ABC’s 4 Corners breaches Code of Practice; ‘Syria’s Disappeared’

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Above: Syrians whose points of view are not presented by the ABC and whose lives are given no consideration by the ABC because of its bias for an Islamist ‘revolution’ and Western military action against Syria.  Images were taken mostly from programs presented on Syrian television programs. However, several are screenshots of social media pages that show ‘rebel’ victims.  


On 24 April 2017 at 16:45, Susan Dirgham emailed the following:

RE: Letter of complaint to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs

Program: ABC TV, 4 Corners

Date of broadcast: 24 April 2017

Title‘Syria’s Disappeared’


Ms Kirstin McLiesh

Head, ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs


Dear Ms McLiesh,


In January, as you know, I was one of 10 signatories to a complaint letter sent to Ms Michelle Guthrie by Mr Phil Davies. Four of the people who signed the letter were Syrian refugees, three of them women. The complaint was in response to the bias in an Australian Story program toward the ‘revolution’ in Syria. Despite the seriousness of the breaches of the Code of Practice and the possible implications of the bias for Australia’s security and social harmony, you informed me that the ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs would not consider the complaint letter. (The letter is available online. It has links to alternative Syrian voices, and impartial analysis on Syria.)


This evening ABC’s 4 Corners will present the “Syria’s Disappeared”. On her Twitter page, the executive producer of 4 Corners writes,


Sally Neighbour‏Verified account ‪@neighbour_s  Apr 23


Humanity and heroism prevail over barbarity in ‘Syria’s Disappeared’, a truly astonishing film, next on ‪#4Corners



No one can doubt that there has been barbarity in Syria over the past 6 years.  Barbaric acts inevitably accompany war. In WW1, my grandfather was in the 8th Light Horse, and I am aware of the brutality of some Anzacs in the Middle East.  In 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article about one known war crime Anzacs committed in Greater Syria.


Anzacs’ atrocity had to be done: digger


I am also aware of the covert, as well as overt, attacks on Syria’s sovereignty and independence since the French annexed Syria nearly 100 years ago. These are referenced in ‘Anzacs and War – Considering a Syrian Perspective’.  Our closest allies – the United States and Britain – were involved in covert acts to undermine Syrian governments for decades, beginning with the CIA orchestrated coup of 1949 and then plans to assassinate leaders and send in ‘rebels’ in the 1950s.


More recently, there has been convincing evidence presented to support claims that the US and the UK were planning for ‘regime change’ in Syria before the start of the so-called Arab Spring.


Syria has been torn apart by this war.  The ABC presents as credible stories that support the Islamist ‘revolution’.  Thus, it undermines not only the authority of the Syrian president and government, but also that of the secular state and its institutions, including the Syrian Arab Army, an army which controls cities and towns occupied by the majority of the Syrian people who haven’t fled their country, and an army that fights ISIS and armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Tonight’s 4 Corners program relies on a few individuals to tell their stories and present their loyalty to the ‘revolution’, but doesn’t give any consideration to the lives of millions of others who are non-partisan, and who want to live in peace in a society that guarantees freedom of religion and freedom for women.


In 2013, while in Damascus with an international peace delegation led by Nobel Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire, I interviewed a group of Syrian dissidents. Like those interviewed in ‘Syria’s Disappeared’, they were concerned about people being held by security forces.  However, they opposed the militarised opposition, foreign interference, and the Islamisation of the state and politics. They expressed support for prominent Syrian dissident Haytham Manna . Their views would resonate with many people in Australia who believe in peaceful political change. This is an excerpt from The Current Impasse in Syria: Interview with Haytham Manna, June 30, 2012:


There is no doubt that there are people with an agenda. This agenda is a right-wing agenda, whether Islamist or neoliberal. Its guiding principle is that the primary problem with Syria is its regional and international strategic location and political alliances. The idea here is that by changing Syria’s alliances its problems will be solved. It would transform the Shi’i crescent to a Sunni pillar. Thus we have entered into sectarianism as a primary axis of social struggle in place of civilian rule as such an axis. We have thus also seen a struggle over Syria at the expense of change inside of Syria. Change has been compromised. Democracy as an idea is no longer mentioned. We have a real problem in terms of dealing with people. Freedom has become a slogan.


The program ‘Syria’s Disappeared’ relies heavily on the credibility and honorable intentions of Bill Wiley (a former officer in the Canadian army) and especially of Stephen Rapp, a former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, and those Syrians willing to cooperate with them as they try to build a case against Syrian officials in a European court.


In August 2016, John Pilger wrote how the ‘International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague had quietly cleared the late Serbian president, Slobadan Milosevic, of war crimes committed during the 1992 – 95 Bosnian War, including the massacre in Srebrenica.’  (Ref: Provokingnuclear war by media) Pilger asserts that ‘this truth further demolishes the propaganda that justified Nato’s illegal onslaught on Serbia in 1999’.


Pilger goes on to write, ‘Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as he “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “the new Hitler.  David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes {sic}, declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men, aged between 14 and 59” have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.


‘This was the justification for Nato’s bombing….’ Pilger explains that the war against Serbia was ‘blatantly ideological’.


He writes, ‘Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”.’

In every war, it has always been possible to find a mix of stories that are half-truths, rumours and fabrications. This is perhaps never more so than today as the powerful and the rich ally to overthrow the Syrian government and destroy the Syrian national army.  They align with individuals who are prepared to kill for a ‘revolution’ the ABC has never bothered to examine, but chooses to support.


The introduction of tonight’s 4 Corners program contains a reference to the recent chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, in Syria, which led Donald Trump to launch a missile attack on Syria.  There is no indication from 4 Corners that there are strong grounds for believing that the chemical attack was a false flag and was not committed by the Syrian government.  A prominent expert who could inform the ABC about this is MIT’s Professor Ted Postol. Before the war in Syria, Prof Postol was an expert the ABC used to reference.  For the ABC to be committed to impartiality and accuracy and a willingness to present different points of view, including expert opinions, I encourage you to give public attention to his views.


The intelligence of ABC audiences should not be continually insulted by programs such as tonight’s 4 Corners that breach the Codes of Practice and that contribute to war propaganda and incite hatred, and so fuel a war against millions of Syrians.

Below is the conclusion of Dr Postol’s technical report.


The Nerve Gas Attack Described in White House Report Did Not Occur, Expert Says of Syria Incident

Posted on Apr 19, 2017

By Theodore A. Postol



Final Comments

This abbreviated summary of the facts has been constructed entirely from basic physics, video evidence and solid analytical methods. It demonstrates without a doubt that the sarin dispersal site alleged as the source of the April 4 sarin attack in Khan Shaykhun was not a nerve agent attack site.


It also shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only mass casualty site that could have resulted from this attack is not in any way related to the sites shown in the video alleged to have been made following a poisoning event of some kind at Khan Shaykhun.

This means that the allegedly “high confidence” White House intelligence assessment issued on April 11, which led to the conclusion that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack, is not correct. For such a report to be so egregiously in error, it could not possibly have followed the most simple and proven intelligence methodologies to determine the veracity of its findings.


Since the United States justified attacking a Syrian airfield on April 7, four days before the flawed National Security Council intelligence report was released to Congress and the public, the conclusion that follows is that the United States took military actions without the intelligence to support its decision.


Furthermore, it is clear that the WHR was not an intelligence report.


No competent intelligence professional would have made so many false claims that are totally inconsistent with the evidence. No competent intelligence professional would have accepted the findings in the WHR analysis after reviewing the data presented herein. No competent intelligence professionals would have evaluated the crater that was tampered with in terms described in the WHR.


Although it is impossible from a technical assessment to determine the reasons for such an egregiously amateurish report, it cannot be ruled out that the WHR was fabricated to conceal critical information from Congress and the public.



In regard to Syria, Robert Parry’s Consortium News shows that quality Investigative journalism still exists and can guide us through these critically dangerous times. We all look for clarity, and integrity can be a beacon when we are lost. I trust that ABC audiences would not want to be implicated in the further escalation of an already catastrophic war and the terror accompanying it.

Please accept this as a formal complaint. I look forward to hearing from you.



Susan Dirgham


The following addendum to the above email was sent to Ms McLiesh at 19:59 on 24 April 2017


Dear Ms McLiesh

I wish to add this important addendum to the complaint letter I sent you this afternoon.
At the core of the film ‘Syria’s Disappeared’ are references to what have been dubbed the “Caesar Torture Photos”.  The film makes clear that Stephen Rapp relies heavily on these photos to build a case against the Syrian government.
In March 2016, Consortium News published How Propaganda Feeds War on Syria
The author, Rick Sterling, lists ’12 significant problems with the “Caesar torture photos” story’. I have included several below for your attention.
Mr Sterling’s investigation into the photos may not be definitive, but his investigative work and the questions he raises illustrate that ABC journalists and producers should and could be at least as professional as he is when they present claims regarding the war in Syria. I understand that the ABC Codes of Practice are breached when little to no effort is made to achieve accuracy and impartiality in reporting or commentary. 
Kind regards,
Susan Dirgham
1. The biggest revelation is that over 46 percent of the photographs (24,568) do not show people “tortured to death” by the Syrian government. On the contrary, they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of car bombs and other violence (HRW pp 2-3). Thus, nearly half the photos show the opposite of what was alleged. These photos, never revealed to the public, confirm that the opposition is violent and has killed large numbers of Syrian security forces and civilians.
2. The Carter Ruck report says “Caesar” only photographed bodies brought from Syrian government detention centers. In its December 2015 report, HRW said, “ The largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are photographs Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital.” They estimate 6,786 dead individuals in the set.

The photos and the deceased are real, but how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. These photographs seem to document a war-time situation where many combatants and civilians are killed.

It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention; the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusations by “Caesar.” the Carter Ruck report and HRW that these are all victims of “death in detention” or “death by torture” or death in “government custody” are almost certainly false.

4. The credibility of the “Caesar” story has been substantially based on the Carter-Ruck Inquiry Team which “verified” the defecting photographer and his photographs. The following facts suggest the team was biased with a political motive:

–The investigation was financed by the government of Qatar which is a major supporter of the armed opposition.

–The contracted law firm, Carter Ruck and Co, has previously represented Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also known for his avid support of the armed opposition.

–The American on the legal inquiry team, Professor David M. Crane, has a long history working for the U.S. Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S. government has been deeply involved in the attempt at “regime change” with demands that President Bashar “Assad must go” beginning in summer 2011 and continuing until recently.

–Crane is personally partisan in the conflict. He has campaigned for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and testified before Congress in October 2013, three months before the Caesar revelations.

–By their own admission, the inquiry team was under “time constraints” (CRR, p11).

–By their own admission, the inquiry team did not even survey most of the photographs

–The inquiry team was either ignorant of the content or intentionally lied about the 46 percent showing dead Syrian soldiers and attack victims.

–The inquiry team did its last interview with “Caesar” on Jan. 18, 2014, quickly finalized a report and rushed it into the media on Jan. 20, two days prior to the start of United Nations-sponsored negotiations.

The self-proclaimed “rigor” of the Carter Ruck investigation is without foundation. The claims to a “scientific” investigation are similarly without substance and verging on the ludicrous.

5. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is involved. 

In an interview on France24, David Crane of the inquiry team describes how “Caesar” was brought to meet them by “his handler, his case officer.” The expression “case officer” usually refers to the CIA. This would be a common expression for Professor Crane who previously worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The involvement of the CIA additionally makes sense since there was a CIA budget of $1 billion for Syria operations in 2013. Crane’s “Syria Accountability Project” is based at Syracuse University where the CIA actively recruits new officers despite student resistance.

Why does it matter if the CIA is connected to the “Caesar” story? Because the CIA has a long history of disinformation campaigns. In 2011, false reports of viagra fueled rape by Libyan soldiers were widely broadcast in Western media as the U.S. pushed for a military mandate. Decades earlier, the world was shocked to hear about Cuban troops fighting in Angola raping Angolan women. The CIA chief of station for Angola, John Stockwell, later described how they invented the false report and spread it around the world.  The CIA was very proud of that disinformation achievement. Stockwell’s book, In Search of Enemies, is still relevant.

  1. The legal accusations are biased and ignore the supreme crime of aggression. 

The Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy gave an apt warning in his article on the Carter Ruck report about “Caesar.” While many journalists treated the prosecutors with uncritical deference, he said, Association with war crime prosecutions is no guarantor of credibility – far from it. Just consider Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011. War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qaddafi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.”

The Carter Ruck legal team demonstrated how accurate Murphy’s cautions could be. The legal team was eager to accuse the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity” but the evidence of “industrial killing,” “mass killing,” “torturing to kill” is dubious and much of the hard evidence shows something else.

In contrast, there is clear and solid evidence that a “Crime against Peace” is being committed against Syria. It is public knowledge that the “armed opposition” in Syria has been funded, supplied and supported in myriad ways by various outside governments. Most of the fighters, both Syrian and foreign, receive salaries from one or another outside power. Their supplies, weapons and necessary equipment are all supplied to them. Like the “Contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the use of such proxy armies is a violation of customary international law.

It is also a violation of the UN Charter which says “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

The government of Qatar has been a major supporter of the mercenaries and fanatics attacking the sovereign state of Syria. Given that fact, isn’t it hugely ironic to hear the legal contractors for Qatar accusing the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity”?

Isn’t it time for the United Nations to make reforms so that it can start living up to its purposes? That will require demanding and enforcing compliance with the UN Charter and International Law.