“There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.” — Patrick Cockburn †
Since Syrian forces recaptured Douma, a few western reporters have entered and spoken with eyewitnesses on the ground. The two main reports I have read or seen so far are consistent and both contradict the official narrative that the area was subject to any kind of chemical weapons attack.
(Note that: all transcripts below are my own.)
Robert Fisk is one of the best known mainstream war reporters. Writing in The Independent yesterday, he reported testimony of an eyewitness named Dr Assim Rahaibani who tells him that the video footage shot inside the clinic is “perfectly genuine”, although it is not showing victims of a chemical attack:
War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.
Fisk then adds:
Before we go any further, readers should be aware that this is not the only story in Douma. There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.
Continuing with the story of eyewitness Dr Rahaibani, Fisk writes:
“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”
Fisk has a style of writing that sometimes drifts toward ambiguity. It is as if he doesn’t dare tell the truth straight but he can hint at it. So read his next paragraph carefully and please make up your own mind to what he is trying to say:
The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story – played a familiar role during the battles. They are partly funded by the Foreign Office and most of the local offices were staffed by Douma men. I found their wrecked offices not far from Dr Rahaibani’s clinic. A gas mask had been left outside a food container with one eye-piece pierced and a pile of dirty military camouflage uniforms lay inside one room. Planted, I asked myself? I doubt it. The place was heaped with capsules, broken medical equipment and files, bedding and mattresses.
Click here to read Robert Fisk’s full report entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”.
The conservative and erstwhile pro-Trump news channel One America News Network sent reporter Pearson Sharp to Douma. He says that he has spoken with a great many witnesses, none of whom believe there was a chemical attack:
So we just randomly went up to different people – no-one came up to us – and interviewed probably about 30 or 40 people throughout the town. And consistently not one person in the entire town that we talked to said that they had seen or heard anything about a chemical attack.
They said that they had lived there for seven to fifteen years – some of them – so you know they were long time residents of the area. And many of them were very close to the site that was allegedly attacked on the day that it was allegedly attacked. One man said that he was within 50 metres at the time they say it was attacked and he heard and saw nothing outside of the ordinary.
When I asked them what they thought the chemical attack was, they told me, all of them told me that it was staged by the rebels: the rebels who were occupying the town at that time. They said that it was a fabrication. That it was a hoax. And when I asked them why, they told me that it was because the rebels were desperate and they needed a ploy to help get the Syrian army off their backs so they can escape… That story was told to us by numerous people.
[from 2:40 mins]
Sharp says he also visited the square which was the “ground zero” of the alleged attack as well as the nearby hospital where he spoke with other eyewitnesses who did not see any evidence of a chemical attack, although they did see the events captured on videotape:
It’s not clear exactly where the strike happened in that square but it was that square… so I walked around it and looked at everything. There was some mortars that had exploded in the concrete, but nothing looked like a chemical attack… There were soldiers there. There were military police there. They said they had been stationed there for a while and they hadn’t seen anything that day.
They did point out to me that there was a hospital nearby – which is right off the square actually – that had a basement two or three storeys underground, where there was an emergency field hospital that had been used by the terrorists to treat their wounded. And so we looked around and one of the buildings in that area – there are several (they’re all about 15 storeys) – one of the buildings in the area had a large bulwark of dirt built up around the edges to apparently protect it from strikes so that people inside wouldn’t be hurt. And we walked around and there was a tunnel carved into the side of that you could walk down into it and that was where they’d built this makeshift hospital.
And it was actually very sophisticated, they had a carpark, a garage, they had maintenance bays: things like that. And we walked down a couple of floors underground and into the room – the hospital room that you see in all the videos where the people are being hosed off. And it’s still being used right now as a hospital. There’s still doctors there taking care of people but now those doctors are working for the government instead of working for Jaish al-Islam terrorists.
So I spoke to one of the doctors. He was a doctor in training right now, and he was on duty at the time of the attack that day. And I asked him what he saw that day and he told me that it was a routine day for him. He said it was very dusty that day, so a lot of people were coming in coughing. You know just irritation to the throat and things like that. And normal war injuries because you know it was part of the war zone occupied by the terrorists. And they said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, and while they were going about their rounds suddenly – out of nowhere – they said a bunch of strangers burst into the room screaming that there was a chemical attack.
And they brought in allegedly victims and started hosing them down with water. And so the doctors you know they freaked out and they grabbed hoses and started helping. And the strangers who brought in the victims were videotaping everything… they brought in cameras and they were filming everything and as soon as they’d washed everybody off and stuff, they packed up and they left. And that was the end of it.
[from 5:50 mins]
Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has been reporting events on the ground in Syria for many years. On the Ron Paul Liberty Report broadcast today, she spoke with presenter Daniel McAdams who asked what she was hearing about events in Douma. She says that Robert Fisk’s report is in line with testimony broadcast by Arabic channels given by two doctors who said they were inside the hospital at the time of the alleged attack:
So basically Robert Fisk has gone in and through talking to civilians there he is confirming the same narrative that this was definitely a staged event.
The US and the UK and France are claiming that they have this sort of “secret evidence” but they don’t seem to be able to get much beyond the social media chatter, which The Pentagon was also basing its entire findings upon.
[from 8:10 mins]
Daniel McAdams: But what do you make of the gruesome pictures of bodies, particularly of children’s bodies? You know we have seen them. People will say well how can you dispute this: look at these bodies.
Vanessa Beeley: Look this is very difficult to say without actually having been in there and without actually talking to people. But one thing has to be made very clear: Jaish al-Islam, which is he Saudi-financed group that was occupying Douma, had held thousands of prisoners, many of them kidnapped in Adra, an area to the north, in 2013 (women and children).
It’s very difficult to speculate because as I say I haven’t spoken to civilians there to see whether the scenes that you’re seeing were filmed – you know of the bodies themselves – certainly there are a lot of anomalies about those images. I mean I think even one BBC researcher [I will add the name when I have it] pointed out the fact that the bodies had been rearranged after the initial event. They’d been moved and placed in a position for the greatest photographic impact.
Now when I was in another area of Eastern Ghouta in Zamalka which was one of the areas affected in 2013 by the then alleged chemical weapon attack, I did speak to civilians who told me of the staging of events and of the kidnapping of children to be used in those events – the drugging of those children and the fact that many parents there who lost children in these alleged [chemical weapons] attacks did not see their children before they were buried.
So what I’m in the process of doing right now is just piecing together the testimonies that I’m getting from these various areas in Eastern Ghouta. So it’s very hard to draw firm conclusions right now, but certainly it’s looking as if many of these events were staged. Many of them were you know psyops basically to facilitate further military intervention on a humanitarian basis.
[from 8:35 mins]
I will try to update this post as and when there are further reports.
German ZDF correspondent, Uli Gack, travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damacus “where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma”. On the basis of received testimony, he reported differently to the accounts embedded above although as he did confirm on April 20th on ZDF Heute that “this whole story on April 7th was staged”.
Presenter: “You were in a big refugee camp today and talked to a lot of people. What did you hear about the attack?”
Uli Gack: “We just came back from Harjalla. This is a place about five kilometers away from here, and where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma. And the people there told us in a tone of conviction, that this whole story on 7 April was staged by ISIS. They said that this place of action was a command post of the Islamists. There, the Islamists had set up chlorine containers and, in general, just waited for this highly interesting target for the Syrian air force to be bombed – that’s what happened. And the chlorine gas tanks exploded. And people also assert with conviction that there were several such provocations in Douma. They also tell us of a so-called exercise by ISIS, where different people had been exposed to chlorine gas, that was filmed and then was given as material evidence that was published on 7th April. Whether that is true or not, I would not stick my neck out for every sentence, but somehow there seems to be something to it.”
Presenter: “But if this is the case why would the Russians want to prevent the inspectors from carrying out their examinations? Is that not a total contradiction?”
Uli Gack: “It is a complete contradiction. Absolutely. But if we look at places like Homs or Aleppo or, lastly, Mosul, you have to look at their underground tunnels which are like Swiss cheese and where, weeks later, again and again organized cells break out of the ground and carry out attacks or armed raids, then there is still some danger for this inspection team. And that’s why Russia says it just cannot leave people there lest that is the case. Whether that’s true or not, whether there’s something to it, we don’t know but in fact, the longer time passes since April 7th, the harder it is to detect potentially degraded chlorine gas, and it’s likely to be nearly impossible to determine authorship.”
Presenter: “Many thanks. Uli Gack.”
[This translation is courtesy of the youtube uploader.]
On April 18th Sputnik released an interview of 11 year-old Hassan Diab who had featured in the hospital footage shot by the White Helmets:
They also spoke with Baraa Badran who works at the hospital. He told them: “we didn’t see any chemical attack symptoms here” [from 2:00 mins].
More recently both Vanessa Beeley and Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett visited Saqba in eastern Ghouta where they reported on a large building complex formerly occupied by the White Helmets. This site is located just a few hundred yards from the bomb making factory of Faylaq al-Rahman where mortars and missiles were manufactured ready to fire on civilians in Damascus.
Eva Bartlett writes:
Corporate media does not deign to report that over 11,000 civilians were killed in Damascus alone by such mortar and missile attacks. Hardest hit were Damascus’ old city, where I’ve spent weeks and weeks in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Thankfully, unlike prior years, now the old city is not being pounded daily by these mortars. But in prior years, the attacks on civilian areas was relentless and brutal. Following are links related to such attacks.
Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report on her own website In Gaza.
Vanessa Beeley discusses the same complex in a highly-informative interview given on May 1st on UK Column news [from 39:40 mins]:
On May 11th, Eva Bartlett discussed her visit to Douma in an interview with Dan Dicks of Press for Truth:
† This quote was also added as an update.
“A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies.
“Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.
“None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.”
From an article entitled “In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical” written by Patrick Cockburn published in Counterpunch on April 23, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/23/in-middle-east-wars-it-pays-to-be-skeptical/