February 24, 2012 – Syria’s Downward Spiral into Hell: Pictured above, from the National Post, Homs in flames from Syrian bombardment. “The world must know of Syria’s atrocities – Send in the drones” (Matt Gurney, picture below). Mr. Gurney is a columnist and edit for the National Post.
Journalists who cover conflicts from the front lines willingly accept the obvious risks of that job. Such work is extraordinarily dangerous. The website for Reporters Without Borders (RSF.org) keeps a tally on reporters around the world who are killed, injured or imprisoned while conducting their honorable business. In 2011, 66 journalists, and two assistants, lost their lives on the job.
Sadly, the figure for 2012 already stands at five, including American-born reporter Marie Colvin, of Britain’s Sunday Times, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. Both were killed on Sunday in Homs, Syria, during an artillery bombardment of that devastated opposition stronghold. Homs has long been a hotbed of resistance, violent and otherwise, against the dictatorial rule of the Assad family, and has been repeatedly attacked by regular Syrian military forces seeking to crush a growing anti-Assad uprising.
That the Syrian regime has resorted to indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas is itself an indictment of President Bashar al-Assad and his desperate efforts to cling to power. And if the two reporters had been collateral damage of such an attack, that itself would have been a tragedy. But new details show that the artillery attack on Homs that killed Ms. Colvin and Mr. Ochlik was in fact a deliberate effort to kill foreign journalists, and to shut down the flow of information documenting Syrian atrocities out of Homs.
Ms. Colvin and Mr. Ochlik, among other Western journalists, had entered Syria illegally, from Lebanon. Last week, several members of their party chose to return, due to fear that the Syrian military would deliberately target foreign reporters. French reporter Jean-Pierre Perrin, who had been in Homs with the fallen reporters, claims that the journalists were warned days before the fatal incident that the Syrian military was aware of the location of their press center and intended to attack it. CNN crews who had previously used the same location confirm that their satellite transmission equipment was explicitly targeted. There was also fear among the journalists that the Syrian military was tracking their mobile phone transmissions, all other telephone service in the city having been shut down by the government.
But the real evidence that the reporters were deliberately targeted, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, are intercepted Syrian military transmissions shared with the paper by people within the intelligence service of neighboring Lebanon. These transmissions reportedly include explicit orders for Syrian military forces to kill foreign journalists and to stage the scenes to suggest they were killed in crossfire between government troops and rebels. Shortly after these orders were given, the press center was hit. As survivors fled the ruins, a second round of shelling began, killing even more.
Clearly, this was an intentional, targeted killing, no doubt ordered by a regime seeking to hide its crimes. Syria has denied major military activity in Homs, claiming that is targeting terrorist cells with precision operations. Ms. Colvin’s last broadcast to the West, carried on CNN, showed this to be untrue [Warning: Link contains graphic content].
It included footage of the mangled corpse of a baby killed by shelling, as well as her reports of heavy civilian casualties, a lack of military targets in the city, and heavy damage to populated areas. “The Syrian Army is basically shelling a city of cold, starving civilians,” she reported.
The governments of France and Britain have already expressed their outrage. But such an act calls for more than mere diplomatic protests. Direct Western military intervention in Syria is unlikely, and we would not encourage such an action — it would require a much larger, more dangerous campaign than the one successfully conducted against Libya last year. And as Libya itself is currently reminding us, civil wars are always messy, blood affairs. NATO would be wise to avoid direct involvement (though logistical support for the Syrian rebels should be considered).
But there is a way that the West can intervene without joining the fight: The Assad regime clearly wishes to hide the crimes it is committing in Homs, and elsewhere. The Western allies should make such cover-ups impossible by sending reconnaissance drones into Syrian skies wherever forces loyal to President as-Assad are attacking civilians. This footage should be made freely available to the whole world, so that all might see what Syria has killed to keep hidden.
Such a step will sadly not save Syria’s cold, starving civilians from the depravities of their own government. But it will serve to deny the Assad regime any deniability, and serve as a fitting memorial to Ms. Colvin, Mr. Ochlik and all the other journalists, Syrian and foreign, who will fall while documenting the dying days of President al-Assad’s rule . (Credits: Top Photo – AFP/Getty Images, Narrative – Matt Gurney of the National Post – mgurney).
The Master of Disaster