Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mixed Messages About Syrian Rebels -- Updated, Twice

That terrible video of a group execution by extremists didn't happen recently as the report inferred. It did happen, but the time stamp indicates it was in the Spring of 2012, nearly a year and a half ago. FP has the followup. 
Although Dan Layman, spokesman for the Syrian Support Group, concedes the video was not contemporaneous, other facts of the story are not in question.
"The date of the video has been corrected. The other facts in the article and video are not in dispute," Danielle Rhoades Ha, director of communication at The Times, told The Cable. 
In any event, Layman and other members of the opposition lobby say presenting the year-old video in the middle of the Congressional debate over authorizing war was tendentious. "It really suggests how they're willing to sacrifice truth for their own anti-war sentiments," he said, referring to the newspaper. 
But regardless of when the execution video was made, it still happened, and offers a window into how some rebel groups operate or at least operated at one point in time. It's also just one of many gruesome web videos with unconfirmed origins that have been used by both sides of the war for propaganda purposes. You can bet it won't be the last. 
Controversy over the video follows another meta-media story surrounding Elizabeth O'Bagy, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War cited this week by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain during congressional hearings. In particular, O'Bagy has been cited for her Aug. 30 Wall Street Journal column arguing that "moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces" of the opposition -- a contentious assertion in the debate over whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria. What U.S. officials and the the Journal failed to mention is that O'Bagy is paid by the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group that lobbies for greater U.S. intervention in Syria on behalf of the rebels.

UPDATE #2: (Sept 11)
Elizabeth O-Bagy has since been fired because her credentials were not in order. She does not have a doctorate. 
A young researcher whose opinions on Syria were cited by both Senator McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry in congressional testimony last week has been fired from the Institute for the Study of War for allegedly faking her academic credentials.

The institute issued a statement on its website concerning the researcher, Elizabeth O’Bagy:
The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O’Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University. ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O’Bagy’s employment, effective immediately.
 LINK and video here.
H/T RT by Sharmine Narwani.
Two reports this morning differ in now the Syrian "opposition" is depicted. A story in the NY Times, including graphic photo and video, suggests the opposition is a bunch of extremist animals, as ready to kill people as Assad's forces. The other, in the New Yorker, takes a more nuanced position, that the religious ultra-conservatives executing captured enemies, are not Syrians but fighters who have come to the conflict for religious reasons

Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West
September 5

The Syrian rebels posed casually, standing over their prisoners with firearms pointed down at the shirtless and terrified men 
The prisoners, seven in all, were captured Syrian soldiers. Five were trussed, their backs marked with red welts. They kept their faces pressed to the dirt as the rebels’ commander recited a bitter revolutionary verse.
“For fifty years, they are companions to corruption,” he said. “We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge.” 
The moment the poem ended, the commander, known as “the Uncle,” fired a bullet into the back of the first prisoner’s head. His gunmen followed suit, promptly killing all the men at their feet. 
This scene, documented in a video smuggled out of Syria a few days ago by a former rebel who grew disgusted by the killings, offers a dark insight into how many rebels have adopted some of the same brutal and ruthless tactics as the regime they are trying to overthrow. 
As the United States debates whether to support the Obama administration’s proposal that Syrian forces should be attacked for using chemical weapons against civilians, this video, shot in April, joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.


September 5, 2013
This account, somewhat longer, suggests the local Syrian fighters are not only less extreme, but are regarded with contempt by the extremists like the ones depicted in the previous story. 
More at the link, but this is from the story...
In a freshly dug cemetery in Tartiyah, a small Sunni village near Salma, most of the handwritten names on the forty-eight simple white slabs serving as gravestones belong tomuhajiroun, or emigrants. Locals have dubbed it the “Cemetery of the Muhajiroun.” There’s another larger one in Doreen. The term refers to the early Muslims who migrated with the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina, but these days it’s applied to Islamist foreign fighters or proselytizers. The names reveal the origins of the men now lying under the grayish, stony soil: Abu Obaida il Tunisi (from Tunisia), Abu Abdullah al-Moghrabi (from North Africa, probably Morocco), Abu Falah il Kuwaiti (from Kuwait). And, of course, the Chechens. 
Elsewhere in Syria, and abroad, a fair proportion of Assad’s opponents view the foreign fighters with suspicion and disdain for their ultraconservative views. They also know the accounts, some captured on amateur video, of summary executions of prisoners—sometimes with a simple shot to the head, and sometimes through beheadings or slit throats. These reports are not limited to the foreign fighters—they’ve been ascribed to some among the Syrian rebels, too. Others say that they need them now to help topple Assad, and that their ideas about a future ultraconservative Islamic state, and their reputation for brutality, can be put aside and dealt with later. Some rebels, however, aren’t waiting until the fall of the regime, and have openly clashed with some of the more hardline Islamist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra. (All of this is a confounding problem for the United States as Congress debates military action.) 
The men were openly disdainful of the Free Syrian Army units, saying they were engaged in “tourism” well behind the front, and were also openly hostile to the Alawites, or Nusayris, as they called them. “Even the Shiites have declared them kuffar[nonbelievers],” said one. “They are all the same. They view us Sunnis as the enemy; they are all involved in the war against us,” said another. “They won’t want to stay here after this,” said a third, meaning after they’d swept through the villages. The men also mocked the Muslim Brotherhood as inadequately committed to its faith. 
“We call the Muslim Brotherhood ‘whatever the audience wants,’ ” said Mohammad, the Syrian Islamist fighter. He wore green military camouflage pants and a black T-shirt bearing the Islamic shahada in white script. “If the people say they want Sharia, they say they want it. If the people say they want democracy, they say they want it. They just want power.”

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