The campaign manager of Amnesty International UK, Kristyan Benedict, appears to have removed an Amnesty International tweet announcing an Amazon Watch webinar to raise awareness both of Chevron’s pollution of an indigenous region of Ecuador and the company’s ruthless persecution of environmental lawyer Steven Donzinger.
A hardline advocate of Western intervention in Syria, Benedict apparently deleted the announcement because of the participation of Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters in the event.
Besides being Donzinger’s most prominent public supporter, Waters is an outspoken opponent of US and UK regime-change policy toward Syria.
Donzinger, for his part, is a self-described “corporate political prisoner” whose persecution began in 2011 after he won a multi-billion dollar legal judgment against Chevron over the oil giant’s toxic dumping in Ecuador’s indigenous Lago Agrio region. He is charged with contempt of court for refusing a federal judge’s order to turn over his cellphone and computer to Chevron. With the order still under appeal on constitutional grounds, Donziger has refused to obey it
Chevron has never paid the $9.5 billion it owes in damages. Instead, it has retaliated with a multimillion-dollar campaign to demonize Donzinger, hiring a massive team of corporate lawyers to oversee an attempt to disbar the environmental lawyer and freeze his personal bank accounts.
In August 2019, a federal judge ordered Donzinger placed under house arrest pending a contempt of court hearing, and confined him to his New York City apartment.
“I’m like a corporate political prisoner,” Donzinger told reporter Sharon Lerner this January. “They are trying to totally destroy me.”
Roger Waters has worked since 2012 to draw attention to Donzinger’s persecution, as well as to the suffering of the victims of Chevron’s toxic practices in Ecuador. The Amazon Watch webinar which Amnesty was supporting was to have been one of the most important events on the issue this year. Though the event itself was not canceled, its attendance was undoubtedly limited thanks the censorship campaign initiated by regime-change fanatics incensed by Waters’ views on Syria.
A crusading anti-war activist, Waters has been a vehement critic of US and British government intervention in Syria, and especially their funding of extremist proxy forces to advance a destabilizing regime-change policy.
At the end of the first week in April 2018, Washington claimed the Syrian government had launched a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma, which had just been cleared of Saudi-backed extremist forces in a dramatic victory for the national army.
The central piece of evidence bolstering the dubious US claims was a video circulating on social media and produced by a US- and UK-created organization called the White Helmets. Waters told The Grayzone he “smelled a rat, did some research, realized the video was not credible, and decided to speak out.”
From the stage at his “Us and Them” show in Barcelona, Spain, on April 13, the Pink Floyd co-founder denounced the US and UK-funded White Helmets as “a fake organization that exists only to create propaganda for jihadists and terrorists.” By this point, the US, UK and France were signaling their intention to bomb Syria in reprisal for the supposed chemical attack.
Waters pleaded with his audience “to encourage the governments of the USA, UK, and France to properly investigate the alleged attacks before dropping bombs on the Syrian people.”
This August, when US- and UK-based Syria regime-change lobbyists learned of Waters’ participation in the Amnesty International-supported Amazon Watch event with Donzinger, they launched a coordinated campaign to pressure Amnesty into cancelling its support. Within hours, Amnesty’s Twitter announcement of the event mysteriously disappeared.
“Yep – not good at all – it’s been deleted,” Amnesty UK’s Benedict assured several allies after the tweet promoting Waters’ Amazon Watch event with Donzinger was erased.
Yep – not good at all – it's been deleted.
— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) August 5, 2020
Among those who complained vociferously about Waters’ participation in the Amnesty USA event was Eliot Higgins, the founder of the US- and UK government-backed Bellingcat “open source” media operation, which was among the first major Western outlets to accuse the Syrian government of a chlorine attack in Douma in April, 2018.
In a tweet addressed to Amnesty USA, Higgins denigrated Waters as a “famous war crimes denier.” One minute later, he accused Waters of “spread[ing] conspiracy theories about chemical attacks.”
Benedict responded by assuring the Bellingcat founder that the “tweet was deleted a few hours ago.”
The coordinated attempt at canceling or undermining an event on corporate wrongdoing and the environment was just the latest instance of a tight-knit motley crew of Syria regime-change operatives sabotaging left-wing or social justice organizing.
The same cadre of regime-change fanatics has also sought to divide the Palestine solidarity movement, encouraging the movement to turn against any activist who contradicted the Syrian opposition’s line – which also happens to be the official line of the US State Department that has sponsored it.
This regime-change cadre has also viciously attacked critics of Washington’s hostile policy towards other sovereign nations like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Russia, and China.
Kristyan Benedict, for his part, is a central figure among the echo chamber of regime-change operatives. In recent years, he has helped organize several actions promoting Western military intervention and economic sanctions against Damascus.
Asked on Twitter by this reporter if he was responsible for deleting the tweet advertising the event on Chevron’s abuses, the Amnesty UK staffer declined to respond.
Kristyan, what role did you play in Amnesty’s deletion of tweets promoting an event on Chevron’s pollution in Ecuador and its persecution of @SDonziger?
Do you speak for the entire org in prioritizing NATO’s Syrian regime change war over all other rights-related issues? pic.twitter.com/ffCrEkmeHc
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 26, 2020
The Grayzone has obtained audio of a phone call between Waters and Amnesty International Chief Impact Officer Tamara Draut in which Draut claimed her organization had been lobbied to retract its support for the event by “folks in the White Helmets,” as well as “Syrian human rights activists,” who said they were “hurt by what they saw as [Amnesty’s] promotion” of Waters.
“What on earth has this got to do with a webinar about the plight of rain forest dwellers in northern Ecuador?” Roger Waters asked.
“Because your position on the White Helmets and [Amnesty USA’s] position on the White Helmets is so different from one another,” Draut replied, “people interpreted our promotion of an event where you were speaking as promoting your position on the White Helmets.”
Draut has spent her career in liberal non-profits and authored several books on the US economy; she has no apparent record of foreign policy experience or Middle East affairs.
Draut was joined on the call by Amnesty USA’s Head of Artist Relations Matt Vogel, a recruit from the recording industry who also has no notable experience in international affairs.
Without mentioning Benedict by name, Draut appeared to distance herself and the organization from his apparent actions.
“Sometimes staff try and solve problems on their own. I would not have taken down this tweet,” Draut told Waters. “That is not the policy I like to follow on Twitter. Instead, I would have much rather dealt with this directly and honestly, as opposed to disappearing the tweet.”
Draut privately apologized to Waters during the call. Waters responded by requesting a public apology from Draut for Amnesty USA’s withdrawal of support from the Amazon Watch event to free Donzinger and support Ecuador’s indigenous population.
Since the September 25 conversation, neither Draut nor anyone affiliated with Amnesty have expressed regret for the organization’s actions. Further, they have not clarified Benedict’s role in undermining the Amazon Watch event.
While Amnesty International states that its “mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of human rights,” Kristyan Benedict has engaged in a series of actions designed to pressure Western governments to enact interventionist policies that have demonstrably violated the rights of Syrians.
Amnesty UK’s Benedict has been a leading cheerleader for regime-change and Western intervention in Syria. In fact, his chapter sponsored a 2016 rally in London demanding that NATO forces impose a No Fly Zone over the country.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in a private 2013 speech that a No Fly Zone would lead to full-scale war and “kill a lot of Syrians.”
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) October 22, 2016
Benedict has also advocated for the so-called Caesar Sanctions that the US Congress and Trump administration imposed on Syria, placing the country under an economic blockade that has limited vital medical supplies, including cancer medication, and triggered critical shortages of bread and heating oil.
As the Financial Times acknowledged in a June 24 report, “The first and biggest act of the Caesar act was felt, not by regime insiders, but by ordinary Syrians, who saw prices spike as the threat of sanctions roiled the country’s currency market.”
In 2015, Benedict participated in a London event sponsored by the Saudi- and Qatari-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, and aimed at promoting the economic blockade against Syria.
Joining the Amnesty UK staffer on stage were two of the key Washington lobbyists behind the sanctions push: Stephen Rapp, then the State Department’s “ambassador at-large for war crimes” presiding over US lawfare efforts against Syria; and Mouaz Moustafa, the Syrian opposition lobbyist who escorted the late Sen. John McCain to his infamous 2013 photo-op inside Syria with CIA-backed insurgents who turned out to be extremist kidnappers.
The so-called Caesar Sanctions were the result of an elaborate propaganda operation in which a still-unknown supposed military photographer was smuggled out of Syria and delivered to the CIA along with thousands of photographs showing casualties of Syria’s proxy war.
A team of lawyers was hired by the government of Qatar – one of the top sponsors of Syria’s armed opposition – to verify and analyze the trove of photos.
While the mysterious “Caesar” figure was shepherded around official Washington by Mouaz Moustafa, invariably covered in a blue shroud to shield his identity from the public, a selected handful of his alleged photos were put on display at events like the one Amnesty’s Benedict participated in in London.
In fact, as The Grayzone reported, nearly half of the photos depicted Syrians who had been killed by anti-government insurgents, inadvertently confirming the violence of the Syrian opposition. This highly inconvenient fact has been concealed from the British and American public by the operatives that brought forth the so-called Caesar file.
As regime-change lobbyists like Benedict pushed intervention in Syria in the name of human rights, they were forced onto the defensive after confidently claiming that an alleged bombing in Douma, Syria on April 7, 2018 was a chemical attack carried out by the Syrian government.
The official story of the incident in Douma has since been upended by several Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigators, including two of the most important members of the organization’s fact-finding mission to Douma.
In testimony before the United Nations Security Council this January, former OPCW inspection team leader and engineering expert Ian Henderson stated that the organization’s investigation in Douma, Syria indicated in clear terms that no chemical attack took place, and that the incident was likely staged by the Syrian opposition to trigger Western military intervention.
Henderson and three other OPCW investigators have alleged that the organization’s initial report on Douma was censored by management under pressure from the US and UK governments.
Roger Waters has emerged as the most high-profile supporter of the OPCW whistleblowers, using his public platform to demand accountability for what appears to have been a cynical deception designed to justify a military assault on Syria and nearly led to another disastrous regime-change war.
But well before the OPCW staffers went public with evidence that US-aligned organization leadership censored their factual report, Waters issued his dramatic statement on stage in Barcelona condemning the White Helmets organization that spearheaded the apparent deception in Douma.
So who are the White Helmets, and why were they worthy of so much suspicion?
The White Helmets were established thanks to $55 million in funding from the British Foreign Office, $23 million or more from the United States Agency for International Development (USIAD) Office of Transition Initiatives — the State Department’s de facto regime-change arm — and untold millions from the Kingdom of Qatar, which has also backed an assortment of extremist groups in Syria including Al Qaeda.
A British former military officer-turned-mercenary named James Le Mesurier founded the White Helmets in southern Turkey in 2014. Le Mesurier would go on to die in an apparent suicide at his home in Istanbul on November 11, 2019. The Dutch paper NL Times revealed that he had stolen millions donated from Western governments to the White Helmets to finance a lavish lifestyle, and that some of the donor governments apparently looked the other way as the money disappeared into a web of accounts.
Marketed as a band of selfless rescuers, Le Mesurier’s White Helmets members operated exclusively in areas controlled by Salafi insurgents, including the local Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Its members have been filmed participating in several documented public executions, and helped extremists dispose of beheaded corpses of those they’ve killed.
Throughout the Syrian proxy war, footage and testimony by the White Helmets provided the basis for the West’s accusations of government chemical attacks on civilians and other war crimes. When Defense Secretary James Mattis cited “social media” in place of scientific evidence of a chemical attack in Douma, he was referring to the now-infamous video shot by members of the White Helmets.
Similarly, when State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert sought to explain why the US bombed Syria before inspectors from the OPCW could produce a report from the ground, she claimed, “We have our own intelligence.” She, too, appeared to be referring to social media material published by members of the White Helmets.
However, the accounts by White Helmets members of a chlorine attack in Douma in April, 2018 were immediately challenged by Western journalists on the ground as well as by Syrian eyewitnesses. As the dust cleared, it became increasingly apparent that the armed extremists that had been driven out of Douma by the Syrian army had staged a bogus chemical attack in hopes of inviting military intervention by Western governments.
During his Barcelona concert, Waters implored his audience to exercise critical thinking: “If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions for us as human beings.”
As The Grayzone reported days later, an eccentric French photojournalist had been lobbying Waters in the days ahead of his concert to allow him to deliver a message on behalf of the White Helmets and the “children of Syria” from the stage in Barcelona. He claimed to Waters that he represented a “powerful Syrian network.” It was in response to this appeal that Waters said he made his public statement.
Over a year earlier, in October 2016, a London-based public relations firm representing the White Helmets called The Syria Campaign attempted to recruit Waters by inviting him to a lavish dinner organized by a Saudi-British billionaire, Hani Farsi. The Pink Floyd founder was told that by signing on to the organization’s mission, he could help “elevate the voices of Syria’s peaceful heroes.”
Rather than signing on to a humanitarian interventionist public relations scheme as so many other celebrities had, Waters stood on stage in Barcelona on the eve of war and encouraged his audience to see through the wall of misinformation.
“What we should do is go and persuade our governments not to go and drop bombs on people,” Waters proclaimed, inspiring applause from the crowd. “And certainly not until we have done all the research that is necessary so that we would have a clear idea of what is really going on. Because we live in the world where propaganda seems to be more important than the reality.”
With his anti-interventionist jeremiad in Barcelona, Waters made himself the most prominent critic of the West’s catastrophic regime-change campaign in Syria – and a top target of the forces behind it.
He told The Grayzone that he saw the undermining of his Amazon Watch human rights event as part of a much wider phenomenon of censoring and smearing of public figures who challenge the official narrative on Syria. He pointed to the US, UK and French governments blocking the OPCW’s first Director-General, Jose Bustani, from delivering testimony to the United Nations on the organization’s cover-up of its own original Douma investigation, as a recent and especially disturbing example.
“What’s happened with Jose Bustani going public and The Grayzone having to publish the statement he wanted to make in person to the UN Security Council because the US and its allies blocked him is about the same thing that caused Kristyan Benedict to have Amnesty’s tweet in support of indigenous people in Ecuador deleted,” Waters reflected. “It’s all about covering up Douma and preserving the lies that led to missile strikes on a sovereign country and almost took us to war again.”