Skip to content
View Featured Image

Questions About Human Rights Watch And Syria

Above: People in Lebanon protesting against a U.S. military attack on Syria

HRW ignores many lines of evidence pointing to rebels; bases its “strong” feeling Syrian government did it, on…what exactly?

Human Rights Watch has come out stating that it “strongly” believes that the Syrian government was behind the August 21 2013 chemical attacks, countering the mounting evidence that rebels did it (evidence which it does not mention, at least not in its extended overview) with its own “evidence” — the following is from HRW’s own website summary, presumably the strongest evidence is at least summarized there, let’s look at what it says:

1) The rockets used to deliver the weapons were ones which “Human Rights Watch and arms experts [which ones?] monitoring the use of weapons in Syria have not documented Syrian opposition forces to be” in possession of.

Come again, HRW? You “have not documented” rebels to be in possession of these rockets? And that’s enough to “Strongly suggest” that the Syrian government did this? You’re ready to assist in a war of aggression which would more than likely lead to countless deaths, based on this “lack of documentation”? Hasn’t Rumsfeld, who gave us the war-of-lies “WMD” invasion of Iraq in 2003, taught you that “a lack of documentation is not a documentation of a lack”? And let’s be very clear, the key asymmetry here: the burden of proof is on those who advocate “action” (a funny term of massive violence) by military intervention.

It’s as if it would be, somehow, nearly impossible for HRW to imagine that any of the many factions operating in secrecy in Syria (very high secrecy, so they are not caught by the government) might, just maybe, possess military capabilities that they have hidden? Or just one single well placed defector could get hold of, or that they stole from the government, or got by clandestine means from the massive covert support networks from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia not to mention U.S. “covert” support? And that’s your evidence “Strongly linking” the attack to the Syrian government?

“Apparently when Del Ponte’s work aligned with what western leaders wanted, she was worth literally hundreds of mentions; her revealing the partial but extremely relevant findings about Syria, which happen to not only not point at the Syrian government but actually point at rebels, then the number of times she appears on is: zero.”

Next HRW then shows both ignorance and bias:

2) “The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attacks and has blamed opposition groups, but has presented no credible evidence to back up its claims”

Actually it presented detailed findings to Russia and China, if you HRW bothers to read, I’m just one person and they have multiple staff and they don’t know this?

That aside, MintPress has offered an investigative report by long-time reporter Dale Gavlak, who has written for the Associated Press, NPR, and for the BBC, in collaboration with Jordanian freelance reporter Yahya Ababneh. And now, two former hostages Piccinin and Quirico, both known reporters, and both (former) strong rebel Sympathizers, both report hearing rebels in a phone conversation they heard while in captivity by rebels, in which a Free Syrian Army general they both heard, was talking about how the rebels “did launch” chemical attack in Ghouta.

Investigative report by Gavlak and Ababneh. After “numerous interviews” with not only doctors and with local Ghouta residents but with Ghouta’s rebel fighters and their families, multiple rebels and family members of rebels told of an accidental “release” of chemical weapons that they, the rebels, had and were using.












That is a newer revelation, but the fact that the Syrian government gave details to Russia and China on July 28? and more glaringly, the fact of the MintPress investigative report in which local residents, and further, more than one rebel source said that they, they rebels, caused the chemical attack, albeit accidentally– those are things HRW should have been aware of.

But it gets still worse: How did HRW get its hands on the rocket fragments that is “knows” were used to deliver the chemicals and which is “has not documented” the rebels to have?

3) “Human Rights Watch analyzed publicly posted youtube videos from the attacked areas”

I am not making this up, that’s what HRW says, no kidding. You looked at YouTube videos, that’s how you know which rockets delivered it? No, there’s more, it gets more surreal, HRW also analyzed more, namely:

4) “higher-resolution IMAGES of weapon remnants provided BY A LOCAL ACTIVIST in Eastern Ghouta.”

Not high-resolution, notice, but rather “higher” resolution? How high? Never mind that.. But images were provided by whom? Not by several, but instead, provided, as HRW informs us, by one “local activist”? [singular] Stunning.

And we are to trust the “local activist” to give you images of the weapon remnants?

How do you know that’s from the chemical attack and not from other battles or army’s counter attack?

Does this one single activist have no political bias?

And, does the activist have the military technical knowledge to be certain that the remnants are from exactly that which delivered the chemical weapons?

You trusted an “Activist” emailing you images of what they claim “they know must have” been exactly the correct remnant of what delivered the chemicals? that’s the best evidence you have? Even if we assume an unbiased “activist” (even if, let’s generously assume for the sake or argument, that they are not pro-rebel) this person is trusted to have the military expertise to be sure they are sending the image of exactly that which delivered the chemicals, as opposed to, it being a, what’s it called? Oh, yeah, it’s called a Civil War where both sides are attacking the other and, remarkably enough, you will find all over the place, and particularly near a battle, fragments of munitions and rockets/delivery systems that were, indeed, used by the government, as one would expect?

HRW talks about,

“Two separate surface-to-surface rocket systems believed to be associated with the delivery of chemical agents were identified.”

“Believed to be” is a whole different story from your evidence “Strongly suggesting” the Syrian government was behind it. This doesn’t look like a report which took the time to have careful military expertise, let alone neutral and unbiased military expertise, proving the rocket systems definitely are associated with the delivery of chemical weapons, but a report about things “believe to be” something which is “associate with” them.

This is a report that seems rushed out the door under pressure to provide (very weak) evidence for one side. So far, a search of the HRW site shows not one single page with the keyword Gavlak. Nor Piccinin nor Quirico. None on that google can find.

The HRW page has 787 hits for “Carla Del Ponte” (mostly for when she was prosecuting Serbian leaders, it seems) but add “Syria” to the search, remove “Serbia” or “Serbian” and insist on 2012 or 2013, and you are down to four (4) matches, none of which as of today Sept 12 2013, mention the key fact, not even in the passing or critically commenting on, the evidence found by the U.N. investigation of a previous chemical attack, a U.N. investigation in which Del Ponte was a leading member and which, she reported in May 2013, they found “strong, concrete” evidence linking rebels to those earlier chemical attacks, while adding “we have no indication at all that the government, the Syrian government, used” chemical weapons ( Screenshots of a similar google search are included — tale of two Carlas: one worth mentioning, the other, when the stakes are so high with war threatened? Not so much.

Apparently when Del Ponte’s work aligned with what western leaders wanted, she was worth literally hundreds of mentions; her revealing the partial but extremely relevant findings about Syria, which happen to not only not point at the Syrian government but actually point at rebels, then the number of times she appears on is: zero.

google image 60pct.hrw1
Carla del Ponte? HRW loves to mention her!

But then again, maybe not:

google search 2 65pct.hrw2
“Carla del Ponte? Leading member of U.N. team says “strong, concrete” evidence linking rebels to earlier chemical attacks? Same investigation found “no indication at all” that Syrian government did it? What Carla? We never heard of her!”

The first type of rocket, found at the site of the Eastern Ghouta attacks, is a 330mm rocket that APPEARS TO HAVE a warhead designed to be loaded with and deliver a large payload of liquid chemical agent.”

All of this, starting with weapons which HRW says “have not [been] documented” to be in the possession of what HRW calls “The” Syrian opposition forces — as if we don’t know that there are multiple factions of Syrian opposition forces, and that each has multiple units, brigades, or sub-factions. Where’s the substance? Where is the high level of certainty you even have the right fragments, let alone, if they are the right fragments, that it was not a delivery system that opposition got hold of?

Rebels have had rockets since 2011, so why is it so hard to imagine that by late 2013, at least some of the rebel factions, after being funded by Saudis and Qataris for so long and with so many foreign fighters among them, with their own foreign networks, that they might, just maybe, have a rebel faction possess other types of delivery rockets, including the 330mm and others that HRW thinks based on what “an activist” sent them “higher” resolution photos of, are the rockets that “are believed” to be associated with the chemical attack?

What common sense tells us is that Assad has everything to lose by using chemical weapons. (Even Saddam Hussein, who was happy to use chemical weapons in the 1980s when, U.S. was strongly supporting him, nevertheless did not use them in 1991 when his forces were being slaughtered, knowing the consequences for him and his regime would be grim if he dared use them.) In contrast, Assad was making significant gains militarily against the rebels, when the attack took place. The attack took place exactly 1 year and 1 day after the Monday August 20, 2012 “Red Line” speech by Obama, in an interesting coincidence, and also coincidentally the attack took place immediately after the arrival at Syrian government invitation of U.N. inspectors to look into a previous attack — how suicidal would Assad need to be, how irrational, to order such an attack exactly when he was gaining militarily and didn’t need it, and exactly during the short stay, nearby, of inspectors he had invited? In fact a recent leak from German intelligence that intercepted Assad’s communications for many months found that he had always” rejected the use of chemical weapons any time a commander brought up the subject.

It’s certainly not completely inconceivable that some rogue Syrian army unit (or defectors?) used, or accidentally discharged, chemical weapons (despite Assad’s direct orders not to, as German intelligence which listened in found he has always said not to use). But there is no excuse for HRW broadcasting to the world it has “strong evidence” * only to tell you it comes from youtube and “higher” resolution images send by one “activist” to them, an activist we are to trust collected the correct fragments (a most critical link in the chain, which if broken, renders the rest meaningless, even if we forget the very sloppy dismissal of “no documentation” of rebels having that equipment as if that exonerates the rebels).

To put out this report as a civilian-killing military aggression is contemplated is questionable at best. To do so, without putting in the same overview, anything about counter-evidence pointing at the rebels, including at minimum, the MintPress investigative report which quoted not merely nearby civilians but several rebels interviewed by the Jordanian freelance journalist, or to acknowledge that analysis of a different, previous attack (along with a finding by Turkish police), at points to rebels who do posses and are willing to use chemical weapons is highly irresponsible. Until there is a change in leadership and a clearing out of indications of bias in favor of what the U.S. and its western partners want to hear, my support for human rights work will go to other group – such as Oxfam, which had the courage to speak out even during the invasion of Afghanistan, for example, in ways that western power might not have wanted to hear, but which put the lives of people ahead of being Realpolitikally-correct [sic].

But let’s not stop on that point, let’s actually look at the mounting evidence the points elsewhere. Besides the MintPress report by Gavlak (who has reported from the middle east for the Associate Press, NPR, and the BBC) there was the bombshell revelation by the just-released former hostages mentioned above.. Both Pierre Piccinin and Domenico Quirico held strong pro-rebel sentiments when they were kidnapped by the Free Syrian Army (the key component of the non-Al Qaeda part of the assortment or rebel insurgents) and while in captivity as hostages, heard what is as close to a smoking gun as comes in such circumstances: a Skype phone conversation in which an FSA rebel commander spoke about having launched a chemical attack and that it was on purpose to get the U.S. to attack the Syrian government, that is, to pin it on Assad’s government.

Pierre Piccinin

Both former hostages heard the same thing, and both reported the same thing, about this conversation by their captors. There have been some extraordinarily misleading media reports that Quirico “could not confirm” what Piccinin said. In fact, Quirico had the same account:

“During our kidnapping [by FSA rebels], we were kept completely in the dark about what was going on in Syria, including the gas attacks in Damascus”, Quirico said. “But one day, we heard a Skype conversation in English between three people whose names I do not know. We heard the conversation from the room in which we were being held captive, through a half-closed door. One of them hadpreviously presented himself to us as a general of the Syrian Liberation Army. The other two we had never seen and knew nothing about”.”During the Skype conversation, they said that the gas attack on the two neighborhoods in Damascus [Ghouta] had been carried out by rebels as a provocation, to push the West towards a military intervention. They also said they believed the death toll had been exaggerated,” Quirico said in his statement. [Emphasis added]

The two just released hostages (Quirico at left, Piccinin second from right) greeted at the airport.
The two just released hostages (Quirico at left, Piccinin second from right) greeted at the airport.

So he and Piccinin are in full agreement on this. The “disagreement” part was this: Piccinin had said that he had an ethical obligation to report to the world that the Syrian government had not carried out the attack. In contract Quirico said that he (obviously!) can’t prove the identities of the people, can’t prove it was not a rumor and it would be “insane” of him to say he is 100% sure it was not Assad. Sure, fine. There are hints in stories that there may have been random or other fears by Quirico who along Piccinin was treated very badly, “like dogs” including the tips of their tongues split* open by scissors by their rebel captors (remember, this is the Free Syrian Army not the Al Qaeda “Al Nusra” rebels, who did this to them) as part of their torments. So Quirico bends over backwards to repeat this “uncertainty” over what to make of what they heard, but there is no disagreement over what they heard, despite the Italian newspaper making sure to bury the critical two paragraphs by Quirico, in a story two-thirds of which are qualifications, repeated over and over again by Quirico and the editors, how one can’t ever be sure what one hear is what really happened, and who knows, and on, and one, it would make Pravda and Orwell proud* but at least they did report the key two paragraphs.

So not it’s not 100% proof, but pretty damningly strong evidence. Imagine if it has been two pro-Syrian-government people who were kidnapped by the Syrian government, and imagine they had heard their Assad government captors make such a confession, “we did this chemical attack” at Ghouta and then when they are released, they find out, lo and behold, that there was a chemical attack, and it was in Ghouta? Obama’s bombs would be dropping by then at this overwhelmingly incriminating smoking gun, right? Well that’s what happened only in reverse, from two who are known (previous news reports were very sympathetic to the rebels) to be pro-rebel, and still both heard the same thing. As for Piccinin he is more direct:

“It wasn’t the government of Bashar al-Assad that used sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta.” This is certain “because we overheard a conversation between rebels. It pains me to say it because I’ve been a fierce supporter of the Free Syrian Army..since 2012,” Piccinin said the captives became desperate when they heard that the US was planning to launch a punitive attack against the regime over the gas attack in the Damascus suburb. “We were prisoners, stuck with this information and unable to report it,” he said of their captivity which lasted 5 months. Piccinin said for “ethical reasons” he would not release further details about what he had learnt while in captivity before Quirico had spoken to the Italian government and his newspaper. Piccinin is a history professor but has also been a freelance reporter in Mali as well as Syria. Piccinin said they were taken hostage by members of the Farouq Brigade of the Free Syrian Army*


Pierre Piccinin, recently released, arrives at the airport
Pierre Piccinin, recently released, arrives at the airport

With RT’s report corroborated and confirmed now that the original Belgian TV videos are online, as well as confirmation from the NY Times blog, the International Business Times and La Stampa, one can turn to RT itself for an excellent summary:

Two Europeans who were abducted and held hostage for several months in Syria claim they overheard an exchange between their captors which proves that rebels were behind the recent chemical attack.In a number of interviews to European news outlets, the former hostages – Belgian teacher [and freelancer] Pierre Piccinin and Italian journalist Domenico Quirico – said they overheard an English-language Skype conversation between their captors and other men which suggested it was rebel forces, not the government, that used chemical weapons on Syria’s civilian population in an August 21 attack near Damascus.

Piccinin stressed that while being held captive, he and fellow prisoner Quirico were secluded from the outside world and had no idea that chemical weapons were deployed. But the conversation which both men overheard suggested that the use of the weapons was a strategic move by the opposition, aimed at getting the West to intervene.

“In this conversation, they said that the gas attack on two neighborhoods of Damascus was launched by the rebels as a provocation to lead the West to intervene militarily,” Quirico told Italy’s La Stampa. “We were [initially] unaware of everything that was going on during our detention in Syria, and therefore also with the gas attack in Damascus.”

Based on what both men have learned, Piccinin told RTL that it would be “insane and suicidal for the West to support these people.”

“It pains me to say it because I’ve been a fierce supporter of the Free Syrian Army in its rightful fight for democracy since 2012,” Piccinin added. “It is a moral duty to say this. The government of Bashar al-Assad did not use sarin gas or other types of gas in the outskirts of Damascus,” Piccinin said during an interview with Belgium’s RTL radio station.

[Concerning the rebels] Quirico seems to agree with Piccinin’s assessment.

I am extremely surprised that the United States could think about intervening, knowing very well how the Syrian revolution has become international jihadism — in other words Al-Qaeda,” Quirico said, as quoted by Italy’s Quotidiano Nazionale. [This is the same Quirico which the New York Times, in an article designed to give readers a false impression, following La Stampa, of hugely “differing claims” nevertheless noted that Quirico himself had previously “reported sympathetically on the uprising” before being kidnapped. -HB]

The 62-year-old La Stampa journalist believes that radical Islamic groups operating in Syria to topple Assad “want to create a caliphate and extend it to the entire Middle East and North Africa.”

In a number of news appearances, both Quirico and Piccinin shared stories of how they were subjected to two mock executions, beaten, and starved during their five-month captivity.

“There was sometimes real violence…humiliation, bullying, mock executions…Domenico faced two mock executions, with a revolver,” Piccinin told RTL.

Both men were kidnapped in Syria last April by a group of armed men in pickup trucks who were believed to be from Free Syrian Army.

According to Piccinin, the captors soon transferred them over to the Abu Ammar brigade, a rebel group “more bandit than Islamist.”

Many in the Arab world see Saudi, Qatari and Turkish support for brutal, extreme jihadist and even Al Qaeda linked rebels as "devouring" Syria. We must not forget U.S., and possibly Israeli and European culpable roles too.
Many in the Arab world see Saudi, Qatari and Turkish support for brutal,
extreme jihadist and even Al Qaeda linked rebels as “devouring” Syria.
We must not forget U.S., and possibly Israeli and European culpable roles too.

Even the more reserved Quirico calls a “betrayed” revolution that is not a revolution any longer having been taken over (thanks to the choices made by the West and the “friendly dictators” and “enforcers” our governments support) one which Quirico says in an English translation of an Italian language interview, is one which is not a revolution but instead “has become fanaticism and work of is these groups that are halfway between banditry and fanaticism.” The rebels include brigades which was formed “recruiting people in the area, most bandits or Islamist revolutionaries” another is the Farouq brigade, ” apart of the Syrian National Council and its representatives meet European governments. It was created by a renegade general..the West trusts them but I learned the hard way” that it’s nature is akin to “Somali Islamist bandits” who “take advantage” of and paint the appearance of a revolution “to control part of the territory, in order to extort money from the population” that is, the “rebels” the West support not only have been found to commit atrocities but also has major parts of it that pray financially on the Syrian people the West loves to claim it cares so much about, and hence must shoot those missiles and regime change into another pro-US dictatorship that is not called a dictatorship but an “ally” (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and more)* This would be less surprising if Americans were informed by their “free press” about such things as the CIA’s 1949 overthrow of an elected government in Syria, and that act is the one which brought a series of coups and decades, not years but decades of successive coups, eventually leading to Bashar Assad’s father rising to power from the ranks of the army regime, with Bashar inheriting power upon his father’s death in 2000.

I would love to see a peaceful transition and hand-over of power with Assad stepping down, and despite what is beaten into our ears in the western media the Hidden History of the Syrian Civil War strongly suggests that Assad, whose first steps in office were to free political prisoners and take other steps (incremental but not tiny: legalizing an independent radio station and a non-governmental newspaper, and rights for those accused of crimes) to open up from the extremely undemocratic government he inherited from his father — might well have been, and may still be willing to do so. But we’re a long long way from being able to reach that point, with by far the largest obstacle is the catastrophes created by the west and the “Good Guy Dictatorships” who fund and arms the most extremist rebels, both Al Qaeda and even the non-Al Qaeda rebels such as the ones the two former hostages just told us about, happy to use chemical weapons – that is by far the biggest obstacle to eventual transition, and not an obstacle, as the West’s image of a Bashar Assad who (like all “Bad Guy Dictator Du Jours”) is assumed “will never ever willingly give up power.” Until we undo the massive damage of an entrenched band of terrorist, and violent jihadist, and “bandit” as Quirico says, there is little hope but that this process created by the west and its allies will continue to “butcher” Syria.

Syria toon Saudi dropping soldiers

And this on-going catastrophe will continue so long as the U.S. actually encourages rebels to refuse to sit down and negotiate, as not only pointed out by the Russian Foreign Minister but as confirmed in public statements by rebel leaders — and it can’t happen so long as Al Qaeda and civilian — slaughtering, cannibalistic, boy-executing (for “insulting Islam” merely mentioning Mohammed), fanatics who threaten annihilation to those of other sects (never mind Christians), or when the US-backed Qatari and Saudi dictatorships continue to arm other factions, with these latest revelations confirming other reports: even the non-Al Qaeda, even the “Free Syrian Army” is rive with brutality, as this latest set of reports about brutal treatment and use of chemical weapons by the FSA rebels against “their own people” the Syrian people, just to “pin on Assad,” reveals (though with so many foreign jihadists, which even the truth-bending White House estimates at possibly 25%, and thus in fact may be much higher – these foreign armed attackers might not really find Syrian civilians to be “their own people” after all). The U.S. must stop covert air to violent fanatics and stop discouraging all rebels from negotiating, but this will happen only with massive pressure by Americans and others. Then with those factions who respect pluralism, not imposing their religion on others, and not slaughtering or discriminating against others, the rest, to the negotiation table, with diplomatic, and economic and political pressure on all of them including the Syrian government to come to a peaceful diplomatic, and negotiated settlement.

It’s a long and difficult road. The alternative is years more of proxy wars with “covert aid” bleeding Syria to “weaken Assad” while keeping him in power, something that some leaders in the U.S., Israel, and Turkey might want, but which is harmful to their own citizens (the West was happy to “weaken” both Iran and Iraq while leaning towards supporting Saddam in Iraq more, shamefully is was happy to see Muslims kill other Muslim with the burden of suffering on civilians – now they are willing to let Syrian bear the brunt of this latest Geopolitical chess game). Worse, the control they imagine they have slips and the Al Qaeda faction begins to win, in fact for creating massive chaos and sectarian splintering it has “won” a lot, even if the Syrian government has the military upper hand. The seeds of Al Qaeda were created when Reagan used the philosophy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and funded and armed the most extremist fundamentalist jihadists the CIA could find in the 1980s, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan – who later formed the backbone for the Taliban and al Qaeda. With that disaster, the mess in Libya misrepresented as “success” and the the on-going disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, could the west repeat the same catastrophic mistakes again?

If on-going disasters and murderous wars are to be averted it won't be enough to protest against overt military attacks Open-ended, ongoing protests against the covert funding and arming of jihadists, and Al Qaeda rebels, and a second central demand also for full, open, unbiased and vigorous investigations into rebel use of chemical weapons be started without delay.
If on-going disasters and murderous wars are to be averted it won’t be enough to
protest against overt military attacks Open-ended, ongoing protests against the
covert funding and arming of jihadists, and Al Qaeda rebels, and a second central
demand also for full, open, unbiased and vigorous investigations into rebel use
of chemical weapons be started without delay.

Incredibly, the answer is that it’s likely to do just that, unless Americans don’t hit the snooze button after stopping over military action, and instead demand a U.N. investigation of the multiple lines of evidence (Carla Del Ponte, Gavlak/Ababneh, and now Piccinin and Quirico) pointing at rebel use of chemicals, and importantly, demand an end to covert arming by all parties, using protective international forces to defends all civilians, and taking all parties to diplomatic negotiations. Otherwise the covert games will continue to turn Syria into a nightmare for all Syrians.

Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.