How A Presidential Debate Moderator Distorted Syrian Reality

The American people are receiving a highly distorted view of the Syrian war – much propaganda, little truth – including from one of the moderators at the second presidential debate, writes Robert Parry.

Bill Clinton, in foreground, watches the second presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Washington University, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis.

Bill Clinton, in foreground, watches the second presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at Washington University, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis.

How ABC News’ Martha Raddatz framed her question about Syria in the second presidential debate shows why the mainstream U.S. news media, with its deep-seated biases and inability to deal with complexity, has become such a driving force for wider wars and even a threat to the future of the planet.

Raddatz, the network’s chief global affairs correspondent, presented the Syrian conflict as simply a case of barbaric aggression by the Syrian government and its Russian allies against the Syrian people, especially the innocents living in Aleppo.

“Just days ago, the State Department called for a war crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for their bombardment of Aleppo,” Raddatz said. “So this next question comes through social media through Facebook. Diane from Pennsylvania asks, if you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”

The framing of the question assured a response from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her determination to expand the U.S. military intervention in Syria to include a “no-fly zone,” which U.S. military commanders say would require a massive operation that would kill many Syrians, both soldiers and civilians, to eliminate Syria’s sophisticated air-defense systems and its air force.

But Raddatz’s loaded question was also a way of influencing – or misleading – U.S. public opinion. Consider for a moment how a more honest and balanced question could have elicited a very different response and a more thoughtful discussion:

“The situation in Aleppo presents a heartrending and nettlesome concern. Al Qaeda fighters and their rebel allies, including some who have been armed by the United States, are holed up in some neighborhoods of eastern Aleppo. They’ve been firing rockets into the center and western sections of Aleppo and they have shot civilians seeking to leave east Aleppo through humanitarian corridors.

“These terrorists and their ‘moderate’ rebel allies seem to be using the tens of thousands of civilians still in east Aleppo as ‘human shields’ in order to create sympathy from Western audiences when the Syrian government seeks to root the terrorists and other insurgents from these neighborhoods with airstrikes that have killed both armed fighters and civilians. In such a circumstance, what should the U.S. role be and was it a terrible mistake to supply these fighters with sophisticated rockets and other weapons, given that these weapons have helped Al Qaeda in seizing and holding territory?”

Siding with Al Qaeda

ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz

ABC News’ chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Raddatz also could have noted that a key reason why the recent limited cease-fire failed was that the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels in east Aleppo had rebuffed Secretary of State John Kerry’s demand that they separate themselves from Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which now calls itself the Syria Conquest Front.

Instead of breaking ties with Al Qaeda, some of these “moderate” rebel groups reaffirmed or expanded their alliances with Al Qaeda. In other words, Official Washington’s distinction between Al Qaeda’s terrorists and the “moderate” rebels was publicly revealed to be largely a myth. But the reality of U.S.-aided rebels collaborating with the terror group that carried out the 9/11 attacks complicates the preferred mainstream narrative of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin “the bad guys” versus the rebels “the good guys.”

If Raddatz had posed her question with the more complex reality (rather than the simplistic, biased form that she chose) and if Clinton still responded with her recipe of a “no-fly zone,” the obvious follow-up would be: “Wouldn’t such a military intervention constitute aggressive war against Syria in violation of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg principles?

“And wouldn’t such a strategy risk tipping the military balance inside Syria in favor of Al Qaeda and its jihadist allies, possibly even its spinoff terror group, the Islamic State? And what would the United States do then, if its destruction of the Syrian air force led to the black flag of jihadist terror flying over Damascus as well as all of Aleppo? Would a Clinton-45 administration send in U.S. troops to stop the likely massacre of Christians, Alawites, Shiites, secular Sunnis and other ‘heretics’?”

There would be other obvious and important questions that a more objective Martha Raddatz would ask: “Would your no-fly zone include shooting down Russian aircraft that are flying inside Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government? Might such a clash provoke a superpower escalation, possibly even invite nuclear war?”

But no such discussion is allowed inside the mainstream U.S. media’s frame. There is an unstated assumption that the United States has the unquestioned right to invade other countries at will, regardless of international law, and there is a studied silence about this hypocrisy even as the U.S. State Department touts the sanctity of international law.

Whose War Crimes?

Raddatz’s favorable reference to the State Department accusing the Syrian and Russian governments of war crimes further suggests a stunning lack of self-awareness, a blindness to America’s own guilt in that regard. How can any American journalist put on such blinders regarding even recent U.S. war crimes, including the illegal invasion of Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?


An unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

While Raddatz referenced “the heart-breaking video of a 5-year-old Syrian boy named Omran sitting in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble after an air strike in Aleppo,” she seems to have no similar sympathy for the slaughtered and maimed children of Iraq who suffered under American bombs – or the people of Yemen who have faced a prolonged aerial onslaught from Saudi Arabia using U.S. aircraft and U.S.-supplied ordnance.

Regarding Iraq, there was the case at the start of the U.S.-led war when President George W. Bush mistakenly thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might be eating at a Baghdad restaurant so U.S. warplanes leveled it, killing more than a dozen civilians, including children and a young woman whose headless body was recovered by her mother.

“When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then her head,” the Associated Press reported, “her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.” The London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented “a clear breach” of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing civilian targets.

But such civilian deaths were of little interest to the mainstream U.S. media. “American talking heads … never seemed to give the issue any thought,” wrote Eric Boehlert in a report on the U.S. war coverage for “Certainly they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage left in the aftermath.”

Thousands of other civilian deaths were equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror. The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek, 8; and Safia, 5 who had been the center of his life. “It wasn’t just ordinary love,” his wife said. “He was crazy about them. It wasn’t like other fathers.” [NYT, April 14, 2003]

The horror of the war was captured, too, in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. Ali’s father, his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As the armless Ali was evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion for injured Iraqi civilians, the boy said he would rather die than live without his hands.

Because of the horrors inflicted on Iraq – and the resulting chaos that has now spread across the region and into Europe – Raddatz could have asked Clinton, who as a U.S. senator voted for the illegal war, whether she felt any responsibility for this carnage. Of course, Raddatz would not ask that question because the U.S. mainstream media was almost universally onboard the Iraq War bandwagon, which helps explain why there has been virtually no accountability for those war crimes.

Letting Clinton Off

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, right, speaks as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, right, speaks as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016.

So, Clinton was not pressed on her war judgments regarding either Iraq or the Libyan “regime change” that she championed in 2011, another war of choice that transformed the once-prosperous North African nation into a failed state. Raddatz’s biased framing also put Republican Donald Trump on the defensive for resisting yet another American “regime change” project in Syria.

Trump was left muttering some right-wing talking points that sought to attack Clinton as soft on Syria, trying to link her to President Barack Obama’s decision not to bomb the Syrian military in August 2013 after a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus, which occurred six months after Clinton had resigned as Secretary of State.

Trump: “She was there as Secretary of State with the so-called line in the sand, which…

Clinton: “No, I wasn’t. I was gone. I hate to interrupt you, but at some point…

Trump: “OK. But you were in contact — excuse me. You were…

Clinton: “At some point, we need to do some fact-checking here.

Trump: “You were in total contact with the White House, and perhaps, sadly, Obama probably still listened to you. I don’t think he would be listening to you very much anymore. Obama draws the line in the sand. It was laughed at all over the world what happened.”

In bashing Obama for not bombing Syria – after U.S. intelligence expressed suspicion that the sarin attack was actually carried out by Al Qaeda or a related group trying to trick the U.S. military into attacking the Syrian government – Trump may have pleased his right-wing base but he was deviating from his generally less war-like stance on the Middle East.

He followed that up with another false right-wing claim that Clinton and Obama had allowed the Russians to surge ahead on nuclear weapons, saying:our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good.”

Trump: “Now, she talks tough, she talks really tough against Putin and against Assad. She talks in favor of the rebels. She doesn’t even know who the rebels are. You know, every time we take rebels, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else, we’re arming people. And you know what happens? They end up being worse than the people [we overthrow].Only after attacking Clinton for not being more militaristic did Trump say a few things that made sense, albeit in his incoherent snide-aside style.

“Look at what she did in Libya with [Muammar] Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s out. It’s a mess. And, by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil. I’m sure you probably have heard that.” [Actually, whether one has heard it or not, that point is not true. During the ongoing political and military strife, Libya has been blocked from selling its oil, which is shipped by sea.]

Trump continued: “It was a disaster. Because the fact is, almost everything she’s done in foreign policy has been a mistake and it’s been a disaster.

“But if you look at Russia, just take a look at Russia, and look at what they did this week, where I agree, she wasn’t there, but possibly she’s consulted. We sign a peace treaty. Everyone’s all excited. Well, what Russia did with Assad and, by the way, with Iran, who you made very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal, with the $150 billion, with the $1.7 billion in cash, which is enough to fill up this room.

“But look at that deal. Iran now and Russia are now against us. So she wants to fight. She wants to fight for rebels. There’s only one problem. You don’t even know who the rebels are. So what’s the purpose?”

While one can’t blame Raddatz for Trump’s scattered thinking – or for Clinton’s hawkishness – the moderator’s failure to frame the Syrian issue in a factual and nuanced way contributed to this dangerously misleading “debate” on a grave issue of war and peace.

It is surely not the first time that the mainstream U.S. media has failed the American people in this way, but – given the stakes of a possible nuclear war with Russia – this propagandistic style of “journalism” is fast becoming an existential threat.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He currently writes for Consortiumnews, where this article first appeared  .You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon

US Unsure Whom It Fired Cruise Missiles at In Yemen

US Can’t Say Who Launched Missiles from Yemen at Navy Ships

The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87). (Photo: Department of Defense)
The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87). (Photo: Department of Defense)

The U.S. has yet to determine who was responsible for the launch of missiles at Navy warships in the Red Sea from areas in Yemen in the control of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.

“We don’t know who was pulling the trigger,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, but the missiles were launched from “Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Iran has played a role and been supportive of the Houthi rebels.” The Houthis have denied carrying out the attacks.

At 4 a.m. local time Thursday, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Nitze launched missiles at three radar sites in coastal Yemen in retaliation for the attempted attacks on Navy warships, Cook said.

The initial assessment was that the sites were destroyed and there were no indications of civilian casualties, he added.

“These strikes were in response to attempted missile attacks in recent days against USS Mason and other vessels in the Red Sea and Bab-el-Mandeb,” Cook said at a Pentagon news conference.

“We will be prepared to respond again” if ships in the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait are threatened, Cook said. He declined to respond to reports that Iran has deployed two of its warships off Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. “I’ll leave it to the Iranians to describe the disposition of their ships.”

The Defense Department on Tuesday had warned of possible retaliation after a pair of missiles was fired at the Navy destroyer USS Mason on Sunday as the ship was in international waters near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea.

On Wednesday, another two missiles were fired at the Mason from an area believed to be in the control of the Houthis. None of the missiles struck the ship, and there were no injuries, U.S. officials said.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio and the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce were also operating in the area with the Mason at the time.

The attempted attacks on U.S. ships were the first in the civil war between Shiite Houthi rebels fighting the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi that broke out in March 2015.

At least 4,125 civilians have been killed in the fighting, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A cease-fire and peace talks collapsed in August.

Saudi Arabia, which backs the fledgling Yemeni government, began conducting airstrikes in Yemen last year.

A Houthi military official said that charges of missile launches by them at U.S. ships were an attempt at glossing over a Saudi airstrike on a funeral service Sunday that reportedly killed more than 150 people, the Houthi-affiliated Saba news agency reported.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that the strikes on the radar sites “were indeed authorized by the president. These were ordered in response to the missile launches threatening the USS Mason.”

“The intent of our strikes were to deter future attacks and to reduce the risk to U.S. and other vessels. We are prepared to respond if necessary to any future missile launches,” Schultz said. He called the strikes a “purely self-defense action.”

— Richard Sisk can be reached at

Uzbek Auth. Refuse Passage of Afghan Copper On China’s ‘Silk Road’ railway

China’s ‘Silk Road’ railway hits a snag in Afghanistan


A train in Astana, Kazakhstan, that's part of a service linking northern China's Inner Region with Kazakhstan.

Xinhua/Jia Lijun | Getty Images   A train in Astana, Kazakhstan, that’s part of a service linking northern China’s Inner Region with Kazakhstan.

A segment of China’s long-hoped-for “Silk Road” railway — and the copper that Beijing hopes it will carry — has run into a snag.

The Sino-Afghan Special Railway Transportation connects China to Afghanistan, and is one part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” trade corridor that connects China to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Iran, among others.

However, a new cargo train that arrived last month at Afghanistan’s northern city of Hairatan from China’s Jiangsu province is now returning empty from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan on its way back to China.

Uzbek authorities have forbidden cargo to arrive into their country from Afghanistan via the railway, citing security concerns.

According to a report last weekend from Radio Free Afghanistan, Uzbekistan wants goods to leave the Afghan border city of Hairatan on ships instead of rail, and cross the Uzbek border via the Amu River, where it can be screened by Uzbek security forces. Only then would the cargo be reloaded onto the Sino-Afghan train.

That circuitous route creates delays for Afghan trade into China. Afghans want to transport saffron, dried fruit and other goods to China — which for its part wants copper to flow along the route.

The Metallurgical Corp. of China has a $3 billion contract to mine copper from Mes Aynak, the world’s second-largest copper deposit, which is southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan. China has had its eye on Afghanistan’s mineral wealth since the United States discovered nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped deposits there in 2010. Copper is a critical industrial metal.

During the inauguration of the Sino-Afghan railway in September, Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Yao Jing said, “Without Afghan connectivity, there is no way to connect China with the rest of the world.”

With Uzbekistan’s border restriction and the fluctuating Taliban presence in the region, China does not have a direct rail link into northern Afghanistan. The Taliban has been fighting the Afghanistan government and its Western allies since being knocked from power by the United States in 2001.

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, confirmed that at least two trains had left Afghanistan bound of Uzbekistan empty, but told CNBC that: “Afghanistan and China are working together to overcome these issues and make sure the cargo [is] being transported smoothly. Our ministries of foreign affairs and trade are working on this and following on the concerns very closely.”

Pak. Press (Dawn) Defended By Indian Press, Against Assault By Pak Army Dictatorship

“How can a ‘leak’ be wrong? If it is untrue, then it is NOT a leak, but fantasy. If parts of the story are true, then they help to corroborate the truth of the entire report. The facts are, that reports of military/intelligence subverting Pakistani and international law have for long time slipped through the Army’s iron curtain over all news, to the outside world. It gets harder and harder to be a friend of Pakistan, when the Army dictatorship remains a corrupting influence on all areas of life.”

Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar was quoted by Dawn News as saying, “An attempt has been made to adversely impact a critical national security paradigm, so there should be an inquiry–[Mr. Almeida reported on Army disruption of civilian court proceedings against known terrorists, and now the Int. Min. of Pakistan refers to that arrangement as a “critical national security paradigm.“–ed.]

… Indian media used the report, saying that publication of the story verifies the Indian narrative of Pakistani dealings with non-state actors.”–[By this measure, if India reports anything factual about Pakistan, it is automatically invalidated by the act of reporting.–ed.]

[SEE: Pak Govt Takes Action To Stifle Dawn Journalist Cyril Almeida For Articles on Army]

Weaponising the people
“Act against militants or face international isolation, PM Sharif tells military”

Pakistan justifies travel ban on Dawn reporter Cyril Almeida

times london.svg
Dawn journalist Cyril AlmeidaDawn journalist Cyril Almeida
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday said a leading journalist, who reported a rift between the civilian and military leaderships+ , was barred from going abroad to help in a probe into how “inaccurate” details of a crucial security meeting were leaked to the media.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, while addressing a press conference here for the first time since the controversy over Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida‘s name being put on Exit Control List (ECL) erupted, said, “We had no other option but to put his name on the ECL as he was travelling abroad the next day.”

“Had we not put the central character on the ECL, we would have been blamed for letting him go,” he said.

Nisar said the action was taken+ after the journalist had booked a flight for UAE to leave the country next day after the story was published.

The minister alleged that the news was “inaccurate”.

He said, “Who leaked this inaccurate news? It was published at the behest of someone, and that will be uncovered … they will be brought to justice. But how can that person be brought to justice, if we allow the journalist to leave the country?”

Nisar stated that an ongoing investigation would be completed very soon.

“The inquiry will end in three to four days and then everyone will be allowed to travel freely,” he said.

Talking about Almeida’s travel ban, Khan said that he would have a meeting with journalists’ representative bodies.

Referring to the story, the interior minister was quoted by Dawn News as saying, “An attempt has been made to adversely impact a critical national security paradigm, so there should be an inquiry … Indian media used the report, saying that publication of the story verifies the Indian narrative of Pakistani dealings with non-state actors.”

Banning Almeida from traveling abroad has been widely condemned in Pakistan and abroad.

Earlier this week, Almeida was barred from leaving the country after he reported a rift between the civilian and military leaderships over the powerful ISI shielding terror groups like the Haqqani network and LeT that led to Pakistan’s international isolation.

Almeida, a columnist and reporter for the Dawn newspaper, had tweeted, “Puzzled, saddened. Had no intention of going anywhere; this is my home. Pakistan. I feel sad tonight. This is my life, my country. What went wrong.”

Dawn on Wednesday rejected allegations of “vested interest and false reporting”. It came out with a scathing editorial, saying Almeida’s story on the verbal clash between government and military was “duly verified and correct piece of reporting.”