Emails Reveal the Friendly Westerners Who Sucked Up to Syria's Dictator
As the brutal regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues killing thousands of its own people, a new cache of leaked e-mails reveal who played nice with the Arab autocrat.
As the brutal regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues killing thousands of its own people, a new cache of leaked e-mails reveal who played nice with the Arab autocrat. On Tuesday, a trove of e-mails from senior officials in Assad's regime were leaked after the hacker group LulzFinancial posted their login and password information online. The friendly exchanges hearken back to the days running up to Libya's revolution, when Westerners like Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Usher and 50 Cent were hounded for their associations with Muammar Qaddafi's regime. There are fewer pop stars this time around, but here's a look at what's been dug up so far.
Today, Gawker's John Cook detailed a particularly sycophantic exchange between Polaroid chairman and millionaire entrepreneur Bobby Sager (left) and Assad's senior media adviser Bouthaine Shaaban. In an e-mail sent March 28, 2011, weeks before Syria's "Day of Rage" and days before Syrian police killed 15 people in a crackdown on anti-government protesters, Sager downplayed media reports of the violence and pledged his support to Assad.
"What is important now is for committed friends to be vocal in their support of President Assad's leadership," he wrote. "I will take my first hand understanding into the world and argue loudly and convincingly that President Assad, far from being the problem, is actually the most critical part of the solution."
Downplaying reports of violence and chaos in the media, Sager said "My first hand understanding, without the distorting filters of the media or the haze of distance, compels me to speak out about what I have seen and heard and especially how different my experience has been from the images I have seen on TV." Turns out, those pesky reporters exposing violence in a far away country were playing a pretty important role.
It's not clear what kind of favor Sager was trying to curry, but as the e-mail's subject line ("Following Up on Our Meeting") makes clear, the two have spent some time together. In a response e-mail, Assad's media adviser says "I know how much the president enjoys your company and appreciates your friendship."
But Sager isn't the only one who's lavished praise on Assad. As Foreign Policy's David Kenner reveals, former British Parliamentarian and author George Galloway (right) was caught speaking quite highly of Assad in words he probably wishes he could take back. "Syria is as I have often said is the last castle of Arab dignity," he said in an e-mail to Shaaban. Galloway's praise of the brutal dictator is markedly less galling than Sagan's, in our view, given that it's dated back to August 2010, before the uprising, and it's a little more clear what Galloway is trying to get in return. As Kenner writes, "Galloway was writing to request the Syrian government's help in organizing a convoy to the Gaza Strip."
Still the multiple references to "His Excellency the President" who Galloway conveys "my respect and admiration" to probably isn't something Galloway would like in the history books.
Another interesting revelation from the leaks: When Assad wasn't getting praise from Westerners, he was getting advice on how to manipulate them. Today, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reveals an e-mail from Sheherazad Jaafari, a press attache at the Syrian mission to the United Nations. The e-mail comes ahead of Assad's much-hyped interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters. Explaining how Assad can overcome Walters in the interview, Jaffari writes that the "American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are 'mistakes' done and now we are 'fixing it.'" She adds:
"It is hugely important and worth mentioning that 'mistakes' have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized 'police force.' ... It's worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by policemen, police dogs and beatings."
Jaafari also recommended that Assad say: "Syria doesn't have a policy to torture people, unlike the USA, where there are courses and schools that specialize in teaching policemen and officers how to torture."She advised using Abu Ghraib in Iraq or execution via electric chair as more examples.
Unfortunately for Assad, the American people (and Barbara Walters for that matter) weren't so easily-manipulated, as you can see in the interview below. Regardless, any international jet-setters who've sent love letters to Assad better be worried now that netizens are rifling through his inbox.