British newspaper columnist George Monbiot recently announced on Twitter that, over the past 18 months, he has been accused of being ‘a paid asset for the CIA, M15 or Mossad’. He said the reason for this was that he speaks ‘out against the war crimes of Bashar al-Assad, and those who whitewash them’. As below:
Let me just make it clear here that I do not believe George Monbiot is a paid asset of any British, American or Israeli intelligence agency. I also believe him when he says he doesn’t support Western military intervention in Syria.
As I have written on this blog previously, I also think it’s likely that the Syrian and Russian governments have committed war crimes over the last eight years of conflict. The documentation for it is too widespread for it all to be dismissed as U.S. and British war propaganda (even if some of it obviously is).
Monbiot has, over the last few years, made a habit of denouncing figures on the left who he sees as being insufficiently critical – or even supportive – of war crimes carried out by the Syrian and Russian governments. For example:
However, during the course of all this, there is one thing that I’ve always found troubling: his own terrible white washing of war crimes in Syria.
To demonstrate this whitewashing, i’m going to compare and contrast his Twitter reaction to two different battles that took place in Syria.
The first was the battle for Aleppo, which culminated in December 2016. This pitted Syrian government and Russian forces against the assorted rebel groups that were holding Aleppo, including Hayat Tahir al-Sham, widely regarded as an offshoot of ‘Al Qaeda’ (remember those guys?).
Monbiot tweeted about this battle 9 times. Here’s a selection of those tweets:
‘Assad and Russia wiping out Aleppo. A monstrous crime against humanity’,
‘Assad and Putin’s destruction of
#Aleppo and its people is a crime beyond reckoning.’
#Aleppo today are facing horrors we can only imagine. Shame on the apologists for Assad and Putin’.
‘Never let partisanship blind you to humanity. That Assad and Putin have committed war crimes in
#Aleppo is obvious to anyone prepared to see’.
‘Assad appeals to some on the left because he opposes US/UK power. He’s still a butcher and torturer.
As you can see, Monbiot pulled no punches in criticising the Syrian and Russian governments, and employed highly emotive terminology to describe what was being done to Aleppo. He also denounced ‘apologists’, including ‘some on the left’.
His response to events in another Syrian city, however, was markedly different.
Between June and October 2017, the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ – a U.S. armed and trained militia largely made up of Kurdish forces – launched an assault on Raqqa, which was being held by ISIS.
They were backed by U.S. and British air strikes and artillery, with the Marine Times describing how the U.S. Marine Core had ‘fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam war’.
An August 2017 report from The Guardian – written while the assault was in full swing – documented how the residents of Raqqa would, between lulls in the bombing, scavenge for food among the dead bodies and bombed out homes:
‘When the airstrikes stop, one person from each family goes out to look for food in the homes that have been bombed and whose owners have been killed. Most of the time they don’t find food but bring back news of the dead, along with some items that can be put to use like candles, pieces of wood or medicines’.
After Amnesty International had carried out a comprehensive review of the bombing, their U.K. director, Kate Allen, wrote in The Guardian in May 2019 that:
‘Never before have I seen a city so completely devastated. Not just in one district area, but almost entirely. Think Dresden and you’d be close. Street after street of windowless, hollowed-out buildings. Miles of rubble. Piles of twisted metal. Utter ruin. There has been no assistance for residents desperate to rebuild, and entire families are reduced to living in bombed-out husks of buildings. Meanwhile, many children spend all day scavenging in the rubble for bits of steel and plastic they can sell so as to buy food. They risk injury and death from unsafe buildings and uncleared landmines’.
Allen added that Amnesty’s investigation had found that ‘at least 1,600 civilians in Raqqa were killed by the coalition’s aerial attacks, 10 times more than previously acknowledged’.
By any reasonable measure, then, what the U.S., U.K. and their proxy forces did to Raqqa was an abomination. Huge numbers of civilians killed, many more injured, displaced and traumatised, and a whole city all but destroyed.
Given George Monbiot’s outrage at what the Russian and Syrian governments had done to Aleppo 8 months earlier, you might have expected he would have something to say about this. This is especially so given his own government – the one he funds, and which purports to represent him in the global stage, thus giving him a degree of moral responsibility for them – was one of the perpetrators.
Would he lament ‘May and Trump wiping out Raqqa’? Would he describe it as a ‘monstrous crime against humanity’? Would he denounce the ‘May and Trump apologists on the right’?
Well, the short answer is: no.
George Monbiot *said nothing*. Not a word of condemnation, not a single attempt to highlight the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, not even a passing mention, either as it was happening, or afterwards.
As a high profile columnist on the left, he could’ve helped highlight what was being done to Raqqa by writing about it, perhaps leading to increased public pressure on the British government to put a stop it.
Given that Monbiot’s tweets on Aleppo demonstrate he has taken an interest in events in Syria, and that he is concerned about the suffering of civilians there, what might explain his total silence about U.S. and British atrocities in Raqqa?
One could think of all sorts of plausible explanations beyond him being an intelligence asset. Unconscious bias shaped by the corporate media he works for being a key one, perhaps.
Whatever the reason, the effect (if not necessarily the intent) was to disappear one of the most egregious and immoral crimes committed in recent years – by his own government, or any.
Monbiot might like to think about that the next time he feels like denouncing Official Enemies, and those who white wash them.