Powerful Discussion: Journalism, Whistleblowers, Truth.

Posted September 22, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

How much do you value truth? How much do you appreciate the ability to speak your truth on a free-speech, unobstructed internet? How important is it to you that journalists of a high-caliber, devoted to exposing corruption, lies, criminality and scandal for the people of the world, receive protection from unjust harassment?

The following extremely powerful discussion on the work of journalists-real journalists-to find and tell the truth in this world will absolutely focus your vision on exactly how necessary free-speech is today. The good journalists, not found in the mainstream media corporations, including citizen journalists and bloggers, are leading the way toward truth on this Earth.

Father Dave Smith On Syria.

Posted September 21, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

I first became aware of Father Dave Smith while reading Syria articles from various websites today. His article “How Obama Lost The First Round On Damascus” was posted at counterpunch.org, I thought it was an important message, so it appeared previously here as “Hold Your Ground In Second Battle For Damascus”.

After visiting his website fatherdave.org I found some of his recent writings on his blog, and feel that what he has to say is important for people to know. I was somewhat surprised to learn that he knows, and has worked with, Mother Agnes Mariam and other Syrian peace activists. So, he is a powerful voice and source of truth about the situation in Syria.

The rest of this post consists of words written by Father Dave Smith on his blog at fatherdave.org.

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Weekly Missive – August 28th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

Are we on the eve of Armageddon?

Love Syria

It’s Father Dave, and I confess that as I write to you today I’m feeling sick in my stomach.

It’s not something that I ate or drank (though I have had a second glass of red tonight to steel my nerves). It’s Syria, and it’s what I’m seeing on the news!

I’ve been watching and listening to European leaders and US and Israeli officials all talking about how urgent it is that we start bombing Bashar Al-Assad into submission, and all this before the UN inspectors have produced a single finding!

I remember having the same sick and sinking feeling on the eve of the Iraq invasion. I remember thinking then, “No. Surely they won’t do it. They’re not that stupid. They know there are no ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It’s all just saber rattling!” And now … 1,000,000 dead Iraqi’s later … history seems to be repeating itself!

Here’s how the scenario plays out in my mind:

  1. The US and NATO attack Syrian government forces on the pretext of the chemical weapon attacks.
  2. The government falls and the country crumbles into uncontrollable sectarian violence with jihadists gaining control of major areas (as in Iraq)
  3. Lebanon’s infrastructure cannot withstand the further influx of refugees (already almost 50% of the size of its citizenry) and so it falls into anarchy as well
  4. Iran is now left without allies (which I believe is one of the main aims of the game) and so Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, confident that Iran will not retaliate.
  5. Iran declares war on Israel and the regional war against the Shi’a goes into overdrive.
  6. Shi’a majorities in Bahrain and Iraq and elsewhere rise up and turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron of bloody violence.
  7. Israel eventually becomes the focus of the wrath of all its neighbours.
  8. The reverberations are felt throughout the world. Terrorist acts take place in every major city. There is widespread religious and ethnic violence, reprisals, etc.
  9. It all climaxes with some massive nuclear detonations.
  10. Everyone looks back and realises that there never were any chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian government.

You might think this is all very fanciful, but I have military friends in the US that were put on ‘Class 1 Alert’ on the weekend, indicating possible immediate deployment to Syria! Meanwhile, my sources in Damascus are expecting the bombing to start on Tuesday!

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

with Mairead Maguire - my hero!

with Mairead Maguire – my hero!

Amidst all the beating of war-drums, I was greatly encouraged to hear the lone voice of my friend (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Mairead Maguire, calling upon her Foreign Minister to stop agitating for war! Says Mairead:

“Arming rebels and authorizing military action by USA/NATO forces will not solve the problem facing Syria, but indeed could lead to the death of thousands of Syrians, the breaking-up of Syria, and it falling under the control of violent fundamentalist jihadist forces. It will mean the further fleeing of Syrians into surrounding countries which will themselves  become destabilised. The entire Middle East will become unstable and violence will spiral out of control.”

You can read Mairead’s complete press release here.

And while Mairead Fights the Good Fight in Britain, my dear friend Ghinwa (who you met last week) is just fighting to stay alive in Damascus!

Ghinwa visting the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus

Ghinwa visiting the Ummayyad Mosque (Damascus)

Ghinwa and her family are on the move, looking for somewhere safe to shelter. They have lost many friends and family members. As an Alawite, Ghinwa knows she is a target to Jabhat Al-Nusra and the armies of foreign mercenaries that besiege her city.

We haven’t been able to secure a time yet when Ghinwa can join us for a conference call and it will have to wait until she finds somewhere safe to stay. In the meantime, let me share with you our latest text exchanges:

 Ghinwa: I was supposed to contact with you on Sunday but I was caught in Damascus because of clashes on the way back home. I was lucky on Monday to avoid mortar shells. Anyhow, we are all OK. Trying to find a safe place to move on to in Damascus …

Dave: You are in my constant prayers, my friend – you and your dear sister. I hope we can speak again soon. … Just let me know if you want to do that phone conference.

Ghinwa: I wanted to do that but every day something new happens. I was unable to leave home in the past two days, and until now … there are clashes in the area around the place I live in. There are military operations now around Damascus, heavy clashes around us, I have information that there are around 4,000 Al-Nusra fighters in Muadamia. This morning those fighters used chemical weapons against the Syrian Army…

After the massacres against Alawites that killed some 350-400 people (we have the names of 256 persons of them) two massacres took place – one against Christians in Wadi-Alnasara area. 20 Christian people were killed there in what Islamist fighters called the Islamist battle to control Wadi Al-Nasara, meaning “Christans’ Vallley”, and a massacre against Kurds that killed more than 200 Kurds.

… I don’t know what to say!

Dave: God bless you, my sister. It tears at my heart to hear these things. Out here we are being told of various accusations against the government for the use of chemical weapons. I have no idea whether there is any truth to these but certainly things are terrible.

Ghinwa: Yes, I know these stories, but I know the accusations to the government are not true. When I checked videos on the Internet, telling the story that the government used chemicals against people in Ghota, I noticed those videos were uploaded to YouTube before the time the alleged massacre took place…

We see the same people in three different videos. Each video claims that those were killed in a different place. The only difference is that they changed the places of the bodies and arranged the scene in a different way. They put once that those people were killed in Kafr – batna, and the other video tells those where killed in Irbeen area.

I’ll check the videos and send them by email if you wish, Father.

Dave: I will publish what you send me, sister, and try to get the word out. My only concern is whether it’s putting you at any greater risk by having your name and face associated with this information.

Ghinwa: I am already on their death lists. Belonging to Alawites is a justification to kill me. It is something I was born with, not something I chose. So no problems of putting my name and pictures there.

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

In case you think Ghinwa’s claims about the videos are outrageous, I note that Veterans News Now are reporting that Al Jazeera and Reuters published news of the latest Syrian massacre one day before it happened (see here)!

Faith without Love = Fundamentalism

As we all know, the looming war on Syria is not just a political issue. It’s also a faith issue.

In the New Testament “Letter to the Hebrews” (chapter 11) the author eulogises over all the wonderful things that people have accomplished throughout history through their faith. When I read this though the first thing that occurred to me was that Al Qaeda and Jabhat Al-Nusra also claim to be ’faith organisations’ , though it seems to be a very different sort of faith to anything I’m familiar with.

How do we distinguish between good faith and bad faith? As a child I once believed that anybody who espoused the Christian faith must be a person of good faith whereas all members of other faiths are the bad guys. Then I studied the history of the church and realised (to use Desmond Tutu’s phrase) that “God is not a Christian”.

I believe the New Testament itself gives us a straightforward way of distinguishing between the faith that kills and the faith that gives life, and I it’s something that I think all Christian people need to take to heart.

Hold Your Ground In Second Battle For Damascus.

Posted September 21, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

(Source: This article was published at counterpunch.org)

How Obama Lost the First Battle for Damascus

by FATHER DAVE SMITH

A good propaganda system aims at controlling the public dialogue, and in the marketing of war one technique that has proven very successful in recent years has been to encourage public debate about a proposed war, but to do so within a framework that already assumes the basic dogmas that you are trying to sell.

So, for instance, in preparation for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, healthy debate was encouraged over the question of whether the ‘liberation of Iraq’ would cost the US too much and whether it would solve all the problems for Iraq and for the world that it aimed to solve. Assumed within this framework, of course, was the highly debatable contention that the US had the moral and legal right to invade Iraq, whatever the invasion’s purported aims!

We face a similar situation now with Syria. Healthy debate has been encouraged over whether Bashar Al-Assad should be ‘punished’ for his use of chemical weapons. We are encouraged to think about what will happen if he is not punished, and what will be the consequences if he is. Within the framework of this debate though there are lots of highly debatable contentions that are being assumed!  One is that Assad is guilty. Another is that the US has the right to act as the world’s moral policeman. And within this second maxim lies an even more basic assumption – namely, that the US is trying to act morally. Personally I don’t believe Mr. Obama gives a tinker’s cuss about the morality of his latest war, any more than he does about Assad’s guilt or any apparent use of chemical weapons!

That chemical weapons are not the real issue should be obvious to a decently educated teenager. A glance at history reveals quite clearly that the worst offenders when it comes to the use of chemical weapons have been the US and its allies.

The scourge of Agent Orange comes immediately to mind.

Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide that was used extensively by the US during the Vietnam War to destroy trees and crops with the supposed aim of flushing out the enemy. Between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly 20,000,000 US gallons (76,000,000 liters) of this deadly chemical over a full twelve per cent of the total landscape of South Vietnam, at an average concentration of thirteen times the recommended rate for domestic use!

The result, according to Vietnamese figures, was that 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and half a million children were born with birth defects. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to one million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange.

More recent US use of chemical weapons would have to include Depleted Uranium (DU), used extensively by the US and NATO in the 1991 Gulf War, the Bosnia war, the bombing of Serbia, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

DU weapons produce clouds of poison gas on impact. These clouds of aerosolized DU are laden with billions of toxic sub-micron sized particles that can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. DU exposure has been linked to a various cancers and birth defects, as well as to chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease and other immune system disorders.

Arguably the most terrible use of chemical weapons in living history took place during the waning years of the Iran-Iraq war, where Saddam Hussein used both mustard gas and sarin against Iranian troops. Recently declassified CIA documents make clear that this happened with full knowledge of the Reagan administration which backed Hussein to the hilt!

Similar US complicity can be seen more recently in the use of white phosphorous by America’s closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel. White phosphorous is a toxic chemical that burns through both human tissue and bone, and, according to Amnesty International, was used extensively by the IDF against the civilian populations of Gaza and Southern Lebanon.

We could draw on other examples, but these are more than sufficient to illustrate the hypocrisy of any ‘red line’ the US claims to draw over the use of chemical weapons. Successive US administrations have employed chemical weapons liberally when it has suited their purposes. Conversely, they have no real proof that Bashar Al-Assad actually used them. Even John Kerry admits that Assad’s guilt is based on ‘common sense’, while those members of Congress who attended the ‘classified briefings’ say that while they can’t reveal the details of the evidence they were presented with, it was not convincing enough to stand up in any court of law.

Let us dispense with further discussion of chemical weapons. Far too many crocodile tears have been shed by the world’s power-players over the dead in Ghota, and I find it nauseating to see these people’s suffering used as a political tool aimed at generating further suffering! The gas attacks are not the issue! They never were the issue! For those in power, they never were more than a propaganda device!

The real issue is simple – US and Israeli control over the entirety of the Middle East. This has always been the agenda, and despite all recent efforts at re-embroidering the Emperor’s new clothes, Obama’s guise is looking increasingly transparent.

The contours of the plan for US Middle-Eastern hegemony were leaked quite plainly by General Wesley Clark in his book of 2003, “Winning Modern Wars”. Clark recounts “As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.”

The program is behind schedule, certainly, but the systematic destruction of independent governments across the Middle East has been as brutal as it has been thorough. We’ve watched the dominoes fall, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya and now Syria and Lebanon, with Iran not far behind, and as each domino falls the cries of millions of suffering human beings fades into the background as we move on to the next target.

Even if Clark had not spelled out the grand plan, the actions of the US speak for clearly enough. The game is one of domination and control of the oil-rich Middle East. It is the predatory activity of empire-building, where the US follows the same murderous course of all the great empires that have gone before it. The US Empire is entirely predictable in its actions as it is no different from any of its predecessors, except perhaps in the sophistication of its war marketing.

Having said that, the reality we have just witnessed was the failure of Obama’s war- marketing machine – a failure that lost the President the battle for Damascus!

Too many people started asking the wrong questions – questions that fell outside of the accepted framework! Instead of keeping to the intended dialogue over whether Assad should be punished and what the consequences of that punishment would be, ordinary people everywhere strayed from the script!

Led by the Pope and church leaders as well as by rival politicians, people everywhere questioned whether Assad was guilty and whether the US had the right to act as the world’s moral policeman. Not many went so far as to ask the truly off- limits questions as to what US intentions in the region really are. Even so, the propaganda machine stumbled and crashed, and Obama’s war edifice collapsed with it! This was a great victory for humanity!

Even so, while this battle for Damascus may have been lost, the war (for both Syria and Obama) is far from over. Since chemical weapons were never really relevant to US war plans to begin with, we should not expect war to be abandoned even if chemical weapons are taken off the agenda entirely. There most surely is a B-Plan!

We notice even now how the US administration is trying to reframe the dialogue.

On the issue of UN jurisdiction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, John Kerry is saying that there will be ‘consequences’ if the proposed UN oversight isn’t conducted satisfactorily and the Syrian government doesn’t keep to its ‘obligations’.

The framework for a new public dialogue is being laid out, where the appropriate questions will be ‘is Assad keeping to his obligations?’ and, if not, ‘does the US have any choice but to force his compliance through re-igniting the war machine?’ We only have to remember the US demands placed on Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction, where whatever the Iraqi dictator did was interpreted as non-compliance, to see how this scenario plays out.

And so the groundwork has been laid for the second battle for Damascus. The question now is whether the church and peace activists around the world will continue to be able to hold their ground against a renewed assault in rhetoric!

Father Dave Smith is Parish Priest, professional boxer, human-rights activist and father of four. He was part of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) delegation to Syria in May 2013. Join Dave’s mailing list via his main website – http://www.fatherdave.org – and read his updates on Syria on http://www.prayersforsyria.com

UN Official To Israel Authorities: “Halt Demolitions Of Palestinian Homes And Property.”

Posted September 21, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

(Source: United Nations Website – un.org)

UN official dismayed at Israeli obstruction of humanitarian aid for Palestinians

Israeli soldiers search a Palestinian’s car at the Hawera checkpoint outside the town of Nablus in the West Bank.   Photo: IRIN/Kobi Wolf

20 September 2013 – A senior United Nations relief official today expressed deep concern that Israeli forces prevented the provision of humanitarian assistance to a Palestinian community in urgent need in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli forces seized a vehicle carrying tents from an international humanitarian organization destined for the community of Makhul, where 48 Palestinians, including 16 children, are in urgent need of emergency shelter following repeated demolitions this week by the Israeli authorities.

The forces also confronted members of the humanitarian and diplomatic communities who were present on site, according to information provided by the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).

“The United Nations and its partners remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance to populations in immediate need,” said Deputy Special Coordinator James W. Rawley, who is also UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory.

He added that the international humanitarian community would continue efforts to mitigate the humanitarian impact, including displacement and loss of livelihoods, of demolitions which have been on the rise over recent months in the West Bank.

“I call upon the Israeli authorities to live up to their obligations as occupying Power to protect those communities under their responsibility, including to halt demolitions of Palestinian homes and property,” said Mr. Rawley.

“The displacement of a whole Palestinian community in the occupied Palestinian territory is a very disappointing development at such a delicate moment where we look forward to positive measures on the ground,” he added.