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Monday 1 June 2015

Whistleblowers – UPDATED

The Syrian Army defector known by the protective alias of Caesar, disguised in a hooded blue jacket, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Congress, July 2014. Photo Reuters.

UPDATE: An account of the Stand Up For Truth event in London

The Stand Up For Truth campaign is making a speaking tour of European cities this week, June 1-7th in London, Oslo, Stockholm, and Berlin.

Stand Up For Truth features speakers who have made personal sacrifices to uphold a commendable objective. Several are critics of American foreign policy and we endorse their efforts to strengthen transparency and democracy.

But the Truth must be the whole truth. Along with criticising our own governments’ actions, we have an obligation to provide a truthful account of what is happening in the world and to speak out against all abuses of power.

In that regard it is deeply disappointing to see that one of the speakers, Coleen Rowley, has a history of attacking Syria solidarity activists in the US, and has said the US should co-ordinate bombing in Syria with the Assad regime.

In Syria today we see the worst kind of abuses of power: we see a regime deliberately targeting civilians, targeting health workers, attacking schools, imprisoning and torturing civilians, terrorising and killing its own population.

Stand Up For Truth acknowledges the work of western whistleblowers who have risked their careers to speak the truth. We must also recognise the efforts of those in Syria who risk their lives to speak out.

People like ‘Caesar’ who brought to the outside world photographic evidence of 11,000 detainees tortured to death by the Assad regime.

People like the hundreds of local activists who are working with the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) to collect legal proof of the regime’s crimes.

Several of the Stand Up For Truth speakers are lawyers—we call on them to add their voices to the campaign by the CIJA to bring Assad and his regime before the International Criminal Court and be held accountable for their crimes.


Images of Syrian torture on display at UN: ‘It is imperative we do not look away’, by Raya Jalabi, The Guardian, 11 March 2015.

Syrian torture: Will photos turn US opinion?, by Kim Ghattas, BBC News, 27 January 2015.

Smuggled Syrian documents enough to indict Bashar al-Assad, say investigators, by Julian Borger, The Guardian, 12 May 2015.

Syria’s truth smugglers, by Julian Borger, The Guardian, 12 May 2015.

In response to “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars”, by Louis Proyect, 29 December 2014.

UPDATE: An account of the Stand Up For Truth event in London, by Clara Connolly

Four of us from Syria Solidarity Movement attended the meeting, mainly to distribute our leaflet, accepted with good grace by most of the 120 or so in  attendance. We also hoped for an opportunity to speak from the floor.

There were seven speakers on the panel, organised under the auspices of the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) in Washington, and hosted by Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck College. They consisted of  veteran whistleblowers of North America’s various wars: Daniel Ellsberg of the Vietnam war, and Coleen Rowley of 9/11 and the Iraq war, as well as Thomas Drake, whistleblower at the NSA, and Jesselyn Radak, his legal defence at the Government Accountability Project. Norman Solomon of the IPA also spoke.

Local colour was ably added by Eileen Chubb of the BUPA 7, who blew the whistle on the abuse of elderly people in care homes in the UK. But it was mainly an American affair, full of righteous anger at the lies told by the authorities in the wake of 9/11 and leading up to the Iraq war, and at the sacrifices made by the brave people on the platform to expose these lies. There was also a sense of dismay and disillusionment that under the current Obama administration, although some of  the lies have been exposed, the curbs on press freedom, as well as the intense surveillance of the population, continue.

There was no real attempt to distinguish the current administration from the Bush era, nor any attempt to name villains other than the US and to a lesser extent its lapdog the UK.  Hardly surprising then that it proved impossible for the panel to express solidarity with whistleblowers elsewhere in  the world.  In particular they were invited to stand with  Syrian whistleblowers, risking  torture and death to expose the war crimes of Bashar Assad. But they failed to do so. In response to that question, Norman Solomon simply referred to the continued failures of American administrations in Iraq and then in Libya, and caustically remarked that the US administration in 2013 had wanted to bomb Assad, and was stopped by the people. In 2015 it was bombing ‘the rebels’ instead. This got a cheer.

As the only one of us given the opportunity to speak from the floor, I reminded Coleen Rowley that she had recommended that the US coordinate with the Assad regime against ISIS, though the Assad regime was responsible for the vast majority of Syrian deaths. I referred to her tactic, used commonly by Assadists, of denying the stories from Syrian whistleblowers by saying “there is no way of knowing the truth.”

I insisted  that there are ways of discovering the truth, which are familiar to panel members, by testing the evidence and putting this evidence before experienced jurists. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International among others, have provided a large amount of evidence which corroborates that of the Syrian whistleblowers.

Coleen Rowley’s answer was to say that “democracy promotion has been exploited to create wars,” that the former Director of Amnesty International was too close to the US government, and she quoted Hilary Clinton as saying, “it’s a good thing to use NGOs because then it doesn’t look like the government.” Thus she followed Mother Agnes Mariam, notorious propagandist for Assad, in dismissing the painstaking work of international human rights organisations, as well as Syrian civilian activists, in documenting the truth about Syria.

No-one else on the panel responded, although I had invited them all to do so. People who are famous for discovering, or uncovering, conspiracies tend to keep looking, and to see them everywhere. There was no room left for considering the wishes of ordinary Syrians, caught in the most terrible humanitarian catastrophe since the Second World War, nor the voices of Syrian whistleblowers, risking their lives to reveal the terrible truth.

Norman Solomon reminded us of Aldous Huxley’s words: “Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects… propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations.”

What we heard tonight from the panel, among some old and familiar truths, was that silence.

Note: A PDF of the leaflet distributed by Syria Solidarity UK at the meeting is here.