Friday, June 27, 2014

A Quick Look at the Syrian Death Toll Figures: What They Tell Us

An April 1st report posted on the blog portion of the Council on Foreign Relations website by CFR members Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf pointed out an interesting analysis on the Syrian casualty numbers, one that throws a wrench in the mainstream consensus which states that the Syrian crisis is a result of President Assad systematically murdering his own people.  According to Zenko and Wolf, there is a much different side to this story, but one that should at least be considered given the ubiquitous protestations in the media and leading academic journals and neo-cons like Senator John McCain who stated that, “The fact is [Syrian President] Bashar Assad has massacred 100,000 people.”

Yet as Anti War Blog has pointed out, 

“Actually, he hasn’t. According to SOHR data cited by Micah Zenko and Amelia M. Wolf of the Council on Foreign Relations, “most of the reported deaths in Syria have not been committed by forces under Bashar al-Assad’s command.”  While noting “the potential bias and the methodological challenges” of the data, Zenko and Wolf show that, despite depictions of the Syrian civil war as a regime indiscriminately killing its civilians, “more pro-regime forces than civilians have been killed during the Syrian civil war.”

In the most recently updated numbers given by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad website run out of a two-bedroom terrace in the UK by one person, Rami Abdulrahman, a Syrian Sunni Muslin who also runs a clothes shop (in other words, the “potential bias and methodological challenges of the data,” that Zenko and Wolf were talking about), reveal the same findings; that more pro-regime forces (62,832 total, including members of Hezbollah and Shiite loyals fighting on the regime side) then civilians (53,978) have been killed.  What the new numbers also point out, albeit deceivingly given the fact that rebel deaths are included within the category for civilian deaths, and one has to separate out the 26,858 rebel deaths from the total 80,836 in order to arrive at the corrected numbers that I have above, is that many more pro-regime forces have been killed (62,832) then rebel forces (42,701); this despite the fact that Assad has aircraft and a disciplined army, while the rebels lack cohesion consisting of numerous factions and groups crippled by internecine fighting and squabbles for territory and influence(despite recent reports of Al-Nusra pledging loyalty to ISIL after months of internecine fighting and disputes over territory.) 

So one has to ask, why this disparity? Why would a much stronger army with more resources for killing not be responsible for the majority of the deaths?  Why would a factionalized, non-cohesive group of rebels and foreign fighters prone to internecine squabbles be responsible for most of the deaths, especially given the mainstream consensus in the West that Assad the tyrant is the one systematically murdering all of the civilians that have been killed in this conflict?

A closer look at the SOHR report gives an answer:  

 “The Observatory said its figures did not include 18,000 people who had been detained by authorities and whose fate was unknown, as well as thousands more who were missing after raids by security forces. 

“Another 8,000 soldiers and pro-Assad militia were also missing after being held by rebels, and hundreds of people had been kidnapped, it said. A further 1,500 fighters were abducted during inter-rebel conflict.”

                So what we can see is that the rebels have killed more on Assad’s side then Assad has killed on the rebels side, however as noted above Assad has taken more prisoners then the rebels have.  The Syrian army and pro-Assad forces have killed around 42,701 rebels, but if you add the 18,000 rebels that they have taken prisoner the total number of 60,701 rebels killed and taken prisoner starts to even out the playing field, as the rebels have killed around 62,832 pro-Assad forces and have only taken 8,000 soldiers prisoner; what this means is that Assad has chosen to take the rebels prisoner at an alarmingly higher rate than the rebels, instead of systematically killing them all, whereas the rebels have chosen to kill their enemies on a much larger scale then they have chosen to take them prisoner; if Assad had chosen to kill his enemies instead of taking them prisoner like the rebels have, the numbers on each side would start to look a lot more similar.

                In the Geneva Convention it states that, 
“1. All the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, whether or not they have taken part in the armed conflict, shall be respected and protected.

2. In all circumstances they shall be treated humanely and shall receive to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition. There shall be no distinction among them founded on any grounds other than medical ones.”
                What the above numbers suggest is that Assad and the Syrian army have been respectful and in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and have been taking prisoners when possible, when they have encountered wounded rebels or when rebels have surrendered, this is also corroborated by numerous testimonies from Syrians on the ground who have been unfortunate enough to witness firsthand this horrendous humanitarian crisis that has engulfed their homeland due to outside imperialistic intentions. 

                The numbers also become much clearer given a recent PBS Frontline documentary  which details how the United States military has been training Syrian rebels at a secret base in Qatar.  RT reports, citing the PBS documentary, that, “At a secret base in Qatar, the US military is training rebels to raid government troops and vehicles, as well as to “finish off the soldiers still alive after an ambush,” first-hand interviews from the documentary reveal.” 

The rebels, along with their US financiers and military trainers are therefore in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.  The killing of wounded soldiers is prohibited under Article 3, (1) of Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

                Interviews from the documentary report that, 
“One of the fighters said they received three weeks of training in how to conduct ambushes, conduct raids and use their weapons. They also said they received new uniforms and boots.

“They [The US] trained us to ambush regime or enemy vehicles and cut off the road,” said the fighter, who is identified only as “Hussein.” “They also trained us on how to attack a vehicle, raid it, retrieve information or weapons and munitions, and how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush.”

        These facts lie in direct contrast to the scenario portrayed by the Western media, the US State Department, and the Western academic journals, yet this is not at all surprising for anyone not encumbered by the claims that American policy decisions in Syria are directed towards helping or saving people, for those that still are, a useful quote by Chomsky sums this point up very succinctly, 
“It's only in folk takes and children's stories and the pages of journals of intellectual opinion that power is used wisely and well to eradicate evil in the world, the real world teaches quite different lessons, and it takes willful and dedicated ignorance to fail to perceive them.”

        The fact is that American policy in Syria has absolutely nothing to do with saving or protecting civilian lives, quite the opposite, the United States, in coordination with her allies in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK, are systematically arming, training and funding the terrorist entities that are responsible for killing the majority of the Syrian civilians.  Further, they are directly responsible for training the rebels to break the Geneva Conventions and murder wounded combatants, and the US also conveniently turns a blind eye to the religious cleansing conducted by the rebels, the shelling and bombing of peaceful Christian towns, the abductions and rape of Syrian women, and the overwhelming consensus of the Syrian population that they support the government, the presidency of Bashar al-Assad and vehemently oppose the foreign, US-backed terrorist insurgency that is destroying and raping their country, that is responsible for the majority of deaths, combatant and civilian alike, and is working to implement an extremist Islamic rule under the auspices of a tyrannical and immoral version of extremist sharia law, not to mention the fact that these groups are anti-democratic and anti-American in nature, and therefore directly threaten the national security and humanitarian well-being of the people of the West as well as the people of Syria and the greater Middle-Eastern region, however concern for civilian populations has never been a big concern of systems of power, instead designating to them the status of an enemy that needs to be controlled and contained and destroyed in the name of hegemony and power; the Syrian people are direct victims of this and know this maxim all too well, as the above numbers also tell us.