Reprinted from Consortium News
The video is appalling even by Syrian standards. It shows a couple of grown men holding onto a small boy who is perhaps 10 or 12 years old. One of them grips the boy by the hair while the other playfully pats his cheek. The men smile, laugh and give the thumb's up. Then they lay the boy on his stomach, tie his hands behind his back, and draw a knife across his throat. In the final frame, one of the soldiers holds the severed head aloft in triumph.
The child's crime? Allegedly fighting for Liwa al-Quds, or Jerusalem brigade, a Palestinian armed group that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"He sent us a child today, he no longer has men!" one of the rebels cries out in reference to Assad in the video, which went online on Tuesday. "We will leave no one in Handarat," the rebels add, referring to the city north of Aleppo where heavy fighting has occurred between rebels and the government.
For its part, Liwa al-Quds put out a statement saying that the boy, whom it identified as Abdullah Issa, was not a fighter, but a Palestinian living in Aleppo with his family "among multiple poor families that live in the area under the control of terrorists."
The statement said the boy had been ill, adding: "By taking one glance at the child, the argument that he was a fighter is immediately disapproved." Indeed, little Abdullah looks too small even to hold a gun, much less shoot it. (An Associated Press story reported that the boy was suspected of spying.)
As shocking as this is, what makes it even worse is that Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, the group responsible for the atrocity, is part of the U.S.-backed Revolutionary Command Council and has received TOW anti-tank missiles courtesy of the CIA. When asked about the incident, State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner responded with his usual word games.
"We're very concerned, certainly, if it's accurate," he said of the report. When asked if the incident would lead to a cut-off in military aid, he added: "If we can prove that this was indeed what happened and this group was involved in it, I think it would certainly give us pause ... serious pause and we'll look at, frankly, any affiliation or cooperation with this group we may have going forward, if these allegations are proven true."
Spinning the Story
So the U.S. may drop Nour al-Din al-Zinki from its list of Grade A government-certified moderate rebel forces if a proper inquiry bears the story out. But these are weasel words for a number of reasons. First, there's no doubt that the report is accurate. Raw un-doctored video footage doesn't lie, and, what's more, Nour al-Din al-Zinki has confirmed that the incident took place and that its fighters were involved.
Second, as judicious as Toner may sound in calling for proof, his decision to reserve judgment is actually a stalling tactic aimed at giving Nour al-Din time to extricate itself from the PR mess its fighters created. Indeed, Nour al-Din al-Zinki quickly put out a statement -- possibly at the prompting of Brookings Institution Syria expert Charles Lister -- declaring that the fighters have been arrested and a judicial commission formed to determine what had happened and decide on a punishment.
Needless to say, this doesn't mean that a Sunni-fundamentalist group that Amnesty International has accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing journalists and dissidents won't still cover the crime up. Neither does it mean that the killers won't get off with a slap on the wrist. All it means is that the group will make a show of justice so that business can continue as usual. (In its statement, Nour al-Din al-Zinki also asserted that beheading a child does not represent the group's overall policies.)
But the third thing that makes Toner such a weasel is that his statement doesn't address the most important question of all: why the CIA has armed such a brutal outfit in the first place. Toner's statement doesn't because it can't. The Obama administration's Middle East policy today is such a welter of confusion that it hardly knows what it's doing itself.
The administration claims to oppose Al Qaeda, obviously. But it continues to run interference for Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf petro-states that have bankrolled the group over the years and, according to no less an authority than Hillary Clinton, are still doing so today.