Deir ez Zor, Syria
By James O’Neill*
There are few more blatant examples of Australian mainstream media bias and incompetence than the continuing misreporting and/or silence about events in Syria. Ukraine would run a close second.
On 17 September 2016, in the middle of a ceasefire that had been negotiated by Russia and the United States, US warplanes attacked a Syrian military base at Deir ez Zor, killing more than 60 Syrian soldiers and wounding more than 100.
There were a number of anomalies about this attack, almost none of which has been reported in the mainstream media.
First, when the attack started the Russians attempted to contact the Americans via a hot line set up to avoid conflict such as this occurring. Such a hot line is prudent as a direct Russia-American confrontation could rapidly deteriorate. For more than 30 minutes however, the Americans refused to respond to the Russian calls.
Secondly, at the time the attack was labeled a “mistake” and the Americans have repeated this excuse in a recently released official report. Yet as part of the hot line procedures to avoid such “mistakes” the Russians had asked the Americans to give the coordinates of where they planned to strike. The Americans have always refused to do so, until the Deir ez Zor attack when they gave the Russians the wrong coordinates.
Thirdly, according to Syrian intelligence, they intercepted electronic traffic between the Americans and the terrorists besieging Deir ez Zor. As soon as the American air strikes began, the terrorists also commenced an attack on Deir ez Zor. That is very unlikely to be a coincidence. No reporting of the Syrian intelligence has appeared in the Australian media.
Fourthly, the Australian government admitted that it took part in the “mistaken” attack. Quite how this occurred has not been disclosed. The aircraft that were directly involved in the attack were not of the type used by the RAAF. Were they piloting US aircraft? Did they provide re-fueling services? We do not know and the government refuses to say how or why they were part of this “mistake.”
As far as is known, there has been no Australian inquiry held, not even a phony one such as the Americans, and if there was an inquiry then we have not been told the results.
Fifthly, and this is probably the biggest failure of all, not one mainstream media outlet, in print, on air or on TV, asked the obvious question: on what legal basis is Australia involved in Syria at all?
The United Nations Charter (Article 51) and decisions by the World court, severely circumscribe the circumstances under which military force may be used.
(a) In self-defence, itself a limited concept. This manifestly does not apply to Australia because we have not been attacked.
(b) By resolution of the UN Security Council. Again, this has manifestly not occurred.
(c) By invitation of the country attacked to assist them. Syria certainly asked for Russian and Iranian help, which has bee provided to considerable effect. Syria has never extended such an invitation to Australia, and the Syrian government has on more than one occasion made it plain that Australia’s presence is not welcome.
(d) The collective self-defence provisions of the UN Charter. This is where one State is attacked by another State, and the first State asks a third party State for assistance.
The day after New Matilda published an article of mine last November querying the legal basis under which Australia claimed justification for being in Syria, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was on National ABC Radio invoking precisely that justification. The interviewer simply accepted that claim without question.
Unfortunately for Ms Bishop’s argument, the Iraqi government issued a statement specifically denying having made any such request. Their requests for assistance were limited to training etc within Iraq’s national borders. It will come as no surprise that the Iraqi government denial was unreported in Australia.
Even if Iraq had issued such a request it would not assist the Australian government’s case. The World Court has said on at least three occasions that the collective self-defence provisions of the UN Charter only apply when a State is attacked by another State.
Whatever else its pretensions might be, ISIS is not, never has been, and in all probability never will be a “State.”
Why does all this matter? I suggest for two reasons in particular. The first is that it should be of concern to all Australians that yet again we blithely follow the Americans into another illegal war. A war, incidentally, that puts us at odds with nuclear-armed Russia, and more recently, China. The latter is not only nuclear armed, it is also our largest trading partner by a considerable margin.
It is extremely difficult to think of a single rational argument for Australia becoming so involved (and the involvement goes beyond that of the RAAF). It is however, very easy to think of a number of reasons why we should not be so involved.
The second reason is that it reinforces a very sorry reality. The Australian mainstream media cannot be relied upon to raise these issues, as fundamental as they are, let alone give time, space and airtime to opposing arguments. One cannot rely on the official Opposition to even raise these issues. Even the mildest questioning of some of our foreign policy assumptions by Senator Wong recently, invoked a barrage of criticism from the usual suspects. Paul Keating likewise.
It is little wonder that we are now witnessing a sustained attack upon the alternative media, which is the only place in Australia where these questions are raised. The Washington Post recently published an article listing more than 200 websites as either dupes of the Kremlin or deliberate misinformation sites.
Quite apart from the irony of the Washington Post attacking alleged fake news, it would be funny were it not so potentially serious.
It would be nave in the extreme to imagine that Australia is exempt from this campaign against the alternative media. The clear intent is to silence dissident views. It cannot be allowed to succeed.
*Barrister at Law. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org