Monday, January 18

Warning to Al-Masdar News

Notice something odd about the following photograph posted at Al-Masdar News under the following caption?

Frustrated rebels behead Syrian Army soldiers in southern Hama

No, no, not the radiation symbol superimposed on the fighter's face. Don't get fancy; just call out what you see in the photograph. If you're stumped, go to the Al-Masdar site and look at the enlarged version of the photo, then visit Google Images and study photographs of Syrian Arab Army troops. 

Before you do all that, here's the report, filed today by Leith Fadel at 12:37 am local time:
The largest rebel group in Syria – “Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham” – posted images to their social media accounts that displayed beheaded Syrian Arab Army (SAA) soldiers inside the contested town of Harbinafseh in the Hama Governorate’s southern countryside on Sunday.
According to the rebel social media activists, the beheaded soldiers were captured members of the “Assad forces” that were attacking their positions in the town of Harbinasfseh; these statements were usually followed with derogatory insults that were directed towards Dr. Bashar Al-Assad’s Islamic sect.
Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham has repeatedly attempted to sell themselves as a “moderate” rebel group that looks to make Syria an Islamic state after they “depose” of [sic] Dr. Bashar Al-Assad. 
This is not the first time that Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham has engaged in this kind of brutality against captured soldiers; in fact, during the Syrian Arab Army’s northern Homs offensive in October and November, they posted a video of their fighters beheading another soldier.
The Syrian Opposition refrains from condemning these crimes committed by their fighters; however, this kind of brutality is likely to strain any kind of reconciliation talks.
The Syrian Arab Army has recently court marshaled [sic] soldiers that have posted images of beheaded enemy fighters (specifically ISIS terrorists), as this behavior violates the Syrian Arab Army’s Code of Conduct.
All right. What's odd is that the beheaded man is not wearing the clothing of a SSA soldier. Could his captors have taken his uniform away and dressed him in clothing more like their own? Yes, but if the objective was to persuade that this was a soldier who'd been beheaded, why do that?

The dead man is most likely an enemy fighter from another 'opposition' militia. This doesn't mean there aren't other photos in the same online gallery that show beheaded men in army uniform, nor does it mean there isn't evidence that SAA troops have been beheaded at earlier times. Both could be the case. 

However, it does mean the above photo was posted to deceive. 

Just yesterday I had to warn Sputnik against gullibility and here I am today warning Al-Masdar about the same. Gentlemen. Learn to think like a veteran vice squad cop if you want to report on war, especially in this hall-of-mirrors era. 

How to think like a veteran vice squad cop? 

First realize that nobody has ever beaten the dealer in a betting game of three-card monte; if you see someone breaking this rule, be aware that he's an accomplice not a mark. 

Second, assume that everyone you see on the street is a perpetrator, a perp who hasn't been caught yet, or will become a perp.

If you tell me you can't live like that -- then learn to inject qualifying terms into your war reporting such as, Frustrated Rebels claim to behead Syrian Army soldiers in southern Hama

Why delete "frustrated?  They are taking advantage of your desire to see them as frustrated so they can get one over on you more easily. They're trying to make you lose focus. By inserting "claim to" you're accomplishing two things at once:  you're suggesting they're lying and making it clear that you don't believe a word that comes out of their mouths and neither should anyone else.

It's called strategic communications. It's also closer to the truth unless you have evidence or your source is unimpeachable. Strategic communications gets easier with practice. Practice. And stay awake. Because I'm not going to sit here every day and play fairy godmother to the press. Got it?


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