On November 2, 2009, MRZine published an article by National Lawyers Guild president Marjorie Cohn that concluded:
The U.S. government should disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001. Those who ordered renditions should be prosecuted. And the special task force should recommend, and Obama should agree to, an end to all renditions.
Among the victims of extraordinary rendition mentioned in Cohn’s article is a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who was kidnapped and sent to Syria in 2002. After his ordeal, he used an Arabic expression to describe the pain he experienced: “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.”
The president of Syria at that time was Bashar al-Assad, who assumed power in 2000 after his father’s death. We do know why his fellow “anti-imperialist” Qaddafi collaborated with the CIA in extraordinary renditions. It was a way to demonstrate that he could be relied on as part of a new relationship with the U.S. that would benefit Libya economically. While sanctions had also been imposed against Syria, they never were as severe as those used against Libya. It appears that both nations had an incentive in working with the CIA since the victims were supposedly al-Qaeda militants who were hostile to the kind of corrupt post-Nasserist politics that Qaddafi and al-Assad represented. While accepting the possibility that any society has the right to protect itself against terrorists, is it too much to ask that those accused have the right to a lawyer and a fair trial? That is what Marjorie Cohn advocates and what we would expect socialists to stand for. When socialists lend their support to torture states, such as the CP’s did in the 30s, they compromise their principles and deserve to be condemned by those who believe that without democracy there can be no socialism.
That is why it is so disconcerting to see the very same publication that printed Cohn’s article now have the same relationship to Syria that the CP’s had to Stalin’s USSR: base apologists. It is doubly troubling to see Hugo Chavez participating in this sordid exercise.
The Venezuela Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Syria that appears on MRZine today. All of it is garbage but this is particularly offensive:
President Hugo Chávez received from President Bashar al-Assad a complete picture of the real situation in this brother Arab nation, where a fascist conspiracy is seeking to sow chaos and disorder, with the goal of subjecting the nation to the dictates of the Western powers.
For those who were politically active in the U.S. during the Nixon presidency, it is mordantly amusing to see the Venezuelans using the “outside agitator” rhetoric perfected by Spiro Agnew:
President Hugo Chávez was able to hear firsthand the important process of reforms that President Bashar has pushed forward for the purposes of responding to the legitimate needs and demands of those who have exercised their right to demonstrate peacefully and who have nothing to do with the extremist groups armed and financed from abroad.
The notion that Bashar al-Assad is some kind of anti-imperialist fighter standing up to the “dictates of Western powers” can only be upheld if one ignores any reports contrary to your own addled worldview.
A cool-headed report by Steven A. Cook appeared on the Atlantic Monthly website that punctures the overheated rhetoric of MRZine and other al-Assad apologists:
As the world (slowly) comes to grips with the horror of Syria and the Assads, there remains a coalition of nations that appear to be acting under the belief that the Assad regime is better than what might come next. It’s an odd group in the rather strange new world of the Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. For the Israelis, already reeling from the loss of a regional strategic asset — Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt — the predictability of Assad’s Syria was some consolation. Israel and Syria may be in a technical state of war, but the Syrians have scrupulously kept the armistice on the Golan Heights and it has been a long time since Syria’s military posed any significant security threat to Israel. The Israelis put a premium on authoritarian stability in the Arab world, where they fear change will almost always rebound to the benefit of hostile Islamist groups. Sitting in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Israeli leadership is having serious qualms about the unrest in Syria. Assad may be an implacable foe, but he is better than the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. From the perspective of the Israeli security establishment, at least Assad is doing what Hosni Mubarak should have done: using all available means to save his regime.
Finally, it should be understood that others besides MRZine and Hugo Chavez view al-Assad as a “reformer”. One levelheaded American leader has said that the elements that led to intervention in Libya — international condemnation, an Arab League call for action, a United Nations Security Council resolution — are “not going to happen” with Syria, in part because members of the U.S. Congress from both parties say they believe Assad is “a reformer.”
This is the same administration official that has now acted to impose sanctions on the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA for knowing that it was “providing sanctionable goods or services to Iran.” That was from a statement from the U.S. State Department whose secretary—Hillary Clinton—also was the very same official who described al-Assad as a “reformer”.
What a sorry state of affairs when the chief spokesperson for 21th century socialism and a socialist magazine that has been publishing for a half-century can’t figure these things out for themselves.