Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed Lindsey Snell, a U.S.-based journalist who specializes in military conflicts and events in the Middle East. The human rights activist learned from Snell how Turkey and the UN triggered the humanitarian crisis in Libya, why justice in international courts is skewed toward the West, and how the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has become another lever of Western pressure on Russia.
Mira Terada: Good afternoon, dear Lindsey! Thank you for accepting interview invitation. Please tell our viewers and readers what you do?
Lindsey Snell: I am an independent print and media journalist. Mostly I focus on the Middle East, also now Azerbaijan, Armenia, and also Ukraine.
M.T.: As an expert on the Middle East, how would you comment on the situation in the region?
L.S.: I think that the Middle East right now, it’s a really interesting time. It’s in a state of flux. I mean, you have Saudi Arabia and Iran finally mending relations with the help of China.
Turkey and Syria maybe not actively negotiating, but looking to the future for a negotiated means to finally end the war in Syria for the first time since the war started more than a decade ago.
So I think it’s a really interesting time.
M.T.: In 2016 you were captured by Syrian militants. Please tell us how that happened and what did you experience?
L.S.: I was reporting in Syria in the region in 2016, in the northern countryside of Aleppo. And at this point al-Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra had sort of proliferated and they were everywhere. Even the areas that were technically under the control of the Free Syrian Army were essentially controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra. So when they learned that there was an American journalist there, they eventually kidnaped me after. I’d been in the country about six days. They captured me and initially it was just what they told every journalist that they captured was basically, ‘we have information that you were a spy”. So essentially it was a way for them to hold journalists captive and get ransom. And in my case, I’m an American.
America doesn’t pay ransoms. So eventually Qatar would pay.
And this is this became like an industry for them. Qatar paid 2 million for one American journalist that Jabhat al-Nusra kept for two years. So it was just a good way for them to make money. And that’s why they captured me. Thankfully, after a few weeks, I was able to escape.
M.T.: In 2020, you criticized the UN for not taking action because of Turkey’s supplying the Government of National Accord of Libya with arms. Why do you think no one in the international arena paid attention to this?
L.S.: Well, it wasn’t just weapons. It was Syrian mercenaries. And this was the first instance of Turkey using their Syrian mercenaries abroad. And they sent thousands. At one point they had more than 13,000 Syrian mercenaries in Libya. And they were doing bad things they were looting. They were harassing people, doing bad things to women. It was really a terrible humanitarian crisis, additional humanitarian crisis that Turkey introduced to western Libya.
The lack of international outcry of this, of sending the mercenaries, emboldened Turkey to send them in 2020 to Nagorno-Karabakh when Turkey helped Azerbaijan launch the war in Armenia.
I think that Libya stopped being an interesting topic for international media because it’s really just so complicated and so internally focused that I think it just ceased being interesting. I think that that’s why there’s been little outcry about that.
M.T.: Do you think the current supply of weapons and equipment by Western countries to Nazi formations in Ukraine goes unnoticed for the same reasons?
L.S.: I don’t think it’s noticed. I think it’s well known. The CIA trained a lot of these groups. I think British intelligence also trained a lot of these groups. So it was obvious.
I think any plan probably that when the U.S. supplied weapons to Ukraine, a lot of them would end up in the hands of these far-right neo-Nazi groups.
I think it was just part of the plan, honestly. I think it’s more important for the West to harm Russia, even if it comes at the cost of emboldening these far-right militants. And it’s the same thing that we see in Syria or saw in Syria. The U.S. had this train and equip program that supposedly vetted moderate rebels who, by the way, also that they were not moderate. They were hardcore Muslims and they were proud of that. It was more important to embolden it to harm the Assad regime and to gain control over Syria than it was not to embolden the far-right militants. That’s just sort of what America does.
M.T.: Back in August of last year you stated that weapons and humanitarian aid sent to the Ukrainian army were being stolen and not reaching the soldiers. Do you think this is one of the reasons for the deliberate prolongation of the Ukrainian conflict by Kiev?
L.S.: I don’t know if it was part of the deliberate prolongation, but I think it was absolutely expected. It’s widely known that Ukraine is a very corrupt country, the leadership is very corrupt.
And there is no way that the West sent aid in terms of monetary aid, military aid, humanitarian aid. I think that it was well known that that would all be stolen. Maybe they didn’t expect it would be stolen at the rate it has been, but it was definitely a known thing.
In early days, I think CBS had a report. They backtracked on all of it and they said that the sources weren’t good. But it’s true and everyone knows it’s true. The Ukrainians will admit that it’s true.
M.T.: Do you think the monstrous earthquake that occurred a few weeks ago in Turkey and Syria will help change the situation in the Middle East? Can a common misfortune help end the confrontation between Ankara and Damascus?
L.S.: I don’t know if the earthquake will change things substantially, but I do think that the earthquake effectively delays any plans that Erdogan had to attack northeast Syria. I think that those plans were being modeled and there’s just no way to effectively launch an attack now. They’ve still been doing drone strikes. But any plans for a larger attack have been delayed. What could change things in additionally, if Erdogan is not reelected, that could change things substantially.
M.T.: What role does the West play in the escalation of the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan? What is their aim and what are they trying to achieve?
L.S.: I think now the situation in between Armenia and Azerbaijan has become a mechanism for the West to pressure Russia. Every Western article about the conflict complains about the lack of action of the Russian peacekeepers, Russia in general. The West really has offered no alternative. Even the monitoring mission that the EU has in Armenia hasn’t stopped Azerbaijani from violating cease fire. I don’t think peace is the goal. We had the EU double gas imports from Azerbaijan in the name of human rights because they had to stop importing from Russia. And then it quickly became known that probably with the increase of Russian gas being imported to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan is probably just laundering Russian gas and reselling it to the EU. So peace is not the goal. I think that the West is more slanted on the side of Azerbaijan and that’s why Azerbaijan continues to violate the cease fire and continues to attempt to advance further into Armenian territory with little pushback from the West.
M.T.: Do you think it is possible to establish peaceful relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the near future?
L.S.: No, I don’t think it’s possible for there to be peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan now. I think that Azerbaijan’s being very clear. They want a lot of things that Armenia is not going to give. I mean, they want sovereign Armenian territory. They want their corridor through southern Armenia. They’re continually violating the cease fire. They’re continuing attacking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. They blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh. I think today is the 109th day that Nagorno-Karabakh has been blockaded. There’s no peace in the near future. Azerbaijan don’t want peace.
M.T.: Why do you think no US political or military leaders have been prosecuted for a number of war crimes around the world, including in the Middle East?
L.S.: I think that the mechanisms to charge officials in countries with war crimes, they’re very heavily slanted in the favor of the West.
There’s still a perception, mostly Western perception, that anything that the West does, especially America, any military action that they take is for the greater good.
And we still see that. 20 years on, people believe that about Iraq. I think that the narrative is changing and the perception is changing. But this is still the overwhelming Western perception, is that anything that the West does especially militarily, is for the greater good.
M.T.: Have you encountered censorship or artificial restrictions on freedom of speech by Western technology companies and social media?
L.S.: I tweeted a picture of Azov militants giving the Heil Hitler salute. At first EU parliamentarians and journalists all said that it was fake, and they actually claimed that it was Russians, because one of the men had Russian written on his vest or something because he’s a native Russian speaker.
Once I was able to prove that they were Ukrainians, my tweet was removed by Twitter citing German law about glorifying Nazi ism and glorifying Nazi symbols. They used a German law.
They applied it erroneously basically to censor a tweet that they didn’t want to be published.