Monthly Archives: February 2016

Boston College And The ‘Spotlight’ Movie On Catholic Church Pedophiles

As you probably know by now, Spotlight has won this year’s Oscar for best movie. The film portrays the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic church’s cover up of the sexual abuse of young people by Catholic priests in Boston dating back many years and was regarded as a hot favourite for the prize.

The expose won the Globe a Pulitzer prize, led to the downfall of Cardinal Bernard Law (although his punishment, exile to the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, hardly fit the crime), impoverished the church in Boston and led to a worldwide avalanche of similar exposés.

Before the Oscar ceremonies in Hollywood, the public radio programme, ‘The Frame’, interviewed the movie’s director Tom McCarthy about the resistance from church bodies in Boston that he encountered while filming.

The following extract will be of interest to those familiar with Boston College and its role in the Troubles archive that it handed over to the PSNI:

FG-FF ‘Grand Coalition’ Would Be Sinn Fein’s Wet Dream

Although the final votes are a long way from being counted in the general election in the South of Ireland, it is already clear that the previous Fine Gael-Labour coalition is doomed.

The poll has been nothing short of a disaster for Fine Gael (FG) and for Labour, especially the latter, but a triumph for Fianna Fail (FF) leader Micheal Martin whose party has recovered a lot of the ground lost in the 2011 poll, when FF went from 71 seats to 20. Fianna Fail look to be heading for 40 seats this time.

Sinn Fein look set to win between 22 and 25 seats, up from 14 in 2011. Not a spectacular result but a very promising one for the future.

There seem to be only two routes to a new government. Either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail cobble together some sort of deal with the plethora of independents set to be returned to the Dail, an inherently unstable arrangement, or a coalition government of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is formed, the so-called ‘grand coalition’.

The other permutation involving Sinn Fein appears to be a non-starter for both FF and FG.

A Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition appears on its face to be as inherently unstable as an arrangement involving the independents. But it would be a delightful prospect for Sinn Fein.

It would be unstable because the competition between the two remnants of the Irish civil war would be too intense, the temptation to screw the other too great for it to last. It would likely be a government that would stagger from crisis to crisis, caused by personality clashes, policy differences or just plain ambition, personal and party.

But the stage would be set to allow Sinn Fein to present themselves as the real opposition. Not only would the party’s Stalinist-like discipline compare favourably to the chaos and backbiting that would infect the coalition government, but the Shinners would play it all to their advantage in other ways.

They would use the life of that arrangement to infiltrate and subvert both the Labour party and the various independents in the Dail, so when the time came, Sinn Fein would emerge larger and healthier and ready to take power, either by itself or in coalition with whichever party was willing. It would then gobble up that party in turn.

Study the history of the party under its current leadership and you will find that these are the skills that have been honed to perfection by its leadership cadre over the years and implemented with military-style discipline, ensuring not only the triumph of that leadership over internal opposition but its survival for over three decades.

You don’t stay at the top of the greasy pole known as the IRA without having very sharp claws.


As Trump Surges, Is It Time To Play The Mob Card?

The sense of panic in the Republican party as Donald Trump surges ahead of his only viable rivals, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in the race for the GOP nomination is almost palpable.

Having won all but one of the Republican primaries so far and a favorite to emerge victorious on Super Tuesday, it seems that Trump is unstoppable and that he will be that party’s candidate for the White House in November.

An outcome that would have been dismissed as beyond belief two months ago now seems inevitable.

Unless, perhaps, the Republicans reach for a card that many observers can’t believe they didn’t play weeks ago: the Mob card.


Trump’s suspicious links to organised crime were highlighted by one of my favorite American journalists, David Cay Johnston in the National Memo online magazine way back in May 2015 but have so far gone unnoticed, or so it seems, by either the GOP’s hierarchy or the media (no surprise there!).

Johnston raised the Mob issue, along with many other dubious aspects of Trump’s business career, in form of  questions he posed to Trump, twenty-one in all, of which six dealt directly or otherwise with Trump’s alleged dealings with organised crime bosses.

As, Johnston put it, “Reporters, competing Republican candidates, and voters would learn a lot about Trump if they asked for complete answers to these 21 questions.”

Here are the relevant mob-linked questions posed by Johnston:

6. Trump Tower is not a steel girder high rise, but 58 stories of concrete.

Why did you use concrete instead of traditional steel girders?

7. Trump Tower was built by S&A Concrete, whose owners were “Fat” Tony Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, head of the Gambinos, another well-known crime family.

If you did not know of their ownership, what does that tell voters about your management skills?

8. You later used S&A Concrete on other Manhattan buildings bearing your name.


9. In demolishing the Bonwit Teller building to make way for Trump Tower, you had no labor troubles, even though only about 15 unionists worked at the site alongside 150 Polish men, most of whom entered the country illegally, lacked hard hats, and slept on the site.

How did you manage to avoid labor troubles, like picketing and strikes, and job safety inspections while using mostly non-union labor at a union worksite — without hard hats for the Polish workers?

Fat Tony Salerno

Fat Tony Salerno

Paul Castellano

Paul Castellano

And these:

11. You sent your top lieutenant, lawyer Harvey I. Freeman, to negotiate with Ken Shapiro, the “investment banker” for Nicky Scarfo, the especially vicious killer who was Atlantic City’s mob boss, according to federal prosecutors and the New Jersey State Commission on Investigation.

Since you emphasize your negotiating skills, why didn’t you negotiate yourself?

12. You later paid a Scarfo associate twice the value of a lot, officials determined.

Since you boast that you always negotiate the best prices, why did you pay double the value of this real estate?

Nicky Scarfo

Nicky Scarfo

It would be interesting to hear Trump’s answers to these questions and perhaps even more interesting to hear them asked!

That Bobby Sands Book, The Sands Family And The Bobby Sands Trust

bobby sands book

Sands Family Claim Gerry Adams Wanted To Be A Financial Beneficiary Of Bobby Sands Writings


It has been difficult, to say the least, to excavate the truth about an allegation made by the Sands’ family this week about the role of the Bobby Sands Trust in the preparation and publication of the controversial graphic novel ‘Bobby Sands – Freedom Fighter’.

While Unionists have vented their spleen at the sympathetic light in which the late IRA hunger striker is portrayed, the Sands family have complained that the Sinn Fein-controlled Bobby Sands Trust played a central role in creating the book, did so without the family’s assent and in the process hijacked their  history.

They have demanded that the Trust disband and stop using Bobby Sands’ writing for commercial gain.

Superficial evidence points to some involvement by the Trust, or some of its board, not least media appearances this week praising the book by Danny Morrison, at one time the Trust’s secretary, as well as reports that Gerry Adams was approached for help by the author or his publisher. Sands family sources also say some details about Bobby Sands’ life could only have come from Trust members.

In an effort to shed light on the matter, I emailed Michael O’Brien, Publisher of O’Brien Press, who must be reveling in all the publicity, to ask him what dealings or financial relationship his firm had with the Trust. His reply dealt with one of those questions – “I confirm that no fee was paid to the Bobby Sands trust” – but not the other.

Gerry Adams, in Long Kesh seated (far right) with Brendan Hughes to his right and Bobby Sands to his left (both standing)

Gerry Adams, in Long Kesh (seated far right) with Brendan Hughes to his right and Bobby Sands to his left (both standing)

So today (Friday) I phoned The O’Brien Press to ask what dealings the company had had, if any, with the Trust and a supplementary to O’Brien’s emailed answer to me: ‘Okay, O’Brien Press hasn’t paid any fees to the Trust as of now but would the company pay any share of the royalties to the Trust in the future?’

The PR person could not come to the phone when I rang but I was assured she would get back to me. I am still waiting.

The Bobby Sands Trust, which has a website here, is a highly secretive and controversial body which has ownership of all of Bobby Sands writings and memorabilia, and therefore is the beneficiary of royalties and other income from his work. Since his writings have been on sale since 1981 that must amount to a tidy sum.

How much has been earned and where the money goes remain mysteries however since the Bobby Sands Trust has never once published a report of its activities or any financial accounts.

Nor does the Trust explain what its purpose in life is, i.e. why it exists. All that it says in that regard is this: “The Trust holds the copyright on all Bobby’s poetry and prose and was established to publish, promote and keep in print the extraordinary writings of this young Irish man, who from prison isolation became an international figure in 1981, and who to this day continues to inspire Irish republicans in their pursuit of freedom from British rule.”


A cynic might look at the Trust’s members and conclude that only confirmed Adamsistas qualify: Current members are Gerry Adams TD, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, Sile Darragh and Caral Ni Chuilin MLA. All are close colleagues or confidantes of the Sinn Fein president.

The original Trust had two of Bobby Sands’ sisters on the board, Marcella and Bernadette but they left in disputed circumstances. Adams’ loyalists claim the falling out was connected to the split in the Provos in 1997 which led to Michael McKevitt, Bernadette Sands’ husband, forming the Real IRA, while Sands family members insist the bad feeling predated the split by some years and was caused by mounting concern over the Trust’s secrecy and lack of accountability and transparency.

Back in July 2000, I wrote the following article about the spat between the family and the Trust for The Sunday Tribune which included the spectacular claim from Sands family members that Gerry Adams had at one time attempted to insert a new clause in the Trust’s constitution making himself a financial beneficiary of Bobby Sands writings. As you can read I never did get a response to that allegation from the Trust.

You can read the full article here. Enjoy:

Sands’s family considering legal action against The Bobby Sands Trust
(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune, July 2, 2000)

The family of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands are considering legal action to force the winding up of a Sinn Féin dominated trust established in the dead hunger striker’s name and to get his many prison writings returned to the family after a row over an alleged breach in the terms of the trust.

A spokesperson for the Sands family said that all of the dead hunger striker’s family were united on the issue and would consider any avenue to wind up the trust. “We simply want his property returned and for (Sinn Féin) to cease using him as a commodity”, said the spokesperson. “I think it would be correct to say that we intend to pursue this matter and we have not excluded any avenue”.

The Bobby Sands Trust was set up after his death in 1981 with the aim of raising money for the dependants of IRA prisoners through the sale of books, photographs and memorabilia about the dead IRA protester. The Sands family is claiming that a recent decision by the Trust to make “republican writings” the main beneficiary instead was illegal and taken without their permission.

The dispute significantly widens a long standing breach between the Sands family and the leadership of the Provisionals over the heritage of Bobby Sands, the leader of the 1981 hunger strike protest and unquestionably the single most powerful symbol of the republican movement’s resistance campaign.

Membership of the trust include the SF president Gerry Adams and a number of his allies from Sinn Féin including the former SF publicity director, Danny Morrison and Belfast councillors Tom Hartley and Marie Moore. The Sands family are represented by two sisters of the dead hunger striker, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, a leader of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Marcella Sands, whose name Bobby Sands used as a nom-de-plume for some of his prison writings.

Although the dispute has been characterised as an extension of the 1997 split within the Provisionals over the peace process its origins appear to go back many years to before the first IRA cease fire in 1994.

According to the Sands family version of events it was their unhappiness with the way Bobby Sands’ writings and poetry were being treated by some in the Sinn Féin leadership that led to a new Trust being set up in 1994.

“We came to look closer at the Trust and in turn were concerned at the lack of control or accountability”, said one family source. “There were no records of minutes etc. or proper accounts and it was debatable if they ever functioned as a Trust but rather as an extension of SF. It has been claimed that Marcella was a member of the Trust for instance yet she was never informed of meetings or for that matter who the other members were”.

There was also family concern over an alleged attempt by Sinn Féin to insert a clause in the new Trust which would have made Gerry Adams a financial beneficiary. “It came in the draft version of the new trust documents drawn up in 1994 though Adams said that it should read the president of Sinn Féin of the day. We didn’t agree to either”.

Asked about these allegations the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, Danny Morrison said he would refer the Sunday Tribune’s queries to the next meeting. “For your information, in the meantime, you have been badly misinformed on several counts”, he said.

For the record I never did hear back from Danny Morrison about all this, in particular the claim that Gerry Adams had tried to make himself a financial beneficiary, so I don’t know whether my queries were referred to the Trust or what their response was. I assume the silence meant that nothing happened.

Libya’s Precious Roman Remains Now At Risk From ISIS

The news this week that ISIS gunmen briefly occupied the center of Sabratha, a city of around 100,000 people between the Libyan capital, Tripoli and the border with Tunisia, where they beheaded twelve security officers, is an ominous sign that ISIS’ growing strength could soon threaten Libya’s prized Roman ruins.

Sabratha is one of two significant sites of Roman cities dating back to the Second Century AD; the other is on the western side of Tripoli at a place called Leptis Magna. Libya was occupied by the Roman Empire for the best part of eight centuries, from 146 BC, when Carthage fell to Roman armies, to 670 AD, with Leptis Magna the capital.

Libya has about fifteen sites dating back to the Roman occupation, five of which, including Leptis Magna and Sabratha, are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Libya, or to be precise the fertile coastal strip between what are now the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, became ‘Rome’s breadbasket’, supplying, inter alia, the grain to make the bread that Roman rulers traditionally gave away to the masses, which along with free games at the Coliseum, gave rise to the phrase ‘bread and circuses’ to describe how Rome’s leaders held on to power.

Both cities have beautiful and historically significant ruins, much of which have not been fully explored, but of the two, Leptis Magna, which in its heyday rivaled the great Roman cities of Carthage and Alexandria, has the most impressive remains, including a theatre which is simply stunning.

The great fear is that if ISIS continues to grow in strength it will repeat in Libya the unforgivable acts of historical vandalism carried out in the name of Islam which saw the ancient city of Palmyra devastated and other of the countries most impressive Roman monuments destroyed.

Below are photos of what was destroyed in Syria and what is at risk in Libya. As you view them remember that this monstrous desecration was made possible not just by a barbaric distortion of an otherwise peaceful religion, but by foreign policies of a sort advocated by people now vying to become leader of the modern version of the Roman empire – in particular Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State when Libya was plunged into the anarchy and chaos which now fuels ISIS.

Roman columns at Sabratha

Roman columns at Sabratha

A Roman trading post in Sabratha

A Roman trading post in Sabratha

The Roman theatre at Sabratha

The Roman theatre at Sabratha

The theatre at Leptis Magna

The theatre at Leptis Magna

Arch of Septimus Severus, Roman consul who made Leptis Magna one of the great cities of the Roman empire

The tomb of Septimiuss Severus, a Libyan native who became Emperor of Rome in 193 AD, and made his home town Leptis Magna one of the great cities of the Roman empire

Leptis Magna

Leptis Magna

Roman ampitheatre, Leptis Magna

Roman ampitheatre, Leptis Magna

Public toilets at Leptis Magna

Public toilets at Leptis Magna

Roman tombs in the town of Ghirza

Roman tombs in the town of Ghirza

The arch of triumph at Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS

The arch of triumph at Palmyra, destroyed by ISIS

ISIS destroys Roman monuments in Palmyra

ISIS destroys Roman monuments in Palmyra

‘Sinn Fein Want To Become Part Of The Established Order’ – Vincent Browne

The last time I saw Vincent Browne in Ireland it was on the RTE television news last March. Along with a bunch of hacks, and I mean hacks, he was covering the drama outside the luxury home on the Dalkey coast of high flying corporate lawyer Brian O’Donnell, whose life of riches and indulgence had suddenly ended when his hitherto indulgent bank sued to reclaim O’Donnell’s mortgage-infested home.

Brian O'Donnell's luxury home in Dalkey, Co Dublin

Brian O’Donnell’s luxury home in Dalkey, Co Dublin

The electronic gates suddenly swung open affording the hacks an unexpected chance to stroll through the grounds and report for themselves the lifestyle of one of Ireland’s pampered one per cent. Vincent didn’t hesitate and made his way down the pebbled laneway to the tree-sheltered Italianate villa with its superb views of Dublin Bay.

Suddenly Vincent realised he was alone. He turned to gaze on the pack of nervous scribblers as they stood motionless at the gate. “Wimps”, he scowled.

Vincent Browne was never an easy editor to work for but he was always brave, when others were not.

Vincent Browne

Vincent Browne

I have always believed that the best journalists should be like the boy in the fable about the King’s new clothes, who steps out from the crowd to declare the monarch naked despite the cooing approval of the crowd, Vincent Browne was one of the few journalists in Ireland who followed that rule like a lode star.

He has done that with this article in The Irish Times basically saying what the dogs in the street know but dare not bark, which is that when Sinn Fein went down the peace process road it was part of a plan not to plant a revolutionary seed in Irish society but to become part of a game they once said they despised.

Believe it or not, it takes courage to say something as obvious as that in the Ireland of 2016, eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement but Vincent doesn’t hesitate. On a personal note, tonight I feel a little less alone and isolated and not for the first time in our long and not untroubled relationship, grateful for Vincent’s courage and dedication to the obvious truth.

A few years ago, in a fit of unspeakable doltishness, The Irish Times let Vincent go. He was their best columnist but the people who now preside over that much-diminished organ couldn’t see that.

Here, in a memorable article about Sinn Fein, he re-emerges in that paper’s columns, hopefully on a more long-term basis, to play the role of the boy who calls out the King with no clothes. It is vintage Vincent Browne.


Vincent Browne: Do not worry about Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin
Republican party not a threat to the established order – it wants to become part of it.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams with party members outside Government Buildings. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams with party members outside Government Buildings. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Nothing of consequence will change in Irish society with this election. Over one million people will continue to live in deprivation; nearly one in five of everyone in employment will continue to be paid pittances; thousands of poorer people will die prematurely (this was estimated a decade ago to be around 5,000 annually); us – rich people – will crash the queues for preferential healthcare, others will be left on trollies and waiting lists; schools will make no significant difference to the life chances of children and young adults; only the few will exert any influence on public policy; our democracy will remain hollow.

Endless Discussions

Fine Gael will be the lead party of government again, supported by “like-minded” Independents, “like-minded’ Labour (if there are any left) or “like-minded” Fianna Fail.

Almost none of the major issues featured at all in the election campaign, guaranteeing little will change. Instead we had endless discussions about the composition of the next government – as though it matters; the culpability of Fianna Fail for the 2008 crash, as though Fine Gael and Labour were not themselves complicit in that crash; the alarms about Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin, always missing the central point concerning Sinn Féin.

Air-headed hysteria

And while we’re mentioning Sinn Féin … The reflexive air-headed hysteria of Independent Newspapers about Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams has been predicable. We all know Gerry Adams was one of the leading figures in the IRA for a long time and it is no surprise he denies that, for to do otherwise would leave him open to criminal prosecution and, probably, civil suits.

We also all know of the complicity of Gerry Adams in legions of IRA atrocities, atrocities that probably would have happened anyway, with or without hm.
But it was Gerry Adams, who, more than any other single person, was responsible for delivering the most significant political achievement of Irish history for generations: the peace agreement on Northern Ireland. In terms of achievement, no other figure in Irish public life rates even close to him.

But there is reason to be suspicious of Sinn Féin, a reason that, incidentally, should be comforting to the vested interests Independent Newspapers seek to represent.

Hundreds of thousands will vote for Sinn Féin thinking this will make a significant difference to the distribution of income, wealth, power, influence, cultural capital, social capital – they will be disappointed. It is not that Sinn Féin is a threat to the established order, it is that Sinn Féin wants to become part of the established order.

There was a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Sinn Féin and the IRA flirted with radical change. Following James Connolly they wrote (in Éire Nua, 1979):

“We believe that the present system of society is based upon the robbery of the working class and that capitalist property cannot exist without the plundering of labour; we desire to see capitalism abolished and a democratic system of common or public ownership erected in its stead. This democratic system, which is called socialism, will, we believe, come as a result of the continuous increase of power to the working class. Only by this means can we secure the abolition of destitution and all the misery, crime and immorality, which flow from that unnecessary evil”.

Now all they venture is to increase the minimum wage to €9.65 an hour. There is some decent analysis of social conditions in the Sinn Féin manifesto, but the thrust of the manifesto is so cautious and “responsible” one wonders why they don’t they just merge with Fine Gael, along with the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil, Renua and Shane Ross?

Establishment politics has moved significantly to the right of right of centre. Fine Gael is now far more a fundamentalist Tory party than it has been since its dalliance with fascism in the 1930s. The undercurrent of its slogan “make work pay” is to cut taxes, whatever the social consequences – the more inequality the better.

It will be as well if Labour is extinguished on Friday because it would end the delusion that Labour will make any change worth noting to the status quo. In all the eight coalition governments in which Labour has participated, the people whose interests Labour purports to serve, were betrayed.

The worst of these coalitions has been this tea-party government, which has enforced the cruellest cuts on the lifestyles of the disadvantaged, the most egregious being the 80 per cent in the funding of Traveller programmes, the cuts to respite care, to special needs teaching, to the funding of programmes supporting victims of rape, the cuts in lone parent allowances. All while protecting the tax havens and, latterly, further enriching the rich.


Neither has the Left distinguished itself, although the predicted increased support for Left candidates of course is welcome from an egalitarian perspective.
The campaigns against property tax and water charges have been opportunist and self-defeating. Of course the property tax and water charges were unfair as configured. But the vibe emitted by the Left that taxation is an evil is itself evil. Taxation is the means not just whereby the essential agencies of the State is funded but how the grossly unfair market distribution of income and wealth is corrected.

All income and wealth is generated by social co-operation and is therefore the property of society, not the property of those who claim to have “earned” it or, worse, inherited it. The Left seems afraid to affirm this.

Yes it has been entertaining to watch how Fine Gael banjaxed its campaign. Less entertaining has been how the media, which to a large extent sets the agenda, again, has done so to the tune of the well-heeled and the corporate studded boots.

Free Eskinder Nega!

As readers of the previous post on this blog will know, the world is full of journalists who are nothing more than overblown, overpaid stenographers.

Eskinder Nega

Eskinder Nega

But then there are reporters like Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and blogger, who took a stand for the principle of free speech – in his case criticising the corruption surrounding the election and rule of Ethiopian leader, Meles Zenawi – and in 2012 was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment on the basis of treason laws that essentially criminalize any and all criticism of the regime.

That was his second term in jail for airing concerns about the way the Zenawi regime did its business. His wife was also jailed and while in prison gave birth to the couple’s first and only child, a son. (The worst thing than can happen to most Western journalists, by contrast, is to have their weekly expenses claim challenged!)

Eskinder Nega’s case has become a cause celebre for Amnesty International and other human rights groups but while his plight has occasionally made it into the mainstream media, coverage has really been confined to what one could call the Nicholas Kristof circuit. (He really should have been a Ukrainian Nazi or a Syrian freedom fighter, aka a member of Al-Nusra!)

Part of the reason for this may lie in the fact that the Meles Zenawi regime has become a US ally in the war against Islamic terrorism, to the extent that even though the State Department slated its record on human rights, Ethiopia was exempted from the ban on military aid that normally applies in such cases.

In return Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2007 and overthrew the pro-Islamic government. In an extraordinary move, the US allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from North Korea, even though this was in breach of UN sanctions imposed on the Pyongyang regime because of its nuclear weapons programme.

This little brief from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists tells you all you need to know about US-Ethiopian relations.

Against such forces the Eskinder Nega’s of this world stand very little chance. Which is why everyone should cry out for his freedom.

Here is a plea for his freedom made by his wife, Serkalem Fasil, made by Amnesty International:

The Media And Syria: A Shameful Story

From The Boston Globe, of all newspapers, this excellent piece by Stephen Kinzer, an academic specialising in international relations, exposes as woeful, the Western and especially US media coverage of the conflict in Syria.

Some fear that the multi-layered fighting in Syria could spark World War III, pitching the West against Russia in a confrontation that could soon escalate into a nuclear exchange that would likely herald the end of humanity. If that happens lazy, deferential journalism will bear a heavy share of responsibility.

The media are misleading the public on Syria

By Stephen Kinzer

New recruits trained to fight alongside opposition in Aleppo, Syria

New recruits trained to fight alongside opposition in Aleppo, Syria

Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.
Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story. In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

Sandy Boyer Memorial


Sunday April 17th, 4pm.
Theatre 80 St. Marks
80 St Marks Place, East Village, NYC

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‘Fuck the Pope!’, Says Donald Trump

Rumours are flying that Donald Trump is planning to fly in a legion of ‘Kick the Pope’ bands from Belfast to parade through the streets of South Carolina following Pope Francis’ dramatic intervention in the Republican nomination contest.

trumpAfter the Pope, in a clear albeit indirect reference to the leading contender for this November’s GOP pick, described anyone who advocated building a wall to stop Mexican migration to the US as ‘not Christian’, reliable sources have told, that the phone lines between Trump’s S. Carolina campaign headquarters and the Shankill Road in Belfast have been running red hot.


One source said: “The Donald is so angry that he is talking about sending one of his personal planes to Belfast to fly over as many ‘Kick The Pope’ bands as are willing to come to his help’.

The sources say that what they termed Pope Francis’ ‘intemperate comments’ are likely to fuel support for Trump given the State’s long but rarely acknowledged history of rampant anti-Catholicism.

“Not many people know this but KKK really stands for Koons, Kikes and Katholiks”, said a Trump supporter.


It was, of course, South Carolina’s revered Bob Jones’ University, based in Greenville, which bestowed an honorary PhD on the Rev Ian Paisley back in the 1960’s, thus not only confirming the state’s impeccable anti-Catholic credentials but helping to propel Northern Ireland’s most obdurate politician to a career which lasted four decades and contributed to the deaths of over 3,000 people.

“The Pope has really put his foot in it”, commented another delighted Trump campaign worker who declined to be named but added that hopes were running high that the Pope’s intervention could seriously damage Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban Catholic father, who converted to Protestantism, and fellow Cuban exile, Marco Rubio, who attends evangelical Protestant services on Saturdays but Catholic Mass on Sundays.

“They have been standing on two stools for too long”, gloated a Trump adviser. “But this will force them to take a stand. Either way The Donald wins. Thank you Pope Francis!”

If the Trump campaign plans work out, the streets of Greenville, Charleston and Myrtle Beach could soon be rocking to these stirring rhythms brought to them from the mean but tough streets of Belfast: