By Judy Bello
This slightly edited guest article was originally published June 12 on the web site of the United National AntiWar Coalition (unac.notowar.net).
On May 20, President Trump signed into law the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Embedded in this bill, a housekeeping bill of sorts where yearly “defense” appropriations and priorities are spelled out, was the basic text of the 2019 Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act. Perhaps the [details] were buried here because [there was no] bipartisan support, but there is certainly no reason to think that was the case. The war on Syria has had bipartisan support for the duration.
The bill is named after a presentation that was a fraud, [a set of pictures allegedly taken by Syrian military photographer].
These Caesar photos, which first emerged in January of 2014, were claimed to be 55,000 photos of people tortured to death by the Syrian government, brought out by a military defector. The subsequent research was paid for by the Qatari government and overseen by a law firm, Carter-Ruck, which had previously worked for Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan. The photos are real but who are the subjects? Nearly two years later, Human Rights Watch published an article that was light on analysis and made many baseless claims about the data.
A few months after that, in March of 2016, Rick Sterling published a detailed analysis of the Caesar photos and the context in which they were published. On reviewing the photos, Rick says that they appear to be record-keeping photos from the morgue of a hospital in a war zone, and included the dead from both sides. (tinyurl.com/y7j4vpkm)
Sterling says in summary:
“The photos and the deceased are real. But how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. The photographs seem to document wartime situations where many combatants and civilians are killed. It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention, the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusation by ‘Caesar,’ the Carter-Ruck Report and HRW that these are really victims of ‘death in detention’ or ‘death by torture or death in [Syrian] ‘government custody’ are almost certainly false.”
Punishment, not protection
The Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act doubles down on secondary sanctions which punish those who have any economic exchange with Syria, including aid. Though technically made anonymous, the bill was not killed, but rather hidden in the 2020 NDAA.
Even the name didn’t really die. “Caesar” just became a meme which refers to the most severe sanctions on the Syrian people and attempts to justify them. But, six years after the Caesar files appeared, and three years after the claims that the photos of Syrian government victims were debunked, why secretly enact these sanctions now?
This set of sanctions are an attempt to land a death blow on the Syrian government while the world is focused on other problems. The U.S. has lost the hot war [in Syria]. The U.S. has been unable to poison the world against Syria beyond close allies. The Assad government has restored order to the most populated areas of the country and also houses at least half of the displaced persons from other areas.
But as long as Syria is still intact, the war against [that country] will be escalated on some front. Regardless of the term “regime change,“ the war is a hybrid war against the people of Syria. The demand is that they change their identity and their way of life along with their leadership.
Syria has suffered under increasing U.S. sanctions for decades. After the beginning of the war in Syria, the sanctions were hardened and deepened with increased third party sanctions to include other countries in the sanctions. Either those abide by U.S. sanctions against Syria or suffer sanctions and economic penalties themselves.
The Caesar Act sanctions have completely isolated the Central Bank of Syria. They impose secondary sanctions on any country or corporation that trades with Syria or even provides aid to Syria. They attack Lebanese banks that have so far supported Syrian trade, causing economic mayhem in that small and largely impoverished country. Only the biggest and boldest of their allies can take the risk of any kind of economic engagement with Syria.
The dollar value of the Syrian Lira has plummeted to 1800:1 from 47:1 before the war. There are rumors of capital flight through Idlib, the last enclave of Al Qaeda in Syria, and other armed groups funded by U.S. dollars. According to the Guardian, the Lebanese currency is falling as well because Lebanon and Syria are traditional trading partners. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, U.S. Envoy James Jeffrey claimed that the collapse of the Syrian currency is due to U.S. policies. In northern Syria, Turkish-backed militants are moving capital out of the country, while Erdoğan is enforcing the use of Turkish currency in the areas where his people have control.
People in Syria can’t get basic necessities of food and medicine. The war has devastated Syria’s independent manufacturing sector. Mercenaries paid by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey deliberately dismantled factories over the last decade, looting the machinery or destroying it before laying waste to the buildings that housed it. Earlier U.S. sanctions have denied Syria the most basic ingredients of pharmaceutical manufacturing. Tom Duggan and Mark Taliano detail the list of imports forbidden to Syria in their recent article, “Western Governments Collectively Punishing Syrian Civilians with Criminal Economic Embargoes.” (unac.notowar.net, June 7)
The U.S. is occupying half of Syrian oil and gas fields, forcing Syria to import these fossil fuels. Earlier this year, U.S. troops occupied about half of Syrian wheat fields and burned them. On June 11, Global Research published Arabi Souri’s article and video “Hearing Is Not Like Seeing: NATO’s Terrorists Burning Syrian Wheat Crops,” documenting Turkish-backed militants burning crops in northern Syria.
Syria has gone off the radar for activists, but not for the relentless U.S. imperialist warmongers. They have upped the ante once again, on a country suffering from nearly 10 years of war. You hear that in Syria, “rebuilding” is being undermined by the economic sanctions, but you don’t hear that even people who had food and medicine through the war now can’t get it. They can’t get oil and gas for cooking and heating. Their money is worthless and even the government is struggling to feed them because their money is worthless.
This is siege warfare. The people cannot feed their children. There are no resources for the sick and elderly. While the rest of the world is busy fighting COVID-19, Syrians are finally starving. It is hard, I think, to imagine this kind of cruelty even as vindictiveness. Even if the government of Syria was run by a cold-blooded serial killer and a pack of hyenas, which it is not, the sanctions target the people of Syria, the victims of a terrible war instigated and perpetuated, armed and funded by the United States and its allies.
The “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act” should be renamed the “Caesar Syrian Civilian Genocide Act.“ And yet, with the COVID-19 pandemic going on; with the dysfunction of the U.S. economy leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed and food insecure, without medical insurance and on the brink of eviction; with gunboats off the coast of Venezuela and nukes moving to the Russian border in Poland, there is silence around Syria. And, isn’t that convenient?
How can we put an end to it? Hands off Syria! End the Syrian Sanctions!