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False Witnesses: How Doctors Without Borders Spread al-Qaeda's Propaganda

MSF has been 'reporting' atrocities from Syria's Aleppo where it actually has no presence

Here is a paradox for you. The exalted humanitarian outfit (and fundraising wonder) Doctors Without Borders (MSF), aside from providing medical services to people in some of the world's worst hellholes, also believes its mission is to speak out against human rights violations that they witness doing so. In keeping with this mission of "bearing witness" the MSF has therefore repeatedly spoken of attacks by the Syrian government on hospitals and civilians, particularly in Eastern Aleppo. Except here is the catch: Since 2015 MSF has had no international staff on the ground in Syria and has no facilities whatsoever in Aleppo.

(The supposed "MSF hospitals" that were supposedly kept being hit in Aleppo upon closer reading actually turn out to merely be "hospitals supported by MSF and other organizations".)

So then how is MSF able to "bear witness" to attacks that it could not possibly have seen?

This question was asked recently by a Scottish professor, Tim Hayward. Hayward researched the topic in depth and realized MSF has merely been echoing unverified information coming from groups on the ground like the White Helmets:

MSF has relayed reports from the rebel-held areas to which, exclusively, its supplies and support have been dispatched. The reports – including allegations of government attacks on hospitals and civilians – come from people working with the permission and protection of such groups as Al Nusra, Isis and other foreign jihadis and mercenaries.

These anti-government forces are known to exercise a rule of terror and to be not overly concerned about ordinary citizens’ access to medical attention. That is precisely why the MSF doctors withdrew from the areas under their control.[3] So there is scope to ask who the medics on the ground were, and who they were treating.

My question, though, simply concerns the reliability of uncorroborated witness statements coming from potentially compromised sources. For while press statements have been issued from various MSF offices around the world, it appears MSF had no independent access to verifiable information from Syria.

In fact, the public unavailability of detailed or verified information is a matter of record: even John Kirby of the US State Department could only assert that ‘relief agencies that we find credible are levelling these accusations’.[4]

The most prominent relief agency, and visible in all video footage linked to the alleged bombings, is the White Helmets.  It is a matter of record that the White Helmets are funded by the NATO and Gulf states whose avowed aim is regime change in Syria; it is generally believed that they work closely with terrorist organisations (how else could the Netflix documentary have shown them roaming so freely in a zone where MSF and Western journalists dared not set foot?[5]). Their independence and integrity are widely questioned.[6]

So while MSF has often been cited as an independent source of support for White Helmet testimony, its press statements have in fact merely repeated White Helmet claims![7]

This means that just like the mainstream press Doctors Without Borders have allowed themselves to become little more than a conduit for propaganda serving al-Qaeda-like groups (the very groups which they fled Syria from when they begun kindapping MSF staff).

As Patrick Cockburn, the veteran Middle East reporter for The Independent, explained groups like the White Helmets (aside from being funded by NATO governments) are only allowed to operate because al-Qaeda finds their activities useful to its cause and would be shut down in a moment if they did anything other than propaganda for its side:

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers.

They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

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