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Friday, February 10

Michael Isikoff misleads public about Caesar Photos during his interview with Assad

Reporter Michael Isikoff brought up the Caesar Photos Affair during his interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which Yahoo News published today. He mentioned the affair to Assad to back up the more recent accusation that the Syrian government summarily executed between 5,000 and 13,000 Syrian prisoners. 

Assad is well informed on the affair, but he only had a half hour to get his points across in the Yahoo News video of the interview. So instead of playing attorney he simply dismissed the Caesar photos as fake and/or the claims connected with them as unsubstantiated.

The casualty of lightly passing over the affair, however, was the Yahoo News reader. More specifically, the reader's attempt to understand what's really going on in Syria. 

For a crash course on what's wrong with the Caesar Photos Affair read Rick Sterling's March 4, 2016 analysis for Counterpunch, The Caesar Photo Fraud that Undermined Syrian Negotiations. To boil down the analysis to the most shocking revelation about the photos:

Almost half the photos show just the opposite of the allegations Caesar made about the Syrian government. 

If you ask how, then, he hoped to get away with it, because none of the photos were published at first. It was only in 2015, when Human Rights Watch was allowed to see the photos, that the truth started to come out.

But it might have been HRW or some other human rights outfit who then said (paraphrasing): Well just because Caesar was wrong about 46 percent of the photos doesn't mean we shouldn't believe him about the 54 percent. 

The problem being that there are a lot of problems with the 54 percent, and there are problems with Caesar himself, as Rick Sterling details.

By the way, for those who might be chary of reading Sterling's analysis because they don't feel like looking at gruesome photos of dead people -- the Counterpunch article, which is a condensed version of Sterling's report for an activist group connected with a Christian monastery in Syria, doesn't have any photos or even detailed descriptions of the condition of the corpses. You'd have to go to the full report for a sampling of the photos.

The only place Sterling misses the mark is when he outright accuses the CIA of being involved in what was clearly a propaganda operation; that's a plausible guess but it can't be proved, so he should have framed the CIA mention as a guess or question and not included it with his analysis.

He also makes a rookie mistake as a writer (he's a retired aerospace engineer) in that he attempts to persuade before he explains. So for readers who are completely new to the Caesar Photos Affair, I'd suggest skipping Sterling's introduction and going straight to his 12 points, which, with the exception of the CIA accusation, are clear enunciations of what's obviously wrong with Caesar's accusations.

There are other problems with Isikoff's interview; for one he wrongly characterizes Assad's attitude as "combative and unyielding." But maybe Isikoff isn't used to the Socratic style of discussion. Here's an example of how things went, from the transcript of the interview published at SANA, Syria's state information agency:
[Isikoff] Question 37: Is it a mistake to use barrel bombs and chlorine gas?
President Assad: You have to choose which part of the narrative is correct. Once they said we are using indiscriminate bombs and they called it barrel bombs. The other day, they said we targeted hospitals and schools and convoys. We either have precise armaments or we have indiscriminate armaments. So, which one do you choose?
In the face of reason Isikoff's choice was to shift gears:

Question 38: Well, you do acknowledge though that innocent civilians… there have been civilian casualties in this war?
President Assad: Of course, every war is a bad war, every war is a bad war. You cannot talk about good war. Let’s agree about this. Every war has causalities; every war has innocent people to pay the price ...
Yes, war is hard on innocent people; in the case of Syria it would be a lot less hard on them if Michael Isikoff and other members of the American press resolved the mysterious physics of the Syrian air force's barrel bombs.

Those bombs have a way of being so crude they miss military targets when the American press wants to point up civilian casualties in Syria, and being precise killing machines when the press wants to report the Syrian air force is bombing hospitals and schools.

Actually many mysteries of the Syrian war could be solved if only the American journalism establishment gave more time to studying itself. There is such a thing as justifiable war propaganda, but the United States has been orchestrating an undeclared war against Syria's government. In that circumstance propaganda becomes an invitation to war crimes that are hard to investigate.

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