by Ben Schreiner
In a public letter sent on Tuesday to the Syrian National Council and other Syrian opposition groups, Human Rights Watch expressed its concern over “serious human-rights abuses” committed by armed opposition groups operating within Syria. These abuses, the letter went on to note, “include kidnapping, detention, and torture of security force members, government supporters [i.e. civilians], and people identified as members of pro-government militias, called shabeeha.”
In response to these findings, the New York Times editorial board (“Wrong Ways to Fight Assad”) declared such abuses to be “self-inflicted wounds” that the Syrian rebels “can ill afford.” (One wonders what the Times would think if one were to deem Assad’s abuses “self-inflicted wounds.”) As the editorial board went on to warn:
Some elements of the opposition now risk jeopardizing their cause and further stoking dangerous sectarian animosities if they adopt brutal and illegal tactics…[The Syrian National Council] and Free Syrian Army must redouble their efforts to unify and discipline their campaign. They should condemn the abuses and make clear to members such actions will not be tolerated.
Yet, despite the sudden interest of the Times editorial board in the abuses committed by Syrian rebels, the allegations made by Human Rights Watch are hardly a revelation. After all, the Arab League Observer Mission to Syria reported back in January that “armed entities,” including the Free Syrian Army, were actively targeting civilians. As the Arab League mission reported:
In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.
Moreover, in a story appearing in the Times in late February, Tim Arango reported on sectarian killings carried out by Syrian rebels operating within Syria (see "Syria's Sectarian Fears Keep Region on Edge"). As Arango began his story:
Abu Ali fled his life as a Shiite cleric and student in Homs, the besieged Syrian city at the center of an increasingly bloody uprising, but it was not the government he feared.
It was the rebels, who he said killed three of his cousins in December and dumped a body in the family garbage bin.
Of course the findings from the Arab League mission, let alone the paper’s very own reporting, did little to ease the enthusiasm espoused by the Times editorial board for the armed Syrian opposition. In fact, in a February 24 editorial ("Syria's Horrors"), the Times called for Western military training of the Free Syrian Army. As the paper wrote, "At a minimum, Washington and its allies should consider providing communications equipment, intelligence and military training."
Two weeks later, the Times proceeded to reiterate its call for international support for the armed opposition. In its March 2 editorial ("Crushing Homs"), the paper argued that, "The United States and its allies should consider providing the rebels with communications equipment, intelligence and nonlethal training."
Within this context we can understand the paper’s sudden anxiety over the latest findings of rebel abuses (what the Times so callously deems “self-inflicted wounds”). For unlike with all previous revelations of opposition crimes, the Times rightly knows that the condemnation of a reputable organization such as Human Rights Watch may just impede any plans afoot for greater Western support of the Syrian rebels. And in turn, this may just serve to hinder the ultimate Western goal of Syrian “regime change.”
Indeed, quite the cause for concern at the Times.
Read at NYTX.