Right on cue, directly after the Russians and the Syrians resumed their offensive in northeast Syria and around Aleppo, come more claims that the Syrians and the Russians are deliberately bombing hospitals in Aleppo and elsewhere.
I have previously made known my skepticism about these claims. No one has ever explained why the Russians and the Syrians would intentionally attack hospitals in this way. President Assad has pointed out that it makes no sense and would be completely counterproductive for the Syrians to do so.
In any discussion of alleged hospital bombings in Syria, the following always needs to be kept in mind.
There are no Western journalists in Jihadi controlled eastern Aleppo and scarcely anywhere else in Syria. The Western journalists that are in Syria largely stick to the government controlled areas. Very occasionally the odd Western journalist travels into Jihadi controlled areas, but it is a long time since any have visited eastern Aleppo, in fact – they have not done so since it came under siege.
The US and the Western powers obviously have an intelligence operation in Syria, but it has become increasingly clear that it is not especially well-informed about the situation on the ground. This may be one reason incidentally why all requests the Russians have made of the US for intelligence information are refused. Whilst undoubtedly hostility to Russia plays the dominant role, it is not impossible the US is also reluctant to disclose how little information about the situation on the ground in Syria it actually has.
That is not of course surprising. Though the Western powers and the Western media pretend otherwise, there is no doubt that the dominant forces in the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria are ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Both are militantly anti-Western and any Western journalist travelling in the areas that they control would be at serious risk. If only for that reason few of them do so, though in truth the days when Western media agencies employed large numbers of special correspondents and on-the-spot reporters are long passed.
What that means in practical terms is that reports that come out of the Jihadi controlled areas of Syria – including eastern Aleppo – and which appear in the Western media, are reports made at second hand. Western reporters do not tour the sites of the allegedly bombed hospitals. Rather the Western media is simply passing on reports from eye witnesses or alleged eye witnesses of the attacks, and reporting them as true. The same applies to Western governments, including the US government.
There was once a time when the Western media was careful to say that it was unable to confirm the stories it was reporting itself, and that it was relying on local sources in reporting the news it was publishing. This at least provided consumers of news with a health warning, if the news came from one side or another in an armed conflict.
For quite some time now, the Western media has also stopped doing this. The result is that it requires a very high degree of attention on the part of the Western media listener or reader to know that the source of a story is not the media itself. Inevitably the number of people who are able or willing to give that amount of attention is very small.
What this means in the Syrian case is that all the reports of the attacks on the hospitals are provided by persons who to a greater or lesser extent operate under Jihadi control. In northeast Syria that essentially means Al-Qaeda contol.
This does not in itself mean that bombing of hospitals never takes place. However, what it does mean is that the scope for Al-Qaeda to manipulate the stories is boundless. In any war situation, the risk of accepting unconfirmed accounts of events by one party to the conflict is great. When the party in question is Al-Qaeda – a violent internationally proscribed terrorist organisation – the risk of doing so is even greater.
In my opinion, the risks of doing so in the Syrian case are so great that at the very least, before the reports are published, the Western media ought to be under a duty to make origins of the reports clear. It is easy to imagine what the effect on the Western public of a report that the Syrian air force had bombed a hospital in eastern Aleppo would be, if the report was introduced with the words ‘Sources linked to Al-Qaeda say……’ and concluded with the words ‘…..we are unable to confirm this report’.
It is not after all as if the Western media has not time after time been shown the danger of uncritically accepting reports from one side in a conflict in the Middle East. In 1990 the Western media reported a completely untrue story of how Iraqi troops in Kuwait stole incubators, casting aside babies, in Kuwaiti hospitals.
In 2002 and 2003 the Western media uncritically repeated stories of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which also turned out to be untrue.
In 2011 the Western media published a flood of atrocity stories detailing massacres supposedly carried out in Libya by Gaddafi’s troops, which a British House of Commons Committee now admits were untrue.
What makes the news situation in Syria especially concerning is that some of the people who in 2011 were busy spreading untrue atrocity stories in Libya seem to be the same people who are now busy spreading what are most probably untrue atrocity stories in Syria. Western governments and the Western media are presumably aware of the fact. The Western public is, however, never told of it.
The reason for this very partial reporting is that the Western media is united in supporting the Western objective of regime change in Syria. It therefore publicises stories of alleged atrocities committed in Syria by the Syrian army and the Russians, whilst suppressing reports of actually much more credible atrocities committed by the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis – such as the report by the Russian Defence Ministry from a few days ago of the Jihadis violently dispersing a civilian protest against them in eastern Aleppo with a heavy machine gun.
Where uncorroborated claims of atrocities made by one side are given maximum publicity, and far more credible reports of atrocities by the other side are suppressed or ignored, there is no longer truthful news reporting. Rather it becomes a case of war propaganda. For that reason when I read reports of the intentional bombing of hospitals by the Syrian or Russian air force, I discount them.