If you follow my work, then you have a pretty good understanding of what is happening in the so called Syrian Civil War. For well over a year and half, I have been a dissenting voice in media on this issue. But to be the dissenting voice means taking a stand when others will criticize what you do.
Now, an essay published in the London Review of Books by Pulitzer Prize winning author Seymour M. Hersh, supports reporting on Syria that I have done for months.
"Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country's civil war with access to sarin," writes Hersh.
I will explain more about his article in a minute, but first, how we got here.
Al Qaeda in Syria?
The first big push back I received on the Syria story was when I was still working for Fox 19 in Cincinnati. It was September of 2012 when I became the first journalist in the country to ask President Obama why the United States was fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in Pakistan but was supporting Al Qaeda in Syria.
At the time, a clearly thrown off President Obama responded,
"What we've done is to say that we will provide non-lethal assistance to Syrian opposition leadership that are committed to political transition and to an observance of human rights. We're not going to just dive in and get involved in a civil war that in fact involves some people who are genuinely trying to get a better life, but also involves some folks that over the long term would like to do the United States harm."
At the time, I was highly criticized by other journalists, including by managers in my own newsroom for asking the President about Al Qaeda in Syria. I was repeatedly told that this was a waste of a question because "there is no Al Qaeda in Syria." But that of course, turned out to be wrong.
The Mystery Surrounding Al Nusra Front
The next turning point in this story over the Syrian civil war came after I launched the Truth in Media project. One of the very first episodes we created, thanks to support from Richter Bros. Studios in Chicago, was "What the Media Isn't Telling You About The Syrian Civil War"
The basic premise here was to explain the size and growing capability of Al Nusra Front. Al Nusra is the Syrian wing of Al Qaeda in Iraq. As I pointed, out,
"In December of 2012, the United States officially designated al Nusra Front as a terror organization. Then in April of 2013, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq released an audio recording announcing al Nusra as its branch in Syria… About a month ago, the UK Guardian reported that the best financed, best equipped and best motivated force taking on the Syrian government is not the FSA but is Al Nusra. More so, that the Free Syrian Army is losing thousands of fighters and capabilities to Al Nusra."
This was an important story. Important because the mainstream media refused to even mention the name Al Nusra. The reporting about Syria from news outlets was clear, the Syrian government was at war with democratic freedom fighters. This was just another moment in the "Arab Spring". This narrative, however was not accurate.
The Sarin Gas Tipping Point
Then came the reports of Assad using Sarin gas against his own people in a Damascus suburb. You will no doubt remember what happened here, as the administration and much of the media lined up at the end of August to insist that cruise missile strikes against the Syria capital were necessary.
I reported again, this time, explaining that the claims about only the Assad regime having access to Sarin gas were untrue. We pointed to reports of Al Nusra Front fighters caught with Sarin gas in May of 2013.
"In May of this year, Turkish military seized 2kg of sarin from "rebel" fighters from al Nusra Front. As we have extensively reported, al Nusra is the largest, best funded and most organized opposition force to the Assad regime. On May 30, 2013 when Turkish security forces arrested those 12 members of al Nusra Front, they found not only the 2kgs of sarin but those authorities went on to say that the sarin was going to be used in a bomb."
The Hersh essay now supports in great detail the reporting I had been doing. Hersh points out that not only did the Administration deceive the public on this issue of sarin gas, but the Administration had help from media outlets.
"The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a 'government assessment', rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration's case against the Assad government.'"
You can read Hersh's full essay here.
Though there is a final issue Hersh points to that should not be missed. While the final outcome of the U.S. threats of an attack ultimately led to the Syrian government moving forward in relinquishing chemical weapons stockpiles, there is a new threat rising. The fighters from Al Nusra Front are not handing over their chemical weapons. As Hersh points out,
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"While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad's stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone."