Amnesty Report on Syria: A Piece of Propaganda, Not Documentation
— Jacob Levich
In a highly publicized report released February 8, 2017, Amnesty International purports to have found evidence that between 5,000 and 13,000 extrajudicial “mass hangings” took place in Syria ‘s Saydnaya Prison from 2011 to 2015. However, close scrutiny of the report reveals that these numbers were plucked out of thin air.
In the report, tendentiously titled Human Slaughterhouse, Amnesty claims to have interviewed four prison officials, who are unnamed, and on this basis estimated a weekly number of executions. That number, itself a guess based on unverifiable interviews, is then extrapolated over time based on an extravagant chain of hypotheticals. The flimsiness of Amnesty’s methodology is readily apparent to anyone who — unlike most mainstream journalists — bothers to read the footnotes:
These estimates were based on the following calculations. If between seven and 20 were killed every 10-15 days from September to December 2011, the total figure would be between 56 people and 240 people for that period. If between 20 and 50 were killed every week between January and November 2012, the total figure would be between 880 and 2,200 for that period. If between 20 and 50 people were killed in 222 execution sessions (assuming the executions were carried out twice a week twice a month and once a week once a month) between December 2012 and December 2015, the total figure would be between 4,400 and 11,100 for that period. These calculations produce a minimum figure of 5,336, rounded down to the nearest thousand as 5,000, and 13,540, rounded down to the nearest thousand as 13,000.
The anonymous witness statements on which these projections are based are selectively quoted but not reproduced. The quality of the evidence from which Amnesty drew its conclusions is perhaps best indicated by an excerpt from the testimony of one prisoner, who asserts he knew hangings were taking place because he put his ears to the floor of his cell and “could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling.”
Leaving aside dubious testimony and ramshackle extrapolations, Amnesty was able to document, not 15,000 deaths, but only 36 over a five-year period. An additional 375 deaths were allegedly documented and verified by Syrian Network for Human Rights, a mysterious UK-based, US-connected NGO that does not disclose its funders and advocates exclusively on behalf of anti-government forces in Syria.
Amnesty’s allegations were reported uncritically, in screaming headlines, throughout the English-language press. It should be remembered that, since 2011, Syria has been the target of fundamentalist armies armed, trained and generously funded by the US and US allies in the region. Unspeakable devastation has been caused to the Syrian people, truly meriting the term “human slaughterhouse”. However, these forces have been unsuccessful in capturing power in Syria, and recently they have faced military setbacks. These facts form the context for the Amnesty report. Significantly, the Amnesty report was released at a time when a new round of peace talks was about to begin and influential Western commentators were expressing concern that the new administration may lack commitment to continuing the military aggression launched during Obama’s presidency.
Amnesty International represents itself as an even-handed advocate for “human rights,” and no doubt most of its members believe this to be the case, but the political orientation of those who run Amnesty today leans distinctly to one side. It chooses to receive significant funding from, inter alia, the UK and US governments, the European Commission, and powerful Western foundations including the Ford Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Institute. In 2012 the organization hired as its executive director a former US State Department official credited with originating the term “smart power.” In recent years its campaigns on occasion have aligned closely with US and NATO strategies, as for example its 2015 publicity campaign urging NATO not to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under the the slogan: “NATO: Keep the Progress Going.”
 Amnesty International, Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison, Syria, 2016, http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/human_slaughterhouse.pdf
 Amnesty, p. 17.
 Amnesty, p. 25.
 Amnesty,p. 40.
 Palash Ghosh, “Amnesty International: The High Cost of Human Rights Activism and Charity,” International Business Times, 6 Dec. 2013, http://www.ibtimes.com/amnesty-international-high-cost-human-rights-activism-charity-1301765.
 Sue-Lynn Moses, “Ford Funds Amnesty International’s Global Transition,” Inside Philanthropy, 18 Aug., 2015, http://www.insidephilanthropy.com/security/2015/8/18/ford-funds-amnesty-internationals-global-transition.html.
 Vanessa Beeley, “George Soros: Anti-Syria Campaign Impresario,” 21st Century Wire, 22 April, 2016, http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/04/22/george-soros-anti-syria-campaign-impresario/..
 Colleen Rowley & Ann Wright, “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars,” Consortium News, 18 June, 2012, https://consortiumnews.com/2012/06/18/amnestys-shilling-for-us-wars/. “Smart power,” a guiding principle of Obama’s foreign policy, is a euphemism for the integration of sanctions, foreign aid, propaganda, and destabilization with traditional forms of military aggression. See Suzanne Nossel, “Smart Power,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2004, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2004-03-01/smart-power.
 Nicola Perugini & Neve Gordon, “Is There a Human Right to Kill?”, Counterpunch, 18 July, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/07/08/is-there-a-human-right-to-kill/. Among the panelists at the Amnesty-sponsored ‘shadow summit’ to press for NATO to “keep the progress going” was former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, famous for having considered the death of half a million Iraqi children to be “worth it”. — https://williamblum.org/essays/read/madeleine-albright-ethically-challenged