Category Archives: Syria

terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time

The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st 2015 in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 7

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

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Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

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1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

6 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

7 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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was the Douma gas attack staged…? little by little the truth is coming out

Do you remember these harrowing scenes shot inside a hospital in Douma from early April last year?

The footage of an alleged chemical attack is genuinely distressing. The children who have queued up to receive treatment are clearly suffering, and many have terrified looks in their eyes. However, within hours and with the actual arrival of journalists on the ground, the first reports differed markedly from claims presented in this video footage.

They did not find evidence to corroborate the story that poison gas had been released. Instead, they spoke to eyewitnesses who described the aftermath of conventional airstrikes, some of whom also talked about smoke and dust inhalation. (Here are extracts of these on-the-ground reports that I reposted at the time.)

“What you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani, an eyewitness working in the clinic, told Robert Fisk of The Independent. The same doctor also explained how although the patients were suffering from smoke and dust inhalation, “someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.” 1 This story was later corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of others including 11-year-old Hassan Diab (one of the children seen in the video) and by members of the hospital staff. 2

In short, what the video shows is real in one sense, but in another way this is a manufactured panic that was staged, repackaged and distributed all by the White Helmets group. In different circumstances, the footage would be called fake news because it is.

*

The tweet above was written by BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, and it first came to light in February before being swiftly deleted. “After almost 6 months of investigations”, Dalati claims, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

Continuing in another tweet:

Truth is James Harkin got the basics right in terms of Douma’s “propaganda” value. The ATTACK DID HAPPEN, Sarin wasn’t used, but we’ll have to wait for OPCW to prove Chlorine or otherwise. However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

In the same thread Dalati added:

I can tell you that Jaysh al-Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist. They coopted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation. In fact, one of the 3 or 4 people filming the scene was Dr. Abu Bakr Hanan, a “brute and shifty” doctor affiliated with Jaysh Al-Islam. The narrative was that “there weren’t enough drs” but here is one filming and not taking part of the rescue efforts. Will keep the rest for later.

As Zerohedge reported at the time:

Interestingly, the BBC’s Dalati had actually first hinted he knew that elements surrounding the Douma attack had been staged a mere days after the incident.

In a now deleted April 11, 2018 tweet, he had stated: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

Thus far mainstream networks have not picked up on this latest bombshell admission from the BBC producer, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any formal response from the BBC based on the Russian foreign ministry’s request. 3

Click here to read the full report entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden.

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More recently, a suppressed OPCW report was made public by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The following extracts are drawn from an excellent overview put together by Kit Knightly and published at Off-Guardian:

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2: “The Patio”

Location 4: “The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of the Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly.

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The corporate media has so far paid little attention to the leaked OPCW document. This can be justified, of course, if as the OPCW contend:

“the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM [OPCW Fact-Finding Mission]”

However, the provenance of the document was in fact established by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media prior to publicly releasing it. As they explain:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, who is listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We have confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM, Henderson was assigned to lead the investigation of the cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand that “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

Moreover:

The engineering sub-team could not have been carrying out studies in Douma at Locations 2 and 4 unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (the body that oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely that Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

And lastly:

The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter. 5

Click here to read more from the briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

One mainstream journalist who did pick up and report on news of the leak is Peter Hitchens:

[A]s I said in my March 9th article ‘On the subject of the cylinders it [the OPCW’s final report] says physical evidence was ‘consistent’ with the view that the cylinders had passed through the concrete roof of the building in which they were found. […]

The leaked document differs sharply from this. So I set out first of all to discover if the OPCW disputed the claim that the leaked document came from within its organisation. As you will see from the response below (As it is mostly flannel, I have highlighted the key words), it does not dispute this. I also asked them to confirm that its named author was in fact an OPCW employee. As you will see from the response below, it declined to confirm the latter. I think, if it had wished to do so, it could have disowned the name person.

I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:

‘The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed.  All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat.

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. (my emphasis, PH)

 At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.’

I thank the OPCW for confirming that the document is genuine. 6

[All emphasis retained from Peter Hitchen’s original article]

Click here to read Peter Hitchen’s full article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” published by the Mail Online.

On the basis of available evidence, the OPCW is a compromised intergovernmental body whose independence can no longer be relied upon. Previously the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media had concluded that:

“It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”

On the basis of the latest disclosure, however, their revised statement concludes more forcibly addressing what it describes as “the hijacking of OPCW”:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. 7

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version below. You are encouraged to download it and share it widely:

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As the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media rightly assert, there were victims who were killed at Douma. The most graphic video footage shows literally dozens of corpses lying on top of one another, with some appearing to have a kind of froth on their mouths. These victims were originally said to have been sheltering in an underground shelter where the gas canisters were allegedly dropped, although it seems more probable that the scenes are from inside a flat. Embedded below is only uploaded version I can find on youtube – it forms the opening segment to a CNN bulletin [the footage runs from 30–60 secs]:

Back in 2013, Euronews interviewed Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute, who had outlined inconsistencies in footage of patients’ symptoms released following the earliest alleged chemical attacks:

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

As the evidence stacks up that the Douma gas attack was entirely staged, the most likely explanation is therefore a macabre one. Jonathan Cook puts it plainly:

An atrocity that appears to be corroborated again by BBC producer Riam Dalati in another of his follow-up tweets:

Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.

Tyler Durden, in the same Zerohedge article, writes:

Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed-out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies. 8

Click here to read Tyler Durden’s full article.

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One final thought as the corporate media turns a blind eye to the approach of the annual “private gathering” of our senior politicians, business leaders, and other movers and shakers at Bilderberg – with days to go the venue still remains a closely guarded secret – it is noteworthy (as I have noted previously) that Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of the OPCW during the Douma investigation, was in attendance at the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria (June 2015) just short of three years prior to the Douma incident. His stay at this secretive conference with its strictly off-the-record political agenda meant rubbing elbows with top brass from Nato, CEOs of the major arms manufactures, and senior politicians including ministers of defence, which clearly compromises the independence and discredits claims of impartiality of this former chief of OPCW. There is a conflict of interests here that needs to be investigated.

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1 From an article entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attacks” written by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent on April 17, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

2 Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

3 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

4 From an article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly, published in Off-Guardian on May 14, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/05/14/leaked-report-douma-chemical-attack-likely-staged/ 

5 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

6 From an article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” written by Peter Hitchens, published in the Mail Online on May 16, 2019. https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2019/05/strange-news-from-the-opcw-in-the-hague-.html

7 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

8 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

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an alternative review of the year by Chunky Mark

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget — Arundhati Roy

When I came across Chunky Mark’s (aka the Artist Taxi Driver) three hour youtube upload entitled “JEZZA the movie 2018” I was intrigued. Three hours later I was impressed: it had really felt like three hours well spent.

The film includes interviews with Dr Bob Gill, producer of The Great NHS Heist; David Graeber, anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5000 years; Aaron Bastani, co-founder of Novara Media; Paul Mason, former Economics Editor for BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News; Magid Magid, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Sheffield; as well as comedians Norman Lovett and Eddie Izzard. He speaks with Ed Miliband, and about half the current shadow cabinet: Emily Thornberry, Barry Gardiner, Richard Burgeon, Dan Carden, Jon Ashworth and John McDonnell. He even gets an interview with French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He also introduces us to Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra and his newly released documentary Nae Pasaran which tells the remarkable story of four factory workers at the Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride who downed tools in solidarity with the victims of Pinochet’s reign of terror:

(Caution: strong language in parts)

A lot of ground is covered as he slow tours Liverpool, Sheffield and London; the trail of his video diaries interspersed with an occasion lyrical rant which is the trademark of Chunky Mark’s online performances. Topics range from austerity, tax havens, pensions, fracking, homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS, the Windrush scandal, the neglect of the Grenfell survivors, the march against Trump’s visit, the ongoing fight for justice for the Hillsborough victims, the plight of refugees, to the peril of a resurgent far right. Mark McGowan (his real name) speaks to those most deeply affected and closely involved. To a young man who is living on the streets of London, to three Muslim women who run a soup kitchen, to nurses and doctors, to a fellow (he is actually one) taxi driver and to a handful of the WASPI women. Most poignantly he visits a few of the migrant camps near Calais including that one nicknamed “The Jungle” (isn’t that shameful enough?)

In truth I paused a few times during the three hours – there’s a lot to take in and some sequences are a little slack, which is only to be expected. Judged fairly, this is a fine piece of amateur filmmaking: sensitive, constantly thought-provoking, and in parts hilarious. Though it will not win any Golden Globes, it deserves an audience, which is why I am recommending it.

Oh, and at one point I stopped for about half an hour to gaze out of my bedroom window over the rooftops and the gardens, watching as fireworks lit up the Sheffield sky welcoming in the New Year. The annual people’s firework display (as I regard it) is one recent tradition I look forward to. How different from our long-established Bonfire Night which goes on and on for days and means what? Why do we celebrate the uncovering of the so-called ‘gunpowder plot’ to blow up parliament by detonating lots of mini explosives? Yet it feels right that we celebrate something as arbitrary and ephemeral as the passing of the minute hand at the start of every year with such a nonsensical flurry of sound and fury. Countless individuals in countless backyards lighting blue touch papers that launch into one glorious, synchronised citywide spectacular.

Reflecting upon the moment of yearly rebirth can feel a bit like pinching yourself; uncannily becoming aware of the thing you are forever forgetting. Not merely another year passing and I am still here, but right now I am here. And in a way Chunky Mark’s review is a gentle slap to our political consciousness (whereas most other annual reviews are to entertain and distract). His appraisal of Britain’s mounting social problems is unsettling, but there is constant encouragement too. It is not so much a homage to the Labour leader as a heartfelt tribute to grassroots activism.

Incidentally, Corbyn is featured just twice (in spite of the title) — quoting the beautiful words of Arundhati Roy at the beginning and then at the end rallying supporters saying:

That is why those great people who founded our movement, those great people who struggled against enormous odds in the last two centuries to try to bring about the kind of strength and organisation that we’ve got in trade unions and in the Labour Party [made] all those things possible for us. Now my friends, let’s dedicate ourselves absolutely to taking that message of decency, justice, social justice, socialism out there on the streets all around this country and say to the Tories “we are many, you are few — We are for the many, you are for the few.”

Wishing you all a very happy New Year!!!

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Correction:

Mark McGowan is a real minicab driver although in the original post I had written that he spoke to: “… a (‘fellow’ – he’s not actually one) taxi driver…”

You can read more about him in this Guardian review by Dawn Foster published in January 2015.

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Additional:

New Year’s greetings from Syria courtesy of independent journalist Eva Bartlett:

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faked concern: Haley & corporate media bleating about Idlib civilians, ignore terrorists’ presence | Eva Bartlett

Eva Bartlett | InGaza

Nikki Haley, the hypocritical US Ambassador to the UN, mistakenly thinks she can dictate – from New York City, far from the terrorists which her country supports – that the Syrian army cannot fight and eradicate al-Qaeda in Idlib.

Her, and other American figures’ words, come with faked concern over the lives of Syrian civilians.

This is particularly ironic given that the US-led coalition, illegally in Syria, destroyed the Syrian city of Raqqa and killed untold numbers of civilians along the way, in their fake fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) – a pretext which has only time and again strengthened IS in Syria. Raqqa remains uninhabitable, and even today corpses are still being unearthed.

Haley and the Western corporate media have been bleating in chorus about Idlib and the civilians there, deliberately ignoring the presence of Al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists occupying the governorate and surrounding areas in Aleppo and Hama governorates.

They ignore, too, the reality of life in areas which were once occupied by these terrorists: the torture, imprisonment, maiming, assassination, and starvation endured by the civilian population at the hands of these extremists and paid mercenaries.

The other reality Haley and co-regime change mouthpieces whitewash is that once these areas are liberated of Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and the myriad other extremist terrorist groups, life gets back to normal, schools reopen, cities and towns repopulate, ancient traditions resume as they have for thousands of years in this cradle of civilization.

Occupation, Liberation, Peace and Stability

With the exception of Deir ez-Zor, and smaller hamlets throughout the Syrian countryside, I’ve been to every major city and town liberated by Syria and allies from Al-Qaeda and co-terrorists. They are all now in peace, with many of the areas thriving, rebuilding, and the other areas at least in peace without the sadistic rule of terrorists.

In June 2014, I went to the old city of Homs just one month after the reconciliation deals that saw Al-Qaeda and Free Syrian Army terrorists bused out of the city. This beautiful historic old city and its ancient churches were in shambles. Some of that was due to the Syrian army fighting the terrorists, but most of it was due to the terrorists burning, looting, and booby trapping the buildings they had occupied.

Indeed, a resident of the old city, Abu Nabeel, took me around, showing me the destruction, vandalization, burning and looting that terrorists did before leaving Old Homs, including leaving bombs in residents’ homes, to inflict yet more loss of life even after the terrorists had left. But also while there in June 2014, I saw residents and youth volunteers scraping the debris, painting hopeful art on walls, beginning the rebuilding process.

Also in June 2014, two months after its liberation, I went to the ancient village of Maaloula, which had been occupied or targeted by al-Qaeda and co-terrorists from September 2013 to April 2014. They systematically destroyed, looted, burned or stole ancient relics and vandalized historic buildings. In summer 2016 and more recently in September 2018, I returned to find life pulsing during the Celebration of the Holy Cross, a nearly-1700 year old celebration interrupted only during the terrorists’ occupation of Maaloula.

In December 2015, I returned to Old Homs to find that some reconstruction had occurred. Churches were partially repaired, a school was fully rehabilitated, shops had opened, and residents were putting up Christmas decorations.

In June 2017, when I returned to Homs, I saw a city pulsing with life, and peace. That June, I also went back to Aleppo, which I’d been to four times prior to its December 2016 liberation [see: Western corporate media ‘disappears’ over 1.5 million Syrians and 4,000 doctors,  The Villages in Aleppo Ravaged by America’s “Moderate” “Rebels”, and: Aleppo: How US & Saudi-Backed “Rebels” Target ‘Every Syrian’, November 29, 2016, Mint Press News].

I saw eastern areas that had been occupied by Al-Qaeda, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, IS and other terrorist factions. The destruction was indeed immense, as terrorists had holed up underground, including occupying schools and hospitals. The complex housing the Eye and Children’s Hospitals was turned into a headquarters for Al-Qaeda and IS, with basements turned into prisons, prisoners’ fates decided by Sharia courts of the extremists.

I returned to Aleppo in May 2018, and spent hours at the ancient Citadel, both filming people enjoying their time around the Citadel, and later joining them at one of the cafes encircling this historic site. Talking with Aleppo MP, Fares Shehabi, we discussed how none of this had been possible under the rule of the extremists.

WATCH: Life in Old Aleppo, around the historic Citadel

WATCH: Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi on improved life in Aleppo since liberation

Indeed, in November 2016, standing near the ruins of the Carlton Hotel, tunnel-bombed by terrorists in May 2014, and looking towards the Citadel, I was told to step back due to the risk of Al-Qaeda snipers. But the Aleppo I saw in May 2018 was likewise pulsing with life, and peace.

In media campaigns to demonize the Syrian and Russian governments, Western media mentioned al-Waer, Homs, and Madaya. But few, or none, that I’m aware of bothered to go to those places after they were restored to peace. I did, in June 2017, and unsurprisingly heard what journalists in eastern Aleppo heard when those areas were liberated: the reason they had been starving was because  terrorists had stolen all the food aid that entered the town and kept it for themselves. Indeed, near a munitions workshop, I found the remnants of one such parcel, a Red Cross package. And like in eastern Aleppo, terrorists in Madaya had imprisoned civilians, and had tortured them.

When in April and May 2018 I went to various areas of eastern Ghouta, I again heard about terrorist-induced starvation. When I asked whether residents could access their farmland – as eastern Ghouta is an agricultural region – I was told that, no, they couldn’t, terrorists controlled the farmland, too, leaving them literally starving.

A few weeks ago I returned to Daraa City. I’d been there in May 2018, at a time when terrorists in Daraa al-Balad and outskirts were heavily shelling the city. At great risk, I was able to go to the state hospital, with snipers just 100 metres away from the sole route leading there. The hospital was severely damaged, with entire wards destroyed. The Children’s Hospital wing was damaged and off limits due to the proximity of terrorists roughly 50 metres away – as I would learn when I returned a few weeks ago.

In Daraa this September, there was no bombing, just the scraping of rubble as bulldozers and residents cleaned up the remnants of this foreign war on Syria.

On September 11, I went to Mhardeh, a town in northern Hama, where 13 civilians were killed by terrorists missiles targeting the town on September 7. Most of the dead were killed right away, others died slowly of critical injuries. One man lost his wife, three young children and mother to the terror attacks. He lost everything.

When I asked him how the situation of Idlib, occupied by at least 70,000 terrorists, a modest estimate – impacted him and Mhardeh, he replied that Idlib is the cause of their suffering.

WATCH: Shadi Shehda on his murdered children, mother, and wife, killed by terrorists in Idlib

The September 7 attacks on Mhardeh weren’t the first. To the contrary, the town has been relentlessly targeted for the past 7 years, its local defense commander, Simon al-Wakil, told me.

WATCH: Simon al Wakeel Speaks on Mhardeh’s National Defense Forces and Civilians Under Terrorist Attacks

So did the Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Maan Bitar, who said: “The gunmen, the terrorists, they are in all the region of Idlib, not just Idlib city. They are also two kilometers from here (in northern Hama). We’ve received more than 7,000 missiles, rockets, and mortars these past eight years. Every time the terrorists feel they are in a critical situation, militarily speaking, from the government, they shell civilians. Nobody spoke about that. For eight years, Mhardeh town is being shelled, and civilians killed, but nobody spoke of that.”

WATCH: Reverend Maan Bitar on Terrorism Against Mhardeh Civilians, and Need to Liberate Idlib

Nearby al-Skalbiyye has also been relentlessly targeted, including with 10 Grad missiles fitted with cluster bombs, as noted by British journalist Vanessa Beeley who visited the town.

Idlib Reality: an al-Qaeda safe-haven

With the Nikki Haleys and laptop media now droning incessantly about “3 million civilians” in Idlib prone to being massacred by the Syrian and Russian armies, it’s time to reflect on a number of points.

First of all, there is no accurate figure for the number of civilians in Idlib, much less the number of terrorists. Given that when we heard the same cries before the liberation of Aleppo, with the UN itself chiming in to claim that 300,000 civilians were trapped in Aleppo’s eastern areas – the actual number was less than half that figure – we can at least be sceptical about the current claims of 300,000 in Idlib.

Moreover, among the population in Idlib, how many are terrorists? How many are being held against their will by terrorists? How many are Syrians?

Al-Qaeda’s presence in Idlib isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s an established fact that even US State Department’s Special Envoy, Brett McGurk, made clear when he said: “Look, Idlib province is the largest Al-Qaeda safe-haven since 9/11. Idlib now is a huge problem, is an Al-Qaeda safe-haven right on the border with Turkey.

Yet, outlets like CNN whitewash their presence. While there are no definitive figures for the number of non-Syrians among those terrorists, it is a fact that there are extremists from around the world.

What Western leaders and media fail to address is the reign of terror the different extremist gangs inflict on Syrian civilians. This includes their kidnapping of untold numbers of civilians, particularly children.

Vanessa Beeley wrote this just weeks ago, noting that in a liberated area of eastern Idlib, she was told that over 600 children and adults had been kidnapped by “both the terrorist groups and the #WhiteHelmets” in the last 12 months there.

Further, it is from positions within Idlib governorate that terrorists continue to fire on Aleppo. So in spite of the liberation of Aleppo from these extremists, areas closest to them are routinely bombed.

Fares Shehabi tweeted in September about a rocket attack on Aleppo believed to have originated from Idlib.

In all of the areas I mentioned, the Syrian and Russian governments worked to offer amnesty and reconciliation to Syrians holding arms, and indeed these reconciliations enabled the return to peace in many of these areas.

The Syrian and Russian governments have again opened humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave Idlib, and as with corridors opened in Aleppo, terrorists have attacked the corridor, to prevent civilians from leaving. Some updates state that Syrians have been able to exit when the corridor wasn’t being targeted, and other updates note that terrorists are preventing civilians from leaving, or demanding money from civilians who want to leave.

Syria and Russia have again offered reconciliation and amnesty. It is terrorists within Idlib who refuse this, refuse a political process, and instead continue to hold civilians hostage and occupy Syrian territory.

On September 28, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressed media the day of a General Assembly meeting, noting the US-led destruction of both Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq, also noting that Russia and Syria prevented this in Aleppo and in Eastern Ghouta.

These are all points to keep in mind the next time Nikki Haley shrilling performs for the cameras. It is time to liberate Idlib, by military or political means, and bring peace to Syria.

Click here to read the same article as it was originally posted on Eva Bartlett’s website InGaza.

A shorter version of the article was first published on October 8th at RT.com

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RELATED:

I would like to thank Eva Bartlett for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

Paul Blomfield replied to my letter on October 9th as follows:

I’m pleased to reassure you that I fully support Emily Thornberry’s position. I know that we have previously exchanged emails before about the issue of military intervention more widely.

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Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Syria

the last casualty of war is Truth… as the White Helmets ride off into the sunset!

When members of the world’s most distinctively attired ‘rescue group’ were last weekend “evacuated” by Israel and their role in the war in Syria formally ended, the official portrait of the White Helmets as humanitarian “volunteers” and paragons of virtue was freshly asserted. By parsing a single Guardian article, my intention here is to show again how this grotesque misrepresentation of the truth has been cultivated and maintained.

For closer analysis of the corporate media’s complicity in the promotion of the White Helmets I refer you to the addendum – first published on Pier Robinson’s official website, his original article is reproduced in full at the end of this post.

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The White Helmets and their families were evacuated by Israeli defence forces on Saturday night, crossing from northern Israel into Jordan at three points. The Israelis had initially put the numbers evacuated at 800, but later the figure was revised downwards by James Le Mesurier, a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group in Turkey in 2013.

He said on Sunday that 422 people were rescued, including 98 White Helmets. As many as 800 others did not manage to escape or chose not to do so.

Writes ‘Patrick Wintour and agencies’ [italicised as original] in a recent Guardian article.

The first point of note is that the primary source for their story, James Le Mesurier, is described simply as “a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group” following which the partially anonymous authors rather conspicuously fail to drill down into Le Mesurier’s stated ties to British intelligence. Moreover, they avoid all mention of Le Mesurier’s subsequent contract work for the US and UK governments:

Prior to his founding of the White Helmets, Le Mesurier served as Vice President for Special Projects at the Olive Group, a private mercenary organization that has since merged with Blackwater-Academi into what is now known as Constellis Holdings. Then, in 2008, Le Mesurier left the Olive Group after he was appointed to the position of Principal at Good Harbor Consulting, chaired by Richard A. Clarke – a veteran of the U.S. national security establishment and the counter-terrorism “czar” under the Bush and Clinton administrations. 1

Click here to read more about Le Mesurier in the same article written by Whitney Webb and published by Mint Press News.

It is the case and easily verified that Le Mesurier was indeed the founder of the White Helmets which he had helped form in March 2013 in Turkey. His pivotal role in the unlikely origins of the White Helmets is not remotely controversial although the authors of the article deliberately lessen the impact by stating only “is considered to have founded the group”. Quoted below is Le Mesurier’s own account of the birth of the White Helmets, proudly retold in a speech given in Lisbon in 2015:

In early 2013 I had a meeting with nine local leaders that had come out from northern Aleppo, and they painted this picture of the frequency and the intensity of the bombing that was taking place. And I was delivering programmes on behalf of the US and UK governments, and we were able to offer them some good governance training, some democratising training, and a handful of sat phones.

Several days later I was very fortunate to meet the head of Turkey’s earthquake response group, a group of people called “AKUT.” And the conversation that we had was along the lines of: “If they can rescue people from a building that has been flattened as a result of an earthquake, how possible is it to rescue people from a building that’s been collapsed as a result of a bomb?” And this led to a series of design labs. We brought a number of people out of Syria who brought building samples, and we sat down over several days merging the expertise of the Syrians that had come out from the ground (who knew the regime tactics) with my organisation that understood operating in war zones and the expertise of this organisation, AKUT, who rescue people after earthquakes. 2

[from 4:10 mins]

Embedded below is Le Mesurier’s full speech given at The Performance Theatre, Lisbon on June 26, 2015:

James Le Mesurier’s CV is so very reminiscent of former Navy Seal and founder of Blackwater-Academi, Erik Prince, that this really must raise eyebrows. For why did an ex-MI5 officer who thereafter enjoyed a boardroom position in private security firm the Olive Group – a group that afterwards merged with Prince’s Blackwater-Academi – go on to form the purportedly humanitarian White Helmets? And why did he officially name this group formed in Turkey, the “Syrian Civil Defence”, unless he fully intended to usurp extant and internationally recognised domestic civil defence organisations? Incidentally, if you search for James Le Mesurier on Wikipedia you will be redirected to the entry for the White Helmets. Unlike Erik Prince, there is no separate entry for James Le Mesurier himself who in the White Helmets entry is correctly designated its founder but briskly described merely as “former British Army officer”.

Click here to read an extended piece investigating the background to the White Helmets written by Max Blumenthal, published by Alternet in October 2016.

Wintour and the unnamed ‘agencies’ continue:

The White Helmets have operated in opposition-held areas rescuing civilians from the rubble of airstrikes, but they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House. 3

That the White Helmets have exclusively operated in regions controlled by “opposition groups” is well-known. What is only seldom reported on, however, is how they shared the same territories with proscribed terrorist groups including Jaish al-Islam (trans: “The Army/Sword of Islam”), Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra aka al-Qaeda in Syria).

Once again, this well-established fact ought to cast very serious doubt on their stated neutrality. Moreover, this admittedly circumstantial evidence of collusion on the grounds of location becomes conclusive once we consider the multiple images shamelessly uploaded on social media by White Helmet “volunteers” themselves, in which we see them cavorting with combatants of those same Islamist terrorist groups, posing with firearms, waving the black flag of al-Qaeda, and actually assisting with the clear-up of executions. Is this the image of selfless humanitarianism?

Click here to see a cache of literally hundreds more images like this one.

The authors of the Guardian piece claim “they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House”, which is another of many half-truths in this account. Saying “funded” implies that monies donated to the group were additional and a top up, when it would be far more accurate to say that the White Helmets are ‘financed’, or, better still, ‘bankrolled’ by Western governments. Here are the figures – please judge for yourself:

But the main implication in this statement is that no-one besides agents of the Russian state has ever challenged the neutrality of the White Helmets, which is outright rubbish.

For instance, here is John Pilger describing them as “a complete propaganda construct”:

Seymour Hersh has been nearly as outspoken against the White Helmets saying:

“Also, I think America was indirectly supplying some money [to the White Helmets], certainly the Brits were, and so certainly it was a propaganda organisation too.” 4

Both statements were of course made in interviews broadcast by RT, but this is because even journalists as acclaimed as John Pilger and Seymour Hersh are just not permitted mainstream airtime to impugn the heroic status of the Oscar-winning White Helmets. The neutrality of the White Helmets has become an article of faith and all who dispute it do so at the risk of becoming marginalised themselves – Hersh in particular, who is today largely restricted to publishing articles in the London Review of Books, has been roundly abused for his stance on Syria.

Embedded below is a ‘Corbett Report’ broadcast in February and aptly entitled “The White Helmets are a Propaganda Construct”. It addresses all of the points raised above and more:

As this officially sanctioned story of the White Helmets has been spun, the most troubling aspect is the astonishing lack of diligence in mainstream reporting. Aside from an abject failure to follow the money — or simply to acknowledge and report on the considerable streams of taxpayer funding — the corporate media has never once questioned the group’s humanitarianism or its purported neutrality. In consequence (at least in part), the White Helmets have since been lauded by politicians across both sides of the aisle, bolstered by some of our most influential NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, celebrated in an Oscar-winning documentary, and finally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Had the truth ever been allowed to come out, would they still have so many friends in high places?

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Finally, I know that we are no longer expected to retain memory of events relating to periods outside the current news cycle, but that Israel is leading this rescue mission is curious isn’t it. Curious given the recent IDF massacre of more than 130 unarmed Palestinian protesters – including 25 children; given how those same forces are once again “mowing the grass” in Gaza, bombing the homes of its own refugee population; and that Israel has just passed a nation-state law to ensure the old de facto apartheid system was made de jure. Why then, we might reasonably ask Netanyahu, are the lives of some Arabs who have chosen to live within regions of Syria occupied by Islamist terrorist groups worth so much than others, closer to home, who just happen (perhaps entirely by accident) to be living under the flag of Hamas?

Netanyahu later tweeted that the evacuation by the IDF was a “humanitarian gesture”, which given Israel’s very direct involvement in the war on Syria is clearly downplaying its significance. But then, it is impossible to understand Israel’s aims in backing anti-Assad opposition without considering the bigger picture. As Brian Whitaker wrote in a Guardian article published during the lead up to the Iraq War in late 2002 and entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam”:

The “skittles theory” of the Middle East – that one ball aimed at Iraq can knock down several regimes – has been around for some time on the wilder fringes of politics but has come to the fore in the United States on the back of the “war against terrorism”.

Its roots can be traced, at least in part, to a paper published in 1996 by an Israeli thinktank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Entitled “A clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm”, it was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Binyamin Netanyahu. As the title indicates, it advised the right-wing Mr Netanyahu to make a complete break with the past by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism …” […]

The paper set out a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment”, beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad.

With Saddam out of the way and Iraq thus brought under Jordanian Hashemite influence, Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and “roll back” Syria. Jordan, it suggested, could also sort out Lebanon by “weaning” the Shia Muslim population away from Syria and Iran, and re-establishing their former ties with the Shia in the new Hashemite kingdom of Iraq. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them”, the paper concluded. 5

[Bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full article written by Brian Whitaker.

A strategy for Israeli expansion which includes the “weaken[ing] and ‘roll back’ [of] Syria” can be further traced back to the so-called Oded Yinon Plan – Yinon was an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Published back in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation’s publication Kivunim, it had called for the Balkanisation of Iraq and Syria. Both nations have since been ravaged by war and Iraq is already partitioned. The permanent division of Syria may yet follow. If it does, it will not have happened by chance.

Click here to read more about ‘The Clean Break’ and the ‘Yinon Plan’ in an extended post on the subject.

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Additional: Peter Ford responds to the ‘evacuation’ of the White Helmets

Former Ambassador to Syria 2003 – 2006, Peter Ford responds to the UK Government statement by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt on “exceptional” Israeli evacuation of the UK/US Coalition intelligence construct, the White Helmets:

Following a joint diplomatic effort by the UK and international partners, a group of White Helmets volunteers from southern Syria and their families have been able to leave Syria for safety.

They are now being assisted by the UNHCR in Jordan pending international resettlement.

The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own. Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work – trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians. White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection. We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible.

We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.

Peter Ford responds:

The government statement contains two bare-faced lies.

The White Helmets most definitely have not assisted all sides in the conflict. From the beginning they have only ever operated in rebel-held areas. Government controlled areas have the real Syrian Civil Defence and Syrian Red Crescent. This is quite a big whopper on the government’s part. It goes without saying that the media will not pick up on it.

Secondly the White Helmets are not volunteers. They are doing jobs for which they are paid, by Western governments. They have a press department 150 strong, bigger than that for the whole of the UK ambulance service. Their claims of saving over 115,000 lives have never been verified. The co-location of their offices with jihadi operation centres has been well documented.

Apparently the government are lying because they are nervous of being accused of importing into this country scores of dangerous migrants who have many times been reported to be associating with extremists (social media is rife with self-propagated videos of their misdeeds such as participation in beheadings and waving ISIS and Al Qaida flags), and wish to whitewash them.

The White Helmets’ dramatic exfiltration leaves many questions unanswered

1. Why was it deemed necessary to evacuate this particular group in the south when other groups of White Helmets simply got on the buses to Northern Syria when military operations concluded in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, and when similar exodus by bus has been arranged for rebels in Deraa?
2. Why should White Helmets be considered to be more at risk than combatants, many of whom have either ‘reconciled’ or been bussed out? In the demonology of the government side the White Helmets are not seen as worse than other jihadis.
3. Might the British government have been afraid of this particular group being caught and interrogated, revealing perhaps the truth about alleged chemical weapon incidents?
4. Will they now be foisted on to areas of the UK already struggling to absorb migrants, or will they go to places like Esher and Carshalton?
5. Will local councils be informed about the backgrounds of these fugitives? Will local councils be given extra resources to absorb them and cope with resulting security needs, bearing in mind that Raed Saleh, leader of the White Helmets, was refused a visa to the US in 2016?

Click here to read the same post originally published by Vanessa Beeley on her website The Wall Will Fall.

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The following is a comment by writer and photographer Bryan Hemming appended to Peter Ford’s statement on TheWallWillFall:

From our living room window, here on the tip of Southern Spain, we can see the North African coast. Every day we hear news of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean. They are fleeing the violence, hunger and destruction that is a direct consequence of wars instigated by Western governments funding, training and arming religious fanatics and terrorist groups determined to impose tyranny.

This morning’s news told of another thousand or so new arrivals over the weekend. We see videos of the blurred out women holding the lifeless bodies of babies that didn’t survive the trip. With the extremely hot weather, most died of dehydration. As if from ironic perversity, a few died from drowning in salt water.

A walk along the beach at any time of year can reveal a tiny shoe, a pair of soaked jeans, or the sorry remains of a deflated rubber dinghy, whose passengers didn’t make it to shore .

In the art market in Conil de la Frontera, where we sell our work, Javier, a painter, tells me of the times he’s called out. He’s a Red Cross volunteer on standby. On call 24/7 he gives up his time to welcome and look after the survivors, handing out food, water and blankets along with a little bit of care and love. Last week was particularly busy, he told me, with two or three helicopters searching for survivors of dinghies that sank. Many launches were also out hardly knowing where to look, as there were so many in need of help.

The Anglo corporate media won’t be reporting that, they are too busy worrying about the White Helmets. Seems a good time for someone to come down here and see what’s really happening.

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Addendum: Pier Robinson on media complicity

The recent Guardian article by Olivia Solon attacks those investigating and questioning the role of the White Helmets in Syria and attributes all such questioning to Russian propaganda, conspiracy theorizing and deliberate disinformation. The article does little, however, to address the legitimate questions which have been raised about the nature of the White Helmets and their role in the Syrian conflict. In addition, academics such as Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson have been subjected to intemperate attacks from mainstream media columnists such as George Monbiot through social media for questioning official narratives. More broadly, as Louis Allday described in 2016 with regard to the war in Syria, to express ‘even a mildly dissenting opinion … has seen many people ridiculed and attacked … These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views: instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations’. These are indeed difficult times in which to ask serious and probing questions. It should be possible for public debate to proceed without resort to ad hominem attacks and smears.

It is possible to evaluate the White Helmets through analysis of verifiable government and corporate documents which describe their funding and purpose. So, what do we know about the White Helmets? First, the ‘Syria Civil Defence’, the ‘official title’ given to the White Helmets, is supported by US and UK funding. Here it is important to note that the real Syria Civil Defence already exists and is the only such agency recognised by the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO). The White Helmets receive funding from the UK government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the US government’s USAID, Office of Transition Initiatives programme – the Syria Regional Program II. The UK and US governments do not provide direct training and support to the White Helmets. Instead, private contractors bid for the funding from the CSSF and USAID. Mayday Rescue won the CSSF contract, and Chemonics won the USAID contract. As such, Chemonics and Mayday Rescue train and support the White Helmets on behalf of the US and UK governments.

Second, the CSSF is directly controlled by the UK National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, while USAID is controlled by the US National Security Council, the Secretary of State and the President. The CSSF is guided by the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which incorporates UK National Security Objectives. Specifically, the White Helmets funding from the CSSF falls under National Security Objective “2d: Tackling conflict and building stability overseas”. This is a constituent part of the broader “National Security Objective 2: Project our Global Influence”.

The funding background of the White Helmets raises important questions regarding their purpose. A summary document published online indicates that the CSSF funding for the White Helmets is currently coordinated by the Syria Resilience Programme. This document highlights that the core objective of the programme is to support “the moderate opposition to provide services for their communities and to contest new space”, as to empower “legitimate local governance structures to deliver services gives credibility to the moderate opposition”. The document goes on to state that the White Helmets (‘Syria Civil Defence’) “provide an invaluable reporting and advocacy role”, which “has provided confidence to statements made by UK and other international leaders made in condemnation of Russian actions”. The ‘Syria Resilience CSSF Programme Summary’ is a draft document and not official government policy. However, the summary indicates the potential dual use of the White Helmets by the UK government: first, as a means of supporting and lending credibility to opposition structures within Syria; second, as an apparently impartial organisation that can corroborate UK accusations against the Russian state.

In a context in which both the US and UK governments have been actively supporting attempts to overthrow the Syrian government for many years, this material casts doubt on the status of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organization. It is therefore essential that investigators such as Vanessa Beeley, who raise substantive questions about the White Helmets, are engaged with in a serious and intellectually honest fashion. The White Helmets do not appear to be the independent agency that some have claimed them to be. Rather, their funding background, and the strategic objectives of those funders, provide strong prima facie grounds for considering the White Helmets as part of a US/UK information operation designed to underpin regime change in Syria as other independent journalists have argued. It is time for the smears and personal attacks to stop, allowing full and open investigation by academics and journalists into UK policy toward Syria, including the role of the White Helmets, leading to a better-informed public debate.

Click here to read the same article published on Pier Robinson’s official website.

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Update:

On August 4th, RT broadcast a special episode of its news show Going Underground featuring interviews with head of the White Helmets, Raed Al Saleh, and investigative reporter Vanessa Beeley:

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1 From an article entitled “James Le Mesurier: The Former British Mercenary Who Founded The White Helmets” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on July 31, 2017. https://www.mintpressnews.com/james-le-mesurier-british-ex-military-mercenary-founded-white-helmets/230320/

2 Transcript modified from show notes to “Episode 330 – The White Helmets Are A Propaganda Construct” (Feb 9, 2018) written and published by James Corbett on The Corbett Report website. https://www.corbettreport.com/whitehelmets/

3 From an article entitled “UK agrees to take in some White Helmets evacuated from Syria by Israel” written by Patrick Wintour and agencies published in the Guardian on July 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/22/israel-evacuates-800-white-helmets-in-face-of-syria-advance

4 http://thepeacereport.com/investigative-journalist-exposes-propaganda-of-the-white-helmets/

5 From an article entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam” written by Brian Whitaker, published in the Guardian on September 3, 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/03/worlddispatch.iraq

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Israel, John Pilger, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Uncategorized

Media on Trial event banned

OffGuardian

Media on Trial has released the following statement:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, Leeds City Museum, a city council owned and operated venue, cancelled the Media on Trial’s booking for the event we had planned for 27 May.

The fact that the event was cancelled is perhaps bad enough. What became clear as the day has progressed, though, is that Leeds City Museum appear to have informed the press and media of the cancellation before they informed Media on Trial organisers. Indeed they waited for the Media on Trial representative to arrive at the venue for a planned meeting following a four hour train journey before giving us the news.

They seem to have taken this decision on the basis of misinformed assumptions about the content of the event, and offered no right of reply to Media on Trial.

Leeds City Museum has cancelled an event that threatened mainstream…

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Syria

reports on the ground in Douma contradict the official narrative of a chemical attack

“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

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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:

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”.

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Pearson Sharp:

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]

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Vanessa Beeley:

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.

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Update:

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].

*

Further Update:

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.

Cockburn continues:

“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/  

 

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illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations – part 2

Reposted below before my own thoughts and analysis is the full statement released today by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition.

Gesture Bombing – the Causes and Consequences of a Pointless Airstrike

Theresa May’s cynicism is so deep it’s hard for us comprehend. There was quite simply no possible good outcome from this bombing in the Middle East, even from our rulers’ warped perspective. People will surely have died, the war will be prolonged, it will have done nothing to control chemical weapons and tensions with Iran and Russia will have risen. International law is unambiguous that these strikes were illegal too.

But no matter, Trump has been obeyed and May thinks she looks tough on the world stage. Not really though. It’s too obvious she is frightened of parliament, which is reconvening on Monday and that she is taking orders from Washington. It is also clear that the US’s position in the world is weakening.

Deadly Decline

This action has been shaped by the failure of Western policy in the Middle East. It is not true that the West has been doing nothing in Syria over the last few years. Britain was involved in covert ops before 2015 and regular bombing raids since the vote in 2015. According to Airwars, the West has been involved in more than 50,000 bombing raids in Syria in the last four years, killing thousands of civilians. But their basic plan, to use the Syrian opposition to secure regime change by arming them and providing them with military back up, has been unsuccessful. The project of getting rid of Assad has been abandoned for the time being.

The bombing of Libya in 2011– an intervention most strongly promoted by Britain and France – was clearly a catastrophe. Sold as a humanitarian operation, it ended with 50,000 dead, brutal regime change and complete state failure. Even Barak Obama has said later he regretted sanctioning it. Before that there was Iraq. The invasion and occupation did untold damage to the country and the wider region. That intervention more than anything is the root cause of the current chaos in the Middle East. But it was also a failure from the point of its main protagonists in Washington and Whitehall.

The West’s failure to pacify and secure the country allowed the US’s main enemy in the region, Iran, to strongly increase its reach and influence. Its demonstration of the limits of US power has encouraged other powers to flex their muscles in the region. The resulting interventions in Syria by Russia, Turkey Saudi Arabia and others have of course only increased the death and destruction.

Calculated Killing

So, angry but more and more impotent, the Western powers this time have settled for gesture bombing, and gestures don’t impress anyone. But periods of imperial decline are inherently dangerous. There is no way the US is going to passively accept reduced influence in the Middle East. In so far as there is a Western strategy, it is the attempt to roll back Iranian influence through support of the emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus to reassert control over the region. Assad’s consolidation is only going to encourage a vigorous pursuit of this project. Next time Trump and his most loyal ally are likely to get more serious.

Domestic Damage

Back home this irresponsible and pointless attack will further undermine what is laughingly referred to as May’s authority. What is so heartening – and something that has limited her options from the start – is that the vast majority of people have complete contempt for this kind of calculated killing. All the opinion polls published so far show big opposition to these strikes despite almost blanket support for them in the mainstream media.

The crucial thing is that we continue to build on and to mobilise this opinion. Once again people have shown their willingness to stand up against war. Many thousands have lobbied their MPs, in Stop the War we were notified of 30 protests around the country on Friday – there were no doubt many many, more. A crowd of hundreds closed Whitehall in London. This Monday night in London from 5.30pm we will be back on the streets outside Parliament the day it reconvenes. There will be other protests around the country. Tell your friends, neighbours and workmates protests matter. No to war – yes to democracy.

Click here to read the same article on the Stop the War Coalition website.

*

One year ago, America rushed to judgment to condemn Assad for an alleged sarin attack at Khan Sheikhun:

On April 11, the White House released a declassified four-page report meant to prove its case against Assad and serve as a belated justification for the Tomahawk attack on Syria’s Shayrat air base.

The report, which was authored not by US intelligence agencies but by the White House under the supervision of national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, says that “The United States is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people in the town of Khan Shaykhun in southern Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.” 1

Given the undue haste to pin the blame on Syrian forces, many were justifiably suspicious of US claims. Veteran investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Seymour Hersh; former CIA case officer, Philip Giraldi; former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford all spoke out as you can read in this previous post. Meanwhile, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National-Security Policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Theodore Postol, who had previously served as a scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon produced a painstaking analysis of the White House report. Here is more from the same The Nation article quoted above:

Postol’s exhaustive critique of the White House report notes that “The only undisputable facts stated in the White House report is the claim that a chemical attack using nerve agent occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.” And yet, according to Postol, “the report contains absolutely no evidence that this attack was the result of a munition being dropped from an aircraft. In fact, the report contains absolutely no evidence that would indicate who was the perpetrator of this atrocity.” […]

“In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report.” Postol concludes that the “report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR [White House Report] could not possibly be true.”

The Nation spoke to Postol over the weekend.

“What I think is now crystal clear,” he said, “is that the White House report was fabricated and it certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ.”

“My best guess at the moment is that this was an extremely clumsy and ill-conceived attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Syria without any intelligence evidence that Syria was in fact the perpetrator of the attack…. It may be,” he continued, “that the White House staff was worried that this could eventually come out—a reckless president acting without regard to the nation’s security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia, and a breakdown in cooperation with Russia that would cripple our efforts to defeat the Islamic State.”

“If that is not an impeachable offense,” Postol told The Nation, “then I do not know what is.”

Click here to read the full report written by James Carden published in The Nation.

Since this time there has been the UN OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) report which claimed to be “confident” that Syria had been responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun. On the face of it then, the US were correct in their original assessment, and this is how the incident is now reported on. What is seldom reported on is how experts were not permitted to visit the site, and so the JIM report relied instead on samples gathered by the very militants that controlled the area. It is vital to understand that no independent experts ever visited the site.

Back in 2013, Reuters reported that:

Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.

Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified laboratories, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works with the United Nations on inspections.

That type of evidence, needed to show definitively if banned chemicals were found, has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.

“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.

Luhan adds:

 “The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

So we see how just four years on, the OPCW was quite clearly in breach of its own technical standards with respect to ensuring a chain of custody. Furthermore, as the OPCW itself made clear in its legal framework to the mission to Khan Sheikhun:

The scope of the FFM [OPCW Fact Finding Mission] mandate does not include the task of attributing responsibility for the alleged use. 3

Other criticisms of the report are based on technical details that are explained in detailed reports here  and here.

In short, last year’s allegations that Syrian forces released sarin gas at Khan Sheikhun remain unsubstantiated. In any case, allegations of Assad’s use of sarin have since been quietly dropped by the US administration, as Secretary of Defense James Mattis conceded as recently as February this year:

The U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports from aid groups and others that the Syrian government has used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday [February 2nd].

“We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon. “We do not have evidence of it.” 4

Click here to read the full AP report entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says”.

*

Last Thursday [April 12th], the same James Mattis was called by Congress to speak before the House Armed Services Committee. In his testimony he said that the US and its allies “don’t have evidence” to support the latest allegations although “we certainly have a lot of media and social media indicators that either chlorine or sarin were used”.

What he had seen in other words is that same footage we have all seen. Video showing people – mostly very young children – being hosed down with water in an unknown location, and also the more macabre roving camera footage showing close-ups of corpses lying on top of one another inside what appears to be an apartment.

All of this video footage along with initial reports appeared quite suddenly on social media platforms having been uploaded by a small assortment of “pro-opposition” sources: the al-Nusra front terrorist-affiliated White Helmets and the so-called Douma Media Centre as well as the more grandiosely named Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS) which is closely associated to USAID and is US State Department funded. It was SAMS that reported on Saturday April 7th:

“Amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighbourhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases – the majority of whom are women and children – were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent”.

This lack of credible sources presents us once again with reasonable grounds for doubt. But even leaving aside the questionable origins of the material, it is not at all clear what we were actually seeing or even whereabouts these events took place.

I shall not dwell on the details of the videos but it is evident the children shown are obviously in distress. They may well be in shock from conventional airstrikes or possibly suffering from smoke inhalation due to subsequent fires. We simply don’t know. More chillingly, it is also possible that these children are the victims of those who appear to be first responders – certainly it would not be the first time that children have been used as props in staged events:

What we do know for certain, however, is that the area under attack was under the control of the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam (“Army of Islam”), a terrorist faction that is responsible for committing many atrocities including the execution and torture of prisoners and the alleged use of chemical weapons. It is also known that Jaish al-Islam – a group that is well known for using hostages as human shields – held literally thousands captive in its basement prisons:

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters.

Furthermore, the targeted area where the alleged attack took place was literally on the brink of recapture by government forces:

An agreement has been reached to release all prisoners held by Syrian rebels controlling the eastern Ghouta city of Douma in return for the fighters’ leaving the city, Syrian state television reported on Sunday, citing an official source.

According to the agreement, Jaish al-Islam fighters will leave Douma for the northern city of Jarablus, near the borders with Turkey, within 48 hours, the source added.

There was no immediate comment from Jaish al-Islam, which control the city. 5

Indeed, almost immediately after the video footage had been released the area was retaken by Syrian and Russian forces who entered the site without protective gear. And though reports that the Red Crescent likewise confirmed it found no evidence of chemical weapons were later retracted, as Antiwar.com points out:

That the Red Crescent operates a hospital in a city supposedly inundated with wounded and didn’t get a single patient with confirmed exposure, however, is very noteworthy. 6

A detailed overview of the sources which first broke the news of this alleged attack was put together by independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone.

She comments:

So to be clear, we’re being asked by these people to believe that Bashar al-Assad launched a “mass casualty chemical attack”, the thing which would provoke the wrath of the US war machine, just as Trump was seeking a withdrawal from Syria and just as Assad was approaching victory in Douma. We are being asked to ignore the fact that the area is crawling with actual, literal terrorists, to ignore the western empire’s extensive history of using lies, propaganda and false flags to manufacture support for military aggression, to ignore the extremely suspicious western funding and terrorist ties of the White Helmets who are circulating these photos and information, and to ignore the fact that Syria has been a target of imperialist regime change for many years. We are being asked to ignore all that and believe instead that Assad spontaneously began acting against his own self-interest so that he could kill children for no discernible reason.

It says so much about the power of western media psyops that this has a strong chance of being believed. 7

Click here to read the full article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects”.

*

On Tuesday 10th, former UK ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was afforded a live interview with BBC Radio Scotland. Here’s what he told presenter Gary Robertson:

Gary Robertson: There’s a lot of tough talk on both sides here. I wonder where you think it will lead us.

Peter Ford: Well I greatly fear it will lead us to the edge of Armageddon. It’s time to take a deep breath and consider where we’ve got ourselves into as a result mainly of hysteria and distortion.

The worst case is that Trump does launch off with some very unwise multiple attacks on Syria. And given that Russian forces are deeply embedded with Syrian forces – in particular air defence – it’s highly likely that scores of Russian soldiers will be killed. If anyone thinks that Russia will take that just lying down I think they need to think again. Russian planes in the last twelve hours have been buzzing UD destroyers in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Please – I think everybody needs to take a deep breath before something truly horrible occurs affecting the security of us all including in this country. We have forces in Syria. The government don’t like to talk about this, but one was sadly killed two days ago revealing the extent of our existing military involvement in Syria. So at the very least our own forces would be exposed to grave danger.

GR: Indeed it’s not just the UD President though who’s appalled by what they’ve seen in terms of these pictures coming from Douma. We’ve had condemnation from President Macron, likewise from Prime Minister Theresa May too. If it isn’t the sort of military action that you’ve just outlined there, what should be the response to this use of chemical weapons if it’s proved.

PF: The correct response is obviously – and I think a child could see this – to get inspectors on to the alleged site of the alleged offences. And in fact in the last few hours Russia has offered to provide military escorts for inspectors from the recognised body in this field: the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Warfare.

GR: And if it’s proved then what – because, of course, we know that Assad has form on this. We’ve had investigations previously and there has been fairly conclusive proof that chemical agents have been used.

PF: I don’t think that Assad is in the least worried that the inspectors would find out his guilt because he’s probably not guilty at least on this occasion. I mean we have to engage our brains as well as our emotions here. Not be stampeded by those videos which are described as being unverified but which by dint of being repeated over and over and over again come to acquire a spurious credibility.

We have to ask ourselves what are the sources of the information on which we’re in this stampede to war. They are twofold – and I’m sorry but the media are falling down on the job of investigating this – the sources are the Syrian American Medical Society, which is a pro-Islamist propaganda outfit based in the United States…

GR: So are you saying these pictures are being staged? Are you saying that people haven’t died?

PF: Yes, yes, in all probability the incidents have been staged. Come on, we know how easy it is to fake images for the internet. Look at the images – anybody could stage those. And then the second source is supposed to be the so-called first responders. Who are the first responders? In this case they are the White Helmets, which is another pro-Islamist jihadi propaganda outfit.

GR: This is an awful lot of effort to discredit Assad isn’t it?

PF: Please let me finish this important point. The witnesses to these terrible events are people who themselves were involved in beheadings: literally picking up the body parts. And we choose to give credence to testimony from these alleged first responders.

GR then interrupts before PF is allowed to continue.

You don’t allow. The BBC does not allow questions of important details to be addressed.

GR: We have a short period of time. I’m trying to probe what you’re saying. The point surely is that Assad’s reputation is already dented. What would be in the interest of these people to stage these events?

PF: Is that not obvious? A child can see that the intention was to produce the hysteria and now the military action that we are on the point of taking, risking our own safety. What the jihadis have done is jerk our leash.

And frankly for one I think it’s pretty disgusting that we are allowing ourselves to have our own leash jerked by these Islamist fanatics. This is what’s going on and ask yourself how has it profited Assad?

Please engage with your brain. Answer the question: how has Assad benefitted from all this mayhem? In fact it’s rebounded against him. Why would he do such a thing when he was already winning [and] the battle for Eastern Ghouta was virtually over? Why would he choose this moment to do the one thing that was guaranteed to pluck defeat for him from the jaws of victory?

*

On Wednesday 11th, erstwhile political opponents Peter Hitchens and George Galloway discussed the build up to war in Syria and the potential repercussions:

*

So just why did Trump, Macron and May launch a barrage of cruise missiles towards Damascus at a cost of multiple millions that might otherwise have been usefully invested in our terribly underfunded public services at home? The corporate media which has been screaming for “a response” wants us to believe that it is because these leaders care so much about the people of Syria and especially the children. Opinion polls in Britain, however, reveal that only a minority are quite so easily deceived.

If Trump and May really wanted to perform a grand humanitarian gesture then they would have been far better served in ending support to the Saudi regime’s murderous assault and blockade of Yemen that is now causing widespread famine and the most terrible outbreak of cholera. Instead they recently welcomed the Crown Prince in extended visits before signing new contracts for arms sales. Alternatively, they might have sanctioned Netanyahu’s government, forcing it to bring a halt to the massacre taking place on the border with Gaza where more than a thousand of peaceful protesters have been wounded and dozens more killed by the live ammunition of Israeli snipers. But instead of taking the moral high ground they chose predictably to bomb an already war-torn country to the sole benefit of western defence contractors and the arms industry, and for furthering shared Anglo-American-Saudi-Israeli geopolitical interests.

The corporate media do not want you to worry about the geopolitical context. They want you to overlook the fact that when the very same western powers carried out the illegal “shock and awe” campaign to oust Saddam they shamelessly led the propaganda offensive. That they also cheered on Nato as it provided air cover for terrorist militia that quickly swarmed across Libya. And obviously they hope everyone forgets about Wesley Clark’s infamous statement of Pentagon plans to bring about regime change in “seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Yesterday’s fireworks over Damascus achieved nothing at all for peace, but did transfer a little more wealth from the public purse (the poor) into the hands of the arms manufacturers and other defence contractors (the rich). It also left people across the entire world a little less safe than before.

*

Additional: the return of John Bolton

Until now Trump has proved himself to be the great blusterer and for this we ought to be grateful. Yes, he talked tough to North Korea, but instead of following through with his threats he eventually gave way to Kim Jong Un and agreed to negotiate instead. Thus, the coming war with China was back on ice and all who care about the already perilous state of world affairs could breathe a small sigh of relief. Likewise, having unleashed a nearly atomic-sized explosion, the so-called MOAB (“Mother of all Bombs”), on the villagers and goatherds of Afghanistan, with this vile experiment completed, Trump returned to overseeing his country’s conventional and everyday devastation by drones. And again, following last year’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, Trump instantly launched a tremendous barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airbase. Then, having publicly beaten his chest to the satisfaction of the corporate media, he left the US military to continue its pursuit of regime change by less overt means. Under Trump, in other words, it has been business as usual regarding the “war on terror”, occasionally interspersed by a few more exceptional and shocking instances of long-distance slaughtering. However, all this happened before John Bolton returned to the White House again.

A draft-dodger who once confessed “I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” 8, John Bolton has always been highly dependable whenever it meant sending others off to die. Even by the bellicose standards of the Bush Jr administration, Bolton was an exceptional warmonger. For instance, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation back in May 2002, he told the assembled:

Beyond the axis of evil, there are other rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction – particularly biological weapons. Given our vulnerability to attack from biological agents, as evidenced recently in the anthrax releases, it is important to carefully assess and respond to potential proliferators. 9

“Beyond the axis of evil… Other rogue states”? It transpired that there were as then three main targets circled on Bolton’s hit list: these were Libya, Syria and… wait for it… Cuba. So did anyone else seriously believe that Libya, Syria or Cuba represented an existential threat to America due to these purported arsenals of biological weapons? And does anyone seriously believe Bolton believed so either? The very idea is actually a measure of the mounting hysteria in the months following the 9/11 attacks. It also gives a useful insight into the sociopathic mind of John Bolton.

Aside: Incidentally, although al-Qaeda and Iraq were both separately accused of perpetrating the post-9/11 anthrax attacks it was later discovered that the strain originated from a US defence lab. After wrongly suspecting bioweapons researcher Steven Hatfill who was afterwards awarded damages of $5.82 million, the FBI turned attention to senior bioweapons scientist Bruce Edwards Ivins. No formal charges were ever filed against him and no direct evidence has been uncovered but while under investigation Ivins apparently committed suicide.

Two years later, Bolton went gunning for Iran both publicly and privately:

Bolton’s high-profile advocacy of war with Iran is well known. What is not at all well known is that, when he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security, he executed a complex and devious strategy aimed at creating the justification for a U.S. attack on Iran. Bolton sought to convict the Islamic Republic in the court of international public opinion of having a covert nuclear weapons program using a combination of diplomatic pressure, crude propaganda, and fabricated evidence.

Despite the fact that Bolton was technically under the supervision of Secretary of State Colin Powell, his actual boss in devising and carrying out that strategy was Vice President Dick Cheney. Bolton was also the administration’s main point of contact with the Israeli government, and with Cheney’s backing, he was able to flout normal State Department rules by taking a series of trips to Israel in 2003 and 2004 without having the required clearance from the State Department’s Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs.

Thus, at the very moment that Powell was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran, Bolton was working with the Israelis to lay the groundwork for just such a war. During a February 2003 visit, Bolton assured Israeli officials in private meetings that he had no doubt the United States would attack Iraq, and that after taking down Saddam, it would deal with Iran, too, as well as Syria. 10

Click hear to read the full article by Gareth Porter entitled “The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War With Iran”.

In short, John Bolton will stop at nothing to start a war and according to the testimony of Jose Bustani, the first director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during the lead up to Bush’s war on Iraq:

“I got a phone call from John Bolton – it was first time I had contact with him – and he said he had instructions to tell me that I have to resign from the organization, and I asked him why, he said that [my] management style was not agreeable to Washington.”

When Bustani refused to resign, saying he “owed nothing” to the US, Bolton told him:

“OK, so there will be retaliation. Prepare to accept the consequences. We know where your kids are.” 11

Bolton’s admirers say he is a foreign policy realist akin to Kissinger and so different to the bona fide neo-cons who refrain from dropping American bombs unless in the service of spreading human rights and democracy. And if you think I’m joking then read this extract taken from an article published by the Henry Jackson Society:

For Bolton, the liberation of Iraq was coincidently about universal moral concerns, usually a ruinous basis for any state’s foreign policy (look at Somalia, he says). Fundamentally, Saddam was destroyed because he posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security – a risk that could be lessened. The democratisation of his one, long-time fiefdom is undertaken because the odds of a democracy threatening U.S. security are far less. The enfranchisement of women across the Middle East may well be a happy consequence of his removal but it is not an issue that keeps Bolton awake at night. William Kristol, on the other hand, a far more eager intervener, wants us to believe that women’s rights are basic to America’s global mission. For sure, Kristol likes Bolton, but this does not make Bolton a neocon. 12

So according to the Henry Jackson Society, the preeminent British neo-con foreign policy think tank, Bolton correctly foresaw that Saddam “posed an unacceptable risk to U.S. security.” Again, who actually believes this nonsense? And who beyond the corridors of the neo-con/humanitarian-bomber establishment has swallowed any of the lies of such hypocrites as Kristol or Blair? Aside from associates of HJS, scarcely anyone believed the cant that set the stage for the downfall of Saddam even though the media did its utmost to manufacture public consent by uncritically repeating the lies long before Bush and Blair took us to war anyway.

Today another war is looming and Bolton has the ear of Trump. Trump who blusters and tries to look tough in vain attempts to prove to a disconnected audience that the US Commander-in-Chief is in control and knows what he’s doing. He is neither. On foreign policy as on domestic issues, he is quite obviously clueless and in the thrall of the corporate elite, and now with Bolton behind him, the chickenhawk neo-cons are ruling the roost.

*

1 From an article entitled “The Chemical-Weapons Attack In Syria: Is There a Place for Skepticism?” written by James Carden, published in The Nation on April 19, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-chemical-weapons-attack-in-syria-is-there-a-place-for-skepticism/ 

2 From an article entitled “’Evidence’ of Syria chemical weapons use not up to U.N. standard” written by Anthony Deutsch, published in Reuters on April 26, 2013. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-chemical-weapons/evidence-of-syria-chemical-weapons-use-not-up-to-u-n-standard-idUSBRE93P0UG20130426

3 https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/Fact_Finding_Mission/s-1510-2017_e_.pdf

4 From an article entitled “US has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas, Mattis says” written by Robert Burns, published by AP News on February 2, 2018. https://apnews.com/bd533182b7f244a4b771c73a0b601ec5

5

The rebel group has more than 3,500 prisoners and hostages in its prisons in Douma, Rami Abdulrahman, the director of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, told Reuters. Five prisoners were released on Wednesday, after earlier departures by Jaish al-Islam fighters.

From a report entitled “Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma in return for releasing prisoners published by Reuters on April 8, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-negotiati/jaish-al-islam-to-leave-douma-in-return-for-releasing-prisoners-idUKKBN1HF09Z

6 From an updated article originally entitled “Red Crescent Says No Evidence of Chemical Attack in Syria’s Douma” written by Jason Ditz, published by Antiwar.com on April 9, 2018. https://news.antiwar.com/2018/04/09/red-crescent-says-no-evidence-of-chemical-attack-in-syrias-douma/

7 From an article entitled “New Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack Being Reported By All The Usual Suspects” written and published by Caitlin Johnstone on April 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone/new-syrian-chemical-weapons-attack-being-reported-by-all-the-usual-suspects-bb52e9a4f982

8

“Though Bolton supported the Vietnam War, he declined to enter combat duty, instead enlisting in the National Guard and attending law school after his 1970 graduation. ‘I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,’ Bolton wrote of his decision in the 25th reunion book. ‘I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.’”

From an article entitled “Bolton’s conservative ideology has roots in Yale experience” written by Sam Kahn, publuished in Yale Daily News on April 28, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20100924032144/http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2005/apr/28/boltons-conservative-ideology-has-roots-in-yale/

9 Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats From Weapons of Mass Destruction originally presented to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on May 6, 2002. http://www.disam.dsca.mil/pubs/V24-4%20PDF%20Files%20By%20Author/Bolton,%20John%20R.,%20Axis%20of%20Evil.pdf

10 From an article entitled The Untold Story of John Bolton’s Campaign for War with Iran” written by Gareth Porter, published in The American Conservative on March 22, 2018. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-a-john-bolton-appointment-is-scarier-than-you-think-mcmaster-trump/ 

11 From an article entitled “’I give you 24 hours to resign’: 1st OPCW chief on how John Bolton bullied him before Iraq War” published by RT on April 7, 2018. https://www.rt.com/usa/423477-bolton-threat-opcw-iraq/

12 From an article entitled “John Bolton is not a neocon” written Tim Lynch and published by the Henry Jackson Society on July 20, 2005. http://henryjacksonsociety.org/2005/07/20/john-bolton-is-not-a-neocon/

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