What I am trying to say is that I no longer care who is lying about what. My underlying sympathies are Jewish. I can’t help it. The deepest levels of emotional identification are set in infancy. So I want a Jewish woman to marry me. Then perhaps I can engender a child or two and die happy. And the rest of you can carry on with the political research, cos I don’t care. I shall live in Jayloomia with my wife and delve amidst the ruined palaces of the ten kings (who are no more, fortunately). Doubtless all the actually existing Israeli governments are nothing but camouflaged GOGs, Goyish Occupation Governments, not ZOGs at all – RB
As in Libya, Avaaz Campaigns for Syria No-Fly Zone That Even Top Generals Oppose
John Hanrahan, ExposeFacts.org, Apr 11 2016
I worry sometimes that when people say ‘impose a no-fly zone,’ there is this almost antiseptic view that this is an easily accomplished military task. It’s extraordinarily difficult. Having overseen imposing a no-fly zone in Libya, a force that is vastly inferior in air forces and air defenses to that which exists in Syria, it’s a pretty high-risk operation. We should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.
– Gen (Retd) Carter Ham, former head of AFRICOM (Source: CBS ‘News’)
It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter. … I know it sounds stark, but what I always tell people when they talk to me about a no-fly zone is (that) it’s basically to start a war with that country, because you are going to have to go in and kinetically take out their air defense capability.
— Gen P Breedlove, current SACEUR & chief of EUCOM (Source: Stars & Stripes)
In 2012, then-JCoS Dempsey told the White House that imposing a no-fly zone in Syria, in the NYT’s paraphrase, “would require as many as 70,000 Pindosi servicemen to dismantle Syria’s sophisticated anti-aircraft system and then impose a 24-hour watch over the country.” (Source: NYT)
Readers of the national edition of the Jun 18 2015 NYT were greeted with a dramatic full-page ad featuring a photo of an apparently injured baby fitted with a breathing device and being tended to by a partially visible adult beneath a big bold-type headline:
PRESIDENT OBAMA, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
A partial picture of the ad can be found here. In smaller type, under the picture of the baby and the adult, was the message:
Trapped and under chemical attack, the Syrian people are desperate for help.
And below that, in slightly smaller type again, was the risky military operation that the ad’s sponsors wanted the reluctant President to undertake, to wit:
A majority of Pindosis support a No-Fly Zone in Syria to save lives and 1,093,775 people around the world [in an on-line petition] are calling for action now.
The online petition cited in the ad also has an urgent headline calling for a “Safe zone for Syrians now!” The body of the petition demands the establishment of an “air-exclusion zone in Northern Syria, including Aleppo, to stop the bombardment of Syria’s civilians and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches those most in need.” The petition, slightly different from the NYT ad, was addressed not only to Obama but also to Erdogan, Hollande, Cameron “and other world leaders.” It’s not surprising to see such an expensive ad in the current political climate, in which Syrian war fever has seized much of the Pindo political establishment. The Empress of the Galaxy to be, Hillary Clinton, along with every neocon, humanitarian interventionist and chickenhawk in creation has at the very least, called for a no-fly zone in northern Syria as part of a greater Pindosi military involvement to remove Assad. What stood out about this ad wasn’t so much the neocon-like call to action, which could entail even more Pindosi and western military air bombardments, as well as additional displacement and death for civilians, but rather the ad’s sponsors. This ad wasn’t the product of a gaggle of bellicose Thugs from Texas, or acolytes of Brookings mega-hawk Michael O’Hanlon, or even supporters of regime-change advocate Hillary Clinton, offering one of their bold, armchair-military solutions to the many-sided complex Middle East conflict. Rather, the ad and its supporting online petition were the handiwork of the Internet phenomenon, activist organization Avaaz.org.
With the staggering claimed number of 43.1-million members in 194 countries as of mid-Mar 2016 (anyone who has ever signed an Avaaz petition is considered by the organization to be a member), the NYC-based Avaaz is easily the largest and most influential Internet-based, international advocacy organization on the planet. Having myself signed many Avaaz petitions over the years, I am counted as one of those 43 million. Avaaz,which means “voice” or “song” in
many languages Farsi, was started in 2006 and officially launched in 2007 by MoveOn.org Civic Action and the little-known group Res Publica. With initial significant financial backing from Georg Soros and his Open Society Foundations, then called Open Society Institute (OSI), and some bloggers allege, continuing influence from him, Avaaz has grown at a mind-boggling pace each year. Since 2011, it has expanded six-fold to its current membership of almost 43-million. The second article, below, will provide more background on the organization, its key issues, its founders and current officials, and funding sources. Although widely regarded as liberal to progressive in its campaigns, Avaaz stands alone on the ‘left’ (RB) as the one major online activist organization to call for an escalation of the Pindosi military role in Syria, just as before that it was alone on the ‘left’ in 2011 in campaigning successfully for a no-fly zone for Libya, with subsequent disastrous consequences for that country. More about this also in the second piece. For this article, we submitted a series of questions to Avaaz media personnel, with an emphasis on obtaining specifics as to its rationale for its support for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria. These questions included why the organization had not informed its members of the warnings (cited above)made by top Pindo generals and other experts about the potential dangers to civilians and military personnel inherent in the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria. After requests (and reminders) on five occasions in November, December and January, we finally received a response on Feb 11, but that addressed only a few of our specific questions. The organization ignored our question as to why Avaaz had not presented petition-signers with the potential dangers of a Syrian no-fly zone that the prominent generals had warned of. Our follow-up questions, submitted on Feb 12, have gone unanswered. What Avaaz spox N Greenberg did tell us is this:
When it comes to Syria, millions of Avaaz members have repeatedly over the last six years demonstrated that they believe the world has an obligation to protect civilians in Syria as well as those who have fled the country as refugees. In addition to Avaaz members calling for a targeted no-fly zone back in spring of 2015, Avaaz members have called for diplomacy, negotiations and ceasefire as well as raising over a million dollars for the victims inside and outside Syria and volunteering to house and support refugees displaced by this war. Avaaz and signers of its no-fly zone petition see every human life as equally precious and deserving of protection. At the time of the Syria no-fly zone campaign, a majority of our membership (actually, a majority of a random sample of 10,000 Avaaz members, not a majority of its entire ‘membership’, which itself is an open set – RB) supported the call for a targeted no-fly zone in northern Syria. But there were deep questions and concerns brought up by other members of the Avaaz movement that we did not ignore. A FAQ Q&A was written to go along with the campaign, which you can find here, which spoke to many of their questions and I think addresses the heart of yours. To be clear, this was written by the Avaaz Campaign Director who developed this campaign (John Napier Tye) and is his personal perspective, which is why he signed it. It is not a statement from the Avaaz community.
What exactly those last two sentences of Avaaz’s statement mean is anyone’s guess. Someone ostensibly speaking for the organization is really speaking only for himself? The buck stops with John Tye and not with executive director Ricken Patel and others in the Avaaz hierarchy? Curiously, the Q&A link cited above was disabled sometime in March, and no longer worked as of this writing. Tye himself is a former State Dept official who upon leaving the agency in Apr 2014 filed a whistleblower complaint. The NYT reported that the complaint alleged that the NSA’s practices abroad, under Reagan’s EO 12333 permitting them to gather and use Pindosi citizens’ communications overseas, violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. While at the State Dep from 2011-2014, Tye “worked on Internet freedom issues and had TS clearance.” Unlike Edward Snowden, Tye wrote an op-ed for the WaPo, claiming that he had gone through channels in making his complaint, and had not disclosed any classified information. Greenberg’s response did not address my questions about the generals’ warnings about a no-fly zone in Syria. Instead she stated:
As with all of our campaigns, the emails about this campaign included links to articles with multiple viewpoints to support deliberative discussion of the issue and provide resources for members to fact check and do more research on their own.
I found no link in the Avaaz materials to any article quoting the generals or other critics of imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. Nor did I see even a generic statement suggesting this is a controversial issue that might merit further research before an Avaaz member would consider signing. Avaaz’s activities regarding Syria have gone far beyond petitions calling for a no-fly zone. In 2011-2012 (and perhaps beyond), Avaaz interjected itself into the Syrian conflict in a controversial manner not usually associated with online activism, by spiriting several dozen western journalists in and out of Syria, helping rescue trapped journalists and other civilians, smuggling in medical supplies, training and then providing “citizen journalists” with cameras to document Syrian government forces’ war crimes, and serving as a major conduit of war information from inside Syria to western journalists outside the country. Simon van Zuylen-Wood reported:
Avaaz’s Wissam Tarif, a Lebanese activist, helped smuggle medical supplies into Syria, as well as more than 35 western journalists. … He also oversaw the training of ordinary Syrians who subsequently re-entered their country to report on what was going on. As Syria became increasingly dangerous and difficult to penetrate, Western journalists came to rely ever more on Avaaz’s daily e-mail briefings, which compiled information from 200 such Syrian ‘citizen journalists.’
Several hundred reporters were reportedly receiving Avaaz’s email briefings at the time, putting the organization in the unique position of being the major source of anti-regime news and propaganda coming out of Syria. For example, as NPR’s Deborah Amos reported:
Avaaz’s ‘citizen journalists’ provided casualty figures that many media organizations, as well as UN officials, relied on to track the violence inside the country.
Amos reported in Mar 2012:
Avaaz has given crucial support to the uprising and the Syrian activist networks that aim to topple the regime.
Amos’s piece raised the question of whether Avaaz had overstepped its role by engaging in operations in which a large number of Syrian activists had been killed (as many as 23, Avaaz’s executive director Ricken Patel subsequently said). Amos’s report appeared in Feb 2012, shortly after Avaaz announced that it had coordinated the rescue of British photographer Paul Conroy of the London Sunday Times, who had been wounded when government security forces attacked the Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs. Two journalists, Marie Colvin also of the London Sunday Times and French photographer Remi Ochlik, were killed in the attack. Conroy was evacuated by his rescuers to Lebanon. Thirteen Syrian activists were initially reported killed in the rescue operation, and Patel told the BBC at the time:
Seven activists were arrested by government forces and then shot in the back of the head with their hands tied behind their backs.
The Avaaz press release on the rescue said:
This operation was carried by Syrians with the help of Avaaz. No other agency was involved.
(But this was) a claim that Avaaz would later have to retract. Around the same time, in another interview with BBC Radio 4 PM, Patel stated that more than 50 Syrian activists had agreed to participate in the rescue operation, and 23 of them had been killed, a slightly higher number than initially cited. In that interview, Patel asserted that repeated attacks on the Homs media center by Assad’s forces were “targeted assassinations” of journalists, and he contended that either the Russians or Iranians, most likely the Russians, “were coordinating these atrocities.” When asked for evidence, Patel said:
There is a drone constantly positioned over Baba Amr, conducting surveillance of the area. To our certain knowledge, the Syrians have not been able to build a drone themselves, nor do they own one, so it’s got to be coming from Russia or from Iran, actually coordinating these atrocities. I would assume it’s Russian-operated, because the Russians are providing large amounts of military assistance to Assad. Common sense would suggest there is some sort of cooperation going on, and the Russians have to know the Syrians are targeting citizens and civilians.
Zuylen-Wood subsequently challenged Avaaz’s initial claim of being the sole coordinator of the Conroy rescue, and got Patel to back off to correct both his earlier statement and the Avaaz press release. Patel said that he and Avaaz had made an honest mistake in the confusion and chaos of the rescue and that the FSA “played a significant role” in the operation, albeit with substantial planning, input and backing from Avaaz. Although guilty of hyping the credit, Avaaz in its back-and-forth with the New Republic certainly showed that it had indeed played an important part in the rescue operation. Whether this was an appropriate role for an activist organization is another question. Amos’s NPR piece raised the issue, stating:
It seems that after the deaths of so many Syrian activists in the operation, Avaaz has crossed a line, not just a border.
For her report, Amos interviewed Randa Slim of the New America Foundation a specialist in the Syrian opposition, who said:
I am not questioning their motives, but lives are at stake. Are they the right entity to do it? Is an NGO the right outlet?
Answering press criticism at the time and giving an indication of its success in getting the opposition’s view of the Syrian conflict to western journalists, Avaaz stated:
We are proud of 18 months of outstanding work by our staff and our community to support the voices of the Syrian people to reach the world in thousands of news articles assisted by citizen journalists we have supported or helped connect to the media. … Our community has donated almost $3m for communications equipment, humanitarian aid and advocacy, and taken millions of actions including petition signatures, messages, phone calls and advocacy visits to press governments to take action to support the Syrian people.
It is not clear whether Avaaz has continued to provide the same sort of on-the-ground assistance to opposition forces and civilians as it was offering a few years ago, although it indicated at the time that it would continue such activities. At first blush, the petition advocating for a Syria no-fly zone was a jolt to those not familiar with Avaaz’s swing toward “humanitarian” military action in recent years. It seemed surprising, because Avaaz has on other occasions called for negotiated peaceful solutions to various conflicts, including in Syria itself, and has been substantially in sync with other major progressive organizations on scores of Pindosi and international issues in its nine years of existence. Based on the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of Avaaz petitions I have seen over the years and in preparation for this article, I had assumed that the organization adhered to a basic principle of non-violence in international affairs, and it has even said so on occasion. But as one person who has had close connections to Avaaz noted to me, Avaaz does not rule out the use of military force, as its no-fly zone advocacy for Libya and Syria amply demonstrate.
On its website homepage, Avaaz does not have an out-front display of its past campaign for a no-fly zone in Libya and its current one in Syria, and does not ever mention the ongoing disaster in Libya, or its support for a no-fly zone there. Rather, it focuses its out-front materials on its multitude of campaigns that involve non-violent, political, diplomatic and public relations remedies. And even allowing for organizational self-hype, Avaaz has an impressive record of advocacy. Through its petitions, street actions, billboards and newspaper ads, Avaaz has been highly visible on hundreds of issues worldwide including Plastelinan rights, support for Pindosi. government whistleblowers including Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, campaigns for endangered species etc. This is after all an organization that played a major role along with 350.org and other activist groups in organizing the massive People’s Climate March in NYC in Sep 2014 (which achieved shit – RB); it was also an organizer of the Global Climate March that was to coincide with the opening last November of the UN Climate Change Conference in France. That march was blocked by the French government. Most if not all of Avaaz’s campaigns seem right in line with current day activism of various groupings on the political (so-called) Left. Even on Syria, an Avaaz campaign urging Pindostan to take in more refugees is in a more traditional humanitarian vein that doesn’t involve military hardware. Typical was Avaaz’s full-back-page colour ad in the Mar 10 2016 Politico headlined:
IT TAKES BIG HANDS (and a Bigger Heart) TO WELCOME 25,000 SYRIAN REFUGEES.
The ad praised Canadian PM J Trudeau for “showing the world what it means to have a giant heart,” through Canada’s acceptance and resettlement of 25,000 refugees in the previous four months, “while Pindostan debates the size of candidates’ hands.” The ad urged Obama and the gang to “show the world the size of our hearts, not our hands.” Also recently, in Feb 2016 more than 749,000 people signed an Avaaz petition that called on members of the Euro Parliament (MEPs), leaders of UKUSA, Canada, Germany and France to “suspend all arms deals with the Toads until they end their assaults in Yemen and begin a genuine peace process.” The campaign included targeting MEPs with phone calls and personal messages. It won a major success when the European Parliament voted on Feb 25 “for an embargo on arms sale to the Toads” after a UN report documenting 119 violations of international law by the Toads in Yemen. Because EU states are not bound by the parliament (a menagerie which has no power or importance whatsoever – RB), Avaaz is continuing the campaign to get the Euro & Pindo govts to follow the European Parliament’s lead. Avaaz’s repeat advocacy for no-fly zones, first in Libya and now in Syria, seems way out of sync with progressive thought and also with most other Avaaz campaigns, and much more in line with neocon and “humanitarian interventionist” regime-change advocates.
The organization’s renewed campaign in the spring of 2015 for a Syrian no-fly zone was no sudden philosophical switch by Avaaz. In fact, as noted earlier, Avaaz had in 2011 campaigned for a no-fly zone in since-devastated Libya, and then turned its attention to a no-fly zone for Syria. It continued that Syrian effort in 2013-2014, while at the same time pushing forObama to get together with Iran’s Pres Rouhani to work out a diplomatic solution. That diplomacy petition netted 1,126,000 signers. This diplomatic approach seemed more in line with what progressive individuals and organizations could get behind. But with no such diplomatic talks forthcoming, Avaaz then continued with its no-fly zone strategy. Even in calling for negotiations, as well as in points raised in its online advocacy for a no-fly zone, Avaaz has regularly repeated a now-questionable allegation against the Syrian government made on numerous occasions by Jackass and Obama, which they used as a justification for war when it appeared that they was going to launch a bombing campaign against Syria in Sep 2013. The allegation was that Assad’s forces had used sarin gas on the civilian population near Damascus in Aug 2013. This charge that Assad was using chemical weapons on his own people has provided a continuing emotional selling-point for Avaaz and other interventionists in the campaign for upping the military ante against the Assad regime. The message accompanying the Avaaz diplomacy petition stated:
Right now, the global drums of war are beating over Syria, but if enough of us make sure Rouhani and Obama know the world wants bold diplomacy, we could end the nightmare for thousands of terrified Syrian children under gas attacks. We have no time to lose.
The Obama administration has offered no evidence to back up its early claims that Assad gassed his own people in Aug 2013. Recent disclosures in Turkey provide evidence that strongly suggest it was not Assad’s military that carried out the sarin gas attack. Robert Parry recently wrote:
There is growing evidence that it was a Jihadi group, possibly with the help of Turkish intelligence, that staged the outrage as a provocation to draw the Pindosi military into the conflict against Syria by creating the appearance that Assad had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’ on using chemical weapons.
The sarin gas attack, it should be recalled, came at a very tense time when Obama was considering military action against Assad, and seemed in the eyes of many hawks to provide final justification for attacking Syria and removing Assad from power. Ray McGovern’s VIPS group, in a Dec 22 2015 ‘memorandum’ to Jackass and Lavrov, noted comments made in the Turkish Parliament 12 days earlier by one Eren Erdem of the Republican People’s Party. In his remarks in Parliament, and four days later in an RT television interview, Erdem confronted the Turkish government on its possible role in the sarin gas issue. He cited a closed criminal case, official reports and electronic evidence documenting a sarin gas smuggling operation that was allegedly carried out with Turkish government complicity. In the RT interview, according to the VIPS ‘memorandum’:
Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them. The General Prosecutor in Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated ‘chemical weapons components’ from Europe ‘were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.’ Erdem cited evidence implicating the Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.
This bombshell piece of information, largely ignored by the mainstream news media, is a strong indication that the original sarin gas story linking the chemical attack to Assad’s forces is either false or at best unproven. This information undercuts one of the major tear-jerkers (RB) for Avaaz’s campaign for a no-fly zone, as well as the rationale repeatedly voiced by other advocates of overt military action. Gassing your own people is about as low as you can get (unless you are the Pentagon, in which case you can do it and in 50 years it will appear in the NYT as a tale of abuses long past – RB). It’s a powerful piece of propaganda that provides a clinching bit of information to someone considering whether or not to sign something like the Avaaz no-fly zone petition. Since the mainstream media have ignored the Turkish Parliamentarian’s disclosures, it’s a safe bet that most of the petition signers to this day harbour no doubts about the source of the sarin gas attack. No-one in the Obama administration, much less Avaaz or other no-fly zone advocates, has ever publicly offered any contrary information to suggest it might not have been Assad who unleashed the attack. The shaky nature of the sarin gas allegation is one of the areas about which ExposeFacts queried Avaaz further, but we have received no response to date.
Among our unanswered questions submitted to Avaaz were ones noting that the organization’s Syria petitions and accompanying supporting materials made no mention of the warnings by top Pindosi generals cited earlier of the dangers inherent in establishing a no-fly zone there, including risking drastically expanding that bloody, many-sided war and thereby endangering civilians. Without any indication of such dangers, potential petition signers could very easily get the idea that there is little down-side to a no-fly zone. And, after all, if lives could be saved and there is little downside, isn’t that a course of action every compassionate human being could get behind? Especially if the organization calling for it has built up trust with its members through its hundreds of other liberal and progressive petitions? Also, in information provided by Avaaz in its emails to members and on its website relating to its Syria no-fly zone petition, there was no mention of Libya, or any explanation of what Avaaz leaders thought, in retrospect, about the chaos, death, destruction, displacement and rise of ISIS there in the aftermath of the military intervention by NATO including its use of a no-fly zone. (Or, more recently, what Avaaz might think of news reports that Pindostan is going back into Libya with airstrikes and commando raids to counter ISIS, which did not exist in Libya until after the NATO bombing campaign and the killing of Gaddafi. Surely, you would think that the experience in Libya would limit an organization’s willingness to push once again for a no-fly zone, this time in Syria. Yet, despite that ongoing disaster in Libya, Avaaz was apparently not chastened. See the second article for an in-depth discussion of Avaaz’s advocacy for no-fly zone in Libya. As with our other questions, Avaaz did not answer whether the Libya experience made the organization’s leaders think twice about taking up the Syria no-fly zone issue. It was possibly obscurely referencing the Libya no-fly zone when it stated to us:
Much of what you’re asking for are reflection on past campaigns given the geopolitical landscape today. But based on the way we work, I cannot tell you how any Avaaz member would feel today about a past campaign without going back and asking them.
Our follow-up question made it clear that we were not asking how any Avaaz member might feel about the Libya campaign, but rather how Avaaz’s leaders felt about proposing a no-fly zone for Syria when the Libya enterprise had turned out so disastrously. Regardless of the sincerity of petition-signers who believe no-fly zones can save civilians’ lives, the recent history in Iraq and Libya demonstrate that no-fly zones are actually precursors to or accompanists of stepped-up military action by Pindostan and other western jackal states to bring about regime change. And many of those signing the Libya and Syria petitions, having developed trust in Avaaz after signing some of the organization’s previous, meritorious petitions, are inclined to accept Avaaz’s version of events and the benign explanation that a no-fly zone poses little risk and will save thousands of civilians’ lives. But whatever humanitarian clothes you dress it up in, establishing a no-fly zone using air power is by its very nature a provocative act, an act of war, a threat to a sovereign nation, no matter how reprehensible that nation’s government might be. It is one thing for an activist organization to push its members in support of a diplomatic solution, or to provide food, shelter and other humanitarian assistance to civilian war victims; it is quite another to buy into a dubious no-fly zone notion, which actual generals, not humanitarian armchair generals, warn would involve the deaths of multitudes of civilians. Yet in its petition and accompanying materials on Syria, Avaaz gives little hint that a no-fly zone is a move toward an expanded war and likely even more displacement and death for civilians. Instead it appeals to people’s humanitarian instincts and downplays the risk to both civilians and military personnel.
Typical of the emotional appeal to members’ humanitarian instincts was a Sep 30 2015 Avaaz posting that pressed the urgency of a no-fly zone, even with the Russians having recently entered the air war in Syria in support of Assad’s government. On the basis of just one eyewitness to an alleged Russian bombing of civilian neighbourhoods, near Homs, Avaaz said this makes the further case for a no-fly zone. The Sep 30 posting, in line with Avaaz’s general practice of casting the Russians as the arch-villains in the war in Syria, was headlined “Russian bombing of Syrian civilian neighbourhoods kills women and children – eyewitness,” and quoted Emma Ruby-Sachs, deputy director of Avaaz (a Jewish voice at last, how nice – RB), thus:
Russia says it’s bombing ISIS, but eyewitnesses say their brutal attacks targeted areas way outside of ISIS control. This will only sow instability and radicalization and should be a wake-up call to Pindostan and its allies to enforce a targeted no-fly zone to save lives, counter ISIS and alleviate the refugee crisis. Syrian civilians need protection now, not further attacks from Russian bombs.
Maybe, everything in this posting is true: that Russian planes bombed a bakery and a vegetable market, killing four children and two women. But we are asked to accept this on the word of just one person. We are also asked to accept that neither ISIS nor other anti-regime units operated in the area, on the basis of the one eyewitness who is apparently quoting local residents. We are also asked to believe that this is conclusive justification for going full speed ahead with a no-fly zone, even though the Russians might not want to give up Syrian air space without a fight, and possibly send the ongoing disaster in Syria into a whole new dimension of slaughter (WW3, goody goody – RB). Despite the lies and propaganda emitting from all of the many sides in the Syrian conflict, despite the uncertainties of just who is bombing whom in some situations, Avaaz sticks to its narrative that the Syrian regime and its Russian partners are virtually alone in endangering civilians, and that a no-fly zone is somehow going to make all that right, without posing much of a problem really. The possibility that a no-fly zone could increase the likelihood of a direct Pindo-Russian confrontation and an even wider war was apparently not part of Avaaz’s equation. How the no-fly zone would counter ISIS is not explained, since ISIS does not have an air force, but Avaaz presents it and its claims of saving lives and easing the refugee crisis as some sort of sure thing. Stephen Wrage, a professor at the Pindosi Naval Academy, and Scott Cooper, a retired Marine Corps aviator now at HRW, make the point that a no-fly zone in Syria would fail in its mission to protect civilians. They wrote last October in (something boyishly called) Defense One, in an article entitled The History of No-Fly Zones Doesn’t Bode Well for Syria:
If the no-fly zone is a humanitarian instrument aimed at saving innocents … it will not be effective, because it cannot separate the killers from their victims. Saddam and Qaddafi were constrained by geography, by the Zagros Mountains and the Libyan Desert, respectively. Assad’s forces, now protected by Russian air cover, would have no difficulty reaching the people he intends to kill.
As noted in the introduction to this article (and repeated approximately every 20 lines since – RB), the nation’s leading generals
-no shrinking violets they- (shithead) have repeatedly warned over the last several years of the drastic consequences of establishing a no-fly zone in Syria. And all of these generals gave these warnings before Russian aircraft entered the fray. Unusually, the generals are presenting the real-world provocative implications of establishing a Syria no-fly zone, while Avaaz with its stated goal of protecting Syrian civilians presents a sugar-coated little-harm version, and its petition and related materials with their focus on the despicable Assad government’s violence against the civilian population, don’t take into account the violence against civilians by ISIS and other opponents of Assad’s regime. Near the end of each year, Avaaz, like other online organizations, asks people on its email list to weigh in on a self-generated organizational list of priorities for the coming year. In no year has that list of priorities included setting up no-fly zones in either Libya or Syria. The 2016 list of priorities, as voted on by members, includes a reference to peace in Syria, but no mention of a no-fly zone, stating:
Peace in Syria: campaign for the Syrian regime and all warring parties to stop brutal violence on innocent Syrian families, and ensure Syrian voices are heard in international peace talks.
On its home page and in messages sent periodically to members to report on the organization’s campaigns and accomplishments, the call for a no-fly zone is not included as one of its showcase items. Nevertheless, Avaaz keeps raising the issue in dramatic ways throughout the year. In an email sent to members last June, three days after publication of its NYT ad, Avaaz renewed its call for a no-fly zone, as it reported that a humanitarian worker had informed the organization that the “Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children.” Noting that a number of countries including UKUSA, Turkey and France were “seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria,” Avaaz added:
Advisors close to Pres Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in. … Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.
Avaaz said that the unnamed humanitarian worker told it (conspicuously unreal prose – RB):
I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks my heart forever.
Whatever the veracity of Avaaz’s source, and again it’s just one source at that moment, and whatever Avaaz’s good intentions, there is still that notion that setting up a no-fly zone is a walk in the park rather than a dangerous move toward a wider war. The sense of frustration in that Avaaz missive is palpable. People are being slaughtered as the world watches. Something must be done! We want action! Charles Glass wrote in the NYRB after a Sep 2015 trip to Syria:
The Report of the Independent International (UN) Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic paints a depressing portrait of the population’s unimaginable torment at the hands of government and opposition forces alike. The regime drops barrel-bombs in Aleppo and the rebels respond with gas canisters of explosives and shrapnel. ISIS rapes and brutalizes Yazidi women whom it has declared slaves to be bought and sold. The regime’s security forces practice torture on an industrial scale. Both sides besiege villages, and both sides commit massacres. The UN report’s forty-four pages of horrific war crimes should be sufficient for the outside powers to budge and call a halt to this war. What are they waiting for?
Unlike Avaaz’s posture of diplomacy and a no-fly zone, Glass was calling strictly for diplomacy, not escalation of the violence. He was seeing the civilian population suffering “at the hands of government and opposition forces alike.” Avaaz, unlike HRW on occasion, does not emphasize human rights abuses or killings of civilians by all forces involved in the Syrian fighting, concentrating instead on the abuses by Assad’s forces. In a 79-page report on Syria in Mar 2015, HRW concluded:
Opposition armed groups in Syria have indiscriminately attacked civilians in government-held territory with car bombs, mortars, and rockets. …The attacks have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure in violation of the laws of war. … It documents scores of attacks in heavily populated, government-controlled areas in Damascus and Homs between Jan 2012 and Apr 2014, and which continue into 2015. The findings are based primarily on victim and witness accounts, on-site investigations, publicly available videos, and information on social media sites. Many of the attacks were indiscriminate, were carried out in areas where there were no government forces, and seemed primarily intended to spread terror among the civilian population.
An earlier 2013 HRW report titled rather unwieldily Syria: Executions, Hostage-Taking by Rebels, Planned Attacks on Civilians Constitute Crimes Against Humanity, contained similar findings of abuses by opposition forces. This is not about who is the worst human-rights abuser or murderer of civilians, Assad or ISIS or the various other groupings of the opposition, but rather about what a trusted organization such as Avaaz tells its members in getting them to sign a petition aimed at halting a humanitarian crisis that involves the killing and maiming of civilians. By its singular focus on Assad’s military and its supporters as the sole killers and abusers of the civilian population, Avaaz is not being straight with its members. It is holding back key information that might make a potential signer think twice before opting for a military action that Avaaz is selling as a tactic that in its view would lessen a horrible humanitarian crisis. Also absent in Avaaz’s pitch for no-fly zone signatures is any note to members that its stated humanitarian-inspired stance puts it in the company of the neocons, Hillary Clinton and assorted congressional and think-tank war hawks who see a no-fly zone as part of a bigger military strategy to oust Assad from power. A no-fly zone, in the interventionists’ view, is a step toward this end, not an end in itself. People like Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Clinton ally and president of the Demagogue propaganda mill “New Pindostan”, who in an article last summer called as she has before for establishing a no-fly zone in Syria in order to save civilians’ lives. But that’s only the beginning. Slaughter, who was director of policy planning for the State Dept for two years under Clinton, writes:
(We have come to) the recognition that a new Syrian government is vital to defeat or even contain ISIS (of course! – RB).
While mentioning that civilians are also sometimes killed by rebels and ISIS too, Slaughter insists:
Assad represents the greater threat, and thus will have to be removed from power before attention can be focused on defeating ISIS.
Hillary Clinton makes basically the same argument (it’s not an argument – RB), and like Slaughter, she can’t really enlighten us as to what a successor Syrian government would look like. Avaaz is thus allied with those for whom a no-fly zone is a euphemism or stalking horse for regime change in Syria, regardless of the organization’s stated goal of protecting civilians and saving lives, and not of producing regime change. But as Adam Johnson put it in an here:
A no-fly zone would only be applied to Assad, because anti-Assad forces don’t have an air force. While it may sound like a simple humanitarian stopgap, and that’s no doubt how it’s being sold, literally every no-fly zone in history has eventually led to regime change. Which is fair enough, but those pushing for one should at least be honest about what this means: the active removal of Assad by foreign forces. Indeed, if one recalls the NATO intervention in Libya was originally sold as a no-fly zone to prevent a potential genocide, but within a matter of weeks, NATO leaders had pivoted to full-on regime change.
Johnson also makes the important point in reference to the picture late last summer of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian Kurdish refugee whose body washed up on a Turkish beach:
This boy and his family were not fleeing the Assad government’s bombing of cities. Rather, they were escaping ISIS and the Pindosi bombing of his home town of Kobani, far from anything the Assad government is doing. A no-fly zone would not have saved his home town.
Since Johnson wrote that, and since Avaaz’s dramatic NYT ad last June, the Russians entered the air war on the side of Assad and in opposition to rebel forces and ISIS. Although Russia announced its withdrawal from military action in Syria in mid-March, it is keeping in place “its powerful S-400 air defense system that would maintain Russian dominance of Syrian airspace.” This would mean that any Pindo/NATO effort to impose a no-fly zone would surely meet with Russian and Syrian resistance. So the questions for Avaaz and other advocates of a no-fly zone in Syria include: Are you thinking beyond a no-fly zone? If not, why not? Doesn’t it matter? What comes next or in conjunction with a no-fly zone? Ousting Assad? Replacing him with whom? How? Full-scale bombardments and drone strikes that somehow miraculously avoid killing masses of civilians, and that avoid triggering more killings by Assad’s forces? More special ops assassination missions? Those “boots on the ground” so beloved of armchair militarists everywhere? What if Turks & Toads invade Syria, as they have threatened to do? What happens in the fight against ISIS if Assad is out of the picture? What does Russia do? Does some miniscule crew of supposed Syrian moderates that Pindostan has identified take power, and ISIS just pauses while the new government organizes itself or rather is organized for it by the ever-helpful UKUSA and other enlightened western governments? What happens to Assad’s military? How will a no-fly zone affect not only government violence, but also ISIS violence, or other opposition violence, against civilians? And on and on. Shouldn’t the still-unfolding Libya tragedy make an organization like Avaaz a little gun-shy, so to speak, in calling for the same kind of policy in the even more complicated, confusing case of Syria, what with the Syrian military, various countries, the anti-Assad rebel opposition groups, ISIS and AQ and Nusra and their spin-off groups and Kurds and Assad loyalists all slugging it out to the death? In a Syrian war with atrocities on all sides, isn’t there something to be learned from the Libya experience, in which Gaddafi’s crimes were exaggerated to inflame the western public against his regime? As Patrick Cockburn wrote in Nov 2014:
(Human rights groups in Libya) discovered that there was no evidence for several highly-publicized atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces, that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in UKUSA, France and elsewhere (such as) the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops, which AI exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government. The majority of Libyans are demonstrably worse off today than they were under Gaddafi, notwithstanding his personality cult and authoritarian rule. The slaughter is getting worse by the month and is engulfing the entire country.
Writing more than a year later, the NYT wrote on Feb 29 2016:
Libya dissolved into chaos, leading to a civil war that would destabilize the region, fueling the refugee crisis in Europe and allowing ISIS to establish a Libyan haven that Pindostan is now desperately trying to contain.
Syria, of course, is not Libya. But there is a lesson there that “humanitarian interventionists” should learn. Although Avaaz has ignored most of our specific questions, it did last summer post on its website a “Syria NFZ Q&A” page in response to “thoughtful concerns” expressed by members that, according to Avaaz, boiled down to these main objections:
- Avaaz is relying on unverified news reports and has the facts wrong.
- Avaaz is pushing for more war in the Middle East.
- Avaaz is serving the imperial interests of western powers, notably Pindostan.
As noted earlier, the Q&A page was deleted sometime last month, and when you click on the above link you get a blank Avaaz page as of this writing. To this, I would again add, among other things, Avaaz completely ignoring or not even considering the warnings of top Pindo generals and other experts expressed earlier in this article. These warnings are not even mentioned in Avaaz’s Q&A, nor is there any mention of Avaaz’s previous disastrous “humanitarian” call (along with interventionists from across the political spectrum) for a no-fly zone in Libya. In response to the criticisms, the previously mentioned Avaaz campaign director and former State Dept official John Tye emphasized that his organization was only trying to save lives and was not seeking more war in the Middle East or doing the bidding of Pindosi or other imperial interests. Tye wrote that Avaaz had tried everything short of recommending military action to alleviate the plight of Syria’s civilians. He said:
More than 210,000 killed. Over 10 million people driven from their homes. More than half the country’s hospitals damaged or destroyed. Millions of children out of school. This is the worst refugee crisis since WW2. … the humanitarian disaster of our generation, and it continues to crush innumerable lives. … We supported civilians and non-violent activists to document human rights abuses, and gave millions of dollars for food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies and to put refugee children in school. We campaigned to stop arms dealers from sending weapons to the country, called for sanctions, and then urged the UN to help stop the fighting. More than a million of us from across the world called on Pindostan and Iran to come together to help craft a negotiated solution, and then once again we backed UN-sponsored negotiations. This community has worked for nearly four years to stop the war and help the needy, but the crisis continues and is spreading. (Having tried all these other forums and methods,) it is up to a community like ours to continue to look for legal ways to intervene to stop the carnage. (Rather than being) the deceitful ‘pre-emptive war’ doctrine advocated by neo-conservatives looking to remake and dominate the Middle East, (our call for a no-fly zone) is a very serious strategy made only after intensive consultation with diplomats, regional experts, and Syrians to save tens of thousands of civilians’ lives. After four years of brutal violence on all sides, the war in Syria will be extremely difficult to end. But a NFZ could help curb the violence and bring the warring parties into peace negotiations. Right now Assad has no incentive to negotiate peace. He believes he can continue exterminating his people until they submit. A NFZ will show Assad that the world will act to stop this carnage, and it will change Assad’s calculus. A NFZ will also provide a safe place for the Syrians who have been driven into extremists’ territory as they are fleeing from the regime’s terror. Lastly it would reinforce the international military campaign against ISIS. An NFZ that protects civilians in northern Syria could strengthen the conditions for a negotiated, political solution to the conflict.
Tye continued that the most common criticism of Avaaz is that it claims as fact certain allegations of Syrian government forces’ atrocities that had not been confirmed when Avaaz published them, such as Avaaz alleging chlorine gas attacks from the air killing civilians, when it lacked corroboration for the allegation. While acknowledging:
It continues to be difficult to independently and unequivocally confirm details on the ground in Syria, (but we know the Syrian military) have relied on non-chemical weapons dropped from aircraft to kill thousands upon thousands of civilians in northern Syria. Even if, contrary to current evidence, it somehow turns out that the Assad regime was not responsible for this recent chlorine attack, it is still the case that a no-fly zone in northern Syria would dramatically reduce civilian deaths.
As to the criticism from some Avaaz members that the organization is pushing for more war in Syria, Tye responded:
The answer is an unqualified ‘no’. Pindosi and allied aircraft are already patrolling airspace in northern Syria, as part of the Pindo-led anti-ISIS coalition, so a no-fly zone would not require significant new deployments. Bloodshed in Syria will continue with or without a no-fly zone, but a no-fly zone would dramatically decrease civilian casualties.
Tye is saying, take it from us that this is exactly how a no-fly zone would work out. Ignore those pesky generals who say otherwise, and I do mean ignore them. Do not let their warnings enter the Avaaz dialogue. Avaaz’s only acknowledgement of possible dangers comes in this one paragraph from Tye:
As with any military mission, a no-fly zone may endanger the pilots enforcing it, or Assad forces trying to break it. Those possibilities are real, but we know what will continue to happen until there is a no-fly zone. Weaponized chlorine bombs will fall on sleeping families, and near-daily barrel-bombing will continue over Aleppo. Thousands and thousands of people will die for years to come, if we turn away and wring our hands. … Prior efforts to put an end to this through diplomacy and sanctions have all failed. If nothing changes, another 100,000 could be killed this year alone.
Note again, there is no mention that a no-fly zone could and in Syria, likely would endanger not only Pindosi and NATO pilots and Assad’s forces, but the very civilians Avaaz says it wants to protect. Responding to comparisons to Pindosi involvement in Iraq, Tye said:
A no-fly zone over Syria is not the same as the disastrous war in Iraq. … This campaign for Syria is not invasion or regime change, it’s about protecting defenseless families.
As for one of the other criticisms, that Avaaz is serving Pindosi and western interests “to shape and exercise imperial ambitions in the Middle East,” Tye responded:
The answer again is a very definitive ‘no’. Our community regularly campaigns against morally unjustifiable foreign engagement in the Middle East, whether it be Israel’s brutal occupation of
PlastelinanArab lands or the Pindo and Eurostan rapprochement with a new tyrant in Egypt. We understand the tragic and often cynical legacy of foreign engagement in the MENA. (We understand that a no-fly zone) could conjure up images of Bush 43’s foreign policy and illegal Western interventions. This is a different thing. It must be an international effort, with a clear objective: the protection of civilians. And the states like Turks, Toads and UAE that have openly called for a no-fly zone, and the protection of civilian populations in Syria, must take the lead in providing resources to implement it. France’s Socialist government has also voiced strong support for a targeted no-fly zone. But, these governments won’t act without some support from Pindostan, which has the diplomatic and military resources to serve as coordinator for a limited period of time, until the safety of civilians is secured.
Finally, Tye said, Avaaz is a member organization and as such was responding to tens of thousands of Syrian members who were calling for a no-fly zone. It should be noted that Avaaz shows 54,000 members in Syria in a population of 23 million, which means that even if every Avaaz member supported a no-fly zone, this would still mean that only one of every 426 Syrians had “voted” for one. Nevertheless Tye concluded:
The Avaaz community has repeatedly stood behind the principle that defenseless civilian populations should be protected, and these tens of thousands of Syrian Avaaz members deserve no less.
It seems an odd notion that it is “Syrian Avaaz members” rather than Avaaz staffers in New York promulgating petitions for a no-fly zone who are somehow responsible for the direction of this campaign. Seriously? In its call for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria, Avaaz has turned the concept of progressive advocacy on its head and appears to be untrue to the direction it has followed in the overwhelming majority of its campaigns. Advocacy organizations should be about stopping wars, not asking their members to buy into a dubious military tactic for Syria that even leading army generals say “entails killing a lot of people (in) a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties,” for those very Syrian civilians that Avaaz argues it is trying to protect.
Avaaz Ignores Libya Lessons in Advocating for Syria No-Fly Zone
John Hanrahan, ExposeFacts.org, Apr 13 2016
A recent two-part series in the NYT laid out in detail the pivotal role that Hillary Clinton played in Obama’s decision to join in France and Britain’s 2011 military campaign against Gaddafi. The NYT articles make the case that Clinton bears a heavy part of the responsibility for the tragic, increasingly chaotic aftermath of that campaign in which Gaddafi was ousted and killed. As NYT summaries of the articles put it:
(At first,) Gaddafi’s fall seemed to vindicate Hillary Clinton. Then militias refused to disarm, neighbors fanned a civil war, and ISIS found refuge, (leaving Libya) a failed state and a terrorist haven.
While neocons, rightwingers and humanitarian interventionists were seeking regime change in Libya back in 2011, there was one NGO that was alone among progressive groups in mobilizing public opinion around the world in support of military action in Libya in the form of a no-fly zone. And this wasn’t just any organization, but the fast-growing online advocacy giant Avaaz.org, which in 2011 had 7 million members and today boasts 43.1-million members in 194 countries. As such, the NYC-based Avaaz is, as we noted in the previous article, the largest and most influential Internet-based, international advocacy organization on the planet. Through its members’ petitions and a full-page ad last June in the NYT, Avaaz has for the last few years been pushing for a no-fly zone in Syria, as have assorted neocons and hawks in congress and think-tanks who favour military operations to remove Assad from power. Hillary Clinton, unlike Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, is a staunch advocate for a no-fly zone and regime change in Syria. Like Clinton and other interventionists, Avaaz has not been chastened in its advocacy of a no-fly zone in Syria by what it wrought in Libya. Some of the same arguments for a no-fly zone that Avaaz made for Libya, it has made again over the last few years for Syria. As we noted in that earlier article, this ignores the fact that top Pindo generals have described a no-fly zone in Syria as a “high-risk operation … a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties,” civilian and military.
It’s instructive to examine Avaaz’s no-fly zone advocacy for Libya in 2011 to get a handle on the organization’s continued thinking that barring a diplomatic settlement growing out of a current tentative ceasefire in Syria, more war under the cover of humanitarian intervention would somehow save more civilians’ lives. In 2011, Avaaz submitted to a petition to the UNSC containing 1,202,940 signatures gathered on-line. 90% of those were collected in just two-days, Mar 15 to 17, when its reported membership was a more modest but still impressive, at seven million. And we now know what a sage piece of advocacy that was, as Libya experienced not only a no-fly zone but also bombardments by Pindo and NATO forces, the ousting and killing of Gadaffi, the rise of ISIS, the attack on the Pindo diplomatic mission in Benghazi and in the end, the flood of refugees from the chaotic, failed country that Libya is today. Even at the time Avaaz was gathering all those signatures, there were critics who wondered why a NYC-based NGO felt it had to stand up with neocons and hawks in advocating for an action that violated Libya’s sovereignty and was likely to lead to more violence against the Libyan people. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, wrote presciently in Mar 2011:
Little do most of these generally well-meaning activists know, they are strengthening the hands of those western governments desperate to reassert their interests in north Africa. … A no-fly zone would almost certainly draw NATO countries into further military involvement in Libya, replacing the agency of the Libyan people with the control of those governments who have shown scant regard for their welfare. … Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian, putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence. Support for a no-fly zone in Libya is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck, that those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.
On-line progressive organizations constantly seek signatures on petitions calling on Pindostan or other governments to adopt or change or reject certain policies. But Hilary pointed out that calling for a no-fly zone crosses a line into dangerous territory. As he wrote:
The issue exposes the core of the problem with internet activism. Instead of changing the world through a lifetime of education, it aims to change the world through a single click of the mouse. The impacts might be benign, when lobbying a government to stop causing harm. But a positive plan of action in a situation such as Libya requires more thought. Calling for military intervention is a huge step. The life and death of hundreds of thousands of people might hang in the balance. The difference between the ease of the action and impact of the consequence is great.
It’s worth examining the Libya experience to get some idea of how Avaaz sees using military action to achieve what it contended would be civilian-saving humanitarian results. Looking back, in calling for a no-fly zone Avaaz appeared to fully accept and spread the Gaddafi-will-systematically-murder-all-opponents line that western governments were trumpeting as the justification for intervention, stating in its Mar 15 2011 message to members:
Right now, Gaddafi’s forces are crushing the rebellion town by town … Brutal retribution awaits Libyans who challenged the regime. If we don’t persuade the UN to act now, we could witness a bloodbath. Avaaz is deeply committed to non-violence … enforcing a no-fly zone to ground Gaddafi’s gunships is one case where UN-backed military actions seems necessary.
On Mar 17 2011, just two days into flooding the UNSC with petitions containing 1,172,000 signatures, Avaaz enthusiastically reported:
The UN has agreed to take ‘all necessary measures’ short of an invasion to protect the people of Libya under threat of attack, including a no-fly zone!
It seems Avaaz’s expressed deep commitment to non-violence had expanded beyond a no-fly zone to encompass “all necessary measures,” and Libya was soon on the receiving end of all those necessary measures. When it was promoting a no-fly zone for Libya, as with its current Syria campaign, Avaaz did receive pushback from some members. The organization felt it necessary to respond at some length on-line to the criticism before the no-fly zone was put into effect and the onslaught against Libya began. Avaaz’s then-campaign director Ben Wikler (who is now with MoveOn.org), in an on-line posting responding to John Hilary’s article quoted above, outlined a number of reasons and procedures Avaaz used in taking up the cause of a no-fly zone for Libya. Among his points:
The call for a no-fly zone originated from Libyans, including the provisional opposition government, Libya’s (defected) ambassador to the UN, protesters, and youth organizations…Avaaz staff are in close and constant contact with activists inside Libya and have been repeatedly asked to move forward on this campaign. … In some ways, we work a lot like journalists … talking to people and weighing the facts before we form conclusions. However, our staff’s personal conclusions also have to pass the test of our membership being strongly supportive of any position we take.
In the Libya case, though, it would seem that Avaaz scarcely considered the potential negative aspects of military action such as what happens after you ‘win’. Wikler says:
A random-sample poll taken before the petition was promulgated online showed that 84% of our members supported this campaign, while 9% opposed it. Since launching it, we’ve found intense support for the campaign from around the world.
Avaaz says that petition ideas such as a no-fly zone campaign “are polled and tested weekly to 10,000-member random samples, and only initiatives that find a strong response are taken” to the wider membership.The organization has not disclosed who within Avaaz was the main instigator of the petitions for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria. Generally speaking, Avaaz says here’s how its petitions develop:
Avaaz staff don’t set an agenda and try to convince members to go along with it. It’s closer to the opposite. Staff listen to members and suggest actions they can take in order to affect the broader world. Small wonder then, that many of our most successful campaigns are suggested first by Avaaz members themselves. And leadership is a critical part of member service. It takes vision and skill to find and communicate a way to build a better world.
Although this doesn’t say so, certainly on a matter of such import and controversy as a no-fly zone, the final call would logically come from executive director Ricken Patel. Avaaz staff played “a key role in consulting with leading experts around the world (and most of our staff have policy as well as advocacy backgrounds) on each of the campaigns we run, and Libya was no exception.” This begs the question: Who were these experts, and did Avaaz seek out critics of such an action? On the question of whether imposing a no-fly zone would lead to a full-blown international war in Libya, Wikler downplayed the possibility at the time:
No-fly zones can mean a range of different things. Some analysts and military figures have argued that it would require a pre-emptive attack on Libya’s anti-aircraft weapons. Others, however, contend that merely flying fighter planes over the rebel-controlled areas would ensure that Qaddafi wouldn’t use his jets to attack eastern Libya, because he knows his air force is weaker than that of Egypt or NATO states. The best solution is the one that reduces civilian deaths the most with the least violence. Things might not turn out as expected, but while there are potential dangers to an international war, there are certain dangers to civilians if things continue without a no-fly zone.
Calling for military action seems a very risky calculation for an advocacy group to make, given even its own nodding recognition that the action it supports might bring on an international war or other “things…not expected.” And to discuss such an issue in a mere one sentence and conclude that the risk is worth it, and after the petition is already out there, is not indicative of a transparent, all-cards-on-the-table process that make for well-informed potential petition signers. At the very least, now with the benefit of hindsight, you would think that the Libya experience would give Avaaz some second thoughts about supporting a no-fly zone in what top Pindosi generals quoted in our previous article have described as the even riskier environment of Syria. But no such soul-searching is evident in Avaaz’s campaign for a Syrian no-fly zone. For this and the previous article, we submitted a series of questions to Avaaz media personnel and campaign directors, with an emphasis on obtaining specifics as to the organization’s rationale for supporting no-fly zones in Libya and Syria, including whether the tragic outcome in Libya had figured at all in Avaaz’s consideration of whether to call for a no-fly zone in Syria. After requests (and reminders) on five occasions in November, December and January, we finally received a response on Feb 11 from campaign director Nell Greenberg, but that addressed only a few of our specific questions. Our follow-up questions, submitted on Feb 12, have gone unanswered. As with the other questions we submitted to Avaaz personnel, the organization did not answer whether the Libya experience made the organization’s leaders think twice about taking up the Syria no-fly zone issue. It was possibly obscurely referencing the Libya no-fly zone when Greenberg stated to us:
Much of what you’re asking for are reflections on past campaigns given the geopolitical landscape today. But based on the way we work, I cannot tell you how any Avaaz member would feel today about a past campaign without going back and asking them.
Our follow-up question made it clear that we were not asking how any individual Avaaz member might feel about the Libya campaign today, but rather how Avaaz’s leaders felt about proposing a no-fly zone for Syria when the Libya military action had turned out so disastrously. To date, Avaaz has not responded to any of our follow-up questions. Regarding whether a no-fly zone would violate Libya’s national sovereignty, Wikler in Mar 2011 stated:
National sovereignty should not be a legitimate barrier to international action when crimes against humanity are being committed. If you strongly disagree, then you may find yourself at odds with other Avaaz campaigns as well. All told, this was a difficult judgment call. Calling for any sort of military response always is. Avaaz members have been advocating for weeks for a full set of non-military options as well, including an asset freeze, targeted sanctions, and prosecutions of officials involved in the violent crackdown on demonstrators. But although those measures are moving forward, the death toll is rising. Again, thoughtful people can disagree,but in the Avaaz community’s case, only 9% of our thoughtful people opposed this position, and 84% approved it. (This was) somewhat surprising, given that we have virtually always advocated for peaceful methods to resolve conflicts in the past. We think it was the best position to take, given the balance of expert opinion, popular support and most of all, the rights and clearly expressed desire of the Libyan people.
The figure of 84% approval from a sampling of Avaaz members seem astounding, and raises the issue of whether the questions were worded in the most emotional ways that would produce such an overwhelming result along the lines of “Gaddafi is slaughtering, and will slaughter, everyone in his path and we must act now to avert a bloodbath.” It also raises the question of whether Avaaz offered any counterpoints, ie that that a no-fly zone could lead to a wider war and end up killing, maiming and displacing thousands of civilians. Regardless of the numbers, relying on partisan civilian sources in embattled areas for tactics or military solutions of any sort is both a dubious and frightening proposition and hardly seems the role for an advocacy organization to undertake. Even in the Pindosi progressive community, Avaaz is far less well-known than its sister advocacy organization MoveOn.org. To put Avaaz in perspective, a little background is in order. Avaaz was created in 2006 and officially launched in 2007 by MoveOn.org Civic Action and the little-known and closely-affiliated global advocacy group ResPublica Inc. Its initial significant financial backing came from Georg Soros and his Open Society Foundations, then called Open Society Institute. Avaaz’s individual founders included three of its current officers/directors: Ricken Patel, Eli Pariser and Thomas Pravda. It also included Thomas Perriello, Andrea Woodhouse, Jeremy Heimans, and David Madden. More about them later.
If you don’t know much about Avaaz, or think about it as I long did as a non-Pindosi entity, that is not so surprising since many of its campaigns are targeted to specific countries other than Pindostan and only a little over 5% of its 43.1 million members are Pindostan-based. A ‘member’ is anyone who has ever signed an Avaaz petition, and that includes me. Still, even that small Pindosi percentage equates to 2.3 million people, a number that would be the envy of most Pindosi activist organizations. MoveOn.org claims more than 8-million members. The Pindosi membership in Avaaz is about the same as the German membership (2.2 million), and far less than France with 4.3 million and Brazil with a whopping 8.8 million. Other nations with more than one million Avaaz members include Italy (2.1 million), Spain (1.8 million), Britain (1.6 million), Mexico (1.4 million) and Canada (1.2 million). India has 991,000 members and Russia 901,000. Overall, Avaaz claims members in 194 countries. Avaaz is organized under the name the Avaaz Foundation, a 501(c)(4) non-profit lobbying organization, with its headquarters in Manhattan. It describes itself as having “a simple democratic mission: To close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.” In its most recent Form 990 filing with the IRS, signed in Sep 2015 for FY 2014, Avaaz reported contributions totaling $20.1m and net assets of $7.6m. Avaaz says that it is entirely member-funded. It previously stated that it accepts no single contribution of more than $5k, but that was not the case in 2014, as the organization reported that 18 individuals had contributed amounts ranging from $5k to just over $15k. The contributors were not identified by name in the filing. Since around 2010, the organization is on record as not accepting corporate or foundation donations, although it did receive grants totaling $1.1m from Soros-connected foundations in the three years before that. In response to our inquiry about Avaaz funding and the organization’s early link to Soros, campaign director Nell Greenberg responded:
With regards to Avaaz funding, this movement was founded with the ideal of being completely self-sustaining and democratic. 100% of the Avaaz budget comes from small online donations.… Avaaz has never taken a contribution from a government or a corporation, and since 2009 has not solicited any contributions from charitable foundations. We did receive seed funding from George Soros and the Open Society Foundation, but not after 2009. No corporation, foundation or board member has influence on the organization’s campaign directions or positions. This is hugely important to ensuring that our voice is exclusively determined by the values of our members, and not by any large funder or agenda.
Of Avaaz’s four current officers/directors, only executive director Ricken Patel was listed as full-time, with annual pay of $177,666 for 2014. Chairman Eli Pariser; treasurer Thomas Pravda, and secretary Ben Brandzel are not day-to-day employees and none received compensation in 2014. Of Avaaz’s 77 employees, the five highest-paid staff members after Patel received salaries ranging between $111k and $153k. For its various domestic and overseas campaigns, Avaaz reported providing $3.2m in grants to Pindosi organizations and $932k to foreign ones in 2014. Reported grants of more than $5k came in five categories, with the largest recipients being the Pindosi Fund for UNICEF ($1m for education for Syrian refugees), and the Rain Forest Trust ($1mn for “conservation of land and species.”) Avaaz provided $500k to the International Medical Corps to help combat Ebola, $350k to Save the Children, and $300k to Partners in Health. For organizing for the Sepr 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC, Avaaz provided $27k5 to Align and $10k to NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Rounding out the list, a $10k grant went to Amazon Watch for “protection of the Amazon.” For activities outside Pindostan, Avaaz spent most heavily in Europe on campaigns, advertising and consulting: $6.2m, with South America a distant second at $685k for consulting services, followed by East Asia and the Pacific with $553k for campaigns and consulting services. Expenditures in five other regions ranged from $45k to $270k.
Avaaz reported that the foundation is still comprised of the same two member organizations, MoveOn.org Civic Action and Res Publica Inc, which were the original founding groups. Res Publica, a 501(c)(3), lists the same Manhattan address as the 501(c)(4) Avaaz and presumably provides unspecified assistance to Avaaz. Back at Avaaz’s beginning, the three principals in Res Publica were the aforementioned Patel, Pravda and Perriello. The three men had all served with the International Center for Transitional Justice, which “assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse.” Also in those early days, according to some accounts, Avaaz listed the Service Employees International Union and Australia-based GetUp.org.au as co-founding organizations, but they seem to have long since been out of the picture. In Res Publica’s most recent Form 990 filing with the IRS for 2013, Patel is listed as executive director, Pravda as treasurer, and Vivek Maru as secretary. None received any compensation. Contributions for 2013 totaled $963,895, of which $846,165 was from “Government grants” for unspecified purposes. The organization reported:
Avaaz provides strategic advice to other non-profit organizations. … It also provides educational and action-based e-mail campaigns to citizens in every country via its website. It also supports projects through fiscal sponsorship, that focused on online security and Internet freedom for repressed communities globally…
Here are profiles of Avaaz co-founders and past and current officers:
Eli Pariser: Avaaz Chairman and Co-founder
Eli Pariser was executive director of MoveOn.org from 2004 through 2009 when the organization experienced explosive growth, and has been its board president since then. MoveOn, in the words of an on-line Pariser biography, “revolutionized grassroots political organizing by introducing a small-donor-funded and email-driven model that has since been widely used across the political spectrum.” In addition to being a founder of Avaaz and currently serving as its chairman, the Brooklyn-based Pariser has been a member of the boards of Access and the New Organizing Institute. A best-selling author and former fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, Pariser is co-founder and executive of the on-line media company Upworthy. He is also currently a member of the advisory board of Georg Soros’s Open Society Foundations’ perograms in Pindostan. Pariser appears to be one of the few Avaaz founders and officers whose background is almost entirely in online activism, while some others have governmental or otherwise overseas experience working in programs in high-poverty and/or war-torn countries. We submitted several questions to Pariser on Mar 9, but he has not responded as of this writing.
Ricken Patel: Avaaz Executive Director and Co-founder
Prior to the founding of Avaaz in 2007, the Canadian-born Ricken Patel consulted for a number of international and well-established non-profit organizations: the International Crisis Group, the UN, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Harvard University, CARE International, and the International Center for Transitional Justice. He worked in several countries including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan and Afghanistan. He also was the founding executive director of Res Publica, which among its past projects “worked to end genocide in Darfur.” As executive director of Avaaz since its begining, Patel is the face of the organization and has been termed (by the Graun) “the global leader of online protest.”
Thomas Pravda: Avaaz Treasurer and Co-founder
Through two of its co-founders, Tom Perriello and Thomas Pravda, Avaaz has connections to government boxtops across UKUSA. Perriello is now with the State Dept as ‘envoy’ (RB) to the African Great Lakes and Congo-Kinshasa. Pravda is currently serving as unpaid treasurer and co-director for Avaaz while at the same time holding down a post as a diplomat with the British Foreign Office (FCO). He is also co-founder and officer in Res Publica. As the Foreign Office is “responsible for protecting and promoting British interests worldwide,” this could raise conflict-of-interest possibilities regarding UKUSA foreign relations and military issues that might be taken up by Avaaz. This would include the organization’s advocacy for a no-fly zone in Syria, in which UKUSA would be expected to participate. However, despite the fact that this relationship looks problematic on the face of it, our research found no example of anyone raising any specific issues regarding Pravda’s dual role. Pravda’s self-provided biography shows he has been with the FCO since Oct 2003 and with Avaaz since 2006, and that he was also an advisor to the State Dept in 2009-2010, on matters regarding the DRC. In his diplomatic assignments Pravda has worked on EU trade and development policy, climate change, and in the DRC. He has, he says, consulted extensively for the State Department, the UNDP, the International Center for Transitional Justice and Oxford Analytica.
Ben Brandzel: Avaaz Secretary and Co-founder
In addition to currently serving as the (unpaid) secretary for Avaaz, Ben Brandzel is the founder and director of OPEN (Online Progressive Engagement Network), described as an alliance of the world’s leading national digital campaigning organizations. Besides being a founding board member and former senior campaigner at Avaaz, Brandzel is the chief founding advisor for OPEN member groups in Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland. He also served as the original advocacy director for MoveOn.org, and in 2009-2010 directed new media campaigns and fundraising for Obama during the health reform campaign. He writes frequently on digital organizing and transnational movement building.
Tom Perriello: Avaaz Co-founder
If I were going to name one chief suspect among Avaaz’s founders as the architect of its no-fly zone advocacy in Libya and Syria, it would be Perriello. More than anyone else connected with Avaaz from its earliest days, since leaving the organization first for Congress and then for the think-tank world, finally for the State Dept, he has shown himself to be a reliable advocate for war. He advocates or advocated continuing the war in Afghanistan, bombing Libya and ousting Gaddafi, taking military action in Syria, and removing Assad from power. Perriello champions “humanitarian intervention” and lauded the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, before the Pindo/NATO “victory” there, and before the country subsequently went all to hell, as a prime example of how this approach can succeed. We asked Avaaz whether Perriello’s thinking had influenced thir campaigns for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria, and received a stern denial from Avaaz’s Greenberg:
Tom Perriello, specifically, was an Avaaz board member at the founding of the organization but has not been on the board since Dec 2009, and has had no role in Avaaz’s Syria campaigns.
Perriello’s career, like some others with Avaaz, has been more one of public service through established organizations than of activism. According to an online biography, in 2002-2003 Perriello was special advisor to the international prosecutor of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, and then served as a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice in Kosovo (2003), Darfur (2005) and Afghanistan (2007). In 2004, he co-founded Res Publica with Patel and Pravda. Perriello has also worked at the Century Foundation and is a co-founder of DarfurGenocide.org. He said of himself in his on-line biography:
He has spent much of his career working in West Africa and the Middle East to create strategies for sustainable peace, and he was involved in the peace processes that helped end the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Perriello was elected to Congress in 2008, to represent Virginia’s 5th District for the Demagogues. It would appear from the statement we received from Avaaz that if Perriello left the organization in Dec 2009, then he was still on the Avaaz board during his first year in Congress. In his one term, Perriello was a staunch supporter of the GWOT, the military appropriations to continue Pindosi wars, and keeping Pindo troops in AfPak. Defeated in 2010, Perriello went on to work for the Center for Pindosi Progress, a Demagogue-supporting think tank, and as president and CEO of the Center for Pindosi Progress Action Fund. From 2014 to the present he has been with the State Dept, first as the rep for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and since last summer as the envoy for the African Great Lakes and Congo-Kinshasa. Although said not to be involved with Avaaz currently, his humanitarian intervention philosophy seems alive and well at Avaaz with its calls for no-fly zones in Libya and Syria. In this excerpt from his 2012 article on humanitarian intervention, Perriello sounds absolutely eager to send in the bombs wherever “egregious atrocities” are occurring and human beings are suffering. And this, as Perriello writes, would give “progressives” the “opportunity … to expand the use of force to advance key values.” Following are two paragraphs from Perriello’s article that give the flavour of the “humanitarian intervention” philosophy he advocates. It would certainly be helpful if Avaaz would tell us if it subscribes to its co-founder’s rather bloodless and creepy prescription for advancing progressives’ “key values.”
Operational developments since the end of the Cold War have substantially improved our capacity to wage smart military operations that are limited in time and scope and employ precise and overwhelming force. This presents progressives with an opportunity, one that is too often seen as a curse, to expand the use of force to advance key values. Our technical capacities, ranging from accuracy of systems intelligence to smart weaponry, now allow for previously impossible operations. Today, we have the ability to conduct missions from the air that historically would have required ground troops. And we possess an admittedly imperfect but highly improved ability to limit collateral damage, including civilian casualties. Among other things, this means fewer bombs can accomplish the same objectives, with early estimates suggesting that the Libyan air campaign required one-third the number of sorties as earlier air wars. … We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering.
Imagine the nerve of those other nations Perriello refers to, failing to see that tPindostan selflessly engages in “values-based” bombing! Bombs for a better world!
Andrea Woodhouse: Avaaz Co-founder
Another Avaaz co-founder, Andrea Woodhouse, describes herself as a development professional, social entrepreneur and writer. She has worked in many countries experiencing conflict and political transition, including Indonesia, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Burma/Myanmar. In Indonesia, she reported working on one of the largest anti-poverty programs in the world, which she said became the model for a national program of post-conflict reconstruction and state-building in Afghanistan. She has worked for the World Bank and the UN and was a founder of the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor program.
Jeremy Heimans: Avaaz Co-founder
According to an online biography, Jeremy Heimans in 2005 co-founded GetUp, an Australian political organization and one of that country’s largest campaigning communities. It has campaigned for same-sex marriage and in support of Julian Assange. In addition to being an Avaaz co-founder, Heimans in 2009 co-founded Purpose, an activist group that launched several major new organizations including All Out, a two-million member LGBT rights group.
David Madden: Avaaz Co-founder
David Madden, another Avaaz co-founder, is a former Australian Army officer and World Bank and UN employee. With Jeremy Heimans, he co-founded GetUp. Madden has worked for the World Bank in Timor Leste, and for the UN in Indonesia. In 2004, Madden was one of the founders of Win Back Respect, a web-based campaign against the foreign policy of Bush 43.
Georg Soros’s Role in Avaaz Early Years
For the last few years, various online bloggers have questioned whether Avaaz is somehow doing the bidding of Georg Soros and his Open Society Foundations, or of the Pindosi government or portions thereof. (See an example here.) There is no question that there was a close connection between Avaaz and Soros and his organizations dating back to Avaaz’s early days, but what if anything does that translate into today? As noted earlier, in one of the few of my questions that Avaaz answered directly, there was an acknowledgement of early Soros “seed money” to Avaaz, but a denial of any continuing involvement with the organization. Of all individuals or organizations outside the Avaaz structure, though, Soros’s foundations played the most significant role in helping get Avaaz off the ground with generous grants. Additionally, the Open Society Institute (the previous name of the Open Society Foundations) served as Avaaz’s “foundation partner” on campaigns of joint interest, most notably in connection with the Burmese Democracy Movement. Avaaz still has a Soros connection, notably through Eli Pariser serving on an Open Society advisory board, as indicated above. And both Avaaz and Soros seem to share an antipathy to what they characterize as Russian aggression, as exemplified by Avaaz’s sometimes over-the-top statements about Russia in Syria. (For example, as noted in our previous article, Ricken Patel holding Putin’s government responsible for being complicit with the Assad government in “coordinating atrocities” and “targeting the assassinations of journalists” in early 2012. Also, see this Sep 30 2015 Avaaz posting using flimsy evidence to accuse Russian planes of deliberately bombing civilian neighborhoods.)
Donations by Soros’s Foundations
Over a three-year period beginning in 2007, Soros’s foundations gave Avaaz a total of $1.2m, either directly or through Res Publica. In 2007, the Open Society Institute gave $150k to Res Publica for general support for Avaaz, and $100k for Avaaz’s work on climate change. In 2008, Open Society Institute again gave a total of $250k to Res Publica, with $150k of that again for general support for Avaaz and the remaining $100k for Avaaz’s climate change work. The following year, Soros was even more generous to Avaaz. His Foundation to Promote Open Society in its Form 990 filing for 2009 (p 87) reported giving a total of $600k to Res Publica for Avaaz’s use: $300k for general support and $300k for climate campaigning. Avaaz increased its ties to the Soros organization in 2008 by selecting the then-Open Society Institute (OSI) as its “foundation partner” to oversee some $325k in donations that Avaaz had received from its members in just four days, to support the Burmese Democracy Movement. Avaaz said it was linking up with OSI, which it called “one of the largest and most respected foundations in the world,” for the purpose of OSI monitoring Avaaz’s grant awards and expenditures. OSI was “taking no overhead on the funds we are granting to Burmese groups” for technology, organizing, support for the regime’s victims and victims’ families, and international advocacy. In Jun 2009, OSI reported that its Burma Project grantees including Avaaz had rallied global support around Aung San Suu Kyi. On that occasion, Avaaz partnered with the Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now! Campaign to collect more than 670,000 signatures asking Ban Ki-moon to support Aung San Suu Kyi and some 2,000 other political prisoners. From available information, it does not appear Soros or his foundations have contributed financially to Avaaz or directly engaged in projects with the organization in the last five to six years. And Avaaz itself says the Soros financial connection ended in 2009. Whether the substantial assistance Soros’s foundations gave Avaaz in its first three years of existence carries any lasting influence, though, is certainly hard to show.
Avaaz’s Impressive Record of Advocacy
As noted in our previous article, even allowing for organizational self-hype, Avaaz has an impressive record of advocacy, which mostly seems off-kilter with its no-fly zone advocacy in Libya and Syria. For example, here are some other Avaaz campaigns not previously mentioned:
- Avaaz has played a prominent role in a number of actions directed at Israel’s treatment of
PlastelinansArabs. Avaaz was a key player in a successful campaign, including a petition with more than 1.7 million signatures, coupled with occupations and protests at some 15 Barclays bank branches across Britain, to pressure Barclays to divest its $2.9m holdings in Elbit Systems. Avaaz received plaudits from the BDS movement for its role in that campaign. Elbit is the major Israeli-based arms and security company that manufactures drones used in surveillance and attacks on PlastelinansArabs in Gaza. It also provides electronics for the apartheid wall.
- A petition directed to the government of Israel and to the Pindosi Congress netted 185,000 signatures in support of the portion of Obama’s Cairo speech in Jun 2009 in which he said: “Pindostan does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”
- In 2011, some 1.6 million people, more than 300,000 of them in just the first two days, signed an Avaaz petition to European leaders and UN member states, urging them “to endorse the legitimate bid for recognition of the state of Plastelina and the reaffirmation of the rights of the
PlastelinanArab people. It is time to turn the tide on decades of failed peace talks, end the occupation and move towards peace based on two states.”
- In Mar 2013, at the time of AIPAC’s annual conference and congressional lobbying days in Faschingstein, Avaaz joined with Jewish Voice for Peace to erect hundreds of anti-AIPAC posters across city Metro stations. The signs read: “AIPAC does not speak for me. Most Jewish Pindosis are pro-peace. AIPAC is not.”
- Through its petitions, Avaaz has strongly opposed governmental surveillance of Pindosi citizens, and has defended Wikileaks and national security whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. In Apr 2011, amid news reports of Manning’s brutal treatment while imprisoned at Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia before facing a court martial for providing classified documents to Wikileaks, almost 550,000 people signed an Avaaz petition to Obama, Clinton and Gates, headlined “Stop Wikileaks Torture,” which called on them “to immediately end the torture, isolation and public humiliation of Bradley Manning. This is a violation of his constitutionally guaranteed human rights, and a chilling deterrent to other whistleblowers committed to public integrity.” A Dec 2010 Avaaz petition calling “the vicious intimidation campaign against Wikileaks” by the Pindosi and other governments and corporations “a dangerous attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” produced 654,000 signatures, more than 300,000 of those in the first 24 hours the petition was online.
- In Jun 2013, just days after the first reports of the NSA’s illegal worldwide spying appeared, some 1.38 million people signed a petition to Obama headlined “Stand with Edward Snowden,” reading: “We call on you to ensure that whistleblower Edward Snowden is treated fairly, humanely and given due process. The PRISM program is one of the greatest violations of privacy ever committed by a government. We demand that you terminate it immediately, and that Edward Snowden be recognized as a whistleblower acting in the public interest, not as a dangerous criminal.”
- In Apr 2012, some 780,000 people signed an Avaaz petition to Congress and another to Facebook, Microsoft and IBM (with 626,000 signers), to drop their support for the Internet surveillance bill known as CISPA. The bill, the petition stated, would place “Our democracy and civil liberties … under threat from the excessive and unnecessary Internet surveillance powers” that it would grant to the government without requirement of a warrant.
- In the face of widespread hunger strikes at Gitmo in 2013, Avaaz gathered 690,000 signatures on a petition to transfer the 86 men who had already been cleared for release, and to appoint a White House official whose responsibility it would be to close down the prison. Said the petition: “This shameful complex is a scourge on humanity, is destroying lives, and fuels hate across the world. Close it down!”
Avaaz is also in the front ranks on various other issues, fighting global warming, seeking an end to Pindosi and European arms sales to the Toads, protecting rain forests, saving endangered species, promoting clean energy, challenging Rupert Murdoch’s bid for a greater media monopoly in Britain, defending human rights in a number of countries, etc. In none of those other campaigns do we see Avaaz proposing military action of any sort. Why this anomaly when it came to Libya and now Syria? Especially, when military action’s aftermath turned out so badly in Libya, and when even the nation’s leading generals say a Syria no-fly zone would escalate the war and endanger the very civilians Avaaz has the stated goal of protecting?