October 31, 2016 | Quoted by Lee Smith - Tablet Magazine

Assad Regime’s Grotesque PR Conference in Damascus Uses Reporters to Whitewash War Crimes

Bashar al-Assad’s regime has pulled off a grotesque PR coup by corralling a number of prominent American journalists from outlets like The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker to participate in a conference designed to legitimize the rule of Syria’s genocidal head of state. The conference held Sunday and Monday in Damascus, was organized by the British Syrian Society, a “foundation” chaired by Assad’s father-in-law, the London-based physician Fawaz Ahkras. The larger purpose of the conference appears to be raising money for the regime and its war effort, in part by relieving sanctions against major regime figures.

The fact that billionaire Iraqi-British businessman Nadhmi Auchi, a one-time business partner of now-imprisoned financier Tony Rezko, is also listed as a conference participant, is evidence of the seriousness of the enterprise. Syria will be rebuilt, the campaign argues, and serious men like Auchi are getting in on the ground floor, so it’s time for the Americans to stop fighting the future. “The regime has launched a concerted information campaign whose purpose is to begin focusing on the issue of reconstruction,” said Foundation for Defense of Democracies research fellow and Tablet contributor Tony Badran. “Specifically, how international donors should give money to a Syria still ruled by Assad. A major problem in this picture is U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on Assad and his regime. Hence, the information campaign, which involved allies of the regime in international organizations, the media and even the Syrian Christian clergy, has focused on the harm sanctions have caused Syrian citizens, and on the need to remove them in order for Syria to have a new start and rebuild. Some of the journalists attending the conference were part of this information campaign.”

Badran is referring to Nour Samaha, who reported from Damascus for The Atlantic to make the case for relieving sanctions. Khalek wrote against sanctions in an article for the Intercept, which was recycled by the Syrian press agency, SANA.

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