How We Were Misled About Syria: the role of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

msf-blamesI have unbounded admiration for the doctors who volunteer for the invaluable and often dangerous work of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The question concerns MSF’s policy of ‘bearing witness’. MSF will speak out – even against governments – when it thinks a humanitarian situation could and should be dealt with differently by those it holds responsible.[1] It has done so in Syria.

But if none of MSF’s international doctors have been on the ground in Syria’s war zones since 2015,[2] how can MSF claim to bear witness for what is happening there?

MSF has relayed reports from the rebel-held areas to which, exclusively, its supplies and support have been dispatched. The reports – including allegations of government attacks on hospitals and civilians – come from people working with the permission and protection of such groups as Al Nusra, Isis and other foreign jihadis and mercenaries. These anti-government forces are known to exercise a rule of terror and to be not overly concerned about ordinary citizens’ access to medical attention. That is precisely why the MSF doctors withdrew from the areas under their control.[3] So there is scope to ask who the medics on the ground were, and who they were treating. russi-plus-asad

My question, though, simply concerns the reliability of uncorroborated witness statements coming from potentially compromised sources. For while press statements have been issued from various MSF offices around the world, it appears MSF had no independent access to verifiable information from Syria.

In fact, the public unavailability of detailed or verified information is a matter of record: even John Kirby of the US State Department could only assert that ‘relief agencies that we find credible are levelling these accusations’.[4]

The most prominent relief agency, and visible in all video footage linked to the alleged bombings, is the White Helmets.  It is a matter of record that the White Helmets are funded by the NATO and Gulf states whose avowed aim is regime change in Syria; or-38096it is generally believed that they work closely with terrorist organisations (how else could the Netflix documentary have shown them roaming so freely in a zone where MSF and Western journalists dared not set foot?[5]). Their independence and integrity are widely questioned.[6]

So while MSF has often been cited as an independent source of support for White Helmet testimony, its press statements have in fact merely repeated White Helmet claims![7]

Whether intending it or not, MSF thereby became complicit in purveying a particular narrative that suffused the Western media during the period from 22 September to 22 December 2016.[8] Before September, the media had been perfectly clear that the citizens of eastern Aleppo were being held captive, effectively as human shields, by forces dominated by jihadist terrorists.[9] That changed following the uncompromising statement by Samantha Power to the UN Security Council, in which she invoked the White Helmets as victims and witnesses of Russian and Syrian aggression.[10]

Western governments and media re-designated the terrorist groups as ‘moderate rebels’.[11] Concurrently, anti-government activists like Lina Shamy started tweeting in English, the celebrated twitter account in the name of the child Bana was created, and there followed a flow of ‘famous last webcams’ from purported ordinary civilians voicing fears of impending massacre by the Syrian government.

Those of us in the West who were uncertain about the authenticity of all this social media activity in a zone lacking basic infrastructure, let alone wifi,[12] were coaxed to accept the mainstream narrative because a respected organisation like MSF apparently bore witness to it.[13] Few of us realised that MSF was merely repeating White Helmet testimony, not independently verifying it.

The consistent testimony now coming from the people who have been liberated in eastern Aleppo suggests a quite different story from the one that Netflix and our media have promoted.[14] The Helmets themselves appear to have melted away with the departure from Aleppo of the jihadists and mercenaries. If there were any genuinely independent doctors working with them in Aleppo, they too have yet to be heard from. But most telling, in view of White Helmet claims to have saved some 70,000 lives (or whatever exact number we are invited to believe), is that not a single person interviewed in liberated Aleppo has thanked them.

So, in seeking to bear witness against the Syrian government, MSF has made claims on a basis that is uncertain and contested.[15]  By so publicly associating itself with the White Helmets and their narrative it may have risked compromising the reputation it relies on to attract international doctors.

Those of us who deeply appreciate the service to humankind of MSF’s international doctors are left to hope the organisation coordinating their work can be more sure to avoid bearing false witness.[16]

The problem with the false narrative is no trivial one, for it perpetuates a fundamental misrecognition of the causes of the war – and thus of all the casualities the doctors have to deal with.  A false narrative not only gives impunity to the guilty but it supports them in moving ever onwards with their murderous designs. It distracts from the ethical truth, too, that the jihadis and the states supplying them with arms and opportunity are in fundamental breach of the law and morality of just warfare.

[1] The background for this founding principle – of témoignage (‘bearing witness’) – is cited on their website: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people died in the Biafran war because of a deliberate government policy. On their return from the region, a group of young French doctors were frustrated and outraged by the inability of the Red Cross to say publicly what had happened.’ https://www.msf.org.uk/advocacy-and-temoignage

[2] MSF Voice from the Field in Syria: Dr. Nathalie Roberts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61cmnPLk6uE

[3] Dr Nathalie Roberts has described how in the earlier days of the war in Syria, MSF had followed its usual working procedures in opposition-held areas but with the arrival of Islamic State group that became impossible: “they were not allowing all the patients to access the hospital”, they then started appropriating MSF supplies and even kidnapping MSF staff. They could not continue to work in a place where the occupying groups would not allow the doctors to do their medical job. (Dr Roberts interviewed on 13 March 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oQVUssxK-U

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/us-spokesperson-loses-temper-with-rt-journalist-over-syria-bombing-questions-a7423146.html

[5] I personally first became curious about the White Helmets from viewing the Netflix documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wj4ncIEDxw), and the question I mention in the text here is the one I simply could not get past. I was therefore not surprised to find that others had already offered powerful critiques of the organisation.

I also had trouble imagining how people working in such desperate conditions would have the leisure to keep up with the latest Western craze of the Mannequin Challenge, and also the insensitivity to do a facsimile rescue for the purpose. The video of this PR own goal was quickly removed by the White Helmets’ promoters but remains available elsewhere at time of writing, e.g.:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgl271A6LgQ

A discussion of it is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8bIupYSZeU

[6] The critical sources now on the internet are far too numerous to mention, but indicative examples include:
https://www.rt.com/op-edge/361957-syria-white-helmets-un/
http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/12/10/exclusive-president-raed-salehs-terrorist-connections-within-white-helmet-leadership/
https://janoberg.exposure.co/humans-in-liberated-aleppo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmFFvu5H4f4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_bObdZhqyE
http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/

An especially thorough investigation, with detailed consideration of a range of perspectives, not only the critical ones, is provided by Jan Oberg: http://blog.transnational.org/2016/11/tff-pressinfo-392-just-how-grey-are-the-white-helmets-and-their-backers/

[7] The spokespersons bearing MSF witness to the public are quite numerous and remote from Syria. They seldom make explicit the source of their information, but when they do we find it is the White Helmets.

Sam Taylor, for instance, who is Syria communications coordinator for MSF and is based in Jordan, uncritically reproduced White Helmets material: ‘The civil defense, also known as the White Helmets, said the hospital and adjacent buildings were struck in four consecutive airstrikes.’ ‘Video posted by the White Helmets showed lifeless bodies, including children, being pulled from a building and loaded into ambulances amid screams and wailing. Distraught rescue workers tried to keep away onlookers, apparently fearing more bombs.’ http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/airstikes-aleppo-hospital-1.3556632

Taylor does mention another authority: ‘Shortly after midday Thursday, new airstrikes in rebel-held areas killed at least 20 people in two neighbourhoods, the Syrian Civil Defense and the Observatory said.’ By ‘Observatory’, he presumably means the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Although this sounds like an independent organisation, it is in fact a single individual named Rami Abdulrahman (sometimes referred to as Rami Abdul Rahman) living in Coventry in the UK; and he is presumably as independent as one can expect from an opposition exile whose small network of informants in Syria consists largely of anti-government activists. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/world/middleeast/the-man-behind-the-casualty-figures-in-syria.html Certainly, he is no more directly a witness than is MSF’s spokesperson. Needless to say, the Observatory’s credibility and independence is disputed: http://russia-insider.com/en/media-criticism/man-behind-vaunted-syrian-observatory-human-rights-shown-all-his-full-absurdity; http://landdestroyer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/syrian-ngos-working-directly-with.html; http://journal-neo.org/2015/12/12/the-syrian-observatory-for-human-rights-is-a-tool-of-western-propaganda/
Despite this lack of verified independent evidence, Taylor was prepared to state on behalf of MSF that a hospital attack ‘was deliberate’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebrpj689Ib8. While the basis for the accusation is not given, the cumulative effect of this sort of public statement is evident. Pablo Marco Blanco, MSF’s Operations Manager for the Middle East in Barcelona, effectively endorsed the accusation, while admitting that the basis of the information was unconfirmed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI5KMAvfYDU. Similar communications came from Muskilda Zancada, ‘MSF head of mission in Syria’ in Barcelona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4s9uEp6Ujs). Zancada also stated that ‘civilians are targeted’ http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-update-airstrike-al-quds-hospital. Paul McPhun, Executive Director MSF Australia, speaking from Australia (10 October 2016) likewise makes categorial statements about targeted bombings in Aleppo, but without indicating the source of his knowledge.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHyPtcG5a6M
It is even possible that the accusations are true. Yet it is also possible that they are not. The fallibility of MSF sources has been illustrated by how Teresa Sancristoval, Head of MSF’s Emergency Unit for Aleppo, was clearly being fed her information in Barcelona from people with an oppositional stance towards the Syrian Government because they were ‘afraid of the retaliations they can suffer’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades (see note 7).

While I have no doubt that all MSF statements are made from a standpoint of agonised human sympathy, and in good faith, they take on a life of their own when picked up by the media and disseminated for further purposes.

In the end it is clear that what matters from the humanitarian point of view is that the bombing should stop. When MSF call for all sides to stop, they can claim to speak for humankind. When they complain of ‘targeted and indiscriminate bombing by the Syrian and Russian armed forces’ (http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-crisis-update-28-november-2016) they create unnecessary controversy: if bombing both targeted and indiscriminate is to stop on the government side, that is as much as to say – from the government’s perspective – that it should simply allow the ISIS and Al Nusra terrorists free rein over the people and sovereign territory that it has a duty to defend. MSF do not want to say exactly this, I assume, but my point is that the organisation seems not to have a firm enough grip on its communications policy or a sufficiently coherent approach to defining its extra-medical mission.

[8] MSF statements from Syria condemning the Syrian and Russian governments have been demonstrably lacking in certainty or detail. For instance, in relaying reports of attacks on hospitals around Aleppo in May they note that ‘one was the MSF-supported al Sakhour hospital in Aleppo city, which was forced to suspend activities after being bombed at least twice on consecutive days.’ (https://www.msf.org.uk/country/syria) An inexact statement like this – being equivocal as to whether the number of bombings was two, three, or some other number – may or may not be true; it cannot claim to have been properly verified, since a verification would make clear whether or not a third or further bombings had occurred.

MSF uncritically accepted the veracity of the ‘famous last webcams’ coming out of besieged eastern Aleppo. As late as 14 December 2014 MSF wrote on their own website: ‘Whatever hope remained is rapidly dissipating. People are terrified, almost certain that their own deaths are near. Messages in which they say goodbye to their love ones are proliferating.’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades ]

MSF do not appear to have known as much as one might hope or expect about the doctors they supported in terrorist-held Aleppo and whose words they relay to the public. The doctors communicating from terrorist-held Aleppo whose testimony the MSF publicly cited just prior to the liberation of Aleppo were apparently not looking forward to the end of the siege, and MSF even believed that their forebodings were shared by the ordinary people of Aleppo: ‘Like the rest of the population, “doctors are terrified and losing hope,” says Teresa Sancristoval, Head of MSF’s Emergency Unit for Aleppo. “They are afraid of the retaliations they can suffer. For the last two days, our exchanges have been more about goodbye messages and requests for evacuation than anything else. They feel abandoned to their fate and with no way out.”’ http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/article/east-aleppo-ceasefire-fails-shelling-resumes-and-hope-fades
[9] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/02/us-syria-policy-tatters-moderate-rebels-disband
[10] As Stephen Cohen has pointed out, the sea change came with the breakdown of negotiations between Obama and Putin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPp8eKBjcyA&t=974s
The view was then forcefully asserted against Obama by Samantha Power.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/22/syria-obama-us-president-putin-russia
In her speech to UN Security Council she singled out the White Helmets as victims and witnesses of Russian and Syrian attacks. She declared: ‘This is not the day, this is not the time to blame all sides, to draw false equivalencies. It is not the time to say that “airstrikes took place,” or “civilians were killed.” It is time to say who is carrying out those airstrikes, and who is killing civilians.’ https://usun.state.gov/remarks/7453
[11] Some insights into the unreliability of the mainstream narrative have occasionally been heard from within mainstream media outlets. For instance:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-aleppo-iraq-mosul-isis-middle-east-conflict-assad-war-everything-youve-read-could-be-wrong-a7451656.html
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/12/time-judge-assads-aleppo-campaign-standards-set-mosul/
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/aleppo-falls-to-syrian-regime-bashar-al-assad-rebels-uk-government-more-than-one-story-robert-fisk-a7471576.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1B2xFqfEgY (‘Tulsi Gabbard tells the truth about Syria’ on CNN)
Carla Ortiz Speaks about her Experience in Aleppo and The Little Syrian Girl
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAE3WawgOX0&feature=share
Criticisms have of course been extensive in the Russian media. Since promoters of the Western narrative do not regard the Russia Today (RT) channel as a reliable source, I mention just a couple of interviews that they might concede have some credibility – one from a Church of England clergyman and one from a former UK ambassador to Syria:
‘Consistent stories of brutality at the hands of the Syrian rebels’ – Rev. Andrew Ashdown
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8iM_eY2viQ
US effectively siding with Al-Qaeda in desire to get rid of Assad – former UK ambassador to Syria
https://www.rt.com/news/345636-us-siding-al-qaeda-ford/
[12] Common sense scepticism on this point is supported by the first hand testimony of Carla Ortiz about trying to get internet connections in Aleppo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=il7I1FTRSwY.

[13] I have seen MSF cited as a source to discredit the account of Syria given to the UN by Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uap0GwBYdBA
In fact, I was first prompted to do the research that led to writing this blog because a respected and well-informed friend on Facebook invoked MSF as a refutation of Bartlett’s claims. I believe it has since become clear that events have entirely vindicated Bartlett.

[14] Some examples of interviews with newly liberated citizens in Aleppo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjPpREHEF1Y
https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.beeley/posts/10155907018683868
https://www.sott.net/article/337545-East-Aleppo-Diaries-Testimony-from-Hanano-Shatters-Corporate-Fake-News
https://janoberg.exposure.co/humans-in-liberated-aleppo
https://www.sott.net/article/338019-Bolivian-actress-Carla-Ortiz-exposes-what-went-wrong-with-Western-media-coverage-of-Syrian-conflict

[15] Stronger criticism of MSF than I am making is found in Miri Wood’s ‘Guide to Understanding How ‘Unhospitals’ Cannot Be Bombed’ http://www.syrianews.cc/guide-understanding-unhospitals-cannot-bombed/ ; MSF’s relationship with the Syrian Government is known to be an uneasy one: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/12161437/Medecins-Sans-Frontieres-run-by-French-intelligence-says-Assad-regime.html

[16] MSF takes a certain pride in fostering debate and allowing some plurality of political views to be aired within the organisation: it does not attempt, as ICRC does, to hold a single public line. (Rony Brauman, ‘Médecins Sans Frontières and the ICRC: matters of principle’, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 888, 31 December 2012: https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/review-2012/irrc-888-brauman.htm)

Yet the public hears MSF-branded messages and thinks they represent the honest and considered position of a respected organisation. They are encouraged to do so by the fact that press releases and comments are issued by the organisation and not as independent opinions of particular members.

While it is not my place to tell MSF how to conduct its affairs, I would say that their internal plurality of opinion is not necessarily a virtue: if they cannot agree on certain matters of principle about bearing witness, then the wise option might be simply to refrain, as ICRC do. At any rate, some of their internal philosophical debate strikes this reader as unhelpfully verbose and analytically unclear. More specifically relating to Syria, it is reasonable to believe that the geopolitics of the region and the machinations of its various protagonists are as complex and challenging, in their way, as are the medical emergencies in a war zone. Even the most judicious political analyst would not be much use in dealing with the latter. The people in MSF offices might reflect on whether the converse does not also apply.

We are not in a position to know if Syria or Russia should answer any charges in respect of the conduct of war.  We do know that their enemies must, and, more crucially, that they face the more fundamental charge of having attacked Syria and its people without just cause.

I find a rather bitter irony in the MSF position that they distinguish themselves from the ICRC in not being willing to patch up victims simply in order to make possible further harm to them; for that could be said to be what they are doing by wishing that a sovereign people should not use full lethal force against merciless invaders on its soil.

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39 Responses to How We Were Misled About Syria: the role of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

  1. Pingback: Conversations about Syria … open letter to the Greens | gailmalone

  2. Adrian D. says:

    Excellent post. I hadn’t looked into MSF’s policies of bearing witness, but this answers a number of questions I’ve had regarding their reporting of the conflict in Syria.

    I’m also very concerned by Amnesty’s reporting of this, with their ‘compelling evidence’ of systematic targeting of medical facilities by Syrian/Russian forces coming from similar, (almost always unnamed) sources.

    https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/syrian-and-russian-forces-targeting-hospitals-as-a-strategy-of-war/

    I’m not sure that such a conclusion could be drawn from their report – not least as one of the major incidents it reports is ‘proven’ by a quote that asserts direct targeting took place in an area that was being shelled indiscriminately (see the quote attributed to ‘Doctor “Faraj” (his real name has been withheld for security reasons)’ in the link above.

    MSF have also made similar claims of deliberate targeting of their hospitals – and indeed have not been giving the Syrian/Russian forces GPS locations of their facilities for this reason. However, they too have seen fit to claim this deliberate targeting is taking place in a conflict where they are also clear that ‘no corner is being spared’.
    http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-update-airstrike-al-quds-hospital
    http://www.msf.org/sites/msf.org/files/al_quds_report.pdf

    As you say, none of this proves their assertions to be untrue, but the complete lack of scepticism in the MSM has been really quite extraordinary. What makes it even more so, is that bang in the middle of all these very appalling (but often contradictory) reports and their fast-tracking to the top of the news, the House of Lords Foreign Affairs Committee published their damning report into the UK’s intervention in Libya which included a (for them) quite scathing indictment of the way that the initial ‘humanitarian crisis’ was reported.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks Adrian. Amnesty is a concern, too, as you say. (Do you happen to have insight into the reliability of other aspects of their Syria coverage?)

      • Adrian D. says:

        Nothing definitive, other than a general wariness of taking as gospel quotes of unnamed (or renamed) individuals from areas where most media sources fear to tread. Having said that, they do quote the Syrian Network For Human Rights as a reliable source, but I’m not sure on what basis. Like the Coventry-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, the SN4HR is a dubiously funded NGO that sprung up very soon after the hostilities commenced in 2011 (with a website registered anonymously).

        The SNFHR is a member of ‘Responsibility To Protect’, whose mission statement is as follows:

        “The RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT (“RtoP” or “R2P”) is a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
        The INTERNATIONAL COALITION FOR THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT (ICRtoP) brings together NGOs from all regions of the world to strengthen normative consensus for RtoP, further the understanding of the norm, push for strengthened capacities to prevent and halt genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and mobilize NGOs to push for action to save lives in RtoP country-specific situations.”
        http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/
        Which reads very like a manifesto for ‘Liberal interventionists’ to me – at the very least it’s an agenda that might itself bear some questioning from the likes of Amnesty.

        The Amnesty reports were just one of the many instances in this conflict where I heard a news report and thought of all the obvious questions that were not being asked (in their case how can you possibly conclude targetting is taking place when you are also maintaining that the bombing is indescriminate. Of course it could be that both can take place simultaneously, but how you can definitively state the former given the latter is beyond me.

      • Adrian D. says:

        Finally, Amnesty draw on Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), who have documented many cases of attacks on medical facilities, but again these reports will suffer from the MSF issue of not being present at the scene of many of these attacks (many of the links from the map on their site lead to reports in Arabic, so I was not able to investigate them further).
        It’s worth noting too that PHR have had something of an agenda on Syria. If this report can be believed, then as far back as 2012 they were pressing their members to support further US intervention and sanctions (something that they have not, incidentally, seen fit to do against Israel).
        https://syria360.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/physicians-for-human-rights-join-the-ranks-of-pro-imperialist-ngos/
        Certainly the selection of blogs that PHR have chosen to repost on their site show a clear stance has been taken, with plenty of examples of them taking the most lurid of recent claims as fact (carpet bombing, ‘UN reports’ of massacres etc.).. The irony of simultaneously supporting both sanctions and a people’s convoy has clearly passed them by:
        http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/the-peoples-convoy-we-the-new-normal-of-attacks-on-hospitals.html
        http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/blog/aleppo-in-crisis-we-have-witnessed-the-defeat-of-the-human-spirit-in-aleppo.html

        PHR have also been willing to issue press releases that have sought to confuse the state of the whole city of Aleppo with what they report had transpired in the ‘rebel held’ eastern portion (essentially ignoring attacks on the Western part and indeed the 4,000+ doctors who continue to work there).
        http://www.syriasolidaritymovement.org/2015/11/22/the-physicians-for-human-rights-report-on-aleppo-is-a-scam/

        Of course it may well be that the likes of PHR and SAMS felt no other option than to adopt their general their Russia/SAA-bad conclusions from the weight of their evidence, but recent events are showing a completely different story emerging from Aleppo and there’s no indication of any introspection on their behalf so far.

        Critically, even if we take all the attacks the various agencies report as read, I’m still not at all sure how Amnesty can be so clear in their conclusion of deliberate targeting – especially as seemingly very few if any of the facilities were registered as medical facilities. Certainly none of the MSF supported sites had offered their GPS coordinates to the SAA and Russians, and of course there’s always the danger that Al Nuzra etc. deliberately sited their forces next to such institutions.

        It’s also worth noting that Amnesty have a bit of previous in ignoring possible problems with their reports with many of the issues raised in this piece being transferable to the claims of direct targeting:
        http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/05/eight-problems-with-amnestys-report-on-aleppo-syria/

        As an aside, SAMS put me in mind of Dr David Nott’s UK based Syria Relief who on the back of undoubtedly beneficial and dangerous humanitarian work, has been given carte blanche to make hugely contentious claims about the situation in Syria and what might be done to address it. (He’s claimed both chlorine gas attacks in East Aleppo and that SAA snipers are solely responsible for stopping civilians leaving – of could he demanded a no fly zone).

        https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/20/omran-picture-turning-point-syria-war-aleppo-david-nott

        in the run-up to Christmas he claimed on the Today Programme to have 500 injured children with 40 doctors desperate to be freed from Eastern Aleppo – and claimed to have had Bob Geldoff making calls about them, but I’ve since not seen any reports of what happened to them – which I find a little strange given the obvious human interest. Needless to say, he wasn’t even gently quizzed as to where all these paediatricians had come from given that the last one had been reported as killed back in February.

        Has anyone else seen what happened to these children?

        http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-surgeon-attempting-save-500-12307052
        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/14/can-still-save-500-aleppos-children-avert-christmas-massacre/

        Finally, on the matter of the ‘western vacuum’, if you have not done so already, can I seriously recommend you have a look at this timeline which details all the ‘nothing’ that was going on:
        http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/524729/U.S-And-Allied-Intervention-In-Syria#vars!date=2011-09-18_10:21:07!

      • Adrian D. says:

        Apologies, but it appears that a section of text was missing from the beginning of my previous post, which meant that much of its meaning was lost.

        Prior to talking of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) I also mentioned the two other bodies that Amnesty had used for support for their conclusion that the Syrian/Russian forces were deliberately targeting medical facilities. These were the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and a doctor from the Independent Doctors Association.

        SAMS are funded in major part by the US State Department and appear to have promoted the need for urgent US action – which means they are either ignorant of, or indifferent to the actions the US have so far taken in
        Syria – i.e. they are proponents of the ‘Western vacuum’ myth – a major component of the ‘false narrative’ that you highlight in your post::
        https://www.sams-usa.net/press_release/aleppo-is-burning-take-these-5-actions-now/A

        As far as I can see their work is carried out in rebel/insurgent/terrorist held areas of the country and so will very much suffer from the problems you raise regarding the MSF reports.

        A very critical piece on their former chairman can be found here:
        http://journal-neo.org/2016/08/24/dead-children-the-syrian-american-medical-society-sams-and-its-friends/

        Oh, and Samantha Power, the bellicose US Ambassador to the UN counts them are her heroes – make of that what you will…
        https://www.sams-usa.net/our-advocacy/

        The Independent Doctors Association work only outside areas of Syrian government control and have likewise called for western action. They purport to have been running East Aleppo Children’s Hospital until November 18th when, they say, it was bombed. Prior to this they say it was treating 200 children a day which surely would have led to more testimonies of their good works being available by now. The IDA also repeatedly reported a population of 275,000 civilians in the besieged area – a figure now known to be hugely exaggerated.
        http://ida-org.com/index.php/portfolio-posts/aleppo-pediatric-hospital/
        http://ida-org.com/

        So having done just a little more digging, it seems that the sources that Amnesty cites all suffer from the issues you raised regarding MSF’s initial reporting and the limitations over their own subsequent investigations.

        It’s also worth noting that none of the four they cite have had any compunction about ‘speaking out’ – at least to the extent that they all have advocated for further Western intervention.

        Finally I think it’s also worth noting that none of the four agencies raised by Amnesty have given any indication that they are offering any support for Aleppo now that it has been liberated/fallen.

      • timhayward says:

        Thanks for the additional info, Adrian.

  3. ijon70 says:

    Brilliant write-up, thank you very much for this.

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  5. Pierre Simon says:

    MSF as the name suggests is a globalist organization seeking to help impose a world without borders through propaganda.

  6. Bernard says:

    Bernard Kouchner has been accused for organ trafficing duting his mission in Serbia/Kosovo. His response on a direct question was a fake laugh and seeking support from people around him.

    Unfortunately, the video is not translated to english.

    • timhayward says:

      However, according to MSF website, Kouchner has not been with MSF for many years and has been in public disagreements with them: ‘Dr. Kouchner was one of twelve people–including doctors and journalists–who founded MSF on December 22, 1971; Several years later, MSF, which was still a small organization, faced a choice: to grow, or to remain a small committee … Dr Kouchner did not support the organization’s professionalization and growth … at MSF’s 1979 General Assembly. He left the organization soon after; Dr. Kouchner has not been involved in the organization since then and has had no responsibilities related to MSF; For nearly 30 years, MSF and Dr. Kouchner have had public disagreements on such issues as the right to intervene and the use of armed force for humanitarian reasons.’

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  9. Roger Milbrandt says:

    This is an excellent piece of work. I congratulate Tim Hayward heartily for sharing it with us.

  10. Pingback: How We Were Misled About Syria: the role of Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) – Syria Solidarity Movement

  11. polly Markandya says:

    Dear Professor Hayward,

    I’m sorry for the delay responding to you but it’s taken a few days for your blog post to wend its merry way to me. My name is Polly Markandya and I’m the director of communications for MSF in the UK.

    As you can imagine, the subject of both our operations and our communications regarding the Syria crisis have been cause of a huge amount of discussion within MSF. Our usual modus operandi is to have mixed international/national teams on the ground to manage our humanitarian responses and ensure high-quality medical work, unfettered access to care and first-hand witnessing of the situation for patients and medics. However despite years of repeated requests to the Government of Syria for permission to be able to work on all sides of the Syrian conflict, to date there has been no permission granted. In addition, MSF currently undertakes no actions, direct or indirect, in areas controlled by IS since it has not been possible to negotiate with IS leadership to ensure that the safety, independence and impartiality of our medical assistance will be respected. The current one-sided presence is not a choice that MSF has made, but a constraint that MSF continues to challenge.

    However please note that MSF does currently have teams on the ground in Syria composed of national staff in the Idlib, Aleppo and Hama governorates and runs operations with international staff in the Hasakeh governorate and north-eastern Syria.

    Our ability to move staff (national and international) in and out of eastern Aleppo over the last couple of years has been patchy, and there have been times when we have been very limited in our capacity to move staff and supplies, or to transfer patients. However we have maintained close relations with the doctors and medics we’ve been supporting in Aleppo, even when we were not able to be physically alongside them.

    All of us at MSF are acutely aware of the problems associated with communicating on a crisis when only having operations on one side of a conflict, and when communicating about support activities where there are no international MSF staff on the ground to witness events and situations directly. This is why we have taken special care to double-check and verify the information that we release, using only sources we know personally, and trust.

    If in future you have any questions or concerns about our communications or humanitarian work please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and my team directly, and we will do our best to help you.

    Thanks for your interest. With best wishes
    Polly

  12. timhayward says:

    Thank you for this reply, Polly.
    If I did not approach you before, it is because I was uncertain, from the accessible publicity, who speaks for MSF on Syria. So I appreciate this contact.
    A question I would have liked to be more clear on, and as touched on in your comment, is about the national staff in Syria. Are they associated with MSF in the same way as international doctors are? That is, I assume that credentials, experience, suitability and so on are assessed for international doctors according to a set of procedures followed by MSF. Is that similarly the case for the national doctors and medics you refer to? Given the decision of MSF not to deploy international doctors in Syrian war zones, I have assumed that the organisation does not have the same kinds of responsibility and liability for national doctors, which suggests a different sort of contractual arrangement.
    Whether or not that difference is thought to bear on the assurances MSF has about the information coming from national doctors, there is another natural concern. That is, it may simply be too dangerous for those on the ground to say certain things. I can understand that MSF would need to take due care not to compromise their safety by implying the doctors had said anything that would put them in danger. But if that is a factor, it does bring us back to those questions about the policy of speaking out. (For were it the case that MSF communications were constrained by external factors on the ground, decisions influenced by those communications could lead to harms being done that outweigh the good being done.)
    Good wishes,
    Tim

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  20. Bandolero says:

    Dear Tim,

    I don’t know if you are aware, but people were not only misled about Syria, but about the whole Arab Spring. After reading a report filed by David Ignatius in March 2011, I came to believe the whole Arab Spring is the result of a still largely secret order from Barack Obama given in August 2010 called “Presidential Study Directive 11.” Read yourself:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/03/obamas_calculated_gamble.html

    This report was originally filed with the Washington Post, but the Washington Post changed the title to “Obama’s low-key strategy for the Middle East” afterwards.

    There are more hints on that there was a hidden US hand behind all of the Arab Spring. Just read for example a report filed on foreign policy by David Kenner after the regime change in Tunisia, titled “Why couldn’t the United States change ‘Syria with a smile’?” In that report David Kenner quotes Scott Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration who oversaw the creation of MEPI saying: “we were doing a lot of stuff very, very quietly – not to say covert, but very quietly.” Read yourself:

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/15/why-couldnt-the-united-states-change-syria-with-a-smile/

    If you never heard of MEPI, Wikipedia has an article about it:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Partnership_Initiative

    The whole MEPI programm smells like a preparation for “colour revolution” instigation. I’m sure you know the revolution business:

    So, if the whole Arab Spring was to bring about US-designed regime changes in select MENA countries, I’m quite sure Syria was on the target list, just as Libya was.

  21. Hallo Tim
    excellent work on this topic. Everybody diving into this subject got the strong impression that your point of view is obviously driven by facts but fiction. I appreciated also your commented source-section and of course the comments of the people adding their thoughts on this subject.
    Also remarkable your profound feedback on some usercomments especially the one on Kouuchner(and that his ties wit MSF have broken long ago) and by the way thanks to the user that reminded us on the organ trafficking in Kosovo
    with this disgusting video, that exposed Kouchners blatant arrogance.

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  23. lonestar1911 says:

    Reblogged this on lonestarseeksgirlfriend and commented:
    Chronicles of western elites manipulations in effort to control the world.

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