You returned from Syria just last
week - this after going in several times last year. The
intervening months were important, given the war has just ended.
What have you been seeing on the ground?
My trips last year took place in May and June, in the weeks
before the battle for the south of Syria began.
I visited Daraa,
Suweida and Quneitra, the three southern governorates most
critical to the upcoming battle. It was fascinating. It
dispelled a number of myths about the conflict for me.
One of these was the
discovery that al-Qaida was smack in the middle of the fight in
Daraa, indistinguishable from Western-supported militant groups
in all the main theaters.
Another shocker was
when I interviewed former al-Nusra and FSA [Free Syrian Army]
fighters near the Lebanese border:
They told me
their salaries had been paid by the Israelis for the entire
year before they surrendered, around $200,000 per month from
Israel to militants in the town of Beit Jinn alone.
The southern battle
was very swift, and since then all focus has moved to the north
- to Idlib, where the most extreme militants have amassed in
their final stronghold, and in the northeast, where U.S. troops
have begun a slow withdrawal, without having yet ceded those
territories back to the Syrian state…
Last week, I visited
Idlib to see what I could glean about the timing of the upcoming
battle, but nothing much has changed. There has to be a
political decision first; some hope this will come after Russia,
Iran and Turkey meet in late April.
Idlib is different
from Daraa because the militancy there is probably around 80
percent al-Qaida, and the rest, its allies. But Turkey and the
Western powers - including the U.S. - continue to protect it for
What is the latest you
have on reconstruction efforts, plans for a new constitution,
and a political settlement? Russia, Iran and Turkey are said to
be trying to establish a constitutional mechanism of some kind
at the U.N. Russia and Turkey have summited with Germany and
France on reconstruction plans - not that we've seen a word
about it in the American press. Where is all this headed, in
We need to put what is commonly called the Syrian "political
process" into perspective.
Syria, Russia and
Iran won. Turkey is crippled by its Syria losses and is
desperately seeking a new geopolitical equilibrium.
France and Germany
are very worried about more refugees - and extremists - flooding
their borders, and they are willing to break with the U.S.'
goals in Syria over this issue.
In short, the "political process" is whatever Syria, Russia and
Iran want it to be.
Their meetings in
Astana [the Kazakh capital, where a series of peace talks have
taken place] demilitarized the hotspots in Syria and placed them
back under government control.
And their meetings in
Sochi [the Russian resort city] managed to get Syrians of all
walks together, in a room talking. So these three countries will
figure out the constitutional process. Just expect it to be
mostly under the victor's terms.
Major concessions to
Western interests - in exchange for reconstruction funds - will
be unlikely because the whole Middle East now knows the U.S.
doesn't stick to its agreements.
Syria isn't betting
on Western funds anyway, contrary to what media reports suggest.
I predict that the endgame will take Syria back to where it was
in 2011, right after Assad passed unprecedented reforms that the
international community decided to ignore.
That's a very interesting
observation. In your writing, you previously suggested that the
2016 peace talks in Geneva would lead to the same thing. Very
few people in the West know that Assad proposed numerous reforms
in response to the initial unrest in 2011. Some of them are
strikingly liberal by any standard. Please tell us about these,
and why you think Assad's 2011 proposals are where things will
finish up now.
When the Syrian government introduced reforms in 2011 and 2012,
the only thing we ever really heard about them was "it's too
late" and "they're window-dressing."
But these reforms
were far-reaching and significant. So much carnage could have
been avoided had they been given the time and space to take
Starting in 2011, Assad issued decrees suspending almost five
decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings. This
was a big deal, as other Arab leaders were doing the opposite in
response to their "uprisings."
included the establishment of a multi-party political system,
term limits for the presidency, the suspension of state security
courts, prisoner releases, amnesty agreements, decentralizing
down to local authorities, sacking controversial political
figures, introducing new media laws that prohibited the arrest
of journalists and provided for more freedom of expression,
investment in infrastructure, housing, pension funds,
establishing direct dialogue between populations and governing
authorities, setting up a committee to dialogue with the
opposition - many of whom turned down the offer.
You could feel these reforms unfolding in Damascus by early
I would drive into
the city from Beirut, call up opposition figures on their mobile
phones, go to their homes, talk to regular folks about politics.
I could even access
Twitter and Facebook in Syria - platforms that had been banned
What was the reaction
among Syrians? Mixed, I gather. You've written that some Syrian
dissidents were also critical of these reforms.
Many people were skeptical about reforms initially.
against the Syrian state were very pervasive, and folks were
confused with all the competing information.
opposition figures were certain that Assad was going to
be gone within a few weeks, so that impacted their readiness to
dialogue with his government or support reforms publicly.
At the same time,
these figures - many of whom had languished in Syrian prisons
for years - rejected foreign intervention, the imposition of
sanctions, and the militarization of the conflict.
In early 2012, the
dissidents I met mostly scoffed at reforms, but when massive
bombs tore apart Damascus that summer, I saw a marked shift in
In terms of the general population, I think sentiments were
split - not so much on the reforms themselves, but on whether
they would actually be implemented.
One way to gauge
public support would be to look at how many Syrians turned out
for the constitutional referendum.
Many boycotted it,
but the participation rate was just under 60 percent, so I would
argue that a modest majority of Syrians were willing to put
their trust in the reforms.
What is your assessment of
the U.S. plan to withdraw from Syria? I think you suggested in
one piece you wrote some time ago that the U.S. effectively
ceded Syria to Russia as far back as the first Russian air
sorties in September 2015.
Yes, in September 2015 the U.S. lost the conflict to Russia and
The reason is very
simple. The Russian intervention provided the Syrian army and
its ground allies with the necessary cover to do their jobs
effectively. He who dominates the air and the ground wins the
To be fair, it also seemed highly unlikely that Obama was
prepared to turn this into a full-on U.S. air war.
He was happy to do
"regime change" in that passive-aggressive way Democrats do it:
all "humanitarian intervention" and marketing spin and tragic
But the Nobel 'Peace'
Prize winner was not going to put U.S.-piloted planes in
Russian-dominated airspace over Syria in any significant way -
not after Iraq and Afghanistan, certainly, and not after the
Russians and Chinese blocked Obama's U.N. Security Council route
to war by vetoing all resolutions that might legitimize
To what extent do you
think Syria changed the U.S. position in the Middle East as a
whole? It seems as if we are coming out of an important passage
in the long story of American involvement in the region.
The U.S. was already exiting the Middle East before the
so-called "Arab uprisings" kicked off.
Whoever in the U.S.
national security apparatus made the decision to stick around
and redirect these uprisings against regional adversaries made a
I want to write about
this one day because it's important. I believe the Syrian
conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World
The world wars were,
in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order
reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.
Look around you now. We have had a reshuffle in the balance of
power in recent years, with Russia, China, Iran in ascendance
and Europe and North America in decline.
That's not to say
that Washington, London or Paris don't have levers left to pull:
But it is on the back
of the Syrian conflict that a great-power battle was fought, and
in its wake, new international institutions for finance, defense
and policymaking have been born or transformed.
I'm not just talking about the strengthening of
the BRICS [Brazil, Russia,
India, China, South Africa], the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the
Eurasian Union, etc.
I mean the world's
networks are shifting hands, too.
What will happen
to Western-controlled shipping routes now that Asia has
started to build faster, cheaper land routes?
Will the SWIFT
[bank messaging] system survive when an alternative is
agreed upon to bypass U.S. sanctions everywhere?
There are so many
examples of these shifts.
It's not to say that
they are due to events in Syria, but rather that Syria triggered
the great-power battle that unleashed the potential of this new
order much more quickly and efficiently.
Keep in mind that World War III was never going to be like the
other two conventionally fought wars…
It was always going
to be an irregular war that would escalate on multiple fronts -
not just regime change events, but financial pressures,
sanctions, propaganda, political subversion activities,
destabilization, increased terrorism, proxy fights and so on.
The battle for global
hegemony really began to unfold over Syria, though, when the
Russians, Iranians and Chinese decided to draw a line and put up
The world changed
As you've just suggested,
Syria has long seemed to be a different kind of war, a new kind
- a war fought with images, information and disinformation, true
and false portrayals of events, people, organizations, and so
on. Based on what you've written over many years - and from
inside Syria, on the ground - I would think you agree with this.
In some ways, Syria wasn't that different.
All modern Western
wars have been fought with manipulated imagery and
disinformation. We call it propaganda and accuse the Nazis and
Soviets of doing it, but the U.S. does it better than anyone.
It's literally the
main tool in America's military kit: Otherwise, Americans would
never accept the never-ending wars.
There used to be laws
forbidding the U.S. government from propagandizing the American
people. The Obama administration undid many of those legal
If you ever have a
chance to read the U.S. Special Forces' Unconventional Warfare
manual, you will see how fundamental propaganda is to U.S.
efforts to maintain hegemony.
Everything starts and
ends with "scene-setting" and "swaying perceptions" to prepare a
population to support invasion, occupation, drone wars,
"humanitarian interventions," rebellion, regime change.
It was no different
The U.S. government
imposed key narratives from day one - that Assad was
indiscriminately killing civilians in a popular, peaceful
revolution. Was this true? Not particularly.
were killed across Syria in the first month of protests. You
never heard that in the Western media.
would have altered your perception of the conflict, wouldn't it?
The Syrian opposition used to burn tires on the tops of
buildings to simulate shelling for TV cameras. Did you see that
The only reason Syria
seems like a "different kind of war" is because we had
Twitter and Facebook and alternative media punching
holes in Washington's storyline every day - and because Syrians
had the audacity to resist for eight years.
You can't keep up an
act for eight years.
People catch on.
Let's focus on a few
topics that you've argued very effectively were key factors in
prolonging and, as you say, "weaponizing" the conflict. The
first of these is the question of casualty counts - "the
casualty count circus," I think you called it in one of your
pieces. Can you summarize what you found and how you came to be
so at odds with mainstream reporting?
I first investigated the Syrian death toll 10 months into the
In that month,
January 2012, the U.N.'s figure for casualties in Syria was
around 5,000 dead.
Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria
issued its first report two months later, in March, stating that
2,569 Syrian security forces had been killed in the first year.
Right there we know
that half of the dead were neither civilians nor with the
Half of the Syrian
dead were security forces, which also informed us that the
opposition was, in fact, armed, organized, and very, very
How about the other half of the death toll - the remaining 2,431
casualties? I found that they were a mixture of pro-government
civilians, pro-opposition civilians, and opposition gunmen in
The "rebels" were not
wearing military gear, so they were indistinguishable from
civilians. Mainstream media just didn't want to know this
They asked no
questions, they investigated nothing.
A year later, one of the main opposition casualty counters, the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which the Western media
quote all the time, told me it was hard to differentiate rebels
from civilians because "everybody hides it."
By then, in year two,
the Syrian death toll had increased tenfold and
released a casualty analysis that included the information that
92.5 percent of the dead were male.
That is not a death
toll representative of a "civilian population."
The point is, why wasn't there a single other journalist out
there asking the question,
"Who is killing
and who is dying?"
If they had asked
that elementary question, the way we view this conflict would
have been very, very different.
There was, at the
very least, parity in the killing, which also means the Syrian
government's response to opponents was not at all
Another area of interest
is the question of when and how the opposition - supposedly
unarmed at the start - came to be armed. The question of
proportionate responses to violence comes into this, as you've
Elements of the opposition were armed from the very start of the
We have visual and
anecdotal evidence of weapons caches, armed gunmen infiltrating
the Lebanese border, and "foreign" gunmen appearing in Daraa,
the city [in southern Syria] where protests first manifested.
In the early days, it
was hard to prove this because efforts were made to hide
evidence that the opposition had weapons - and anyone claiming
so was instantly marginalized.
the Arab League (which had
suspended Syria and was therefore viewed as an impartial body)
sent in an observer team that produced a stunning report - one
you did not read about in the Western press.
The observer mission
detailed the opposition's bombings and terrorism and attacks on
infrastructure and civilians.
I also know the opposition was armed from the start [March 2011]
because of my own investigation and discovery that 88 Syrian
soldiers were ambushed and killed across Syria in the first
month of the conflict…
I have their names,
ages, ranks, birthplaces - everything.
Then in June 2011,
over 100 Syrian soldiers were murdered in Jisr Shughour, in
Idlib Province, many with their heads cut off, and nobody could
dispute this anymore.
Yet we continued to
hear "the opposition is unarmed and peaceful" in the media for a
good long while.
But you asked about proportionality, and to that I would simply
What if there
were armed men in Washington who killed a few cops in the
last week of December?
In January, these
unknown shooters began a campaign of ambushing American
servicemen coming and going from their bases in Fairfax, Newport
News, Arlington, killing 88 in total.
Then, in March, over
100 U.S. soldiers are killed in a single day, half with their
heads cut off. What is a "proportionate" response for you…?
That answer about
proportionality will be different for different people, I
can assure you.
The next question is
obvious. Who armed the opposition? Are we able to say?
We know today,
...are the main
countries that armed, trained, financed and equipped the
militants, and that they found intricate ways to avoid
detection, especially at the beginning.
Weapons came into
Syria from all five border countries at different parts of this
conflict - Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel - but I would
say the most weapons probably arrived via Turkey, arms transfers
that were very much coordinated with its NATO partners.
When, why, and how did
groups such as al-Nusra become involved? What were or are their
relations with the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Democratic
Nusra Front is the Syrian
franchise of al-Qaida.
Bombings in Damascus
in December 2011 and January 2012 were the first actions
publicly attributed to al-Qaida, and these were shortly followed
by a viral video of AQ chief Ayman al-Zawahiri urging
fellow jihadists to flood into the Syrian theater.
I don't know if
you've heard of the declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence
Agency document on AQ?
This paper shows that
the U.S. and its allies had identified AQ as the strongest, most
capable fighting force in Syria against the Assad government,
that these extremists had intent to create a "Salafist
principality" on the Syrian-Iraqi border, and that the U.S. and
its allies basically supported this.
Many tried to play
down this document, but then
Michael Flynn as head of
the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and Flynn came out and
said the document was correct, that the U.S. had "willfully"
supported this whole mess.
The FSA was a shit-show from the start - no central authority,
no chain of command, no cohesion, etc.
"FSA" became the
whitewashed moniker for any militant fighting the Syrian army.
Many FSA fighters joined AQ and ISIS during this conflict. The
FSA often gave or sold its U.S.-provided weapons to al-Qaida -
and the Pentagon knew about this all along.
When I asked a
CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command]
spokesman in 2015 why so many U.S. weapons supplied to their
trainee fighters were showing up in al-Qaida's hands, he
'command and control' these forces. We just 'train and
Here's the bottom
During my trip to
Daraa last year, just before the battle to oust militants from
Syria's south, I discovered that al-Qaida was in every major
strategic area alongside the 54 Western-backed militant factions
preparing to fight the Syrian army.
If you looked at any
U.S. think tank map before the big battle for the south, you
would have seen three colors:
red for the
Syrian army, green for the "rebels," and black for ISIS.
So where was
They were smack right
alongside the green "rebels." That's how indistinguishable AQ
has been from U.S.-backed forces in this conflict.
You made an effort at one
point to get the State Department to name even a single
"moderate rebel" group. They couldn't or wouldn't, as you
reported it. Please tell us about that episode.
I used to ask the State Department to name the so-called
"moderate rebels" they supported in the Syrian conflict.
They always refused
to answer, claiming that info could compromise the security of
Here's my takeaway: The reason the U.S. won't name the militant
groups they funded and armed is because the moment they do, we
will find atrocity videos and snuff films made by that group.
The liability issues
But mostly the issue
is that the U.S. basically armed extremist groups in
the Syrian conflict, and they
don't need the public knowing who these people are.
What degree of support for
the Assad government did you find? And from which sectors of the
First of all, let me say that Syria is not Tunisia or Egypt -
those populations had pretty much zero connection to their
leaders, not on the domestic front, not in terms of worldview.
The Syrian state is
not wealthy, yet it provided basic services, plus education,
health care, food staples for its population. And it very much
shared a worldview with its population - anti-imperialist,
anti-Zionist, resistance against interventionist powers,
In a nutshell, Assad always maintained support from some very
These are the major
urban hubs of Aleppo and Damascus, the business class and
elites, the armed forces (very significant), the minority groups
(Alawites, Christians, Druze, Shia, etc.), and the secular
The [governing] Baath
Party has around 3 million members, and they're mostly Sunni.
That's a big chunk of core support right there.
And then, as living
conditions deteriorated and political violence escalated, many
opponents fled to government-controlled areas and gave up on the
Let's stay with Syria a
little longer before dilating the lens. There were two factors
in the war that played decisive roles in constructing and
maintaining the narrative, as you say. At a certain point they
intersected, but let's take them one at a time.
First, please describe your impressions of how the Western media
performed. You've called them "ridiculously sycophantic" in one
of your pieces. I'd like to hear from you on this. Were they,
for example, purposely complicit in "perception management," as
they say, or simply dupes? Maybe professional standards have
just plain collapsed since my years in the field.
Mainstream Western media were absolutely complicit in
disseminating disinformation about the Syrian conflict to serve
the political agendas of their respective governments…
We are living through
an era of full-on information warfare, and what is interesting
is that populations recognize this at some gut level, because
people are turning off their media and searching for alternative
sources of information.
Journalists were not dupes in this conflict.
covering Syria were, for the most part, believers in the,
These people are
hired because they think that way.
They quote their
governments' statements unquestioningly, despite the lies of
Iraq, Libya, Vietnam, etc.
fundamentally uninterested in the legalities of warfare - the
U.S. and U.K. bombardment of Syria, the establishment of
military bases there, the funding and arming of terrorist groups
- all of it illegal under international law.
A number of Western journalists who dared to probe deeper were
sacked, silenced or smeared. I know a couple of journalists who
lost their jobs.
Post stopped publishing my work once I started reporting
from inside Syria - and then a year or so later, they quietly
removed my entire archive from their site.
journalists who questioned the Syria narratives were badly
smeared - by their colleagues, quite shockingly - which made
more than a few of them back down, write less, tweet
tactics by our peers have been relentless in the coverage of
Western media helped to stage
and grow this conflict. I no longer think journalists should be
treated with a special kind of immunity when they get a story
this wrong, repeatedly, and people die in the process.
I prefer to call them
"media combatants," and I think that is a fair and accurate
description of the part they play in wars today.
Now let's go to the
Western NGOs - Human Rights Watch and the like - or the Syrian
Observatory, for that matter. What was their role? Was it
principled, as most Westerners assume? They were primary sources
for the Western press while, as Patrick Cockburn pointed out [in
The London Review of Books], they were staffed by anti-Assad
activists. Not exactly "reliable sources," I'd say.
It's actually quite interesting the role NGOs played in the
spinning of this conflict.
You're right, they
were entirely one-sided and pro-opposition.
They would put out
statements and reports based on the loosest definition of
sourcing I've ever seen, their Western journalist pals would
then bullhorn this rubbish across the world media, and then
governments would react in outrage and cite the NGO and press
reports as fact.
Most of their interviews of Syrians on the ground were
coordinated by liaisons connected with the militant opposition -
many were conducted via Skype.
How do you know
who you're speaking to?
How do you know
if they're telling the truth?
you to this "source?"
Do they have a
NGOs - local and
international - were the source of most of the information we
learned about chemical weapons attacks, cluster munitions,
massacres, civilian casualties of air attacks, etc.
The most ubiquitous of these is, of course, the Western-funded
White Helmets "rescue team," who worked only in areas with the
most extreme militant groups and played witness to so many of
the alleged chemical attacks in Syria.
But troll Facebook
for a while, and you will find photos of dozens of these White
Helmets guys flaunting weapons and posing next to al-Qaida and
Despite this kind of
evidence from their own pages and websites, media consistently
used this group as a source, and still do.
In this line, you wrote a
piece following the alleged gas attack in Eastern Ghouta - in
the spring of last year, I think - that was especially fine. I
was pleased to cite it at length in one of my Salon columns. You
actually found and photographed a jihadist-held farmhouse filled
with U.S.-supplied chemical weapons equipment. Nobody else had
Can you talk about that
experience? How, generally, do you manage to get so much closer
to the ground than other correspondents, especially the
Beirut-dwelling Westerners? And as that story demonstrates,
closer to the truth.
I have no particular advantage over other foreign journalists
traveling to Syria.
I have to wait just
as long to receive a visa, and each visit is limited to four
days, though that can be extended in-country with permission
from the Ministry of Information.
When I was in Damascus last March, the ministry put out a call
to reporters about a laboratory they'd discovered the day before
while liberating some Ghouta farmlands…
It turns out the
facility was not that secure and we had to duck and weave
through some very bumpy fields on foot, with mortars and gunfire
going off just meters away.
I'm not a war
reporter and I have no training whatsoever in that very
specialized, madman's niche, so it wasn't pleasant in the least.
The facility itself
was a laboratory of sorts run by a militant, Saudi-backed
faction called Jaysh al-Islam. It was clear that something was
being produced there that had military applications, but since
the lab had only just been discovered, it wasn't yet clear what
I never wrote that it was a chemical weapons lab, by the way.
You could see in the
photos the level of sophistication of the equipment, the large
compression units, the pipes going from the laboratory upstairs
to the heavier devices below.
The one thing I did
conclude from this discovery is that Syrian militants clearly
had the means to access sanctioned, foreign - even American -
equipment with dual-use technologies, that they were able to
create production lines in the middle of war zones, that they
were able to procure toxic substances.
Chlorine was found in
rows of containers at the front of the facility.
Before this, the
narrative was that the "rebels" couldn't possibly be responsible
for chemical weapons attacks because they couldn't make or buy
them. This facility showed they could make them….
Interesting. Your account
prompts another question. I take it you were led to the site by
Syrian officials. Were you able to conclude with confidence it
wasn't a put-up job on the government's part?
Yes, two other media crews - TV outlets - and I were taken to
the location by Syrian soldiers, with permission from the
There are several
things that made me fairly confident I wasn't walking into a
The facility had been
shelled fairly extensively - there was debris and dust covering
most of the equipment, so this stuff wasn't "brought in" the day
before for staging.
There was so much
gunfire and shelling still going on in the area that I still
can't believe the army had the gall to call this "liberated
With war still raging
mere meters away, one could not reasonably believe the Syrian
army moved in equipment for staging, carried it across the
furrowed fields to this lab, then dusted it just-so with
realistic looking debris from mortar hits.
Finally, the militant group that occupied this lab, the
Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam:
Not only didn't
they deny they ran this lab; they have previously admitted
to using toxic agents in the Syrian conflict - against Kurds
in the Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood of Aleppo.
To me the episode in Ghouta,
which ended in U.S., British and French missile bombardments of
Damascus, was the second-clumsiest of them all. First place goes
to the August 2013 incident, when U.N. chemical weapons
inspectors had just settled in their Damascus hotels - at
Assad's invitation - and there's a gas attack in, once again,
Ghouta. On cue, the U.S. instantly blamed Assad. Preposterous.
False-flag and "psy-ops" just aren't what they used to be. Or
maybe in our media-saturated age, we can simply see more.
Were all these incidents in Syria faked or staged? Are you in a
position to judge this conclusively?
I am not in a position to judge anything conclusively, but based
on my experience I do have some opinions on this subject.
In the early days, it
seemed that on the eve of every U.N. Security Council meeting on
Syria - or before an "international team" was about to arrive in
the country - something violent and horrific would happen.
You could almost time
these massacres and chemical weapons attacks according to the
politically significant event that was about to take place in a
Western capital. It was hard not to notice this pattern and even
harder not to get cynical about "massacres."
I did some early deep dives on the chemical weapons attacks,
including the 2013 Ghouta incident.
I can't tell you
exactly what happened, but here's what I do know about that
incident. A Jordanian journalist was on the ground in Ghouta the
next day and he interviewed residents, militants and their
He wrote a piece with
an AP reporter explaining that militants had taken shipment of
some new and unknown container weapons from the Saudis that they
had mishandled and which caused the deaths.
Then, we had one of
the most senior U.N. officials on Syria tell us, off the record:
intelligence was behind the attacks and unfortunately nobody
will dare say that."
This official, we
know, gave the same information to at least two other Western
reporters - who did not report it….
This is a pattern you see in most of the other attacks -
evidence manipulated, unknown chain of custody, controlled and
limited access for investigators.
Most of the attacks
happen in militant-controlled areas, so the opposition is in
complete control over access and flow of information. I do not
believe you could prosecute the Syrian government in an
impartial court and win convictions in any of these cases.
Logically, the Syrian
state is the entity that least benefits from any of these CW or
massacre incidents. It had no motive to launch these attacks.
Why use highly
controversial chemical munitions when you can do more damage
with conventional ones - and escape censure?
As I hinted a moment ago,
your reporting is very distinctive for its granular detail. In
Syria you're more or less in a class by yourself in this
respect. One of your sources especially intrigued me, Father
Frans van der Lugt, the Dutch priest who lived many years in
Homs. Tell us about him. I should mention for readers' sake, he
was killed in Homs in the spring of 2014.
I never interviewed
Father Frans, though I did
go to his church gravesite during a visit to Homs shortly after
he was killed.
Through his writings,
this Dutch priest gave us some rare, objective insights into
what took place in the early days of the crisis - events he
In September 2011 he wrote:
"From the start
there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are
also part of the opposition…
The opposition of
the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And
this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality
and violence, only in order then to blame the government."
And then in January
2012 he expanded:
"From the start,
the protest movements were not purely peaceful.
From the start I
saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who
began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence
of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal
violence of the armed rebels."
Father Frans was shot at point-blank range by a gunman while
sitting in a church garden in the rebel-occupied part of Homs….