It May Not Have Been ISIS, But McCain Did Pose With Members of a Group That Beheads Opponents

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Rogin continues:

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.

A couple of days later, Politico published a photo from the visit, identifying Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (he is now listed as their Executive Director).

Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:

Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for his clandestine meeting last week with Syrian rebels.

“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.

“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,'” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”

Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting:

“Nobody self-identified as Nour, and none of the guys who were standing outside were in the meeting with McCain,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit that helped organize the McCain trip. Moustafa is in the picture and was also inside McCain’s meeting with the rebel commanders, along with Task Force political director Elizabeth O’Bagy.

photo from inside the meeting posted on O’Bagy’s Twitter page confirms that the man alleged to be Nour was not in the McCain meeting.

Don’t bother trying to click on the link to O’Bagy’s tweet, because her account has been deleted.  She presumably deleted it around the time she was fired from the Kagans’ Institute for the Study of War because she didn’t have the PhD that she had previously claimed. Oh, and in her famous Wall Street Journal op-ed, she failed to disclose her key association with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, although the Journal has now added that nugget as a “clarification”.

More recently, in June of this year, a similar photo to the one linked above from Politico began circulating with the accusation that ISIS was promoting it because it showed McCain appearing with one or more ISIS fighters. The earliest such accusation I can find is from Weasel Zippers on June 19. I haven’t found any links to any actual claims from ISIS. This accusation snowballed, with the group Vote Vets even using it in a fundraising email. Josh Rogin must have been busy, so this time McCain relied on a local group to lead the pushback against the photo.

The extra person who appears in this photo but not the one from Politico is Salim Idriss, who was at the time the leader of the Free Syrian Army. In addition to Moustafa, the AzCentral quotes McCain as saying that one other person in the photo is “one of the brigade commanders for the Free Syrian Army”.

So let’s just take McCain and his defenders at his word and say that everyone in the photos with McCain (and at the meetings he held) was affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. They’re the moderates, right? Well, aside from that one incident I wrote about where one guy from the FSA filmed himself eating the heart of one of his victims and posted it online. After all, they say he was kicked out of the FSA.

Uh oh. Just this week, the New York Times said this in their story about the death of US citizen Douglas McAuthor McCain (really, that name seems chosen by The Onion or Duffel Blog to troll the right wing…) as a fighter for ISIS:

The rebels who killed him were fighting for the Free Syrian Army, a rival group backed by the United States, and they went on to behead six ISIS fighters — but not Mr. McCain — and then posted the photographs on Facebook.

Okay, then. John McCain may not have posed for photographs with members of ISIS, but he most certainly posed with members of a group that beheads opponents and then posts photographs of the victims online.

Think about that the next time McCain and his war hawk cronies urge us to arm the FSA and/or bomb Syria because ISIS is a horrible group that beheads people.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

5 replies
  1. Les says:

    And now there are nearly 500 members in ISIS/ISL who supposedly came from the US and UK to join a jihadist group of their own choosing.

    How many of these are really intelligence officers, informants, special forces soldiers, and mercenaries hired by the US to form a rebel force?

    When is ISIS/ISIL going to catch and execute foreign spies among their midst as was done by the Somali resistance group al-Shabaab? The US jihadist-rapper Omar Hammami gave an interview shortly before he was executed by al-Shabaab. In the interview, he revealed that almost all foreign fighters have turned out to be working for the Saudis and other foreign governments.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    Oh, no. You mean it wasn’t JOHN McCain who was killed in Syria? Ah, crap, I was so excited – a good development at last. Oh well, perhaps he can visit again?

  3. Les says:

    The key thing is they’ve tried other media tricks to provoke the US to commit its military to Iraq and Syria. Those weren’t enough. Now they’ve taken to executing American citizens and playing up the involvement of US citizens in the group. If the US government doesn’t act, they may be “forced” to set off a false flag attack in the United States.

  4. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    That Lindsey Graham and John McCain have become the most prominent spokesmen for foreign policy in the Republican Party is deeply troubling and does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party or our country. Not only are they feted on the Sunday talk shows, they are frequently consulted by none other than President Obama. Why the MSM take their views seriously is a mystery to me because they have been consistently wrong in their previous policy prescriptions. Senator McCain has been a cheerleader for the MIC throughout his career. He supported the Iraq War and the intervention in Libya. He supports intervention in Syria and Ukraine and is a hawk in our relations with China. He has indicated on more than one occasion that he supports attacking Iran. At one point he even suggested that the United States establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, an action that could precipitate another Cuban-style missile crisis with a nuclear-armed Russia. The meek response of many prominent Democrats to his crazy ideas is not reassuring. I have heard that many Clinton supporters keep quiet because they hope that Senator McCain will endorse their candidate in 2016 if Rand Paul is nominated by the Republicans.

  5. blueskybigstar says:

    All evidence, and there is considerable, points directly to the fact that ISIS was armed by the United States, trained by Israel, and given nursing for the wounded by Turkey. Sources: NSA documents from Snowden and from Wikileaks as well as authorization by Obama to arm them. The reason for this, ISIS will insure that the US will continue to have a presence in the area in order to deliver new energy discoveries into the hands of the world’s elite.

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