Deadly New Sanctions on Syria


On May 20, President Trump signed into law the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Embedded in this bill, a housekeeping bill of sorts where yearly “defense” appropriations and priorities are spelled out, was the basic text of the 2019 Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act. Perhaps they were buried here because they didn’t have bipartisan support, but there is certainly no reason to think that is the case. The war on Syria has had bipartisan support for the duration. Perhaps they were just embarrassed by the title, as the bill is named after a presentation that was a fraud.

The Caesar photos, which first emerged in January of 2014, were claimed to be 55,000 photos of people tortured to death by the Syrian government brought out by a military defector. The subsequent research was paid for by the Qatari government and overseen by a law firm, Carter Ruck, which had previously worked for Turkish President Erdogan. The photos are real but who are the subjects? Nearly 2 years later, Human Rights Watch published an article that was light on analysis and made many baseless claims about the data. A few months after that in March of 2016, Rick Sterling published a detailed analysis of the Caesar photos and the context in which they were published. On reviewing the photos, Rick says that they appear to be record keeping photos from the morgue of a hospital in a war zone and included the dead from both sides.

In summary,” Rick says in his pdf research document,

the photos and the deceased are real. But how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. The photographs seem to document war time situation where many combatants and civilians are killed. It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention; the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusation by ‘Caesar’, the Carter Ruck Report and HRW that these are really victims of “death in detention” or death by torture” or death in “government custody” are almost certainly false.

The Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act doubles down on secondary sanctions which punish those who would have any economic exchange with Syria including aid. Though technically made anonymous, it was not killed, but rather hidden in the 2020 NDAA. Even the name didn’t really die. It just became a meme which refers to the most severe sanctions on the Syrian people and attempts to justify them. But why, 6 years after the Caesar files appeared, and 3 years after the claims that the photos of Syrian government victims were debunked, why secretly enact these sanctions now?

This set of sanctions are an attempt to land a death blow on the Syrian government while the world is focused on other problems. The U.S. has lost the hot war. They have been unable to poison the world against Syria beyond their close allies. The Assad government has restored order to the most populated areas of the country and also houses at least half of the displaced persons from other areas. As long as Syria is still intact, the war against them will be escalated on some front. Regardless of the term ‘regime change,’ the war is a hybrid war against the people of Syria. The demand is that they change their identity and their way of life along with their leadership.

Syria has suffered under increasing US sanctions for decades. After the beginning of the war in Syria, the sanctions were hardened and deepened with increased 3rd party sanctions to include other countries in the sanctions. Either they abide by our sanctions against Syria or suffer sanctions and economic penalties themselves. The Caesar Act sanctions have completely isolated the the Central Bank of Syria. They impose secondary sanctions on any country or corporation that trades with Syria or even provides aid to Syria. They attack Lebanese banks that have so far supported Syrian trade, causing economic mayhem in that small and largely impoverished country. Only the biggest and boldest of their allies can take the risk of any kind of economic engagement with Syria.

The dollar value of the Syrian Lira has plummeted to 1800:1 from 47:1 before the war. There are rumors of capital flight through Idlib, the last enclave of Al Qaeda in Syria and other armed groups who are funded by US dollars. According to the Guardian, the Lebanese currency is falling as well because Lebanon and Syria are traditional trading partners. According to SANA, US Envoy James Jeffrey claimed that the collapse of the Syrian currency is due to US policies. In northern Syria, Turkish backed militants are moving capital out of the country, while Erdogan is enforcing the use of Turkish currency in the areas where his people have control.

People can’t get basic necessities of food and medicine. The war has devastated Syria’s independent manufacturing sector. Mercenaries paid by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey deliberately dismantled factories over the last decade, looting the machinery or destroying it before laying waste to the buildings that housed them. Earlier US sanctions have denied Syria the most basic ingredients of pharmaceutical manufacturing. Tom Duggan and Mark Taliano detail the list of imports forbidden to Syria in their recent article “Western Governments Collectively Punishing Syrian Civilians with Criminal Economic Embargoes.”

The US is occupying 1/2 of Syrian oil and gas fields forcing Syria import these fossil fuels. And wheat fields as well. Earlier this year, US troops burned Syrian wheat fields in the areas they occupied. This week Global Research published Arabi Souri’s article and video “Hearing Is Not Like Seeing: NATO’s Terrorists Burning Syrian Wheat Crops” documenting Turkish backed militants burning crops in northern Syria.

Syria has gone off the radar for activists, but not for the relentless US imperialist war mongers. They have upped the ante once again, on a country suffering from nearly 10 years of war. And so you hear that in Syria, ‘rebuilding’ is being undermined by the economic sanctions, but you don’t hear that even people who had food and medicine through the war, now can’t get it. They can’t get oil and gas for cooking and heating. Their money is worthless and even the government is struggling to feed them because THEIR MONEY is WORTHLESS.

This is siege warfare. The people cannot feed their children. There are no resources for the sick and elderly. While the rest of the world is busy fighting COVID-19, Syrians are finally starving. It is hard, I think, to imagine this kind of cruelty even as vindictiveness. Even if the government of Syria were run by a cold blooded serial killer and a pack of hyenas, which it is not, the sanctions target the people of Syria, the victims of a terrible war instigated and perpetuated, armed and funded by the United States and its allies.

The “Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act” Sanctions should be renamed the “Caesar Syrian Civilian Genocide Act.” And yet, with the COVID-19 pandemic going on; with the dysfunction of our own economy leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed and food insecure, without medical insurance and on the brink of eviction; with gunboats off the coast of Venezuela and nukes moving to the Russian border in Poland, there is silence around Syria. And, isn’t that convenient. The new sanctions on Syria are like the knee of Derek Chauvin on George Floyd’s neck. But the video isn’t playing on YouTube.

When will this end?  How can we put an end to it?

Hands off Syria!  End the Syrian Sanctions! 

End the Syrian Occupation!  End the Imperial War on Syria Now!

Judith Bello is a peace and justice activist and international relations analyst who has, over the last decade, spent time in Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Pakistan. She is a member of the UNAC Administrative Committee and moderates the ‘End the Wars at Home and Abroad’ Blog. She is on the Board of the Syria Solidarity Movement and the One State Assembly supporting One Democratic State of Palestine and the Palestinian Right of Return.

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