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January 2012

The Colossal Folly of War in Afghanistan

January 24th, 2012 § Leave a Comment

by Ralph Nader

The U.S. war in Afghanistan is testing so much futuristic detect and destroy weaponry that it can be called the most advanced all-seeing invasion in military history. From blanket satellite surveillance to soldiers’ infra-red vision to the remotely guided photographing, killer drones to the latest fused ground-based imagery and electronic signal intercepts, the age of robotic land, sea, and air weaponry is at hand.

U.S. and NATO soldiers and contractors greatly outnumber the Taliban, whose sandals and weapons are from the past century. Still, with the most sophisticated arsenals ever deployed, why are U.S. generals saying that less than 30,000 Taliban fighters, for almost a decade, have fought the U.S. led forces to a draw?

Perhaps one answer can be drawn from a ceremony that could be happening in various places in that tormented country. That is, a Jirga of elders awarding a young fighter the Jirga medal of honor for courage on the battlefield, which often happens to be their village or valley.

The chief elder rose to address a wise circle of villagers. “Today we are presenting our beloved Mursi with the revered Jirga medal of honor for courage beyond the call of duty in rescuing seven of his brother defenders from almost certain destruction. The invaders had surrounded our young brothers at night in the great Helmand gully with their snipers, grenade-launchers and helicopter gunships.

It looked like the end. Until Mursi started a very smoky fire and diverted the enemy with a firebomb that startled several donkeys into braying loudly. In the few seconds absorbed by diverting the foreigners who directed their firepower in that direction, Mursi led his brothers, two of them wounded, through a large rock crevice and down an incline that was hidden from view and into a cave covered with bush. For some reason, the occupiers’ night vision equipment was not working, thanks be to Allah.

The next morning, the enemy had gone away, provably to start another deadly attack elsewhere on our people. Before the Jirga awards you this ancient symbol of resistance, Mursi, in the form of a sculptured shield made of a rare wood, will you say a few words to your tribe?”

Mursi, a thin as a rail twenty year old youth, rose.

I accept this great honor on behalf of my brothers who escaped with their lives that terrible night in Helmand. I was very scared. The enemy has everything and we have nothing. They have planes, helicopters, artillery, many soldiers with equipment that resists bullets, sees in the dark and provides them with food, water and medicine. We only have our old rifles, some grenades and explosives. They can see us all the way from America on screens sitting in cool rooms where they can press buttons and wipe us out without our seeing or hearing anything coming at us. We are all so terrified. Especially the children.

We wonder why they are doing this to us? We never threatened them. They threaten everyone with their bases, ships, planes and missiles. I hear that the foreign soldiers ask themselves why are they here, what are they doing here and for what? But they are paid well to be here, destroying our country year after year, though they boast about building some bridges and digging some water wells. No thank you.

Go back to your families, you will never win because we are fighting to repel you invaders from our ancient tribal lands, our homes,. Fighting to expel the invaders is stronger and more righteous than your weapons and all your military wealth. Even if many of us lose our lives, we will prevail one day. For we will have heaven and they will have hell.

A long knowing silence followed. A rooster crowed in the distance. The chief elder then slowly handed the medal to their brave hero.

Can the most militarily powerful country in the world, many of whose people and soldiers are opposed or have serious doubts about why we are continuing to pursue these senseless undeclared wars of aggression that create more hatred and enemies, look with empathy at what those people, whom we are pummeling, are going through? Will the Pentagon, which doesn’t estimate civilian casualties, let its officials speak publically about the millions of such casualties—deceased, injured and sick—that have afflicted innocent Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis?

Will our current crop of political candidates for Congress and the Presidency ever reflect on the wise words of our past Generals—Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall and earlier Smedley Butler—about the folly and gore, not the glory of war?

The eighteenth century words of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, rings so true. He wrote:

And would some Power the small gift give us.
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us”


Syria, where everything is normal according to Johnson

Tuesday 24 January 2012 7:06 pm

On 25th November last year, a British foreign correspondent called Johnson Miller was taken, under armed secret police escort, to the southern Syrian city of Dera’a.  He was accompanied by four Syrian government minders – and a driver (who was a secret policeman too).

“Johnson” turned out to be me.

johnsonmiller1 300x201 Syria, where everything is normal, according to Johnson.“Johnson Miller” in Syria, credit: SANA

It was the name by which the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) quoted me as saying that everything in Dera’a was “quite normal.”   (That’s one of my  minders, Monzer, by the way, sitting on my left in the photograph.)

Johnson’s “situation normal” quotation confused me as it was very clear to his alter ego, the foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller, that things in Dera’a were far from normal (as, I hope, was clear from the TV report we filed).

So surprising was my “situation normal” pronouncement that it prompted the Foreign Editor of Britain’s own state broadcaster, to tweet:  “Oh dear. Suspect C4N can do without official Syrian endorsement.”

Oh dear, indeed.  But since my visit, I’ve realised that the Syrian regime is so keen to convey to the world that “life is normal” in Dera’a that every hapless correspondent who bowls up there is asked by the local SANA reporter whether, in their opinion, um, life is normal.

Have a look:  It’s unbelievable!

(And, by the way, I would just like to state to the minders and their masters in the Syrian regime:  THIS BEHAVIOUR IS DEFINITELY NOT NORMAL!)

“Normal life in Daraa belies reports of misleading media” – SANA, 14 Dec 2011

“Life in Dara Normal, Reports of Biased Channels Contradict Reality” – SANA, 01 Jan 2012

“Spanish, Japanese and Italien Media Delegain Stress Normal Life in Daraa”– SANA, 11 Jan 2012

The reason they’re so keen to report that life is normal is that Dera’a has been chronically unstable ever since it emerged as the cradle of the Syrian revolution in March last year.

For weeks on end, its people were besieged by government tanks. Many of those who dared to openly defy the regime were shot dead in the streets by snipers.  Hundreds are thought to have been killed; thousands have been imprisoned.


Military indoctrination at Nazi death camps stokes… universal democratic values!

by on January 23, 2012 9

Auschwitz concentration camp
Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland

Did you see this? From Ha’aretz, “Study: IDF officers less committed to Jewish values after visits to Nazi death camps.” The headline exposes unsatisfactory indoctrination levels in IDF soldiers.  The whole article is worth a read (especially to see how the paper doesn’t quote the actual report at all, yet then tries to do damage control by referring to a different survey that showed increased indoctrination levels among Israeli high schoolers who take similar trips).

Here’s the key section:

The study found that before going on the trip, officers expressed a very high level of commitment to the Jewish people and to preserving their Jewish heritage, and high levels of solidarity with the fate of other Jews.
In contrast, they expressed a lower – though still high – level of commitment to more universalist ideas, such as understanding the universal context of the Holocaust.
After they returned from the trips, however, the researchers found a drop in commitment to all values related to Jewish identity, including the importance of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people, the importance of the IDF’s existence, feelings of national pride in being Israeli, and a sense of a shared Jewish fate.
The study found a particularly dramatic decline in the importance the officers attached to Jewish and Israeli symbols, and to Diaspora Jewry.
The trips also produced a decline in IDF-related values, including commitment to the state and the army, feelings of leadership, and love of heroism.
In contrast, the trips produced no change in the officers’ commitment to universal democratic values such as human dignity, the sanctity of life and tolerance.

As a result, Ha’aretz reports, “Army sources said they were ‘stunned’ by the findings, which seem to indicate that the trips are achieving the opposite of their declared purpose.”

Note how the bad news of the report is that tribalist and exclusivist ideologies decline while ideas “such as understanding the universal context of the Holocaust” and a “commitment to universal democratic values such as human dignity, the sanctity of life and tolerance” remain the same.  Yeah, what a bummer.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is a political commentator from New York City. His analysis of United States foreign policy and Middle East issues is published on his website,, and can also be found in numerous other online and print publications. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

Israel’s Al Jalame prison: ‘Palestinian children are locked in solitary confinement for days or even weeks’


by on January 23, 2012 8

Israeli soldiers lead arr 007
Israeli soldiers with arrested Palestinian youths. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The Guardian published a scathing article over the weekend by Harriet Sherwood on human rights abuses suffered by Palestinian children in Al Jalame prison in northern Israel.

The report is a culmination of interviews conducted by the Guardian including  descriptions of sworn testimonies of minors collected by Defence for Children International (DCI), a human rights organization that has collected hundreds of testimonies from Palestinian children since 2008. The Guardian also viewed rare audiovisual recordings of the interrogations of two boys from the village of Nabi Saleh. Their report is corroborated by B’Tselem’s study No Minor Matter, published last July. It’s a must read.

The Guardian:

During interrogation, he was shackled. “They cursed me and threatened to arrest my family if I didn’t confess,” he said. He first saw a lawyer 20 days after his arrest, he said, and was charged after 25 days. “They accused me of many things,” he said, adding that none of them were true.Eventually Shabrawi confessed to membership of a banned organisation and was sentenced to 45 days. Since his release, he said, he was “now afraid of the army, afraid of being arrested.” She said he had become withdrawn.

Ezz ad-Deen Ali Qadi from Ramallah, who was 17 when he was arrested last January, described similar treatment during arrest and detention. He says he was held in solitary confinement at Al Jalame for 17 days in cells 36, 37 and 38.

“I would start repeating the interrogators’ questions to myself, asking myself is it true what they are accusing me of,” he told the Guardian. “You feel the pressure of the cell. Then you think about your family, and you feel you are going to lose your future. You are under huge stress.”

His treatment during questioning depended on the mood of his interrogators, he said. “If he is in a good mood, sometimes he allows you to sit on a chair without handcuffs. Or he may force you to sit on a small chair with an iron hoop behind it. Then he attaches your hands to the ring, and your legs to the chair legs. Sometimes you stay like that for four hours. It is painful.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Writer at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area.

From France, interview with a dissident Syrian historian

I came across this interesting interview in Le Figaro, in which Michel Kilo, a dissident historian, says that it is up to civil society (and implicitly, not foreigners) to oust Assad.

via Le Figaro
The article is in French but here is my translation in case you don’t read French well:LE FIGARO: The Syrian opposition seems divided. How to fix it?
MICHEL KILO: There is the popular movement, which is close to the intellectuals, and the opposition by organized parties, such as the National Syrian Council on foreign shores or the National Committee of Coordination (CNC) within. But these organizations are always late arrivals on the scene of popular movements, historically speaking.
What do you think about the announcement that a military Council has been created, directed by the deserter general Moustapha al-Cheihk?
With several thousand soldiers, who do not comprise an army, he wants to attack an army of 400,000 troops! It will throw the country into endless chaos. It’s insanity. Protect the civilians, of course. But one cannot create the illusion of a war against the regime. And then we do not want, after victory, to be once again ruled by military men. The military must obey politicians.
So what is the solution?
One cannot rest content saying that we want to knock down the regime. We must explain how. At the beginning, we the intellectuals, we proposed national dialogue.
The dialogue with who?
With everyone, even the regime. The goal was to win for our cause new sectors of the population. Certainly, the regime would have refused to budge. But that was exactly the goal: show to those undecided that there was a political situation which the regime itself was refusing. At that moment, amassing on the streets was legitimate.
Are we now at an impasse?
Yes. The regime cannot force the protesters to clear out from the streets, and the latter cannot bring down the government. The recent talks show that Bachar el-Assad is desperate. Everything he promises is just a “war against terrorism” with which he thinks he can gain the support of the West, or at least scare the West. But it’s a phony concept. In Homs, the heart of the rebellion, there is no Islamist on the committee directing the revolution. Now, I think el-Assad wants to regionalize the conflict: referring to Iran, Hezbollah, the Iraqis, and threaten the Gulf states with a long war.
What do you propose?
The revolutionaries are in the process of organizing better the populist forces, and of convincing those who are still neutral to join their movement. They push now for the formation of base committees all around the country. These are the ones that shall form the future government of Syria, with the CNS or the parties of the interior. In Europe, in the Eastern countries, the intellectuals, the civil society, were the ones who overthrew dictatorships. We fought for 50 years against the regime. Most people of the CNS live abroad, and have for a long time. They are almost strangers to the people at home.
Can the Syrian people hold out for much longer?
Until the end of history. I posed such a question to some people in Deraa. They answered: ‘We do not have the courage to stop.’ If they stop, the repression will be comparable to that which was waged on Hamas in 1982, when there were 46,000 dead.
Is the exile of Bachar el-Assad inevitable?
It is necessary to find a solution.
You are going to return to Syria. Isn’t that dangerous?
In Syria, people are dying each day for freedom. It is shameful to be afraid.

Syrian dissidents start to call Cairo home

Posted By Nate Wright Friday, January 20, 2012 – 1:27 PM Share

On the top floor of a towering apartment block in Cairo, half a dozen Syrian activists are hunched over their laptops. Each man organized demonstrations in his home town before escaping the Assad regime’s intelligence agents in the last few months. Now, armed with a list of trusted contacts that stretches across the borders from southwest Syria to Lebanon and Jordan, they have become a key link in the supply chain of an opposition movement that is struggling to outmaneuver a brutal crackdown. Donations collected from Syrians and well-wishers in Cairo are used to purchase cell phones, satellite communications equipment, medicine, and money, which is smuggled to friends and family members on the inside. In turn, protesters send out video evidence of attacks, which the men in Cairo catalogue, upload to YouTube, and forward to media outlets.

The men work with close contacts in their own villages and neighborhoods, independently of organizing committees or opposition bodies. Abdel Youssef fled from Ad Dumayr, a city northeast of Damascus. Syrian authorities went door to door there searching for military defectors on Wednesday night and he spent the day following their movements through eyewitness accounts. As he tells the story of how he fled, a Skype window flashes up on his screen. A woman he knows tells him that security forces attempting to arrest a man have captured his daughter instead. “Now I’m looking out the window,” the message reads. “She is being beaten up by the security forces because she is saying ‘Allahu Akhbar’.” Abdel Youssef passes on information like this to a contact in the Free Syrian Army, who he says use this information to block roads and set up ambushes in an attempt to protect demonstrations.

“In our area, the Free Syrian Army is very well organized,” says Abdel Youssef, who acts as a communications hub for demonstrators in his city. He knows the location of the seven government roadblocks in Ad Dumayr. In one video, a friend holds up a pad of paper with the names and birth dates of those killed so that family members can claim the bodies.

He forwards his information to Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, as well as international media outlets. But he works independently. Like the other activists in this safe house, six men in their 20s and 30s when I visited, Abdel Youssef only coordinates with his city. Abdel Rahman, from Damascus, works with his neighborhood and Omar, from Yabroodi, is in touch with his friends. All three gave only their first names to protect family members still in the country. Wary of people they don’t know and unimpressed with the politicians talking shop in Turkey, they work around the clock on the regional logistics of localized resistance. “I know about Damascus. Others know about other places,” said Abdel Rahman. “When we come together we know about everywhere in Syria.”

Turkey remains the political center for the opposition in exile, but Cairo is emerging as a vital logistical hub for the supply of dissidents within Syria and the dissemination of videos emerging from the country. They have come to Cairo for many reasons. As Foreign Policy reported in November, Assad’s allies are hunting Syrians in Lebanon. In Istanbul, activists say the Turkish intelligence wants to sign off on any political activities. “Because I am Syrian, the Turkish government wanted to know everything I did,” said Abdel Rahman, who flew to Istanbul before coming to Cairo. He pointed to the men with him in the safe house: “We couldn’t do this in Turkey.”

Syrian intelligence operatives are keeping a low profile here, but activists are not taking any chances. In November, the wife of Syrian television presenter, Thaer al-Nashef, was kidnapped in Cairo. He received text messages threatening to slit her throat and throw her in the Nile. She was later dumped, bruised but alive, in the street. When Syrian MP Emad Ghalioun arrived in Cairo, Akram Abdel Dayam took four cars to pick him up and drove through back streets to see if he was being followed. “Syrian intelligence is here, but it’s not as extreme,” said Rami Jarrah, a Syrian activist who spoke to journalists under the pseudonym Alexander Page before he fled to Cairo.

The promise of safety, cheap prices, and a supportive local population that cheered on Syria’s revolution after ousting their own president in February, make Cairo an attractive destination for opposition members able to reach the country. With no land borders, activists are flying in and getting visas at the airport. Those who escaped without passports, like military defectors, are forced to go to elsewhere and most head to Turkey, according to Jarrah.

The Syrian National Council has noticed. Lina Tibi, a press officer working with the Council in Cairo, hopes to have a media center up and running in the city next week. Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the Council, flew in on Friday to meet with Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, a day before the League meets to discuss the results of its monitoring mission in Syria. “We are here in Cairo because the Arab League is here,” said Walid al-Bunni, the Syrian National Council’s director of foreign affairs.

While Syria’s opposition struggles to form a united front, most of the coordination with activists inside the country is happening through small, ad-hoc command and control centers like the safe house where Abdel Rahman, Abdel Youssef, and Omar live and work. Toby Cadman, a British lawyer engaged by the Syrian Emergency Task Force, has been working with activists to document crimes committed in Syria. He hopes to build a case to bring to the International Criminal Court. “The activists in Cairo have been extremely influential in this process,”he said. “A lot of what I obtain comes directly or indirectly from Cairo.”

Jarrah, who is not connected to the activists in the safe house, says weapon smuggling into Syria has already begun. But Omar insists his group is holding off on supplying arms, for now. “As soon as the Free Syrian Army was created, it began communicating with the local coordinating communities,” he said. “The Syrian National Council does nothing. It is all the local councils.” Abdel Youssef, Abdel Rahman, and Omar agreed that their patience was wearing thin. “If no one from the outside helps, if the Arab League keeps giving [Assad] time, then we will arm ourselves,” said Abdel Rahman. They say that March 15th, a year from the first major demonstrations in Daraa, is their deadline. “There will be a war if he has not stepped down by the anniversary of the revolution.”

Nate Wright is a journalist in Cairo. He writes for the Times of London and Middle East Report. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @nwjourno.

Keeping fingers crossed for Assad

We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.
By Aner Shalev

What is the final number? 4,000? 5,000? How many people have to die? Is 6,000 not enough? Are 6,000 people in a country that doesn’t have a lot of oil equivalent to just 600 dead in an oil superpower? What is the determining event? Is it indiscriminate sniper fire, even at funerals? Is it the killing of children? Is it systematic tank fire on city centers? Or is it gruesome torturing to death of protestors in front of a large crowd? Or is it perhaps terror attacks staged by the regime itself in its own capital, in the grand tradition of the burning of the Reichstag?

What is the red line that if crossed will make the world say, Enough? If Syrian blood is so cheap, perhaps the injuring of Arab League observers is a red line? Or mortar fired directly at a group of foreign correspondents and the death of a French journalist? What is the exchange rate for the blood of different nationalities?

Syrian protesters - Reuters - 19012012 Syrian protesters marching in Homs in late December. A heroic uprising that Israel hopes will fail.
Photo by: Reuters

Of all the revolutions in the Arab world, the Syrian uprising is depicted as being the most impressive and heroic. In Tunisia and Egypt, the army sided with the protestors within a relatively short time and forced almost immediate regime changes that gained American support. In Libya, the struggle took longer but even from its early stages seemed like a civil war with protestors using a range of weapons and later on receiving military assistance from NATO.

In no Arab country except for Syria has such restrained protest encountered such violent suppression, so determined and so cruel. In no other Arab country have protestors been abandoned by the enlightened world like they have been in Syria. And despite the tremendous risk, the many casualties and the uncertain chance of success, these protestors go out to the streets every day, without weapons, without support, armed only with faith. Yes, it is permissible to be moved by a heroic struggle for freedom and impressive displays of courage even in an enemy country.

Less impressive is the Israeli response to events in Syria. Defense Minister Ehud Barak posed as usual as a fortune teller and predicted that Bashar Assad would fall within a few weeks. Since then many weeks have gone by and Assad is still in power and still slaughtering. In the Israeli defense establishment, however, the prevailing sentiment seems to be panic over the possibility that the struggle to obtain freedom will succeed and the Syrian regime will fall.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz spoke of a stream of Alawite refugees potentially flooding into Israel in such a scenario, and of Israel Defense Forces preparations for such an eventuality. Gloomy predictions of the transfer of dangerous Syrian weapons to Hezbollah are being made around the clock.

It is possible to read between the lines – Israel is not interested in Assad’s downfall. Israel is secretly rooting for Assad. Israel is silently praying that the murderous Syrian dictatorship hangs on, a dictatorship that means quiet on the Golan Heights without any threat of peace. As always, Israel prefers the status quo, the world of yesterday.

The world of tomorrow does not interest us, even if it may contain possibilities and dramatic change. Perhaps the fall of Assad will actually lead to the weakening of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and in the entire region? Who cares? We’ll take the threats. The Syrian uprising has already prompted Hamas to move from Damascus to other Arab capitals and made it more moderate. But it seems that we prefer an extremist Hamas.

The present Israeli leadership consists of the people of yesterday, who look forward to the past, swim against the tide of history and hastily flee from any change. The familiar is preferable to what is good and right. Who knows, perhaps the stream of Alawite refugees they are predicting for us here will also include Assad and his family. If we are already rooting for Assad, why don’t we give him political asylum?

We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.

Hama ’82 : memories and testimonies

Thank you for this beautiful but painful entry. This February is the month to finally face up to the crimes that happened to Hama, while we were sleeping, while we were young, while we were silent. It is time to read the words of the survivors and listen after we ignored them for decades. It’s time to weep for Hama, to weep for our past and present. It is time as a nation, to collectively mourn Hama openly, without fear, for the first time since 1982. Maybe by the end of the month, we will be able to let go of some of the guilt and move forward, knowing while Assad repeats the sins of his father, we are not repeating the sins of our silent fathers.

A very harrowing account. It can’t have been easy to recall such painful memories.

Such evil can never be permitted to exist. How can anyone in their right mind even contemplate compromising or having a dialog with the entity that created such barbarity.

Two elderly members of my family in their sixties were gunned down in their home in Hama in 1982. Their children recognized the father from his wedding ring, this how bad his body was.
The level of hatred is manifest in the extreme brutality that followed that is also accounted by the book from Tadmur to Harvard. In this book the account is very similar to one of my relations who was imprisoned for more than a decade and once released had to walk in his slippers the 20 km to Damascus and when he showed up his family did not recognize him for so emaciated he was and they thought that this was a vagrant coming in for begging.
Once a person was taken into custody the sentence was death and the trial was to either confirm or commute the sentence.

Dear Amal
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Your words do reflect what I was thinking as I was trying to finalize the translation of this installment. I had originally intended to have all of Khaled’s memories translated into a single post, but as I proceeded the feeling of guilt you so eloquently identified became overwhelming, and the only way to cope with it for me was to finish this segment and get it out, for I wanted the world to read Khaled’s words as soon as possible.

Yes, it is time to weep for Hama, as well as for the more than 6000 murdered by orders of the person who insisted on inheriting his father’s legacy as a butcher of Syria. And as we weep, and work, each within our best towards freeing ourselves and Syria, we forge a new country. A country that has finally learned to grief and to move positively.

The most distinguishing difference between those who support this revolution and those who have for months now only found reasons to stand against it is rather simple. We trust Syria and Syrians, they don’t. Poet Hala Mohammad now ends every post she writes by saying: Syria, I trust you. I think she is not being poetic only, but prophetic.

Words cannot describe the emotions I felt and feel from reading this post. I hope we Syrians can really learn our history no matter how dark it is, and insure that it never repeats its ugly face, and only enforce the great values that we all know and love.

And by the way OTW, the sentence “Syria, I trust you” is one of the most beautiful sentence I have ever read, and I believe in it with more conviction than anything else.

Thank you for this blog, I am learning so much about my Country, things that either I wanted to forget about, or was not aware of.

I still maintain that RIFAAT AL ASSAD was the main person responsible for Hama. Hafez may have ordered it, but Rifaat planned it and executed it. He was there in Hama throughout the Operation. He cannot be allowed to go scot-free, he is a killer, a killer in the same way the Mukahabarat Chief of Homs was a killer during the Clock Square Massacre. Anybody agrees with me ? It is criminal, no worse than criminal to trivialize the crimes of Rifaat just because he has distanced himself from the regime.

And what about Tadmur massacre ? that was done purely on the initiative of Rifaat, Hafez was recuperating in hospital at that time ( if u did’nt know the MB had tried to assassinate him at the Airport, the Tadmur Massacre was in retaliation for that).

I know u guys will label me a mukhabarati intent on obfuscating Bashar’s crimes. But I prefer calling a spade a spade, and Hama 82 was much worse than what has happened in the last 10 months ; and I prefer Rifaat to be in the dock along with his nephew(s).

Dear Observer
I hear your grief for your relatives. I have few of my close relatives who spent a lifetime in Tadmur, and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.

I believe there is not a single person in Syria in the 80s who did not have a distant relative or kinsman killed or imprisoned ( inclduing many regime bigwigs).

OTW,many thanks for this testimony.
In order to illustrate it ,here are photos from the past of the rased neighborhoods by assad’s militia which are on the left bank on the pictures .Can be seen the Sufi lodge of the Kilani and the Kilani neighborhood and al Hader further.

As I read this horrific description of what happened in Hama, all these images came back to me. It was the fall of 1980. My eldest brother had finished his high school and left to Europe with my mother to enroll in university there. We were left with my father. We went to private school in Aleppo. It was a Friday. My older brother was in eleventh grade and his school was only half day on Fridays. I was in tenth grade and my little brother was in third grade. We also had a shorter school day on Fridays. When the school day was over and all the girls were boarding the buses to go home, the principal showed up with a very tense look on her face and ordered all the girls on our bus down. We could not understand why we were asked to stay in school and why only us. We heard that a parent had called the school, talked to the principal and down right ordered her to keep our bus from leaving. I later found out that the parent was actually no other than my own father.
Our old apartment was in a nice neighborhood in Aleppo. Unfortunately, the back of our building shared a wall with the intelligence service branch of “Amn al Dawleh”, the state security. All you had to do was walk a few meters to the end of our street, turn right and walk a few more meters to find yourself in front of their entrance. We did not even dare walk down that street. We were told by our parents to avoid it at all cost. It was completely blocked off for cars, but theoretically, a pedestrian could use that street. In reality, only those who were unfortunate enough to live on that street walked it and they were constantly harassed.
My brother had returned from school right before the call for Friday prayers. Considering he was sixteen at the time and with two distant cousins already in prison, my parents had forbidden him from even thinking about attending the Friday prayer. It simply was not allowed and God knows he tried. Right after Friday prayer, there was the sermon and then the congregation decided to walk from the mosque to the intelligence service branch behind our apartment. Apparently, there were detainees in that branch and the people were demanding their release. The men walked the 15 minute distance to the branch in a peaceful demonstration. From what my father was told later by members of the intelligence service, the men approached the branch entrance demanding the release of the prisoners. The branch chief came out and asked them to leave, but they were not backing down. He warned them that if they kept getting closer to the gate, they will be shot. They did not heed his threats. As the men started marching closer and closer to the gate, all hell broke loose. The unarmed men were faced with what amounted to a firing squad aiming directly at them. My father and brother were inside our apartment, but too close for comfort. They ended up on the floor in the middle of an interior corridor feeling like there was war outside our doors. All my father could think about was my bus and my little brother’s bus coming back to drop us off and getting hit by stray bullets. He crawled to the phone, called the principal and told her to halt the buses. She argued, he yelled: “Can’t you hear the war through the phone. This is not a joke. You will get the kids killed. Stop the buses.” She wondered what to do with the kids. He assured her that the parents would much rather pick their kids up when it was safe. Please just keep them at school until we could come. She did. My father called again and asked to talk to me. He told me to walk to my little brother’s school and keep him with me until he could pick us up. My brother’s school was in the same campus as my school. I walked there with my best friend, who also had a sister there. We picked both up and walked them back to our school. We were all so very scared and had no idea what was going on. My father finally came. He was in the car with two young men wearing camouflage vests. When I got into the car, I stepped on something. I looked down to see two machine guns on the floor of the car. They acted as a foot rest for all four kids until we approached our area. We had to go through three check points. Without the two men in the car, we could have never been allowed to go through. The area was simply off limits to anyone. We dropped my friend and her sister off at their house and proceeded to ours, where my brother was left home alone and near hysterical. It was a mixture of fright and excitement. He recounted the events for me without stopping to take a breath. A few minutes later, we went to our balcony and collected a big bucked full of shells. There were a few bullet holes on the walls of our apartment, luckily, no glass shattered.
The next morning, our cook arrived to our house shaking. I opened the door for her. She rushed in and told my father that across from the branch in one of the gardens there was a big pile covered with tarp. As she got closer, she could see human legs covered with blood peeking through the sides of the tarp. She told my father that there were too many and started sobbing.

And in very high definition as high that we can perceive interesting architectural details ,such as the monumental iwan in a house near the zawiya.

Dear Sheila
Thanks for sharing .This is the first time I hear this incident with such details. There will be  trials, and people know the names of the chiefs of these dungeons of horror. Even if they are retired, and living with their sons and daughters in some nice western country, cases will be filed. We have to do it.

Dear Shami
Old timer and the always reliable walking heritage encyclopedia, that high-res image made my day. Never knew how superb was the architectural heritage of Hama. The destruction of such wonderful neighborhood should also be counted as a crime against humanity. DO you have more photos, please either post the link or email it to me at


“….and when I finally had the chance to talk to one of them, he told me, there were times when we envied those who perished.”

Your lucky to have been able to converse with your relatives. My cousin was not able to talk for years. Even when he spoke his brain was fried. He still thinks the mukhabarat are watching him from across the street through the 4th floor window of his room.

His crime: His name and phone # was found in one of the his friends / student pocket phone book (who later turned out to be a brother of MB). Pathetic! No trial, just a conviction of 16 year old teenager and 20 year prison sentence.

Dear 7ee6anis
As Husam, observer, Sheila, and I did, please do tell your stories, even if it is a single paragraph. Part of our cross-generational grief is telling stories, sharing photos (as Shami just did).

The next segment will be longer, and i am afraid, even more horrific.


I am not sure I will be able to read your next post, too troubling and depressing to read. I mean, I find the more I read and follow the news the more I can’t function. What am I to do, drop my life and children and join the revolution on the ground in Syria? Anything short of that is cowardice. I feel helpless.

the hama massacre happened before i was born, though my mother does tell me stories about how hamwis fleeing hama ,reached homs bare foot. i cringe at the thought of how they were isolated back then, no youtube,aljazeera,bbc, twitter, facebook to document their crimes. how did they live?!?!? : they didnt. They were brutally murdered and forgotten until now…………..

Thanks for sharing, part of what I am trying to do is to help the world understand what really happened. I now realize many people, thanks to Husam that many people will not be able to read everything, but it is my generation’s duty to make sure that your generation is informed of our mistakes. When you depose the fool dictator, if possible, make sure that you never ever trust a “leader”, never ever place a fuzzy concept, no matter how sublime it sounds, above the value of individual life.

Dear OTW,they are from the library of congress digital collection, you will find many photos ,many available in high res ,not only of Hama ,but also from the other syrian cities ,taken during the Ottoman late era and the french mandate time.

OTW, I will continue reading, for now I must stop.

I heard the horrors of Hama a year later, from a lady, who lived through it. I could not sleep for days.. cannot recount what I heard, could not read Khaled’s account of that horrific February, 1982…..We met outside Syria.

But I will always remember her voice, her affirmation. The children will grow, you will see, she said with a nod. We never talked about Hama after. No one did.

I will never forget the savagery. I lived it, through her words.

For two decades Syria looked like a dungeon from the middle ages. The walls had ears, your closest relatives and friends might be informants, they were not. It was the “shock and owe” of Hama. The nation was subdued. The youth imprisoned or exiled, tortured or dead. Discussions were muted.

… his son Bassel died in a car accident. We all felt like perpetrators, what is awaiting Syrians now? The verdict was issued. It was God’s will. Later, the father died, till this day I did not wish mercy upon his soul. Never will.

At the same time, I will never forget my ignorance, my naivety and immaturity for quickly forgiving and forgetting that the butcher’s son, is from the same poisonous milieu. He is surrounded by the same old guard that committed Hama, that humiliated Syrians, physically and emotionally.

This murderous family and their guards has written their last chapter, solely.


Thank you for doing your part. Our generation knows fully well what took place. That is why I am for equal representation and I don’t trust any “leader” but God. Syrians of all people know that in order to get anywhere in politics (in almost every country) you have to be scum.


The Hamwis and the Homasneh were never forgotten. I don’t have any in my family, but they are always in our conversation as brave people. Facebook, twitter, etc…was not around, but God was. Hafez continues to be tormented in his grave to this day.

His brother Rifaat, pencilneck, and the clan…their day is coming.

My step mother had two brothers who were arrested in 1981. Their crime was that they prayed at the same mosque as an imam whom the regime didn’t like. She never heard from them again. It was heart breaking to see how hopeful she and her family would be everytime the regime announced an “amnesty”, hoping for any scrap of news about her brothers.

I was very, very young in 1982, and living in Homs. My memories of those times are hazy, but what I remember the most was the memory of so many women wearing black. No body needed to tell me that something terrible had happened, something no one dared speak about.

Ya Hafiz fiq wa shoof,serna ensibak 3al makshof


Can you provide us with an acount of the Artillery School massacre in Aleppo ? That event has always mystified me, as to how 3 to 4 untrained people armed with AKs could masdsacre 70 military cadets after storming the compound.

I have read this account in Arabic before and this is an excellent translation. It did not lose any of its strength. Well done. I was too young during the events of 80′s but I remember the fear and the tank parked in front of our home and the marks it left on the asphalt for months later. I remember hearing the gun shots. I remember growing up knowing about missing relatives and the hardships their families encountered. I remember relatives dismissed from government jobs merely for having the wrong family name. The fear was suffocating.

Dear Nusayyif,
I was a teenager at the time and my information is based on what I have heard from my parents and their friends. Remember that there was never an independent investigation of what exactly happened there. All we got was the official story. My recollection of the incident is that a Sunni officer from the Artillery School in Aleppo gathered the young cadets in the school gym and with the help of a few other officers, locked the doors, trapped them in and opened fire. They specifically targeted Alawii cadets. The death toll was at 32 or 34 cadets. Ibrahim Yousef was the main perpetrator. He managed to escape, but was later captured by the end of the MB uprising and hanged.
The perpetrators did not storm the compound. It was an inside job.
The reaction to the massacre was mixed. On one hand people were happy that somebody was finally standing up to this tyrannical government, on the other hand, people were horrified at the killing of these young men just because they belonged to the president’s sect.
By the way, I do not think that Zabadani is 3 hours from Damascus as you claim. If you drive fast, you can reach Aleppo in 3 hours.

Ibrahim Al-youssef was the duty officer for that night. Duty officers have absolute control of the cadets and no one would have had any reason to suspect his orders to gather the cadets. He managed to also sneak in external collaborators. As you said, what he did was a crime that was used by the regime later on to aggravate sectarian hatred.

Stories from Hama: Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani. Part 1

Jan 18

Posted by OFF THE WALL

Introduction by Off the Wall

A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani A painting by Syrian painter Khaled Al-Khani

In few more days, the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre of Hama (February, 1982) will befall us. This time, the anniversary has a special meaning as Syrians, who have broken the fear barrier, are now openly talking about the events that transpired thirty years ago in their homeland. We are helped nowadays in that even the dumbest observer can recognize the lies of the Assad regime, and that has made many of us search for the real narrative of Hama, a narrative that the regime has for decades tried to suppress through its demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to hide, by extension, the stories of the innocent victims of Hafez Assad and his henchmen which according to people from Hama, may have reached 40,000 murdered souls, not to mention the rapes, the pillaging and hateful acts of barbarism the aging thugs are now trying to blame each others for.

As the sons of the perpetrators of the Hama Massacre,  helped undoubtedly by some of those who participated in it, now attempt to suppress the current Syrian uprising through similar machination of brutality, lies, and deceptions, it becomes more necessary than ever for us to recover the real narrative of Hama. It is the narrative of the children who witnessed their fathers and older brothers being murdered, of women who were raped and killed in cold blood, and of entire city districts raised to ground out of vengeful hate that shames us all for its existence among our sentient specie.

My friend Khaled Al-Khani, then a seven years old child, is now a renowned Syrian painter. He tells the story of the massacre as he witnessed it and lived it through the murder of his father, his own epic journey with the few women and children who survived Assad’s murderous machine. In this and the next two posts, I will attempt to bring Khaled’s memories to English readers. It is only my way of telling the Assad gang, we will hold those who did it accountable, and we will not allow you to do the same, Never again.


Stories from Hama (Memories of Painter Khaled Al-Khani) Part I

I do not know what happened to me today…? I don’t want to remain in hiding and I will go to my workshop and to every demonstration. I can no longer hide my real identity. I, the artist, have turned into a rebel ever since the Libyan embassy incident. My transformation has nothing to do with my distant memories, in Hama, of my father’s murder and the death of the city of my childhood, the rape our women, our imprisonment, our bombardment, and the subsequent conquering and forcible displacement of those who were left alive among us to the countryside as means to cover the crimes.

I swear to God I’m not hateful and I am not seeking revenge, but just retribution. My current sorrow is related to what I witness transpiring around me daily. We demonstrate, they shoot us with bullets, we then join funeral processions, and they rain a hail of lead on us. And as we walk once more in the next funeral procession, they reply with the same, and so on. We stay in our homes, they break our doors arresting us and intimidating our mothers, if I am not killed, someone else will be.

I swear to God I love life, but I love justice more. Please, tell me what to do. I do not know what befell me today? Today I remembered, more than any other day, I remembered my father. My father was an ophthalmologist in Hama. He was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he sided with the people of his ravished city. Believe me, and half the people of Hama testify to that. They gouged one of his eyes while he was a live, then they killed him and horribly mutilated his body. I was little when we buried him and I remember that he had no eyes.

In February 1982, I was a 6 year old first grader. We had just finished the first school semester and had gone on spring break, and what a holiday..  At night, and as we slept, we could hear loud sounds breaking the place’s silence and turning its serenity into a murderous horror.  Obvious was the panic on my aunt who raised me and next to whom I would sleep to compensate her unfulfilled motherhood because she never married, and thus lived with us in our beautiful two-story traditional Arabic home. The rest of my family and my father and my mother slept on the second floor.  Soon, I would hear the voices of my siblings and my father and mother becoming louder coming down the stairs and entering my aunt’s room as the shooting increased. My mother said to my father “Didn’t I tell you to stay on the farm?” For many year, this sentence did not go away from my memories, and the idea that my father left the farm hurt me a great deal and remained with me until I had grown up, forgiven him and  reckoned, It was destiny.


The sound of firing fills life. It was the first time I heard its wheeze. It rose further and then began the thunder of explosions. As the hours passed, we got used to these sounds. Time passed and some of the neighbors started flocking to our home. Chaos is everywhere, children crying, women reading the Qur’an, and great concern. This continued for three days, and then we heard a big explosion. Father said that a shell hit the top floor. The house shook as dust filled my lungs like it filled the place and women recited Surat Yassin (the verse of Yassin). Meanwhile, a wave of sharp cries rose and father said we must leave the house as fast as possible, so we went out and people started to gather while shouting. Panic dominated everything, and we went to the house of a neighbor, then to a dark cellar thought by the men a more secure place. There were more of us than the place could accommodate. We stayed there for three days while the firing continued with no stopping. Then an artillery shell, Surat Yassin kept rising all the way to the sky, a second shell and a third, causing the cellar to vibrate madly. While no one of those who took refuge in the basement was hurt, many residents of our neighborhood perished and many were wounded. The doctor who lived in the neighborhood was able to save some. We stayed in the basement until the bombardment and firing calmed down and they got us out saying that we must leave towards safer neighborhoods. Little they knew, for they were wrong as it did not occur to them that a campaign of genocide was taking place. We went out hurriedly through the Hadher market to reach the Ameeriyyah district. We encountered streets through which we had to crawl because snipers were everywhere.

After incredible difficulties, we reached the Ameeriyyah neighborhood having just crawled the last street with my father helping my aging aunt to whose side I was totally stuck. My mother and sisters crossed with the rest of the people, and the three of us stayed. But then my father asked me to leave with everyone and I refused because I wanted to stay with my aunt who raised me. He forced me to catch up with my mother and the others and he stayed with my aunt, and this was the last time I saw my father alive.

In the Ameeriyyah district, we continued to search for a shelter and we found a cellar packed with people, but they could not let us in because our numbers were very large (most of the population of Baroudeye neighborhood). Later, they let my father and my aunt in because they were only two. The refuge in the Ameeriyyah is where my father was arrested and  where my aunt survived to witness and tell of what happened.


Our group followed the road towards Northern Ameeriyyah where we found a shelter large enough for all of us. We stayed in that shelter until the arrival of the “Syrian Arab Army” whence the shelter was turned into a prison. They took all the men including young men out of the shelter and promptly executed some of them right at the door and arrested the elderly men. Only women and children remained in the place. Some were crying, while the majority were forced to shout, at gun threat (“with our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you Hafez“, بالروح بالدم نفديك يا حافظ  and  ”O God, it is high time for  Hafez to take your place” يا الله حلك حلك يقعد حافظ محلك) in order to worsen our humiliation. Our imprisonment lasted three days while they murdered whomever they wanted. I swear to God we stayed without food, and I still remember the smell of the place. It was unbearable. We constantly heard screaming voices outside the basement, voices of women being raped, and of and torture that would still visibly affect me whenever I recall or try to describe. Some women had few candies ad Chocolate with them, and before they took the men, one of them brought a few loaves of bread and olives that we shared, and which was barely enough for one man.  Women kept reading Qur’an continuously, albeit in hushed voice.  Then the door opened and they ordered us to get out because they said they will now execute us. We got out as we were shouting “we sacrifice our blood for you …..”, but then they told us that we must head in the direction of the Aleppo Road outside the city.

We walked, raising our arms and repeating what we were told to repeat. The landscape was surreal, the place was full of corpses, swollen, of black blood, and as we moved from one street to another, bodies and destruction were everywhere. We proceeded until we reached the Omar Ibn Khattab Mosque (of which you have been hearing lately as the place where demonstrations to demand freedom started). The Mosque was  destroyed completely, with the washing room being the only section left.  In there, there were some army soldiers who terrified us by pointing their rifles and machine guns at us forcing us to lie face down on the ground. Then they  brought us into the washing room and shut the door tightly. Some women begged the army men to kill us and let everyone else out of the city, but they refused. When we entered the washing room we found fungus covered stale bread that we ate. There were also two ornamental statues of white doves. I do not know why they were there, but to me they signaled the beginning of salvation from the bloodbath. The door remained locked for a day and a half, after which one of officers shouted a speech at us in which he said:

“she who awaits her husband or brother or son or father, don’t be waiting for him because he will not come out alive and will never return.”

They released us in the direction of Aleppo, we walked more than ten kilometers racing against time as we cried and barefoot women kept reading the Qur’an, and whenever we heard the shooting, we instantly lied down, until we reached the point where they had allowed the villagers access to help the survivors. What can I say … I swear by God, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

……….. To be continued

I encourage you to visit the online gallery of Khaled Al-Khani and see how Hama echos resonate in  his work 

Note from OTW: I have opted not to use images of the Massacre and instead to use painting from Khaled Al-Khani’s great work to highlight the tenacity of life despite of the tyrants. Life is what we seek, and the memories of death and destruction brought on Syria by the Assad family will be with us for long time, but hopefully only in the sense that will motivate us to prevent such atrocities from hapening again, not only in Syria, but everywhere.

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