Did Syrian Rebels Lure Journalists to Death Trap?

The British journalist Alex Thomson feels sure that members of the Free Syrian Army intentionally led him and his colleagues to a place where they would be fired on by the Syrian Army. Why would the rebels do that? Because, Thomson says, the death of journalists would have been bad publicity for Damascus.

Here's the heart of his account:

Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind.

We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man's-land.

At that point there was the crack of a bullet and one of the slower three-point turns I've experienced. We screamed off into the nearest side-street for cover.

Another dead-end.

There was no option but to drive back out onto the sniping ground and floor it back to the road we'd been led in on.

Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared.

I'm quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.

That conviction only strengthened half an hour later when our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side-street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead.

The UN duly drove back past us, witnessed us surrounded by shouting militia, and left town.

Eventually we got out too and on the right route, back to Damascus.

Assuming Thomson's read of the situation is right, this is a reminder of two things, both of which are basically clichés but still worth repeating:

(1) The first casualty of war is, yes, truth. Both sides will try to spin--and apparently in some cases gruesomely manufacture--the news.

(2) In a conflict like this, there is no way to align yourself with a side consisting entirely of good guys.

I'm not positing symmetry here. I don't doubt that there are many more atrocities being committed by Syria than by the rebels, or that the Syrian government deserves to have a rebellion on its hands. Still, it's worth remembering that whenever people are calling for foreign intervention in a war, some of them will try to romanticize the cause. That doesn't mean the cause isn't truly just, and it doesn't mean intervention is necessarily a bad idea. But given what a bad idea intervention can turn out to be, it's important to try to debate the question without illusions.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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