable from the previous charge d’affaires in Damascus, Stephen Seche, spelled out why the Bush administration was reluctant to target Assad’s inner circle.

“Most Syrians we talk to believe that President Assad still represents their best hope for change without instability. It is their fear of instability that stops the majority of Syrians from pushing harder for internal change,” Seche wrote.

The hesitancy to pressure Assad’s inner circle as a way to bring political change to Syria that’s reflected in the cables recalls the conflict between how officials today describe the Libyan regime of Moammar Gadhafi and the way Gadhafi’s regime was portrayed in diplomatic cables before the current uprising in that country.

As McClatchy outlined in a story in April, those cables often portrayed Gadhafi’s regime as moving toward greater openness and described Gadhafi’s son Saif as one of the main proponents of greater respect for human rights. The International Criminal Court indicted Saif Gadhafi on war crimes charges in June, along with his father.

Corbin raised the issue of sanctions in several cables, including one classified secret and dated Jan. 24, 2008, in which he suggested that the U.S. target four men who make and move money for Assad.

The four included Assad’s father-in-law, Fawas Arkhas; financier Zufair Sahloul, who was said to be able to “move $10 million anywhere in the world in 24 hours”; and Assad’s uncle and financial adviser Mohammad Makhlouf. The U.S. still has made no move to sanction them, although the European Union sanctioned Makhlouf on Tuesday.

The fourth person Corbin suggested the U.S. move against was Nabil al Kuzbari, whom Corbin identified as an Assad confidant who ran investment schemes on behalf of Syria’s top business families. The U.S. moved to sanction him only this May.

The United States Bush administration outsourced torture to the Syrian dictatorship. Like they outsourced torture in the “Global War on Terror” to the Gadaffi regime in Libya.

Revealed: Aid to Ethiopia increases despite serious human rights abuses: here.

14 thoughts on “Syrian dictatorship, longtime Washington allies


    The US’ war of words against Syria
    The US war of words against Syria is marred by hypocrisy and a lack of realism.
    Ted Rall Last Modified: 25 Aug 2011 10:31

    – – – – – – – –
    “Assad deserves no pity. He has killed tens of thousands even during his tenure. Political prisoners in Syria languish in secret prisons. But the same is true in Obama’s American gulags, which span the globe from Guantanamo to Bagram to Diego Garcia to the Californian state prison system, where inmates go insane after years in solitary confinement. Where is Obama’s moral standing? Who tells Obama it’s his time to scoot?

    “Assad is a dictator, and always has been, as was his father. As Obama knows, Assad’s regime was once convenient, not least for Israel, which appreciated the fact that Assad’s primary motivation was not the retrieval of the Golan Heights but rather the suppression of internal dissent. Obama’s phony request that Assad lead Syria to democracy is like asking a tiger to lead a lamb to safety. It’s nothing but bluster that reflects the simple fact that this Syrian thug has outlived his usefulness to the US and its allies.”
    – – – – – – – –

    Barack Obama has berated al-Assad for ‘imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people’ [GALLO/GETTY]

    You’d need a team of linguists to tease out the internal contradictions, brazen hypocrisies and verbal contortions in President Barack Obama’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.

    “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but …”

    The “but” belies the preceding phrase – particularly since its speaker controls the ability and possible willingness to enforce his desires at the point of a depleted uranium warhead.

    “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing and slaughtering his own people,” Obama continued. One might say the same thing of Obama’s own calls for dialogue and reform in Iraq and Afghanistan. Except, perhaps, for the fact that the Iraqis and Afghans being killed are not Obama’s “own people”. As you no doubt remember from Bush’s statements about Saddam Hussein, American leaders keep returning to that phrase: “killing his own people”.

    Now the Euros are doing it. “Our three countries believe that President Assad, who is resorting to brutal military force against his own people and who is responsible for the situation, has lost all legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead the country,” British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

    If you think about this phrase, it doesn’t make sense. Who are “your” own people? Was Hitler exempt because he didn’t consider his victims to be “his” people? Surely Saddam shed few tears for those gassed Kurds. Anyway, it must have focus-grouped well back in 2002.

    “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way,” Obama went on. “He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Here is US foreign policy summed up in 39 words: demanding the improbable and the impossible, followed by the arrogant presumption that the president of the United States has the right to demand regime change in a nation other than the United States.

    US hypocrisy on Syria

    Assad deserves no pity. He has killed tens of thousands even during his tenure. Political prisoners in Syria languish in secret prisons. But the same is true in Obama’s American gulags, which span the globe from Guantanamo to Bagram to Diego Garcia to the Californian state prison system, where inmates go insane after years in solitary confinement. Where is Obama’s moral standing? Who tells Obama it’s his time to scoot?

    Assad is a dictator, and always has been, as was his father. As Obama knows, Assad’s regime was once convenient, not least for Israel, which appreciated the fact that Assad’s primary motivation was not the retrieval of the Golan Heights but rather the suppression of internal dissent. Obama’s phony request that Assad lead Syria to democracy is like asking a tiger to lead a lamb to safety. It’s nothing but bluster that reflects the simple fact that this Syrian thug has outlived his usefulness to the US and its allies.

    What’s interesting about the US war of words against Assad is its “here we go again” quality. No matter which side of the Rubik’s cube of regime change one examines, the United States repeatedly deploys tactics without strategy – tactics proven counterproductive time after time after time.

    In a world with one superpower, it’s almost as though, in order to guarantee order in the universe, the gods have given the United States one undefeatable enemy: its own incompetence.

    The “global squeeze play” against Assad, as the Associated Press wire service characterised it, marks Obama’s fifth-and-a-halfth war (in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) – a conflict of words and economic sanctions rather than the usual drone planes and missiles. (As Obama and his European puppets have made clear, there will be no hot war against Syria. The US is too overextended, not to mention broke. Besides, there’s an election next year – and the old wars are unpopular enough as it is.) In other respects, however, this is a dismal reprise of many of the same screw-ups the Bush Administration committed during the (lack of) planning for and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

    So many questions remain unanswered. They all boil down to: What next?

    Ex-dictators need a way out

    In the good old days of American regime change (Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos, etc.) a dictator past his expiration date could count on a military chopper on the roof of the presidential palace, an expansive villa on the French Riviera and a generous Swiss bank account full of looted retirement funds. It was corrupt arrangement to be sure, but it had two advantages from the American perspective: it was easier to convince tyrants to go and it made it easier for the CIA to recruit client states in the future.

    Such sweet deals are no longer to be had in a world where all worker bees, even those wearing medals and epaulettes, with secret police at their disposal, get discarded like used tissue paper after their cost-benefit balance tips to the former. Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega languished in an American prison on trumped-up drug charges for 20 years before being extradited to France; Saddam got dropped down a trap door to the howling jeers of his rivals.

    One can easily imagine a call from North Korean tyrant Kim Jung-Il to Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi a few years back: “Don’t disarm, Muammar. Just you wait! The second you give up your nukes the Americans will take you out. Saddam disarmed in 1991; now he’s in a tacky grave in Tikrit. What did Milosevic get for attending the Dayton peace conference? A war crimes trial. Look at me. I don’t cooperate. I don’t give in. Sure, they hate me. But I’m holding tight. Living large. Cooperation with the Americans is a mug’s game!”

    Assad is brutal. Assad is tyrannical. Politicians follow their Machiavellian political imperatives, the first of these being survival and keeping power.

    Leftist American political activists plan to recreate Egypt’s Tahrir Square in Washington, DC this coming September and October. They plan to occupy downtown Washington until their demands, including immediate withdrawal from the wars in the Middle East, are met. How long before Obama’s patience wears thin? How many protesters will get shot or beaten by security forces? National Public Radio paraphrases a cynical retired Lebanese general, Amin Hotait: “He says it’s no surprise that Syria is using tanks against its own people, saying that’s how forces around the world deal with terrorists and other armed opponents.”

    Bush demanded that Saddam leave Iraq before the 2003 invasion. The big question was: where would he have gone? Bush wanted war more than regime change so he never offered Saddam the old-fashioned cushy exile – or any escape at all. When Obama went to war against Libya earlier this year, he followed the same policy vis-a-vis Gadhafi: he asked him to leave without leaving him a way out.

    For beleaguered dictators, the choice is clear: killing “your own people” makes good sense. Surely as he watches his trial through the bars enclosing his courtroom hospital bed Hosni Mubarak rues not the hundreds who died during the Arab Spring but rather the thousands he should have killed to remain in power.

    Now the what-next question pertains to Bashar al-Assad. “Where does the Syrian leader go?” asked CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Machiavelli advised his patron to allow his enemies a graceful exit strategy. Like his illiterate predecessor, Obama prefers to box them in. “I have no doubt that both Gadhafi and Assad will do whatever they can to make sure they don’t wind up like Mubarak or Milosevic. That means many more people will die,” predicts Blitzer.

    Exit plans

    In 2003 skeptics asked Bush’s neoconservatives: Who would run Iraq after deposing Saddam? If you’re going to remove a nation’s government by force, providing for a successor regime seems like the least you should do. A year and a half earlier in Afghanistan, the Bushists had a ready (though deeply flawed) answer in the form of Hamid Karzai. Not so much in Iraq, where major opposition figures had lived in exile for decades and thus were virtually unknown.

    Like Bush, Obama is winging it in Libya. He is calling for President Assad to step down without having a clear (US-friendly, naturally) successor in mind. “It’s hard to argue with President Obama’s call for Bashar al-Assad, the bloodthirsty Syrian dictator, to step down. But it’s also hard to discern any logic or consistency in the administration’s handling of the ongoing tumult in the Arab world,” writes the liberal Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.

    As a right-winger David Ignatius, also a columnist for The Washington Post, reflects a more influential faction, the consensus view of most big-media print and broadcast outlets. Like Robinson, he acknowledges the incoherence of Obama’s policy. “This is a movement without clear leadership or an agenda beyond toppling Assad,” he wrote about the Syrian opposition. “It could bend toward the hard-line Sunni fundamentalists who have led the street fighting in Deraa and Homs, or to the sophisticated pro-democracy activists of Damascus.”

    But Ignatius is a pro-war neo-con, whether his president is a Republican or Democrat.

    “Despite these uncertainties, Obama is right to demand that Assad must go. Some commentators have chided the White House’s hyper-caution … But I think Obama has been wise to move carefully and avoid the facile embrace of a rebel movement whose trajectory is unknown.”

    A big mistake in 2003, one rarely if ever debated in the US, is the United States’ tendency to overpersonalise its regional rivalries and military conflicts. In 2003 political cartoonists propagandised Saddam as a neo-Hitler complete with SS-style skull-and-crossbones badge on his black army beret. Dwelling on Saddam’s personality made it easy for the Americans to miss the fact that the Iraqi dictator had remained in power for decades because he represented a distinct political constituency dominated by Sunnis, embracing a post-socialist semi-secular brand of Islam embodied by the Baath Party. (Direct arms sales from the United States didn’t hurt either.) To Bush’s surprise, those disenfranchised constituencies, including many soldiers fired by proconsul Paul Bremer, took up arms and launched the first wave of the ongoing insurgency.

    Here too, the age of Obama is much like that of Bush.

    “Syria protesters defy Bashar Assad; Troops Kill 22” reported the Los Angeles Times. Most demonstrators quoted in such accounts took pains to say that they opposed the regime, not just the man. But the US media avoided such subtleties.

    Cutting the head off Syria’s Baathist snake can no more create meaningful change within Syria’s political system than hanging Saddam did in Iraq or jailing Mubarak in Egypt. The underlying ideology remains in place, reinforced by years of propaganda in the schools and the media. The power brokers in the military, government ministries and major companies tend to retain their sinecures long after figureheads are removed. The Arab Spring has led to personnel changes in Tunisia and Egypt, not revolution. Revolution is the radical reallocation of power and wealth from one whole class of elites to another class or classes. Anything short of revolution is reform; reform isn’t enough to fix a broken government.

    Finally, Obama is repeating yet another classic characteristic of US foreign policy, one we saw in sharp relief during the Bush era: militant ambivalence toward potential future successors. Despite having the set the stage for the ascension of, for example, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the US refuses to provide enough support to guarantee close ties down the road.

    After the US-led call for Assad’s resignation the UK Guardian reported: “One veteran dissident in Damascus said: ‘I am jubilant. This came at the right time for the street.’ He said protesters were telling him they wanted to dance in the streets. A middle-aged woman in Homs said: ‘More protesters will go out now.'”

    If so, they will learn what right-wing Cuban exiles learned when the CIA promised them air support for the Bay of Pigs invasion: US words aren’t always backed up by arms or money. If and when they come to power, the Syrian resistance won’t owe the US

    Which, in the greater scheme of things, makes the gods happy.

    Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


  2. 1) Syrian uprising needs civil protection, no foreign state intervention
    The way to hell is paved with good intentions

    Interview with Soubhi Hadidi

    One must differentiate between international protection by states and governments on one hand and civil organisations on the other hand. The first ones we cannot trust as they follow their own agenda and use double standards regarding human rights. But the second idea means that NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and human rights groups should send observers. That implies also free movement for the Arab as well as the international media. Their presence across the Syrian towns could significantly curtail the brutality of the regime. This demand is different to calling upon the US or the UN who do not follow unselfish interests.


    2) Leading Syrian leftist nominated
    Another council of the Syrian opposition formed

    On August 29 a meeting in Ankara organised by a group called „Youth of the Syrian Revolution“ nominated 94 persons as members of a transitional council of whom 42 live in Syria. Professor Burhan Ghalioun was assigned as chairman. He is one of the leading figures of the exile opposition. He heads the Center for Oriental Studies in Paris (Centre d’Etudes sur l’Orient Contemporain; CEOC) and teaches political science at the Sorbonne. He has been a vocal enemy of a foreign military intervention in Syria.


    3) “Anti-imperialist forces will prevail”
    Iraqi resistance leader Kubaysi to support Syrian revolution

    One of the political leaders of the Iraq resistance, Abduljabbar al Kubaysi, who has been one of the driving forces of the construction of a common political front of the resistance, recently stated his confidence in the Syrian revolutionary forces.


  3. 1) Hadidi: Syria as centre of the Arab intifada against the imperial order
    2) Initiative for the Arab spring
    3) That Syria does not become Libya


    1) Analysis by Syrian activist Subhi Hadidi

    Soubhi Hadidi is a renowned literary critic and author. Today he is living in Paris and
    teaching at the Sorbonne. As an activist of the Syrian Communist Party (Riad Turk), he
    was forced into clandestinity before he flew his home country. As a member of the
    Democratic People?s Party, which was formed out of the aforementioned CP and which today
    is one of the main organised political forces of the revolt, he participated in the
    ?Damascus Declaration? in 2005. Today he is considered one of the most vocal voices of
    the left wing of the Syrian democratic uprising.

    In Hadidi?s analysis the Intifada is a popular democratic uprising and essentially
    secular, leftist and liberal in the best sense of the word (not in its economic meaning).

    The democratic movement actively opposes sectarian strife and so far has essentially been
    successful in doing so. There have been no major incidences of sectarianism from the side
    of the Intifada, despite the helpless attempts of the regime to fabricate them. It is the
    regime which is sectarian while the movement is the guarantor of secularism.


    2) Initiative for the Arab spring
    Series of debates in Vienna at the Arab Austrian Cultural Center (OKAZ)
    Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia…


    3) Democratic revolution ? against the west
    Syria must not become Libya

    Assad likes to pose as the guarantor of a secular state. In fact the contrary is true.
    The combination of political, military and economic power with the Alawite confessional
    community is fuelling sectarian strife.

    As its homologues in Egypt and Tunisia (and actually also like in the west) the Assad
    regime is demonizing Sunni Islamism. But not only did the current democratic movements
    force the Islamists to follow them and weakened the Islamic cultural agenda in general.
    Also historically Sunni Islamism is weak in Syria, because of the failed voluntarist
    uprising of 1982 and also because of the multi-religious composition of the country.
    Today the anti-democratic Salafi groups are an insignificant minority.

    The democratic movements indicate that the Islamist cycle is drawing to a close. The
    masses do not need Islamism any more to raise their voice against western dominance.
    Although they continue to defend their Islamic identity, they first of all demand and
    fight for democracy. In this respect Syria is not different from the entire region. On
    the other hand Washington eventually understood that they need to co-operate with and
    adopt at least a section of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to curb the revolutionary
    drive of the masses.


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