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Craig Murray on the media response to Boshirov and Petrov’s story – whatever happened to presumption of innocence?

Former ambassador and independent journalist Craig Murray is no friend of the Kremlin or Putin but has been outspoken in his doubts over UK government allegations relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In previous articles he has cross-examined the government case point by point, and now he considers the latest evidence provided in the RT interview of suspects Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov.

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The presumption of innocence is the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty. It was traditionally expressed by the Latin maxim ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies”).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.”.

From Wikipedia.

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I was caught in a twitterstorm of hatred yesterday, much of it led by mainstream media journalists like David Aaronovitch and Dan Hodges, for daring to suggest that the basic elements of Boshirov and Petrov’s story do in fact stack up. What became very plain quite quickly was that none of these people had any grasp of the detail of the suspects’ full twenty minute interview [also embedded below], but had just seen the short clips or quotes as presented by British corporate and state media.

As I explained in my last post [see below], what first gave me some sympathy for the Russians’ story and drew me to look at it closer, was the raft of social media claims that there was no snow in Salisbury that weekend and Stonehenge had not been closed. In fact, Stonehenge was indeed closed on 3 March by heavy snow, as confirmed by English Heritage. So the story that they came to Salisbury on 3 March but could not go to Stonehenge because of heavy snow did stand up, contrary to almost the entire twittersphere.

Once there was some pushback of truth about this on social media, people started triumphantly posting the CCTV images from 4 March to prove that there was no snow lying in Central Salisbury on 4 March. But nobody ever said there was snow on 4 March – in fact Borisov and Petrov specifically stated that they learnt there was a thaw so they went back. However when they got there, they encountered heavy sleet and got drenched through. That accords precisely with the photographic evidence in which they are plainly drenched through.

Another extraordinary meme that causes hilarity on twitter is that Russians might be deterred by snow or cold weather.

Well, Russians are human beings just like us. They cope with cold weather at home because they have the right clothes. Boshirov and Petrov refer continually in the interview to cold, wet feet and again this is borne out by the photographic evidence – they were wearing sneakers unsuitable to the freak weather conditions that were prevalent in Salisbury on 3 and 4 March. They are indeed soaked through in the pictures, just as they said in the interview.

Russians are no more immune to cold and wet than you are.

Twitter is replete with claims that they were strange tourists, to be visiting a housing estate. No evidence has been produced anywhere that shows them on any housing estate. They were seen on CCTV camera walking up the A36 by the Shell station, some 400 yards from the Skripals’ house, which would require three turnings to get to that – turnings nobody saw them take (and they were on the wrong side of the road for the first turning, even though it would be very close). No evidence has been mentioned which puts them at the Skripals’ House.

Finally, it is everywhere asserted that it is very strange that Russians would take a weekend break holiday, and that if they did they could not possibly be interested in architecture or history. This is a simple expression of anti-Russian racism. Plainly before their interview – about which they were understandably nervous – they prepared what they were going to say, including checking up on what it was they expected to see in Salisbury because they realised they would very obviously be asked why they went. Because their answer was prepared does not make it untrue.

That literally people thousands of people have taken to twitter to mock that it is hilariously improbable that tourists might want to visit Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, is a plain example of the irrationality that can overtake people when gripped by mob hatred.

I am astonished by the hatred that has been unleashed. The story of Gerry Conlon might, you would hope, give us pause as to presuming the guilt of somebody who just happened to be of the “enemy” nationality, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Despite the mocking mob, there is nothing inherently improbable in the tale told by the two men. What matters is whether they can be connected to the novichok, and here the safety of the identification of the microscopic traces of novichok allegedly found in their hotel bedroom is key. I am no scientist, but I have been told by someone who is, that if the particle(s) were as the police state so small as to be harmless to humans, they would be too small for mass spectrometry analysis and almost certainly could not be firmly identified other than as an organophosphate. Perhaps someone qualified might care to comment.

The hotel room novichok is the key question in this case.

Were I Vladimir Putin, I would persuade Boshirov and Petrov voluntarily to come to the UK and stand trial, on condition that it was a genuinely fair trial before a jury in which the entire proceedings, and all of the evidence, was open and public, and the Skripals and Pablo Miller might be called as witnesses and cross-examined. I have no doubt that the British government’s desire for justice would suddenly move into rapid retreat if their bluff was called in this way.

As for me, when I see a howling mob rushing to judgement and making at least some claims which are utterly unfounded, and when I see that mob fueled and egged on by information from the security services propagated by exactly the same mainstream media journalists who propagandised the lies about Iraqi WMD, I see it as my job to stand in the way of the mob and to ask cool questions. If that makes them hate me, then I must be having some impact.

So I ask this question again – and nobody so far has attempted to give me an answer. At what time did the Skripals touch their doorknob? Boshirov and Petrov arrived in Salisbury at 11.48 and could not have painted the doorknob before noon. The Skripals had left their house at 09.15, with their mobile phones switched off so they could not be geo-located. Their car was caught on CCTV on three cameras heading out of Salisbury to the North East. At 13.15 it was again caught on camera heading back in to the town centre from the North West.

How had the Skripals managed to get back to their home, and touch the door handle, in the hour between noon and 1pm, without being caught on any of the CCTV cameras that caught them going out and caught the Russian visitors so extensively? After this remarkably invisible journey, what time did they touch the door handle?

I am not going to begin to accept the guilt of Boshirov and Petrov until somebody answers that question. Dan Hodges? David Aaronovitch? Theresa May? Anybody?

Reposted in full from an article entitled “Lynch Mob Mentality” published today by Craig Murray.

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Here is Craig Murray’s initial response in full (with images retained) published on his blog yesterday and entitled “The Strange Russian Alibi”.

Like many, my first thought at the interview of Boshirov and Petrov – which apparently are indeed their names – is that they were very unconvincing. The interview itself seemed to be set up around a cramped table with a poor camera and lighting, and the interviewer seemed pretty hopeless at asking probing questions that would shed any real light.

I had in fact decided that their story was highly improbable, until I started seeing the storm of twitter posting, much of it from mainstream media journalists, which stated that individual things were impossible which were, in fact, not impossible at all.

The first and most obvious regards the weather on 3 and 4 March. It is in fact absolutely true that, if the two had gone down to Salisbury on 3 March with the intention of going to Stonehenge, they would have been unable to get there because of the snow. It is therefore perfectly possible that they went back the next day to try again; and public transport out of Salisbury was still severely disrupted, and many roads closed, on 4 March. Proof of this is not at all difficult to find.

Those mocking the idea that the pair were blocked by snow from visiting Stonehenge have pointed to the CCTV footage of central Salisbury not showing snow on the afternoon of 4 March. Well, that is central Salisbury, it had of course been salted and cleared. Outside there were drifts.

So that part of their story in fact turns out not to be implausible as social media is making out; in fact it fits precisely with the actual facts.

The second part of their story that has brought ridicule is the notion that two Russians would fly to the UK for the weekend and try to visit Salisbury. This ridicule has been very strange to me. Weekend breaks – arrive on Friday and return on Sunday – are a standard part of the holiday industry. Why is it apparently unthinkable that Russians fly on weekend breaks as well as British people?

Even more strange is the idea that it is wildly improbable for Russian visitors to wish to visit Salisbury cathedral and Stonehenge. Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most breathtaking achievements of Norman architecture, one of the great cathedrals of Europe. It attracts a great many foreign visitors. Stonehenge is world famous and a world heritage site. I went on holiday this year and visited Wurzburg to see the Bishop’s Palace, and then the winery cooperative at Sommerach. Because somebody does not choose to spend their leisure time on a beach in Benidorm does not make them a killer. Lots of people go to Salisbury Cathedral.

There seems to be a racist motif here – Russians cannot possibly have intellectual or historical interests, or afford weekend breaks.

The final meme which has worried me is “if they went to see the cathedral, why did they visit the Skripal house?” Well, no evidence at all has been presented that they visited the Skripal house. They were captured on CCTV walking past a petrol station 500 yards away – that is the closest they have been placed to the Skripal house.

The greater mystery about these two is, if they did visit the Skripal House and paint Novichok on the doorknob, why did they afterwards walk straight past the railway station again and head into Salisbury city centre, where they were caught window shopping in a coin and souvenir shop with apparently not a care in the world, before eventually returning to the train station? It seems a very strange attitude to a getaway after an attempted murder. In truth their demeanour throughout the photographs is consistent with their tourism story.

The Russians have so far presented this pair in a very unconvincing light. But on investigation, the elements of their story which are claimed to be wildly improbable are not inconsistent with the facts.

There remains the much larger question of the timing.

The Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

I shall write a further post on these timing questions shortly.

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Detailed below are five outstanding questions. Questions one and two pertain directly to the incidents of the Salisbury and Amesbury poisonings; three and four look into the background to the case and find improbable links to the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ allegations; and the last question relates to the potentially buried testimony of Yulia Skripal. All sections are based on a quoted sequence of earlier posts written by Craig Murray, who has been foremost in cross-examining the government case (links to each post are provided as footnotes to be read in full).

  1. When did the Skripals touch the doorknob?

At 09.15 on Sunday 4 March the Skripals’ car was seen on CCTV driving through three different locations in Salisbury. Both Skripals had switched off their mobile phones and they remained off for over four hours, which has baffled geo-location.

There is no CCTV footage that indicates the Skripals returning to their home. It has therefore always been assumed that they last touched the door handle around 9am.

But the Metropolitan Police state that Boshirov and Petrov did not arrive in Salisbury until 11.48 on the day of the poisoning. That means that they could not have applied a nerve agent to the Skripals’ doorknob before noon at the earliest. But there has never been any indication that the Skripals returned to their home after noon on Sunday 4 March. If they did so, they and/or their car somehow avoided all CCTV cameras. Remember they were caught by three CCTV cameras on leaving, and Borishov and Petrov were caught frequently on CCTV on arriving.

The Skripals were next seen on CCTV at 13.30, driving down Devizes road. After that their movements were clearly witnessed or recorded until their admission to hospital.

So even if the Skripals made an “invisible” trip home before being seen on Devizes Road, that means the very latest they could have touched the doorknob is 13.15. The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.

In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit.

This is especially remarkable in the case of the Skripals’ location around noon on 4 March. The government can only maintain that they returned home at this time, as they insist they got the nerve agent from the doorknob. But why was their car so frequently caught on CCTV leaving, but not at all returning? It appears very much more probable that they came into contact with the nerve agent somewhere else, while they were out.

This BBC report gives a very useful timeline summary of events. 1

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  1. Why was the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley still sealed?

ITV News gamely inserted the phrase “poisoned by a Russian nerve agent” into their exclusive interview with Charlie Rowley, an interview in which they managed to ask no penetrating questions whatsoever, and of which they only broadcast heavily edited parts. Their own website contains this comment by their journalist Rupert Evelyn:

He said it was unopened, the box it was in was sealed, and that they had to use a knife in order to cut through it.

“That raises the question: if it wasn’t used, is this the only Novichok that exists in this city? And was it the same Novichok used to attack Sergei and Yulia Skripal?

But the information about opening the packet with a knife is not in the linked interview. What Rowley does say in the interview is that the box was still sealed in its cellophane. Presumably it was the cellophane he slit open with a knife.

So how can this fit in to the official government account? Presumably the claim is that Russian agents secretly visited the Skripal house, sprayed novichok on the door handle from this perfume bottle, and then, at an unknown location, disassembled the nozzle from the bottle (Mr Rowley said he had to insert it), then repackaged and re-cellophaned the bottle prior to simply leaving it to be discovered somewhere – presumably somewhere indoors as it still looked new – by Mr Rowley four months later. However it had not been found by anyone else in the interim four months of police, military and security service search. 2

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  1. What is Sergei Skripal’s connection to Christopher Steele and ‘Russiagate’?

Skripal had not retired but was active for MI6 on gigs briefing overseas intelligence agencies about Russia. This did not increase his threat to Russia, as he told everything he knows a decade ago. But it could provide an element of annoyance that would indeed increase Russian official desire to punish him further.

But the fact he was still very much active has a far greater significance. The government slapped a D(SMA) notice on the identity of Pablo Miller, Skripal’s former MI6 handler who lives close by in Salisbury and who worked for Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence at the time that Orbis produced the extremely unreliable dossier on Trump/Russia. The fact that Skripal had not retired but was still briefing on Russia, to me raises to a near certainty the likelihood that Skripal worked with Miller on the Trump dossier.

I have to say that, as a former Ambassador in the former Soviet Union trained in intelligence analysis and familiar with MI6 intelligence out of Moscow, I agree with every word of this professional dissection of the Orbis Trump dossier by Paul Roderick Gregory, irrespective of Gregory’s politics. In particular this paragraph, which Gregory wrote more than a year before the Salisbury attack, certainly applies to much of the dossier.

I have picked out just a few excerpts from the Orbis report. It was written, in my opinion, not by an ex British intelligence officer but by a Russian trained in the KGB tradition. It is full of names, dates, meetings, quarrels, and events that are hearsay (one an overheard conversation). It is a collection of “this important person” said this to “another important person.” There is no record; no informant is identified by name or by more than a generic title. The report appears to fail the veracity test in the one instance of a purported meeting in which names, dates, and location are provided. Some of the stories are so bizarre (the Rosneft bribe) that they fail the laugh test. Yet, there appears to be a desire on the part of some media and Trump opponents on both sides of the aisle to picture the Orbis report as genuine but unverifiable.

The Russian ex-intelligence officer who we know was in extremely close contact with Orbis at the time the report was written, was Sergei Skripal.

The Orbis report is mince. Skripal knew it was mince and how it was written. Skripal has a history of selling secrets to the highest bidder. The Trump camp has a lot of money. My opinion is that as the Mueller investigation stutters towards ignominious failure, Skripal became a loose end that Orbis/MI6/CIA/Clinton (take your pick) wanted tied off. That seems to me at least as likely as a Russian state assassination. To say Russia is the only possible suspect is nonsense. 3

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  1. What does BBC’s Mark Urban know about the case?

On 8 July 2018 a lady named Kirsty Eccles asked what, in its enormous ramifications, historians may one day see as the most important Freedom of Information request ever made. The rest of this post requires extremely close and careful reading, and some thought, for you to understand that claim.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.

2: When did the BBC know this?

3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the subject of Sergei Skripal.

Yours faithfully,

Kirsty Eccles

The ramifications of this little request are enormous as they cut right to the heart of the ramping up of the new Cold War, of the BBC’s propaganda collusion with the security services to that end, and of the concoction of fraudulent evidence in the Steele “dirty dossier”. This also of course casts a strong light on more plausible motives for an attack on the Skripals.

Which is why the BBC point blank refused to answer Kirsty’s request, stating that it was subject to the Freedom of Information exemption for “Journalism”.

10th July 2018
Dear Ms Eccles
Freedom of Information request – RFI20181319
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 8th July 2018, seeking the following information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000:
1: Why did BBC Newsnight correspondent Mark Urban keep secret from the licence payers that he
had been having meetings with Sergei Skripal only last summer.
2: When did the BBC know this?
3: Please provide me with copies of all correspondence between yourselves and Mark Urban on the
subject of Sergei Skripal.
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of
‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you. Part VI
of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters
is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The
BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or
information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

The BBC is of course being entirely tendentious here – “journalism” does not include the deliberate suppression of vital information from the public, particularly in order to facilitate the propagation of fake news on behalf of the security services. That black propaganda is precisely what the BBC is knowingly engaged in, and here trying hard to hide. 4

Click here to read Craig Murray’s follow-up post regarding the BBC’s refusal to reply to him.

  1. Where are Sergei and Yulia Skripal today?

Mark Urban’s piece for Newsnight tonight [July 5th] was simply disgusting; it did not even pretend to be more than a propaganda piece on behalf of the security services, who had told Urban (as he said) that Yulia Skripal’s phone “could have been” tapped by the Russians and they “might even” have listened to her conversations through the microphone in her telephone. That was the “new evidence” that the Russians were behind everything.

As a former British Ambassador I can tell you with certainty that indeed the Russians might have tapped Yulia, but GCHQ most definitely would have. It is, after all, their job, and billions of our taxes go into it. If tapping of phones is seriously presented as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.  5

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I was happy to see Yulia alive and looking reasonably well yesterday, if understandably stressed. Notably, and in sharp contrast to Litvinenko, she leveled no accusations at Russia or anybody else for her poisoning. In Russian she spoke quite naturally. Of the Russian Embassy she said very simply “I am not ready, I do not want their help”. Strangely this is again translated in the Reuters subtitles by the strangulated officialese of “I do not wish to avail myself of their services”, as originally stated in the unnatural Metropolitan Police statement issued on her behalf weeks ago.

“I do not wish to avail myself of their services” is simply not a translation of what she says in Russian and totally misses the “I am not ready” opening phrase of that sentence. My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was written by a British official and then translated to Russian for her to speak, rather than the other way round. Also that rather than translate what she said in Russian themselves for the subtitles, Reuters have subtitled using a British government script they have been given.

It would of course have been much more convincing had Sergei also been present. Duress cannot be ruled out when he is held by the British authorities. I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia. That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally calls his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely.

It is to me particularly concerning that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN. But they appear not to have done that.  6

I would like to thank Craig Murray for allowing the reproduction of these articles.

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

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Updates:

Embedded below is a video made by nuclear scientist and environmental activist Chris Busby (73 years old) – who is featured in earlier posts on Fukushima and the use of depleted uranium – speaking out in April shortly after the Salisbury poisoning happened:

On Wednesday 12th (two days ago), Chris Busby was raided by police on the entirely spurious grounds that two police officers had “felt unwell” during a visit. He was arrested and held for 19 hours under the Explosives Act before being released without charge:

Dr Busby, who has previously advised the government on radiation risks, said neighbours had reported his 29-year-old housemate “acting strangely”.

A cordon was set up around his home on Wednesday morning when the two officers complained of feeling unwell – which Dr Busby attributed to “psychological problems associated with their knowledge of the Skripal poisoning”.

The scientist said he was handcuffed and interviewed all night by police who suspected he was making a bomb, but the only substances found at his home were “innocuous chemicals for research into radiation”.

Click here to read the BBC news report from September 13th.

Chris Busby afterwards spoke with independent journalist Tony Gosling of BCfm radio about Wednesday’s arrest, the various court cases he’s involved with, contamination from Fukushima and briefly also regarding the Skripal case:

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On Friday 14th BBC2’s Newsnight broadcast the recording of a phone interview between Kirsty Wark and editor-in-chief of RT, Margarita Simonyan, the interviewer of Boshirov and Petrov. If you watch the clip to the end you will see that Kirsty Wark brings the discussion around to accuse Simonyan of being a Russian state propagandist at which point Simonyan rather conveniently hangs up. She may well have done so and was within her rights, although refusal to answer questions will be seen by many as a tacit admission of guilt. Doubtless, this is how the BBC would have scripted it, so who knows, dare I suggest that the BBC may have hung up on her?

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Further updates:

On Sept 27th Craig Murray produced analysis challenging claims made by Bellingcat (of the neo-con Atlantic Council) that the true identity of “Ruslan Boshirov” is in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, “a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation.”

Here is an abridged version of his article:

The problem is with Bellingcat’s methodology. They did not start with any prior intelligence that “Chepiga” is “Boshirov”. They rather allegedly searched databases of GRU operatives of about the right age, then trawled photos in yearbooks of them until they found one that looked a bit like “Boshirov”. And guess what? It looks a bit like “Boshirov”. If you ignore the substantially different skull shape and nose.

Only the picture on the left is Chepiga. The two on the right are from “Boshirov’s” Russian passport application file, and the photo of “Boshirov” issued by Scotland Yard.

Like almost the entire internet, I assumed both black and white photos were from Chepiga’s files, and was willing to admit the identification of Chepiga with “Boshirov” as valid. But once you understand is that – as Bellingcat confirm if you read it closely – only the photo on the left is Chepiga, you start to ask questions.

The two guys on the right and the centre are undoubtedly the same person. But is the guy on the left the same, but younger?

Betaface.com, which runs industry standard software, gives the faces an 83% similarity, putting the probability of them being the same person at 2.8%.

By comparison it gives me a 72% identity with Chepiga and a 2.1% chance of being him.

There is a superficial resemblance. But if you take the standard ratios used for facial recognition, you get a very different story. If you draw a line between the centre of the pupils of the two guys centre and right, and then take a perpendicular from that line to the tip of the nose, you get a key ratio. The two on the right both have a ratio of 100:75, which is unsurprising since they are the same person. The one on the left has a ratio of 100:68, which is very different.

To put that more simply, his nose is much shorter, and less certainly his eyes are further apart. […]

It is worth repeating that the only evidence that Chepiga is Boshirov offered by Bellingcat is this photo. The rest of their article simply attempts to establish Chepiga’s career.

This is gross hypocrisy by Bellingcat, who have argued that scores of photos of White Helmets being Jihadi fighters are not valid evidence because you cannot safely recognise faces from photographs.

Yet Higgins now claims his facial identification of Chepiga as Boshirov as “definitive” and “conclusive”, despite the absence of moles, scars and blemishes. Higgins stands exposed as a quite disgusting hypocrite. Let me go further. I do not believe that Higgins did not take the elementary step of running facial recognition technology over the photos, and I believe he is hiding the results from you. Is it not also astonishing that the mainstream media have not done this simple test?

The bulk of the Bellingcat article is just trying to prove the reality of the existence of Chepiga. This is hard to evaluate, but as the evidence to link him to “Boshirov” is non-existent, is a different argument. Having set out to find a GRU officer of the same age who looks a bit like “Boshirov”, they trumpet repeatedly the fact that Chepiga is about the same age as evidence, in a crass display of circular argument.

This unofficial website does indeed name Chepiga as a Hero of the Russian Federation and recipient of 20 awards, as Bellingcat claims. But it is impossible to know if it is authentic, and by contrast there is no Chepiga on the official list of Heroes of the Russian Federation, for the stated 2014 or for any other year, which Bellingcat fail to mention. Their other documents and anonymous sources are unverifiable.

The photo of the military school honours arch, with Chepiga added right at the end and not quite in line, looks to me very suspect. My surmise so far would be that most likely Bellingcat’s source of supply is Ukrainian, and trying to tie the Skripal affair into the Ukrainian civil war via Chepiga.

My view of the most likely explanation on presently available evidence is this:

Boshirov is not Boshirov, and the Russian Government are lying.
Boshirov is not Chepiga, and Bellingcat are lying.
The whole Skripal novichok story still does not hang together, and the British government are lying.

I will continue to form my opinions as further evidence becomes available.

UPDATE Incredibly, at 13.15 on 27 September the BBC TV News ran the story showing only the two photos of “Boshirov”, which of course are the same person, and not showing the photo of Chepiga at all!

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “’Boshirov’ is probably not ‘Chepiga’. But he is also not ‘Boshirov’”.

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Bellingcat’s attempts to gild the Chepiga lily are now becoming ludicrous. The photo they published today [October 3rd] is a very obvious fake.

Many people have noticed that the photo of Chepiga on this wall appears to be hanging in completely different lighting conditions from the others. That is indeed a good point.

But there is a more important point here, and that is to do with sequencing. Except for Chepiga and Popov, who according to Belligncat also became a Hero of Russia in 2014, all of the people here are indeed openly and officially listed Heroes of Russia or, in the majority of cases, Heroes of the Soviet Union.

What is more, they are, as you would expect on a military honours wall, ranked in date order. ONLY CHEPIGA IS OUT OF DATE ORDER. The order runs top row let to right, then second row left to right, then bottom row left to right. The bit of the bottom row we can see runs:

Karpushenko (2000), Ribak (2005), Maclov (2012), Popov (2014).

So why is Chepiga in a row of much earlier Heroes of the Soviet Union? Next in sequence in fact to Grigory Dobrunov who got his award in 1956!!!! The pictures are definitely otherwise all in date order.

The glaringly obvious answer – in line with the reflections anomaly – is that Chepiga’s “picture” has been photoshopped onto this wall. The military do not suddenly insert photos out of order and at random on an honours board. Bellingcat, however, have a track record of image manipulation.

None of which proves or disproves the Boshirov identification. It is however an important reminder to take Bellingcat as a source with a pinch of salt.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s original post entitled “Bellingcat’s Very Obviously Fake Chepiga Photo”.

The following caveat is courtesy of a friend who specialises in lighting and works as a professor at the local university:

I disagree with Murray’s point about the different lighting conditions, and a bit like the photos of the two walking through airport gates at the same time [from a previous post], he is too eager to jump to convenient conclusions. The key image is middle row, right hand side. Yes, it has a large veiling reflection on it that does not appear (so strongly) on other photos, but that is not unusual. It’s like when you could see a reflection of a window or the room light on your TV (when it was a CRT); it covered a part of the screen but not all of it. It could be fake, but the lighting argument doesn’t work.

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1 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/09/skripals-the-mystery-deepens/

2 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-silence-of-the-whores/ 

3 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/ 

4 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/08/skripals-when-the-bbc-hide-the-truth/ 

5 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/07/the-amesbury-mystery/ 

6 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/yulia-skripal-and-the-salisbury-wut/

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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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Craig Murray cross-examines the official ‘Novichok’ story

Former ambassador and independent journalist Craig Murray is no friend of Russia or Putin but has been outspoken in his doubts over UK government allegations relating to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. In series of recent articles reprinted in full below he now cross-examines the government case point by point.

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The terrible death of Dawn Sturgess casts a new shadow over the Salisbury Affair. Dawn appears to have been a popular and well grounded woman with close friend and family ties, whose life had taken a downward turn before being cruelly ended.

The illogical, inconsistent and shifting government narrative over events in Salisbury and Amesbury had appeared so ludicrous as to be tragi-comic. Any sense of amusement is now abruptly dispelled. But less us take a serious and sober look at the government case.

Sajid Javid stated today:

We know back in March that it was the Russians. We know it was a barbaric, inhuman act by the Russian state. Again, for this particular incident, we need to learn more and let the police do their work.

Actually, we know no such thing and, contrary to Javid’s deliberate insinuation, the police have adduced no evidence that it was the Russian state.

The media appear to have entirely excluded from the narrative that Porton Down specifically stated that they cannot determine the origin of the poison that attacked the Skripals. Nor has the OPCW. There are scores of both state and non-state actors who could have produced the nerve agent. No evidence has been produced as to the physical person who allegedly administered the poison. In short, nothing so far has been shown which would lead any reasonable person to conclude a case against the Russian state was proven.

I believe this following is the government narrative currently. I hope I am not mistating it:

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs. The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow. Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknb, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

I am going to leave you to mull over that story yourselves for a while. I believe it is a fair statement of the British government narrative. I also believe almost (but not quite) every single sentence is very obviously untrue. I hope tomorrow to publish a detailed analysis explaining why that is, but want you to look at it yourselves first.

One final thought. I trust that Dawn Sturgess will get a proper and full public inquest in accordance with normal legal process, something which was denied to David Kelly. I suspect that is something the government will seek to delay as long as possible, even indefinitely.

Click here to read the same article published on Craig Murray’s website

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In my last post I set out the official Government account of the events in the Skripal Case. Here I examine the credibility of this story. Next week I shall look at alternative explanations.

Russia has a decade long secret programme of producing and stockpiling novichok nerve agents. It also has been training agents in secret assassination techniques, and British intelligence has a copy of the Russian training manual, which includes instruction on painting nerve agent on doorknobs.

The only backing for this statement by Boris Johnson is alleged “intelligence”, and unfortunately the “intelligence” about Russia’s secret novichok programme comes from exactly the same people who brought you the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme, proven liars. Furthermore, the question arises why Britain has been sitting on this intelligence for a decade and doing nothing about it, including not telling the OPCW inspectors who certified Russia’s chemical weapons stocks as dismantled.

If Russia really has a professional novichok assassin training programme, why was the assassination so badly botched? Surely in a decade of development they would have discovered that the alleged method of gel on doorknob did not work? And where is the training manual which Boris Johnson claimed to possess? Having told the world – including Russia -the UK has it, what is stopping the UK from producing it, with marks that could identify the specific copy erased?

The Russians chose to use this assassination programme to target Sergei Skripal, a double agent who had been released from jail in Russia some eight years previously.

It seems remarkable that the chosen target of an attempt that would blow the existence of a secret weapon and end the cover of a decade long programme, should be nobody more prominent than a middle ranking double agent who the Russians let out of jail years ago. If they wanted him dead they could have killed him then. Furthermore the attack on him would undermine all future possible spy swaps. Putin therefore, on this reading, was willing to sacrifice both the secrecy of the novichok programme and the spy swap card just to attack Sergei Skripal. That seems highly improbable.

Only the Russians can make novichok and only the Russians had a motive to attack the Skripals.

The nub of the British government’s approach has been the shocking willingness of the corporate and state media to parrot repeatedly the lie that the nerve agent was Russian made, even after Porton Down said they could not tell where it was made and the OPCW confirmed that finding. In fact, while the Soviet Union did develop the “novichok” class of nerve agents, the programme involved scientists from all over the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, as I myself learnt when I visited the newly decommissioned Nukus testing facility in Uzbekistan in 2002.

Furthermore, it was the USA who decommissioned the facility and removed equipment back to the United States. At least two key scientists from the programme moved to the United States. Formulae for several novichok have been published for over a decade. The USA, UK and Iran have definitely synthesised a number of novichok formulae and almost certainly others have done so too. Dozens of states have the ability to produce novichok, as do many sophisticated non-state actors.

As for motive, the Russian motive might be revenge, but whether that really outweighs the international opprobrium incurred just ahead of the World Cup, in which so much prestige has been invested, is unclear.

What is certainly untrue is that only Russia has a motive. The obvious motive is to attempt to blame and discredit Russia. Those who might wish to do this include Ukraine and Georgia, with both of which Russia is in territorial dispute, and those states and jihadist groups with which Russia is in conflict in Syria. The NATO military industrial complex also obviously has a plain motive for fueling tension with Russia.

There is of course the possibility that Skripal was attacked by a private gangster interest with which he was in conflict, or that the attack was linked to Skripal’s MI6 handler Pablo Miller’s work on the Orbis/Steele Russiagate dossier on Donald Trump.

Plainly, the British governments statements that only Russia had the means and only Russia had the motive, are massive lies on both counts.

The Russians had been tapping the phone of Yulia Skripal. They decided to attack Sergei Skripal while his daughter was visiting from Moscow.

In an effort to shore up the government narrative, at the time of the Amesbury attack the security services put out through Pablo Miller’s long term friend, the BBC’s Mark Urban, that the Russians “may have been” tapping Yulia Skripal’s phone, and the claim that this was strong evidence that the Russians had indeed been behind the attack.

But think this through. If that were true, then the Russians deliberately attacked at a time when Yulia was in the UK rather than when Sergei was alone. Yet no motive has been adduced for an attack on Yulia or why they would attack while Yulia was visiting – they could have painted his doorknob with less fear of discovery anytime he was alone. Furthermore, it is pretty natural that Russian intelligence would tap the phone of Yulia, and of Sergei if they could. The family of double agents are normal targets. I have no doubt in the least, from decades of experience as a British diplomat, that GCHQ have been tapping Yulia’s phone. Indeed, if tapping of phones is seriously put forward as evidence of intent to murder, the British government must be very murderous indeed.

Their trained assassin(s) painted a novichok on the doorknob of the Skripal house in the suburbs of Salisbury. Either before or after the attack, they entered a public place in the centre of Salisbury and left a sealed container of the novichok there.

The incompetence of the assassination beggars belief when compared to British claims of a long term production and training programme. The Russians built the heart of the International Space Station. They can kill an old bloke in Salisbury. Why did the Russians not know that the dose from the door handle was not fatal? Why would trained assassins leave crucial evidence lying around in a public place in Salisbury? Why would they be conducting any part of the operation with the novichok in a public area in central Salisbury?

Why did nobody see them painting the doorknob? This must have involved wearing protective gear, which would look out of place in a Salisbury suburb. With Skripal being resettled by MI6, and a former intelligence officer himself, it beggars belief that MI6 did not fit, as standard, some basic security including a security camera on his house.

The Skripals both touched the doorknob and both functioned perfectly normally for at least five hours, even able to eat and drink heartily. Then they were simultaneously and instantaneously struck down by the nerve agent, at a spot in the city centre coincidentally close to where the assassins left a sealed container of the novichok lying around. Even though the nerve agent was eight times more deadly than Sarin or VX, it did not kill the Skripals because it had been on the doorknob and affected by rain.

Why did they both touch the outside doorknob in exiting and closing the door? Why did the novichok act so very slowly, with evidently no feeling of ill health for at least five hours, and then how did it strike both down absolutely simultaneously, so that neither can call for help, despite their being different sexes, weights, ages, metabolisms and receiving random completely uncontrolled doses. The odds of that happening are virtually nil. And why was the nerve agent ultimately ineffective?

Detective Sergeant Bailey attended the Skripal house and was also poisoned by the doorknob, but more lightly. None of the other police who attended the house were affected.

Why was the Detective Sergeant affected and nobody else who attended the house, or the scene where the Skripals were found? Why was Bailey only lightly affected by this extremely deadly substance, of which a tiny amount can kill?

Four months later, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were rooting about in public parks, possibly looking for cigarette butts, and accidentally came into contact with the sealed container of a novichok. They were poisoned and Dawn Sturgess subsequently died.

If the nerve agent had survived four months because it was in a sealed container, why has this sealed container now mysteriously disappeared again? If Rowley and Sturgess had direct contact straight from the container, why did they not both die quickly? Why had four months searching of Salisbury and a massive police, security service and military operation not found this container, if Rowley and Sturgess could?

I am, with a few simple questions, demolishing what is the most ludicrous conspiracy theory I have ever heard – the Salisbury conspiracy theory being put forward by the British government and its corporate lackies.

My next post will consider some more plausible explanations of this affair.

Click here to read the same article originally posted on Craig Murray’s website.

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I would like to thank Craig Murray for allowing the reproduction of these articles.

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

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, Russia

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”.

*

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]

*

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.

*

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?

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

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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.

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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.

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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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Seymour Hersh conclusively debunks “Trump’s Red Line” – the gas attack was no such thing

Seymour Hersh is perhaps most highly respected investigative journalist alive today. He earned his reputation as the first to bring the world’s attention to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

During the Syrian War, Hersh has twice investigated claims that Assad crossed chemical “red lines”, first in Ghouta in August 2013, and more recently in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last April. The evidence he has uncovered disproves the official narrative of both incidents. Faced with such inconvenient truth, however, the mainstream media simply ignores him.

Here are extracts from his latest piece on the alleged sarin atrocity at Khan Sheikhoun, although I very much encourage all readers to follow the links to read the full article published in yesterday’s Sunday edition of Die Welt:

Within hours of the April 4 bombing [and alleged chemical attack], the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.

The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons. […]

Hersh says that his sources provided him with evidence “in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4”. These were part of “an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction [in which] U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter”:

Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to the deconfliction monitors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north.

The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area. […]

The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition. […]

The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.” The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.

Seymour Hersh was also able to speak at length with a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and the CIA:

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. According to intelligence estimates, the senior adviser said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist leaders, and an unknown number of drivers and security aides. […]

Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots.

At this point, the adviser said, the president’s national security planners were more than a little rattled: “No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intelligence made clear that a Syrian Air Force SU-24 fighter bomber had used a conventional weapon to hit its target: There had been no chemical warhead.

Regarding the potential fallout of Trump’s knee-jerk response, these are Hersh’s closing remarks:

The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full article entitled “Trump’s Red Line”.

And here to read an earlier post on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident entitled “illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations”, published April 10th.

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Update:

If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and pliant, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.

writes independent reporter and investigative journalist Jonathan Cook, who continues:

His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection. That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed.

The first of the “spoilers” was reported in the Guardian last Wednesday [June 28th ] as follows:

The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” for further use of the weapons. […]

The unusual public warning on Monday night appeared to be intended to deter the regime from repeating its use of chemical weapons against rebel-held cities and towns.

It may also have been aimed at the regime’s backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime’s responsibility for chemical weapons use.

Click here to read the full report written by Julian Borger.

The second involves a rehash of earlier claims made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which was reported by BBC news on Friday [June 30th] as follows:

The fact-finding mission for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based in The Hague, concluded that, after interviewing witnesses and examining samples, “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance”. […]

The new report has been circulated among OPCW members but has not been made public.

A joint UN and OPCW investigation will now investigate who was to blame for the attack.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Jonathan Cook reminds us:

There are obvious reasons to be mightily suspicious of these stories. The findings of the OPCW were already known and had been discussed for some time – there was absolutely nothing newsworthy about them.

There are also well-known problems with the findings. There was no “chain of custody” – neutral oversight – of the bodies that were presented to the organisation in Turkey, as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, has noted. Any number of interested parties could have contaminated the bodies before they reached the OPCW. For that reason, the OPCW has not concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the traces of sarin. In the world of real news, only such a finding – that Assad was responsible – should have made the OPCW report interesting again to the media.

As Cook correctly concludes:

[B]y going public with their threats against Assad, the Pentagon and White House did not increase the deterrence on Assad, making it less likely he would use gas in the future. That could have been achieved much more effectively with private warnings to the Russians, who have massive leverage over Assad. These new warnings were meant not for Assad but for western publics, to bolster the official narrative that Hersh’s investigation had thrown into doubt.

In fact, the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.

In light of the White House statement, Caleb Maupin of RT asked spokesperson for the US State Department, Heather Nauert: “Are you concerned that that could have created an opening for the terrorist groups to carry out a chemical attack… [adding] you’re not concerned even though al-Nusra, al-Qaeda groups have been using chemical weapons in Syria – that’s documented”. But Nauert prefers to answer her own question:

But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.

No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.

Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

Click here to read the full article entitled “After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria”.

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As a side note, I must draw attention to the seldom mentioned fact that Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), attended the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria as recently as June 2015. There is a clear conflict of interests when the head of an independent intergovernmental organisation for disarmament ‘privately’ attends a meeting which includes Nato top brass as well as the heads of major arms manufacturers. It raises serious questions over the impartiality of the OPCW.

You can also read full attendance list here.

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Caleb Maupin: I mean they could carry out a terrorist attack and then the White House saying, ‘oh Assad was going to do it’, that would create a cover for them to do such a thing.

Heather Nauert: Do I have to do this again? We know that Assad has used chemicals weapons on his own people, and he’s done that repeatedly, including women and children, and we have all seen the video and there is no debate about that.

CM: Didn’t Assad give up his chemical weapons in 2013?

HN: No.

CM: Are you saying that al-Qaeda has not used chemical weapons?

HN: I’m not going to get into this conversation with you about this – you want to have a debate, okay, about a hypothetical… and I’m not going to get into a debate about a hypothetical.

CM: Since you’ve announced that then they could carry out an attack and make it look like the [Syrian] government did it. Isn’t that a real possibility?

HN: If you want to try to make excuses for the Assad regime, go right ahead.

CM: I’m not talking about the Assad, I’m talking about terrorist groups – I’m talking about al-Qaeda.

HN: I’m not going to spend all our folks’ time having that conversation. We all know here in the room that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for chemical attacks on his own people, including women and children. We are not going to debate it beyond that. Al-Qaeda are horrible too but what we’re talking about right now is Assad and Syria. Next question…

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VIPS challenge official narrative and call for restraint after latest chemical incident in Syria

All sections below are quoted from VIPS (unless highlighed in purple).

Background: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.

We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:

No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.

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October 1st 2013

World attention has moved to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, but the evidence on the Aug. 21 attack [at Ghouta] near Damascus remains hidden and in dispute, causing a group of former U.S. intelligence professionals to ask Moscow and Washington to present what they have.

Memorandum to: Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

We applaud your moves toward a peaceful resolution of the Syria crisis that will lead to the destruction of all chemical stockpiles possessed by the Syrian Government.

At the same time, we strongly believe the world has the right to know the truth about the chemical attack near Damascus. We note that both sides continue to claim possession of compelling evidence regarding the true perpetrators of this crime.

We therefore call upon Russia and the United States to release all the intelligence and corroborative information related to the 21 August chemical attack so that the international community can make a judgment regarding what is actually known and not known.

We the undersigned — former intelligence, military and federal law enforcement officers who have collectively dedicated, cumulatively, hundreds of years to making the American people more secure — hereby register our dismay at the continued withholding of this vital evidence.

The issue is one of great importance, as the United States has within recent memory gone to war based on allegations of a threat that proved to be groundless. The indictment of Syria on possibly unsubstantiated claims of war crimes could easily lead to another unnecessary armed conflict that would produce disastrous results for the entire region, and indeed the entire world.

Click here to read the statement in full in Consortium News.

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Renewed appeal 2013

In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.

Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as “homemade” and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.

Neither of you responded directly to our appeal to make such evidence available to the public, although, Mr. Lavrov, you came close to doing so. In a speech at the UN on Sept. 26, 2013, you made reference to the views we presented in our VIPS Memorandum, Is Syria a Trap?, sent to President Obama three weeks earlier.

Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the “open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon,” in which we expressed similar doubt.

Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of “Intelligence Assessment” customarily used to back up such claims.

We believe that this odd lack of a formal “Intelligence Assessment” is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as was done to “justify” the attack on Iraq.

Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21.” [bold highlight added]

The VIPS statement then discusses the document leak by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem uncovering a smuggling operation run with Turkish government complicity:

Addressing fellow members of parliament on Dec. 10, 2015, Turkish MP Eren Erdem from the Republican People’s Party (a reasonably responsible opposition group) confronted the Turkish government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem referred to official reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.” Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.

The Operation

According to Erdem, the 13 suspects arrested in raids carried out against the plotters were released just a week after they were indicted, and the case was closed — shut down by higher authority. Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.”

Click here to read the statement in full as published in Huffington Post.

As an addendum below, I include a post about the leak of documents by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem, written in December 2015 but previously unpublished.

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Latest VIPS statement issued today

Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*

SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?

1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.

2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.

3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important – what they appear to believe happened.

4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?

5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.

6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”

Click here to read the statement in full in Counterpunch.

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Addendum: post from December 2015 on Eren Erdem’s document leak

Turkish MP Eren Erdem accuses his own country of assisting with sarin gas attacks on Syria

Turkish Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition member Eren Erdem says he has seen hard evidence showing of how Turkish nationals have played a vital role in the smuggling ingredients to make sarin gas used by ISIS and other Islamist groups:

On December 10, Erdem addressed Turkish parliamentarians, discussing criminal case number 2013/120, opened by Ankara’s General Prosecutor’s Office in Adana.

Evidence shows various Turkish nationals were involved in direct dealings with ISIS and other terrorist groups, supplying them with sarin gas.

Erdem explained.

“Which trucks were going to be used, all dates etc. From A to Z, everything was discussed and recorded. Despite all of this evidence, the suspects were released,” the case closed, showing high-level coverup, perhaps ordered by Erdogan.

Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals moved freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria. Erden indicated a high-level regime coverup, evidence revealing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s involvement.

Toxic chemicals were purchased from Europe,” he said. US-led Western countries “should question themselves about these relations. Western sources know very well who carried out the sarin gas attack in Syria.”

“They know these people. They know who (they) are working with. They know that these people are working for Al-Qaeda…Western (countries) are hypocrites about the situation.”

Click here to read more from Stephen Lendman’s report quoted above, which was published on Monday 14th by Global Research.

Russia Today, who broke the story, reported on Wednesday 16th that:

Ankara’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office opened the case against Istanbul MP Eren Erdem of Republican People’s Party (CHP) after his interview about sarin was aired on RT on Monday.  […]

As Turkish media reported Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office is planning to send a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday. Following that, the summary may be forwarded to the Turkish parliament, which could vote to strip Erdem of his parliamentary immunity.

Once Turkish mass-media reported the criminal investigation had been opened against Erdem, the hashtags #ErenErdemYalnızDeğildir – #ErenErdemYouAreNotAlone began to circulate in Turkish social networks.

On Tuesday, MP Erdem issued a written statement in his defense, saying he had become the target of a smear campaign because of his statements made in parliament. […]

As for his accusations about Turkish businessmen being involved in supplying Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) with the poisonous gas sarin and other reactants needed for chemical warfare, Erdem maintained this statement was made based on the results of a Turkish court investigation in 2013.

Erdem also claims that following his interview with RT he has received death threats on social media:

Eren Erdem said that the Turkish paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths has published his home address on Twitter in an effort to enable at an attack on his house.

“I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country’s prestige,” MP Erdem said.

Click here to read more from the same RT report.

So far, in the Western media, only the Belfast Telegraph, Daily Mirror, and Daily Star have carried reports of Erdem’s allegations.

The Daily Star, which also published an article on Monday 14th, runs it under the headline “TOXIC TERROR” and manages to deflect attention away from the alleged role of Erdogen and the Turkish authorities in order to play up “…fears [that] the murderous regime [ISIS] is producing chemical weapons to use against the West.”

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Additional: The Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)

Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Russia, Syria, Turkey, USA

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

Recent historical background

In October 2011, Russia drew a line in the sand when it vetoed western intervention in Syria.

The UN security council is expected to seek a fresh resolution on Syria after Russia and China on Tuesday night vetoed a draft that threatened sanctions, a security council source said.

The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.

Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council. 1

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

In response, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, provided his own translation of the Russian statement of explanation for their veto:

The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.

Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.

In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.

The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.

The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.

The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.

The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.

This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.

As Murray points out, the validity of the Russian statement is borne out by the facts on the ground, even if the mainstream media has turned away from presenting the true horror of the atrocities that have been committed by Nato and the rebel forces in the name of freedom and democracy, most especially in the case of Sirte:

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post in full.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was one of very few independent journalists reporting inside Libya. He consistently dismissed the official story of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is what he had to say in an interview at the end of July 2011:

Without question, it has to be emphasized that the NATO-led bombings have deliberately targeted Libyan civilians and have sought to punish the civilian population in Libya. Water facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, food facilities, hotels, civilian vehicles, restaurants, homes, government office buildings, and residential areas have all been bombed. This includes the Libyan Supreme Court, a civilian bus, a Down’s Syndrome facility, a children’s vaccination centre, and Nasser University. The NATO claim that military command and control buildings are being targeted is nonsense and untrue.

The NATO goal has not been to protect civilians, but to provoke civilians into blaming Colonel Qaddafi and his regime for the war and NATO’s war crimes against the Libyan people. NATO believes that the brutality of its bombings of Libyan civilians and its strategy to create a shortage of fuel, money, medicine, food, and water would cause regime change in Tripoli by pushing the Libyan population to oust Qaddafi. 2

And here is Mahdi Nazemroaya giving an eyewitness account at a Toronto Conference for “The Truth about Libya” a few months later on Sept 9th, when he spoke passionately against the lies of the mainstream media that covered up the horrors of the NATO intervention:

Craig Murray likewise points out that: “NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties” and goes on to describe Susan Rice’s reaction to the Russian statement as ‘pathetic’:

Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse. I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently forseeable result of America’s own rash actions, was just pathetic.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post.

That Russia and China will resort to appeals to ‘humanitarianism’ only when it suits their own geostrategic agenda is true, of course. In this instance, Russian being primarily concerned to protect its interests in Syria, which includes the Tartus naval base 3. But then it’s always so much easier to see through the hypocrisy coming out of Beijing and Moscow, than when it comes from the lips of our own leaders — Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama at the time — or, more importantly, from a media that is unswervingly loyal to the same corporate and establishment interests.

War is a racket, remember that – not my words but those of Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated general in America’s history. And in his famous anti-war pamphlet of the same name, first published in 1935, he writes:

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Or, as Craig Murray rewrites it for our contemporary times:

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That is an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

If there is full scale “intervention” in Syria then we can certainly expect similar results, because, and in spite of the humanitarian justifications that will undoubtedly be given, the real motivation remains the same. A grab for power and money. As Butler says: it’s just a racket.

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Earlier chemical attacks in Syria

During the half decade in which a sustained proxy war has engulfed Syria, there have now been two alleged chemical attacks which have prompted demands for direct military “intervention” against Assad. The first happened four years ago when Obama accused the Syrian regime of “crossing a red line” following a release of sarin gas in Ghouta. Allegations which Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh afterwards refuted, challenging Obama’s claims that US intelligence possessed solid evidence proving Assad’s guilt, and more importantly, revealing that the origins of the sarin used in the attack “didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad. 4

The article quoted above entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th, 2014.

In a follow up article Hersh also provided supporting evidence that the Ghouta attack was most probably carried out by al-Qaeda factions in Syria who quite definitely did have the means:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

And Hersh finally went on to implicate Turkey as likely collaborators in the Ghouta atrocity and other less widely reported chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat. 5

Read more here and here.

Following Tuesday’s [April 4th] chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, some 30 miles south of Idlib city, Assad stands accused once again, this time by Trump, of crossing “many, many lines – beyond a red line”. On this occasion, no evidence has yet been provided aside from video footage that purportedly shows rescuers trying to resuscitate victims of an alleged aerial attack. The images are indeed extremely harrowing, but what precisely are we witnessing? The plain fact that the only footage available carries the logo of the al-Qaeda linked White Helmets is grounds alone to query the authenticity of the story.

Quoted below is the gruesome conclusion drawn by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) and associated medical experts after closely analysing similarly disturbing video footage of White Helmet responders dealing with an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015:

‘Lifesaving’ procedures on the children showed in the White Helmets videos were found to be fake, and ultimately performed on dead children. 6

In a related report Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, a prominent figure in the resistance movement against the Pinochet Dictatorship (biographical notes from his current wikipedia entry are reproduced as a footnote ), adds that:

SWEDHR took the time to get the dialogue in the White Helmet movie translated. At 1:16 the doctor in full light green and a gray & black jumper says:

”Include in the picture (meaning in the film or the frame -translators note) the mother should be underneath and the children on top of her, hey! Make sure the mother is underneath.”

Perhaps, if the video had been subtitled, the UN officials [who watched the film in the closed-door session at the UN Security Council] might have queried this overt staging of an event that one must assume, was chaotic, harrowing and stressful. Perhaps, they would have found it strange, that in the midst of a “chemical weapon” attack, one of the medics, attempting to save the lives of three Syrian children, would be concerned with the positioning of their bodies for the camera. 7

Click here and here to read the full reports from Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). [hat tip to Burning Blogger of Bedlam]

It is noteworthy that the wikipedia entry for SWEDHR may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot as it currently appears (apologies for the size but I wanted to capture the full article):

And here is a close up of the banner at the top — observe how the various “issues” are all dated April 2017:

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Lacking the legal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution or approval from Congress, it is on the basis of similarly doubtful and unsubstantiated video evidence that Trump so hastily launched his $100 million offensive – an initial salvo which is presumably set to open yet another front in the West’s ever-expanding post-9/11 warzone. Neo-con David Ignatius even made this extraordinary comparison writing in the Washington Post:

Then came those pictures of the Syrian children. With Thursday night’s action, Trump reached one of those unforeseen tipping points on which decisions of war and peace so often rest: the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the “Zimmermann telegram” of 1917, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, the Iraqi WMD delusion in 2003. What all these triggers for war have in common is that people didn’t see them coming. 8

Anyone with even a passing interest in history will recognise that what those pretexts to major wars in Ignatius’ list share in common is a good deal less superficial than “that people didn’t see them coming”. It is common knowledge that the last two examples were outright lies (not “delusions”), but serious and lingering doubts also remain over the seemingly willful negligence accompanying the separate tragedies which accelerated US entry into each of the world wars. For deceit and deception is not only part and parcel of war itself, more often than not it is a necessary catalyst to instigate war.

Above is a Mail Online report published in January 2013 that was subsequently removed.

Below is a screenshot of the CNN article by award winning journalist Elise Labott, the original link was later redirected to CNN blogs:

Click here to read more about these earlier reports at Global Research.

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As the rush to a new war quickens, here are just a few pleas for restraint – extracts from articles and interviews (the transcripts are my own) from a wide range of dissenting but considered and well-informed perspectives.

Trump’s war crime

Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, at the UN Security Council meeting on April 7th:

Holding up an enlarged photo of Colin Powell’s “weapons of mass destruction” speech, Llorenti made an impassioned plea to hold the U.S. to account for Thursday’s unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the U.S. history of imperialist interventions in other nations, including Latin America.

“Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That’s not what international law is about.”

The Andean nation currently holds a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion (in 2003), the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found,” the Bolivian envoy told the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday.

Arguing that the U.S. acted unilaterally and in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the Bolivian envoy called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States was preparing once again and carried out a unilateral attack,” Llorenti said. “The missile attack, of course, is a unilateral action. They represent a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Click here to read the full article on telesur.

Llorenti also reminded delegates:

“After [the Iraq] invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?” [from 8 mins]

*

To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.

Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.

In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.

However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?

No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Click here to read the full article by political analyst John Wight published in Counterpunch.

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Cui bono?

On Wednesday 6th in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack inside Khan Sheikhoun, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was interviewed by Sky News. He said:

Ask who benefits – clearly it’s not the Syrian regime or the Russians who are benefitting. And I believe it’s highly unlikely that either were behind what’s happened. There are different possibilities. One is that all of it is fake news: the images, the videos, the information all come from opposition sources and not from any credible independent journalists.

It’s also possible that the pictures show the aftermath of a bombing attack which happened to hit a jihadi chemical weapons munition dump. We know for a fact that the jihadi’s were storing chemical weapons in schools in Eastern Aleppo because these were seen later by western journalists. This is one distinct possibility.

We never learn, do we? Iraq’s chemical weapons – remember that one? We were stampeded. Aleppo, we were told that there was a holocaust going on – massacres – didn’t happen. Independent reporters went in afterwards and saw no evidence of massacres. What we did see were fighters being bussed out quietly. And we discovered subsequently that a lot of the footage was fake.

Asked whether western intervention in 2013 “might have changed things”, Ford replies:

Well, it’s not profitable to discuss the what-might-have-been – personally, I think it was correct in 2013 not to intervene on the side of the jihadis. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that most of the people, when they thought about it for a second, would ask themselves: well, what’s going to replace Assad and the secular regime which is protecting minorities, Christians, women’s rights? I don’t think the Islamists would have been a better bet, and that is even more the case today. Remember that in Idlib where this happened is a rats’ nest of the most extreme jihadis.

Dogs returning to their own vomit. They made all these mistakes: Iraq, Libya – they never learn and they would like to reproduce the same scenario in Syria. Fortunately, the Trump administration moved only last week – and this may be significant here – moved only last week to disown the Obama policy of trying to unseat the Syrian regime. Trump’s people said: we’re more interested in unseating ISIS – that’s our priority. And you may think it’s significant that this attack comes days after that. Now if the jihadis wanted to complicate Trump’s task of making America’s policy more sensible, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way than trying to mount a piece of fake news like this.

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The media has helped spread the war fever. New York Times columnist and Iraq war cheerleader Thomas Friedman reflexively proposed that Syria be partitioned, with U.S. troops if necessary. On CNN, correspondent Arwa Damon wept over the lack of U.S. resolve, suggesting that a bombing campaign against Damascus would somehow salve the wounds of Syria.

But there has been one issue major media outlets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. military offensive. Who holds power in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is perhaps the most inconvenient set of questions for proponents of “humanitarian” military intervention in Syria.

The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed what a leading scholar has described as a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.

Even analysts who have repeatedly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syria have described Idlib as the “heartland of al-Nusra.”

Click here to read the full article by Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton, published in Alternet on Wednesday 5th.

The same piece includes the following insightful update (with all links maintained from original):

Several hours after this article was published, the U.S. attacked the Syrian government, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, in the city of Homs. ISIS seized on the opportunity and launched an offensive against the Syrian government immediately after the U.S. strike. The attack was likewise applauded by the Salafi jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sham, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

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On Saturday 8th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Peter Oborne, Associate Editor of the Spectator magazine, and Middle East Eye columnist, who has visited Syria during the war and is about to return. Here extracts from what Oborne said:

Well the pictures are terrible – really shocking and awful. But the question is: what’s behind them; what could have created this situation; and was the Syrian government/regime involved? And I think it’s very unwise to jump to immediate conclusions. That’s what history teaches you. Intelligence agencies produce stuff which is unreliable and false: you know going back to WMD before the Iraq invasion. You got back to the reasons given for the Libyan intervention, five years after that, and then the attempts to get western involvement in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta. I just think that we need to pause.

I think there should be an investigation: it’s very shocking what’s happened. But to immediately blame the Assad regime and then say look we’ve got to go to war is not the sensible response. […]

Matthew Rycroft [British ambassador to the UN Security Council] is a young man, and he’s probably not that experienced, and he’s probably a bit naive. Intelligence agencies need to assess in a responsible and adult way what happened. And to suddenly launch World War Three – which this potentially could become –on the back of a whole series of media reactions to a very serious and terrible event is not sensible. We need to know the truth about what happened first.

One of the questions is cui bono – who benefits? And if you look at the situation of the Assad regime now you can’t really say that it’s in their interest to go around dropping chemical weapons. They knew four years ago in 2013, the United States came very close to bombing Damascus in the wake of that [chemical incident at Ghouta]. Now do they want that to happen? I don’t think so.

From the perspective here in London, you know, it looks like the war is almost over. Do you want to reignite something absolutely terrible? […]

I can’t look into the mind of President Trump, but I was surprised. We know that there has been a constituency to go to war in Syria. In my view, to get involved in that would have made things far worse – led to far more innocent deaths, to far more deaths of children. And if the West is going to pile into Syria then it’s going to cause unintended consequences on a limitless scale, as we saw when we used the false justification of WMD in Iraq. So much better is to sit back, pause, use proper intelligence techniques to work out and analyse what did happen, and respond over time. But what we are seeing now is hysteria. […]

We don’t know how many people have died in Syria because of the terrible war which has been going on for the last four years. Is it 200,000? Is it 400,000? I don’t know. How many lives have been destroyed? How many children have died? (All the rest of it…) If any situation called for restraint, this is the one.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has just come back from Saudi Arabia. She’s trying to sell British arms, etc (I presume) to Saudi. Saudi has a long-standing determination to destroy the Assad government in Syria. And I’d just like to be clear about what Mrs May’s… you know, you need to be aware of who Mrs May talks to. It is not in the interests of humanity or the world to get involved in a new war in Syria to take it in a fresh direction on the basis of an event we know practically nothing about.

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The immediate fall out

President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.

The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.

Is that the change that Trump wanted?

As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States.  According to the New York Times:

“In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)

The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.

Click here to read the full article by Mike Whitney published in Counterpunch. The same piece also includes Mike Whitney’s transcription of part of a 14 minute interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show with former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi. It is reproduced below:

Philip Giraldi: I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t — and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.

Scott Horton: Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?

Philip Giraldi: Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.

Scott Horton: So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?

Philip Giraldi: They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.

Scott Horton: You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?

Philip Giraldi: It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”

Whitney writes:

I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time. [click here to listen]

Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)

Whitney also quotes from a recent statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media.  Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.

…Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)

“Managed chaos”. Brilliant. That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell. That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources.

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Update:

Here is US Congressman Thomas Massie challenging the official narrative on CNN to the undisguised chagrin of the anchor:

The original upload is no longer available so here’s another version courtesy of CNN:

Click here to listen to former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, interviewed on Scott Horton show on April 6th.

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There is also Professor Theodore Postol’s analysis of the hastily drafted White House Intelligence Report, released on April 11th: “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria

The reports concludes:

The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.

This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.

What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

For a more comprehensive summary of the report I recommend this article by independent journalist Eva Bartlett.

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In a talk given on April 14th, Noam Chomsky directs attention to Theodore Postol’s analysis and also challenges the official White House narrative:

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Finally – perhaps not to everyone’s taste – here is James Corbett’s sardonic quick-fire dissection of the same events in four minutes flat:

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1 From an article entitled “Syria sanctions: ‘outraged’ US seeks fresh resolution after double veto blow” published in the Guardian on October 5, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/05/syria-sanctions-us-fresh-resolution

2 Taken from an interview of Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the publication Eurasia. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2011 by two Italian researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences/L’Istituto di Alti Studi in Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie (IsAG), Chiara Felli and Giovanni Andriolo. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26774

3

The Russian expansion of the Tartus would include the installation of an air defence system with S-300 PMU2 Favourite ballistic missile system that would be a virtual threat to the Ceyhan, maritime traffic, the flow of oil, and would provide an air defence shield for vital portions of Syria that are strategically important, especially in the event of a war. In essence Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Syria would be protected from either Israeli or American aerial bombardment. It is clear that the Russian aims in Syria are a symmetrical reaction to American objectives for the Middle East and part of a global chess game.

From an article entitled “Russian Base in Syria, a Symmetrical Strategic Move” written by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, on July 28, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=2839

4 From an article entitled “Whose sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 35, No. 24, December 19, 2013. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

5 From an article entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 36, No. 8, April 17, 2014. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

6 From a report entitled “White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/white-helmets-movie-updated-evidence-from-swedish-doctors-confirm-fake-lifesaving-and-malpractices-on-children/ 

7

From a report entitled “Swedish Doctors for Human Rights: White Helmets Video, Macabre Manipulation of Dead Children and Staged Chemical Weapons Attack to Justify a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Syria” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/swedish-doctors-for-human-rights-white-helmets-video-macabre-manipulation-of-dead-children-and-staged-chemical-weapons-attack-to-justify-a-no-fly-zone-in-syria/ 

Marcello Ferrada de Noli had a classical liberal ideological background, influenced by his eldest brother, a lawyer with previous membership in the right-wing Liberal Party. However, he later evolved towards left-liberal and social-libertarian positions. At age 22, Marcello Ferrada de Noli was one of the founders of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. MIR was a Chilean political party and former left-wing guerrilla organization (founded on October 12, 1965) prominent in the resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship. Together with his old-time school friend Miguel Enríquez (died in combat 1974) and Marco A. Enríquez, Ferrada de Noli was an author of the Political-military Theses of MIR – known also as La Tesis Insurreccional – the first document of MIR approved in its foundation congress of 1965;[6][7][8] there he represented left-libertarian standpoints.

During the government of the Christian Democratic Party, President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared MIR to be illegal and Marcello Ferrada de Noli was posted in the nationwide published wanted-list of thirteen fugitive MIR leaders,[9] together with his friends Miguel Enríquez, Bautista van Schouwen, and others. Later captured in August 1969[10] Ferrada de Noli was acquitted without trial after having been kept in isolation[11] at Concepción prison (La Cárcel). Altogether he had been captured or imprisoned on seven occasions for his political activities in Chile during his time in the MIR but was never condemned by a Chilean court.

In the aftermath of the resistance to the military coup of 1973 Marcello Ferrada de Noli was captured in Concepción and taken first to the Stadium and later was imprisoned in Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp. After his liberation he went to Italy, where he was one of the witnesses before the Russell Tribunal which investigated human rights violations in Chile and Latin America. He then became a member of the Russell Tribunal Scientific Secretariat in Rome.[12]

8 From an article entitled “Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons” written by David Ignatius, published in the Washington Post on April 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-faces-a-moral-test-in-syria/2017/04/06/bea8bdde-1aee-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.fb0a06a21135

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Craig Murray, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, USA

Seymour Hersh on last August’s sarin attack on Ghouta and possible Turkish connections

Back in December, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article questioning the Obama administration’s claims that Assad had crossed a “red line” after launching a chemical attack on Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus. In his report, Hersh explained how:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

The article entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th.

Hersh has more recently produced a follow up article that provides additional evidence supporting the view that Ghouta attack was most probably launched by al-Qaeda factions in Syria:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

Seymour Hersh also talked about his latest report on Monday’s [April 7th] Democracy Now!:

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In his recent article [also published April 7th] entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh implicates Turkey as possible collaborators in this and other chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’ […]

A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’ […]

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)

And “the rat line”? Well, that brings Hersh back to the Benghazi attack of September 2012 which led to the death of US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. He draws attention [halfway down the following paragraph] to “a highly classified annex” to the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the incident – distribution of which was apparently “limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress”:

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.) […]

The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’

Click here to read the full version of Seymour Hersh’s latest article [April 6th] also published in the London Review of Books.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Turkey, USA