News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Believing US propaganda that Free Syrian Army is 'moderate,' an American in Syria went to them for help to save him from Islamists. Free Syrian Army merely delivered the American back to Islamist captors for two years of torture and beatings-NY Times Magazine, Oct. 2014

'Moderate' Free Syrian Army rebels don't exist: "The F.S.A. transferred me to a group of Islamists, and I had my first lesson in how to distinguish Islamist fighters from the Free Syrian Army." The former tortures you more slowly. "Children participated in the torture sessions."

10/29/2014, "My Captivity," NY Times Magazine, Theo Padnos. "Theo Padnos, American Journalist, on Being Kidnapped, Tortured and Released in Syria"

"The cruelty of my captors frightened me, but my bitterest moments in those early weeks came when I thought about who was most responsible for my kidnapping: me.

I believed I knew my way around the Arab world. In 2004, when the United States was mired in the war in Iraq, I decided to embark on a private experiment. I moved from Vermont to Sana, the Yemeni capital, to study Arabic and Islam. I was good with languages — I had a Ph.D. in comparative literature — and I was eager to understand a world where the West often seemed to lose its way. I began my studies in a neighborhood mosque, then enrolled in a religious school popular among those who dream of a “back to the days of the prophet” version of Islam. Later, I moved to Syria to study at a religious academy in Damascus. I began to write a book about my time in Yemen — about the mosques and the reading circles that formed after prayer and the dangerous religious feeling that sometimes grew around them.

At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, I wrote a few articles from Damascus, then returned to Vermont in the summer of 2012. Just as the Islamists were beginning to assert their authority in Syria, I began pitching articles to editors in London and New York about the religious issues underlying the conflict. By now, I could recite many important Quranic verses from memory, and I was fluent enough in Arabic to pass for a native. But these qualifications mattered little. The editors didn’t know me; few bothered to reply. Perhaps, I thought, if I wrote from Syria itself, or from a Turkish town on the border, I’d have better luck. On Oct. 2, 2012, I arrived in Antakya, Turkey, where I rented a modest room that I shared with a young Tunisian. I tried pitching the editors again. Still nothing. I began to despair of publishing anything and cast about for something else to do....

I spent my afternoons in Antakya walking up a mountain on the outskirts of the city and looking across into Syria. By this time, despite its aggressive bombing campaign against the opposition and the civilian population, President Bashar al-Assad’s military government was losing ground. The international community condemned Assad for his actions against civilians, but none that joined in the censure, including the United States, intervened militarily. On TV, Islamic preachers railed against the Syrian government: Those who helped it would have their flesh cut into bits, then fed to the dogs. The government, for its part, warned that in areas of the country under opposition control, fanatical Islamists, possibly in the pay of the Israelis, were sneaking in from Iraq and Libya. The main opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, founded by former Assad generals and considered moderate by many in the West, had taken over the two most important border crossings north of Aleppo....

My experience in Arab countries ought to have given me pause. After I published my Yemen book, I changed my name from Theo Padnos to Peter Theo Curtis, worried that the book might make reporting from the Middle East difficult. I knew how Westerners were often viewed. But I had done all my studying under the eye of military governments, in places where the secret police listened to every word uttered in every mosque. I had never set foot in a region where only a militant Islam held sway. Things are different in such places. Almost immediately, I fell into a trap.

One afternoon in Antakya, I met three young Syrians. They seemed a bit shifty, but not, as far as I could tell, more militantly Islamic than anyone else. “Our job is to bring stuff from here to the Free Syrian Army,” they told me. They offered to take me with them. Thinking I’d be back in a few days, I told no one, not even my Tunisian roommate, where I was going.

We slipped through a barbed-wire fence in the middle of an olive grove. I looked back toward Turkey. So far, so good. My Syrian friends led me to an abandoned house that I could use as a kind of field office. The next morning, I helped the young men straighten up the place, cleaning the floors and arranging pillows in an orderly row on a rubber mattress. They sat me down in front of a video camera and asked me to interview one of them, Abu Osama. When we were done, the cameraman smiled, walked across the room and kicked me in the face. His friends held me down. Abu Osama stomped on my chest, then called out for handcuffs. Someone else bound my feet. The cameraman aimed a pistol at my head. 

“We’re from Al Tanzeem Al Qaeda,” Abu Osama said, grinning. 

“You didn’t know?” He told me I would be killed within the week if my family didn’t provide the cash equivalent of a quarter kilogram of gold — which the kidnappers thought was about $400,000 but was actually closer to $10,000 — the sum to which he was entitled, he said, by the laws of Islam.

[parag. 23] Despite the video and the ransom demands, these kidnappers were amateurs. That night, I slipped out of the handcuffs that attached me to one of the sleeping men. In the soft sunlight of the Syrian dawn, I sprinted past walls covered in graffiti, through a cemetery and over a median strip, then stopped a passing minibus.Take me to the Free Syrian Army right away,” I said. “This is an emergency.” 

When I arrived at the F.S.A. headquarters, I appealed to the officers in the most desperate terms. They argued a bit among themselves, then took me to an Islamic court, where a judge questioned me and remanded me to a cell that had been converted from a Turkish toilet. There were prisoners in the cells on either side of me.... 

Ten minutes later, the F.S.A. officers returned, accompanied by my kidnappers, and I was trundled into a car and taken to an F.S.A. safe house. There I was placed in a hole in the ground. Was I six feet below the surface? Only three? I didn’t know. Officers threw dirt on me, laughing and shouting insults. Someone jumped down and landed on my chest. Someone else beat me with the butt of his Kalashnikov. One officer insisted that I reply to his questions by yelling out, “I am filth, sir!”

A few days later, the F.S.A. transferred me to a group of Islamists, and I had my first lesson in how to distinguish Islamist fighters from the Free Syrian Army: The fundamentalists think of themselves as the vanguard of an emergent Islamic state. They torture you more slowly, with purpose-specific instruments. You never address them as “sir,” because this reminds everyone of the state’s secular military. When the Islamists torture you, they prefer to be addressed by a title that implies religious learning. For the younger fighters, “ya sheikhi!” (“o, my sheikh!”); for the older ones, “emir.”

The F.S.A., it turned out, had given me to the Nusra Front, or Jebhat al Nusra, which was using the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo as a headquarters and a prison....

When the emirs came to my cell, they often stood in a semicircle over my mattress, muttered among themselves, dropped a candy wrapper or a used tissue on the floor, spit and then left without saying a word.
 
One afternoon during the first week of my imprisonment, a group of younger fighters gathered in my cell. I was in handcuffs and lying with my face to the wall, as an interrogator had instructed....

The leader — I’m not sure who it was, I couldn’t see carried a heavy stick and a cattle prod. As I lay there, he hit me across the back of the head, then strolled around the room reciting prayers. When I heard his footsteps, I raised my hands to protect my head. In a deadened voice, he would say, “Bring your hands down.” I would remove my hands. He would thwack me across the back of the head. Instinctively, my hands would return to my head. He would shock me with the cattle prod. The electricity jerked my body about. My hands would end up on my chest. He would hit me again....

Every morning, as I was led in a blindfold and cuffs to the toilet, they spat at me and slapped me across the head and shoulders....

When religious authorities or higher-ranking Nusra Front members — anyone with bodyguards — came by my cell, I sometimes recited verses from the Quran. These were verses that I loved, and the visitors seemed pleased. But the net result of these recitations was . . . nothing. Eventually, one of the more educated guards explained to me that as a Christian and an American, I was his enemy. Islam compelled him to hate me.

“Does it really?” I asked.

Yes, he said. America had killed at least one million Muslims in Iraq. Anyway, the Quran forbade amicable relations: "O you who believe!" this guard would recite. Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them.”...

It was January 2013 when the prison administration began offering me the opportunity to convert to Islam. Every day, the guards preached to me and recited the Quran. In Arabic, you don’t convert to Islam, you “submit” to it. Ya, Bitar” (“O, Peter”), the fighters would say, “why haven’t you submitted yet?” For a while, I thought that if I submitted, my life would improve, but I soon learned that even conversion would not help me....

I had stopped being surprised when Nusra Front commanders introduced their 8-year-old sons to me by saying, “He will be a suicide martyr someday, by the will of God.” The children participated in the torture sessions. Around the prisons, they wore large pouches with red wires sticking out of them — apparently suicide belts — and sang their “destroy the Jews, death to America” anthems in the hallways. It would be a mistake to assume that only Syrians are educating their children in this manner. The Nusra Front higher-ups were inviting Westerners to the jihad in Syria not so much because they needed more foot soldiers — they didn’t — but because they want to teach the Westerners to take the struggle into every neighborhood and subway station back home. They want these Westerners to train their 8-year-olds to do the same. Over time, they said, the jihadists would carve mini-Islamic emirates out of the Western countries, as the Islamic State had done in Syria and Iraq. There, Western Muslims would at last live with dignity, under a true Quranic dispensation."...(14 parags. from end)

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7 among Oct. 2014 comments at NY Times

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Tom Miller: "One thing is clear: Western forces will never resolve the deep conflicts which exist in the Middle East, many of which are our making."....

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H.M.: "What struck me was how members of the FSA cooperated with members of the Nusra Front, lending no help whatsoever to Mr. Padnos. In fact, FSA members returned Mr. Padnos to his captors. Let's not forget how vocal Senator McCain has been in his urging the US to arm the FSA. President Obama's reluctance to join cause with the FSA seems reasonable in light of what Mr. Padnos writes."...

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Anonymous: "Formerly secular Syria, where hospitality was endemic and Westerners were warmly welcomed, has also been kidnapped by these jihadists who fight amongst themselves like children. Clearly we are supporting the perpetuation of this endless conflict by training and funding the F.S.A., which is no different from any of the others." 

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DS, Montreal: "I don't want to sound judgmental because I myself work in what is considered to be a dangerous place, but come on! Walking alone along the Syrian border, in the heart of the conflict, a white person, an American, in other words, a target personified, really, you have to wonder at not only your motives, but your mental stability. You seem like a man in search of a story and willing to take the most horrendous risks to get it. I don't want to minimize your suffering, obviously you went through a horrible time, nothing justifies that, but you almost courted the danger and the risk."

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Rick Meissner, Fairfax, Calif.: "I keep finding myself looking for a root to this insanity of Jihad. The one place it's found in this article is the ongoing raising and brainwashing of children who innocently born into this world become weapons."...

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Sonia, Texas: "I learned more about the players in reading Padnos' piece than I have from numerous articles in the Times and elsewhere."...

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CM Hughes, NY, NY: "His story brings home the fact that the Western way of life does not fly in Syria or in other parts of the Middle East, nor does our sense of right and wrong. Although I do not condone the violence, I do wish we would leave these groups unto themselves to hash it out instead of trying to intervene in these senseless conflicts. As an American, it is important for me to know that I am hated in some parts of the world and if I choose to travel to parts of the Middle East, it's at my own risk. Thank you Mr. Padnos. I'm truly sorry for what you went through, but truly glad for the story you wrote."


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