(photo: USAID )

What continues to unfold in Syria is a massive crime against humanity. The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned the violations against human rights and use force against civilians by President Bashar al Assad’s regime. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports Syrian security forces recently mounted an assault on Deir ex-Zor. They carried out search operations with heavy machine guns and shot dead a mother and two children, who were fleeing.

The Syrian government has placed “severe” constraints on the travel of US diplomats. However, a US envoy has reportedly returned to Syria to monitor the continued brutality in Syria. Ambassador Robert Ford vowed to continue to observe the violence “firsthand,” stating in an interview that aired on ABC’s “The Week, the US has to show its solidarity “with peaceful protesters.” He added he would not only be seeking to communicate with the Syria government but also the Syrian people.

Sending a US envoy to open lines of communication with the Syrian people and the Syrian government could further aggravate the situation in Syria. US State Embassy cables released from Syria cables indicate for at least six years the US has worked to destabilize, delegitimize and isolate the Assad regime. The US has funneled money to an exiled opposition group. The US has privately sought to encourage rumors and signals of external plotting with the hope of provoking an over-reaction. And, the Syrian government has been very suspicious of US interference in Syria.

In April, the Washington Post reported on the funding of opposition groups revealed in the cables and highlighted a group called the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). It noted it was closely affiliated with the London-based satellite channel Barada TV, which started broadcasting in April 2009 but “ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria.” The cables showed “as much as $6 million” had been “funneled” to the group “since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria.”

A cable sent out on February 7, 2010, features this comment from then-US Embassy Damascus Deputy Chief of Mission Charles Hunter:

…If the [Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG)] establishes firmly that the U.S. was continuing to fund Barada TV, however, it would view USG involvement as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime. Just as SARG officials have used the U.S. position on Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone Report to shut down discussions on human rights, it could similarly try to use Barada TV to diminish our credibility on the issue.

A number of the cables indicate Syrian organizers have opposed the US government’s interest in publicly displaying support for activists or civil society organizers in Syria. For example, in 2006, a leader with the Damascus Declaration group indicated told a US diplomat, “American credibility in the region is at ground zero.” The leader suggested if the US said it supported democracy people in Syria would have to say they oppose the idea, simply because of US policy and operations in Iraq and the failure to take action in the Middle East that would “grant Palestinians just resolution of their claims” and also resolve the issue of the occupied Golan Heights.

In addition to the US envoy’s pledge to bear witness, Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada reports on a hoax “circulating on social networks—especially in Arabic—and some news media that a number of premature babies died in their incubators when Syrian forces cut off electricity to hospitals during their assault on the city of Hama.”

The “hoax” being circulated on social media features an image of babies that are supposed to have died. With the image is the following allegation:

Syria | The electricity was cut today from the city of Hama, and the outage included the hospitals. Following this, the Shabiha [state militia] deliberately destroyed the electricity generators in the hospitals which led to the deaths of all the premature babies (more than 40 in a single hospital).

CNN and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights picked up this story of babies dying in incubators. It turns out, however, the picture is of babies that are “hopefully well and living in Egypt.”

As Abunimah notes, this story is disturbing not just because it is a “hoax” and has the potential to make it difficult for one to discern if reports on real crimes are legitimate or not. It’s alarming because the “hoax” is very similar to “the false reports of invading Iraqi troops throwing babies out of incubators in Kuwait in August 1990,” which were circulated to “build public support and urgency for the 1991 Gulf War.” Abunimah recalls, “The claims were part of an elaborate propaganda effort by the Washington PR consultancy Hill & Knowlton hired by the Kuwaiti government.”

Hill & Knowlton had a “sobbing 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl” deliver testimony to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus claiming she had seen Iraqi troops removing babies from incubators. This girl turned out to be the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the United States. Various investigations proved the story was a lie.

This is propaganda that can easily snowball into an argument for a “humanitarian intervention.” While there doesn’t publicly appear to be a coordinated call for any forces to go in and save civilians from Assad’s brutal military and security forces, notorious US democracy promotion groups would not hesitate to use this propaganda to advance their aims. And, while there is not any evidence right now to suggest involvement, one individual, Farid Ghadry, merits attention.

Ghadry is a Syrian exile and president of the Reform Party of Syria. Based in Virginia, he enjoys the support of the “democracy promotion” organization, the Committee on the Present Danger. The group has received support from Clifford D. May, Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, James Woolsey, Newt Gingrich, and Joe Lieberman. It is closely interlinked with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, another “democracy promotion” group that enjoys support from James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Steve Forbes, Richard Perle, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, and Charles Krauthammer.

Democracy promotion is code for “regime change” (although no “democracy promotion” organization would ever admit they are in the business of provoking regime change in countries).

On July 1, Ghadry, a regular contributor to the right wing blog Pajamas Media, wrote in a blog post “the best option” for ending the brutal situation would be a “military coup led by an Alawite general who would free political prisoners, initiate real and major reforms, imprison those guilty of corruption and murder in the current government, and bring a transformation to democracy.” According to Ghadry, the Alawites are not Muslims but rather people who claim to be Shia Muslims and, since the Assad regime is an Alawite regime, Ghadry’s logic is if an Alawite ended “what is widely perceived as an Alawite regime, such an act could defuse hatreds and lead to national conciliation.”

If these “democracy promotion” groups were to gain the opportunity, they could potentially help Ghadry return to Syria so he could become the leader of the country just like the US did with Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. Democracy promotion groups fiercely pushed for confrontation with Syria when George W. Bush was president, with Elizabeth Cheney helping her father secure millions of dollars through the State Department to help the opposition in Syria. According to Robert Dreyfuss, she met with Ghadry when Bush was still in office.

The US State Department’s monitoring of civil society in Syria and attempts to forge alliances for advancing foreign policy interests is enough of a pretext for Assad to justify murdering his own people. The Syrian government appears to be well-aware of the existence of organizations that have made common cause with exiles and opposition leaders.

Daniel Larison of The American Conservative makes this observation on “democracy promotion.”

…emphasis on democracy promotion conflates U.S. interests in a region with the aspirations of other peoples to govern themselves democratically when these two may not be complementary. Most enthusiasts for democracy promotion seem rarely to contemplate the possibility of such a conflict between the political goals of democrats in other countries and U.S. policies, and there usually seems to be a casual assumption that American interests and “values” advance in tandem…

The extent to which the US is aiding the opposition covertly through democracy promotion groups such as those previously mentioned is unknown. Who knows if US Agency for International Development (USAID) is involved in the US State Department’s efforts to provide support to the opposition? What must be stated clearly is the US has a history of underhanded diplomatic relations and no credibility to independently assist Syrians. Any operations aimed at directly assisting the Syrian opposition carry the potential for exacerbating violence, especially if any individuals operating covertly have their cover blown.

Indisputably, Syrian protesters are showing immense bravery in the face of tyranny. Human rights groups have diligently been working to gain access to the country to report on the violence. And, recently they garnered the support of the hacktivist group Anonymous, which recently hacked into the Syrian government’s website and left this message for the world to read:

To the Syrian people: The world stands with you against the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Know that time and history are on your side – tyrants use violence because they have nothing else, and the more violent they are, the more fragile they become. We salute your determination to be non-violent in the face of the regime’s brutality, and admire your willingness to pursue justice, not mere revenge. All tyrants will fall, and thanks to your bravery Bashar Al-Assad is next.

To the Syrian military: You are responsible for protecting the Syrian people, and anyone who orders you to kill women, children, and the elderly deserves to be tried for treason. No outside enemy could do as much damage to Syria as Bashar Al-Assad has done. Defend your country – rise up against the regime! – Anonymous

There is no question the Syrian people deserve support from the world. However, if the conflict concludes and US fingerprints can be found, the Syrian people will not have won. Such an outcome would inevitably result in more brutality and violence as factions war against whatever government was imposed upon the Syrian people.

There are other councils and NGOs not explicably tied to the US that can find ways to provide aid and assistance to Syrians. If any groups should be providing outside help, they should be leading the efforts to assist Syrians.