This next report is from the vile Russia Today, and it takes a pro Roger Waters stance. But I am sharing because I am in the mood for popcorn.
A leaked phone call reveals that outside pressure caused Amnesty to pull its promotion of a webinar featuring Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters – a vocal skeptic of the Douma ‘chemical attack’ that prompted Western powers to bomb Syria.
In August this year, environmental pressure group Amazon Watch broadcast an online panel discussion in support of Steven Donziger, a crusading attorney who dared try to hold US energy giant Chevron to account for widespread environmental destruction in the Amazon, and was left fighting for his life, livelihood and liberty as a result.
Donziger himself was present on the Amazon Watch webinar that August evening, and was joined by a number of prominent campaigners, including Simon Taylor, founder of NGO Global Witness, and Roger Waters, co-founder of rock institution Pink Floyd.
The talk was widely promoted in advance by a number of prominent human rights activists, and NGOs, perhaps most prominently Amnesty International.
However, the organization’s endorsement triggered a deluge of criticism on social media from a number of notorious advocates for regime change in Syria. This led to a post advertising the webinar published by Amnesty USA’s official Twitter account the day before broadcast to mysteriously disappear without explanation.
I would appeal to @amnestyusa not to promote this event given Roger Waters participation because slandered #WhiteHelmets repeating Russian propaganda putting their lives at risk when saved over 150,000 lives & cannot remain silent as know them well as a filmmaker @SyriaCivilDef https://t.co/8e311Xcj2S
— Ronan L Tynan (@RonanLTynan) August 5, 2020
In response to one critic, Amnesty UK Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict said promoting the talk was “not good at all” and confirmed that the offending tweet had “been deleted.”
Yep – not good at all – it's been deleted.
— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) August 5, 2020
A leaked recording of a September 25 phone call between Waters and two senior staffers at Amnesty International USA – Matt Vogel, head of artist relations, and Tamara Draut, chief impact officer – sheds fascinating light on the episode.
At the start of the conversation, Waters recalls he was not only informed Amnesty would promote the panel discussion on Twitter in advance, but also personally retweeted the endorsement so it reached his circa 375,000 followers at the organization’s express request.
However, an associate informed him just before the webinar began that they couldn’t locate the post. When the talk was over, he went about getting to the bottom of the tweet’s absence.
After conducting “a bit of sleuthing,” he determined that the removal followed pressure being brought to bear by a number of individuals, in particular his “old adversary” Eliot Higgins, founder of controversial website Bellingcat, due to Waters’ views on the Syrian Civil Defense, aka White Helmets. Seeking answers, he attempted to reach out to Amnesty, but was repeatedly stonewalled before finally being put in touch with Vogel and Draut.
In response, Draut confirmed that the tweet’s removal was indeed prompted by a “difference of opinion” on the White Helmets. “We believe they’re really champions for human rights, and have fought for their protection and freedom. When the tweet went up on our end, it wasn’t fully vetted as it should’ve been, and immediately we heard from folks in the White Helmets, asking why we were promoting you, due to comments you’ve made about them. We also heard from other Syrian human rights activists, who were quite hurt by our support of you…” she began, before Waters interrupts, asking what relevance his views on the group has to “the plight of rainforest dwellers in northern Ecuador.”
“People interpreted our promotion of an event at which you were speaking as promoting your position on the White Helmets. I got involved in this process too late, I wouldn’t have taken down the tweet, that’s not the policy I like to follow, I would’ve much rather dealt with this openly and honestly…” Draut explains.
Waters made headlines the world over in April 2018, when he stopped mid-set during a concert in Barcelona to talk about a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, which had allegedly taken place six days earlier.
Branding the White Helmets a “fake organization” creating “propaganda for jihadists and terrorists,” he suggested that Western public opinion was being manipulated in order that “we would be encouraged to encourage our governments to go and start dropping bombs on people.”
Despite making few if any public comments about the White Helmets or the ongoing crisis in Syria since, Waters has nonetheless been subject to an unending deluge of online abuse from their Western supporters.
Back on the call, an indignant Waters cites a since-deleted tweet from Eliot Higgins, which stated that Amnesty International “needs to explain why Roger Waters is an appropriate person to talk about human rights.” Rather than responding constructively to the question, the organization opted to simply yield to critical pressure.
Waters said: “Why am I an appropriate person? Because I’ve been a great advocate for human rights all my life. The White Helmets were clearly involved in something really dodgy. Amnesty has never come out and said, ‘It’s been brought to our attention the video the White Helmets made in Douma was absolutely fake.’
“Doctors there have said not only were there no deaths that we know about that day, but the people in the hospital were complaining of dust inhalation, not being gassed. Do you still believe that video, do you believe that was real?”
Draut responded: “I appreciate your desire to defend your opinion, I don’t think it’s productive… all I can tell you is you asked why the tweet was taken down, and it was taken down because of the immediate backlash we received, which is in direct opposition to our position on the White Helmets, and is very hurtful… the position of Amnesty wasn’t that you don’t have any right or expertise or commitment to human rights to speak on that panel.”
Waters then countered: “Why didn’t you explain why I am an appropriate person, and say you weren’t going to delete the tweet, because the webinar was important?!
“When I was growing up, you pretended to care about human rights – you’ve demonstrated to me in this conversation that you don’t, particularly by refusing to answer my simple question about the video made by the White Helmets in Douma!” he said.
“So this is just a blacklisting of me?! This is you blacklisting me on the basis of evidence given by a scumbag like Eliot Higgins! That’s what you’re telling me now!” Waters contended.
“You’ve made a special exception in my case?! To blacklist me, and take a tweet mentioning me down, on the basis of trolls sending in their negative feelings about me – because I don’t subscribe to their opinions about regime change in Syria, and the non-existent chemical attack in Douma, Amnesty International will blacklist me and prevent me from acting for the people of Ecuador, in my capacity as a human rights activist. Wow! What a terrible indictment of your organization, if you don’t mind me saying!”
Draut then returns to the conversation, apologizing outright for the tweet’s removal, and claiming Waters is “in no way” blacklisted by Amnesty, despite the organization “disagreeing” with his position on the White Helmets.
Thanking her, Waters asked whether Amnesty was willing to publicly explain how and why its promotion of the webinar was retracted, an act that was “entirely outside the boundaries that Amnesty International pretends to hold sacred,” and apologize to Stephen Donziger and the Ecuadorian people. No commitment to do so was forthcoming from either Amnesty representative on the call, and no explanation or apology for the deletion has been offered by the organization as of October 12.