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Monday, February 20, 2017

Does Chlorine Make You Pass Out?

Does Chlorine Make You Pass Out?
Seems Everyone Says it Does, in Syria Anyway
Adam Larson, aka Caustic Logic
February 21, 2017
(incomplete - edits 2-23)

Does chlorine gas cause a victim to lose consciousness, or pass out, often on first contact? Syrian opposition activists, Human Rights Watch, several powerful governments, and many others seem to feel this is standard, or at least a very common effect. For a recent example, on February 9, one rebel died in Irbeen, Damascus suburbs in a supposed chlorine attack by Syrian government forces, that also sickened many. An opposition source said "four victims were transported to Arbeen Hospital with symptoms consistent with chlorine gas exposure including; difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and foaming at the mouth." (Press Release)

The main relevance of this supposed symptom is how it cause so many chlorine attack fatalities to, as I recently panned it, "just sit there and die." I decided to put my foot down on this subject while reviewing a Human Rights Watch report, detailing 9-16 fatalities of 8 attacks in rebel-held eastern Aleppo in late 2016. In perhaps every case where the chlorine bomb fell into or near someone's home, everyone inside apparently passed out and inhaled a fatal amount before anyone could come rescue them. Some might have been alive, but they'd be well doomed by then and die eventually, no matter how good the medicine.

(note: "foaming at the mouth" is also overrated: strained, rapid breathing, with mucous involved, can cause bubbles, which can form a foam. It's not really a chlorine indicator.) 

This instant blacking-out is also reported in earlier attacks, back into 2015 and 2014, and has been the norm - individuals and whole families just sit there and die every chance they get. (some review at the end). That's obviously not because they're so dull, but because they passed out early in the process and couldn't do anything after that. 

However, the people telling and selling this story seem to be some combination of liars and idiots. Chlorine does not make the victim just black out.

Maybe the core research was done by some Islamist watching the cartoon show Futurama. In this scene, a chlorine gas cloud is produced after "Nibbler" drinks an entire swimming pool and then burps. The non-robots cough a bit, and then tip over unconscious. The immune robot  laughs, then rusts and tips over.


That seems like a good fit with the cases reported out of Syria. It starts out right, but quickly goes wrong, from a scientific standpoint.  Let's take a moment to consider this as if it matters.

The basics: chlorine turns to hydrochloric and other acids on contact with water. So moist tissues like eyes, airways, or sweaty skin will be damaged. So the effect is mechanical, and the injuries are incurred during exposure, however intense and however long that is.

The patient remains conscious, but starts coughing, eventually with blood coming up (they would want it to, to make room for air). Death only come later, as chronic low blood-oxygen, damage to the lungs, and the body's often fatal response play out (a secretion of protective mucous often comes far too late to help, and contributes to suffocation). There's little that can be done medically to reverse the damage. They can suction the lungs and provide respiratory support to keep the patient breathing until, hopefully, they pull through and heal. But other times, even that's not enough and the patient dies after a long struggle.

The Literature Says:
A seminal source on chlorine's effects was compiled after the first World War, when it was widely used as a chemical weapon (to mixed effect, I might add). Medical Diseases of the War" by Arthur Hurst, M.A., MD (Oxon), FRCP. - excerpt:
The first effect of inhalation of chlorine is a burning pain in the throat and eyes, accompanied by a sensation of suffocation; pain, which may be severe, is felt in the chest, especially behind the sternum. Respiration becomes painful, rapid, and difficult ; coughing occurs, and the irritation of the eyes results in profuse lachrymation. Retching is common and may be followed by vomiting, which gives temporary relief...
... When a man lives long enough to be admitted into a clearing station, he is conscious, but restless; his face is violet red, and his ears and finger nails blue ; his expression strained and anxious as he gasps for breath...
The closest we get to the cartoon version - 
Severe headache rapidly follows with a feeling of great weakness in the legs; if the patient gives way to this and lies down, he is likely to inhale still more chlorine, as the heavy gas is most concentrated near the ground. In severe poisoning unconsciousness follows; nothing more is known about the cases which prove fatal on the field within the first few hours of the "gassing," except that the face assumes a pale greenish yellow colour.
The chlorine-colored face is not something other sources don't mention, but the kinds of clouds made in World War 1 have rarely been seen since. And our central question, it's unclear how closely or uniformly black-out  "follows" in severe cases. It's generally not mentioned at all on lists of symptoms: Wikipedia: consciousness not mentioned - Medline: consciousness not mentioned - US Centers for Disease Control (CDC): consciousness not mentioned.  (see also an earlier list at ACLOS, where it also never comes up)

Another CDC page acknowledges passing out is sometimes associated with chlorine poisoning, but puts in context:
"Not all of the signs and symptoms exhibited by subjects exposed to moderate to high concentrations of chlorine gas are caused directly by chlorine.  In general, it is believed that effects such as nausea and vomiting are reflex in origin..." 
(you cough so hard you throw up)
"...and headache and loss of consciousness are probably due to the hypoxia caused by pulmonary edema." 
That is, fluid-filled lungs keep oxygen from getting into the blood (hypoxia), and hence to the brain, leading to an oxygen-starved brain (cerebral hypoxia). This causes headache (a very common symptom) and unconsciousness (seemingly less common). That situation will require some minutes at least to develop, and longer yet to get that bad.

Headache and passing out aren't really primary signs - they're common to many different poisons, and other more obvious and specific signs should appear well before these. Other sources I've read suggest people often don't lose consciousness at all - they remain aware and responsive until the moment they die. When they do lose consciousness, most commonly, it's a short final stage before they finally die.  That is, it's more of a last thing than a first thing.

For anyone who does finally black out, they should usually get out the door at least (in the Syrian home scenario), though if the damage is severe enough, they may not get much farther before they're breathing so bad they finally collapse. But the first minutes should always be a time consciousness and free will. Wracked with pain, panic, and harsh coughing, still, they'll try to get away to fresher air, and most should succeed.

So I stand by this rule of thumb: If someone seems to just sit there and die from a chlorine attack, something unusual is probably at work. That can have various innocent causes in fluke cases, but if the pattern is too prevalent, or other counter clues exist (both apply across the record in Syria), it's probable that the chlorine-bomb story just isn't true. Much evidence and logic, in many cases analyzed over years, suggests such people were actually hostages of the opposition/Islamist forces, intentionally gassed to death as propaganda devices, with the intent to get their enemies in more trouble and encourage foreign intervention. But whatever the explanation, the one offered is inadequate, and that suggests some kind of cover-up.
 
Recent Cases in the United States
WWI deaths happened because of trenches and enemy fire, and massive clouds made on purpose, using winds deliberately to kill - not common anymore, but industrial accidents can cause them. There are probably many examples all over the world, but three from here in the US come up prominently. None of these mentions unconsciousness, nor specifies that everyone stayed awake. But the third case at least offers some useful insights.

Festus, Missouri, 2002
First, a case with no deaths and little detail on symptoms, just for the visuals and an idea of how it spreads ...August 14, 2002, chlorine release at DPC Enterprises in Festus, Missouri. An incorrect hose type corroded from the gas, and the safety shut-off failed. The resulting deep cloud, 48,000 pounds spilled, was captured on video, pinned between the plant and the raised railroad tracks. 

In a CNN Video from later, the cloud looks more yellow than it does here, and is being shut off finally and dissipates - this explains there was almost no wind, so the gas just sat there and didn't spread much, even into the nearby trailer park, which was evacuated anyway. 66 sought medical care, but apparently no one died. (CSB.gov, source for video still, hich seems color-saturated by the way, but this is an exceptionally thick cloud, and would display the color well)

Spokane, Washington, 2015
This is where I live, and this was local news. At Pacific Steel (basically a scrap metal recycling plant), on Wednesday, August 12, 2015, a pressurized one-ton container for chlorine, that was supposed to be empty, they don't know where it came from, why it was not empty. Apparently, it was being put on the conveyor by a crane, but was accidentally punctured -a cloud of gas described as yellow streamed out "in a rapid fashion, making a huge cloud," Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. (CNN) There was enough of it people down the street saw it pouring out of the plant “Everybody saw the yellow puff,” one witness said. “The puff of whatever didn’t look good.” (Spokesman-Review)

CNN's report sounds almost like those from Syria at the same time, but truer: "Those in the area said the gas smelled strongly of cleaning products. Many nearby began experiencing breathing trouble and tightness in the throat. ... Effects of the chemical ranged from minor respiratory issues to severe respiratory issues," with no mention of losing consciousness. 

Fire officials first thought announced it was Arsenic Trichloride, but soon decided it was chlorine. (KHQ) Several plant workers were seriously exposed, with 13 admitted to hospitals, and four put in intensive care. Three of these recovered within a day or so, but one worker, named Edward Dumaw, died after more than three days in intensive care. "A family friend said doctors were unable to repair Dumaw's lungs and that his heart was failing.  Dumaw died Saturday evening." (KHQ)

"Pacific Steel could not say if Dumaw was operating a crane or on the ground at the time the chlorine gas was released into the air." (Green Bay Press Gazette) If he was the crane operator, he might puncture the tank while it was close to the cab, but wherever, he was probably closest to it, and got the most concentrated blast, maybe right in the face. This would causing massive damage in a matter of seconds. It's probably amazing he managed to live three days.

Did he lose consciousness, or walk out alert but in crisis? That's the question, but the answer still isn't clear. I was thinking of calling to ask around ... but I don't think that's necessary. Nothing so far suggests he or anyone should have passed out, and there's no mention of it. The next case may settle it.

Graniteville, North Carolina, 2015
Around 3 am on January 6, 2005, an accident led one train to crash into another that was parked, near the Avondale Mills plant. The moving train (wrongly routed by negligent track settings) was carrying several cars worth of chlorine products, which largely wound up spilled. At right is a view from the morning after, following the worst of it (cropped from the photo used at Wikipedia - note the very pale color here - this is fairly well dispersed).

A US Department of Transportation report explained:
About  5,400  residents  were  evacuated.  The  chlorine  gas  had already affected many people: 554 were treated at hospitals, 75 were admitted,  and  nine  would  eventually  die  from  its  poison  (2): 
Nine deaths gives us some depth where less-common symptoms might appear. Some cases sound like people might have passed out where they were and/or slept through their death. But let's consider it in some detail. The report gives these nine as:
...the train’s engineer (who had survived the crash), three workers in the mill, a truck driver sleeping in his cab, a man in a shack one block from the wreckage, two workers who had evacuated the mill on foot into the woods, and one other person (7).
The cited sources are gone, but Wikipedia's article suffices, saying about the same, along with names we don't need to include here, and some details that may help. The other person is a 4th plant employee. A victim #10 is added here, a driver who passed through the plume (it filled his car and he kept breathing it?). Later he had a slow deterioration, and finally died, over three months later (let's not count this one, but note he kept on driving, instead of passing out and crashing)

The dead victims are mostly employees of Avondale Mills, working at the plant at the juncture where the crash happened. Anyone who died at their work station is a candidate for instant loss of consciousness. But we don't know their stations or often just where they died. But in many cases we can see they died some distance away.

Considerations: early morning attack, it's dark, and not as many people are around. A badly gassed person could get inside, find a phone in an empty office, call 9-11, cough blood and gasp into the reciever, lay there dying, and be found dead, or found alive, but then die in the hospital. They might go what they think is upwind, and it might be, but if they breathed too much and upwind is into the woods, they'd die choking alone in the woods, and be found in the morning.

Also note: rescuers were told to hold back, not having the right protective gear. The plume drifted many miles, for days, but it was dispersed and no deaths were reported out here, just immediate acute inhalations, and the stray victim #10.

And here's a lesser known point of some interest: a piece at chemicalspill.org explains how "some trying to flee had difficulty starting their cars and trucks as the chlorine worked with the humidity in the air on ignitions. Cell phones also did not always work for the same reason." 

(And a side-note: "EPA set up a chlorine monitor at the crash site that maxed out at 1.5 ppm. Although the incident response lasted for several days, a better monitor that would show actual levels of chlorine in the ambient air was not used." This sounds grossly inadequate. The fatal level must have been reached, and the IDHL rating (immediate danger to health and life) for chlorine is 10ppm. Since nine died, it must have gone several times over what the meter would show. )

With those points in mind, here's where and how the nine fatalities died:
1) engineer, found at site, died at hospital  - vague location, "survived the crash," but perhaps injured badly besides gassed (unable to walk, perhaps)
2, 4) plant employees, found in wooded area, dead - may have tried getting away, but slowly choked to death from the damage in the woods
3) plant employee, 25 feet inside the entrance of mill HQ, ground floor, alive but later died at the hospital - probably not at station, but didn't get far before he fell - may have been going for a phone
5) plant employee found on the loading dock - the same one he worked at? This could be a swift pass-out, or like the others but he just didn't get far
6,  7) plant employees - found in a break area, dead - found in an office, dead - likely going for cleaner air, and for the phone, but only after breathing way too much
8) truck driver, found in his truck cab, dead - maybe he slept through the first part of breathing it, woke up in crisis but spent too long trying to drive away, couldn't start the engine (noted problem), could have stepped out in the cloud and tried to walk away, but likely died in the driver's seat, maybe after realizing he was doomed and giving up.
9) found in his home, dead - Maybe prior medical problems, woke up at the crash noise, fell back asleep with a vengeance (took a pill? might need them, living so close to the tracks), breathed a weaker concentration for a while as he slept, and woke up too late. I bet he was out of bed, maybe had the phone in hand and even called 9-11, but he didn't make it to the door. Likely 20 others had a similar story but fared better and lived, most of them easily.

This last might apply to the November 20 incident and other night-time attacks in Syria, where people were caught sleeping. Except it's harder to sleep through chlorine released from a barrel bomb that fell through your roof. You'd wake up right away, and sleep through none of the damage. So, no, this doesn't help in the Syrian home scenario.

Recent Case With Rabbits, Regarding Syria
Consider also, how two exposed rabbits die, which should be quite similar ... as shown in Monitor analysis here, and in more detail at ACLOS, in the infamous Tekkim chemical test video, a thin, pale vapor of chlorine is produced in the flask by pouring hydrochloric acid on powdered potassium permanganate, and rolls across the floor of a small plexiglass cage, lidded over. It has no room to disperse, and will yield quicker death than usual.

The rabbits don't like breathing it, and blink their eyes as if irritated. The white rabbit doesn't just blink but squeezes its eyes shut most of the time, and also seems to sort of sneeze or cough a few times, and might be bleeding from the nose. One tries to get higher or escape. Eventually he panics, and they both start trying. At the end - about two minutes in - they slip and trip over each other on the plexiglass, then struggle for several moments on the floor, but cannot get back up. They stop trying and lay there, but likely remain conscious. It seems they simply gave up at that point, and it's hard to say how quickly they black out or die after that. They remain kicking and wiggling a bit for many seconds, and then camera goes back to the narrator, who starts talking about the humans he hates, and hopes to gas this same way. 

Review(incomplete)
We see no indications that people normally just sit there and die. In massive incidents, a few fluke cases might. But what they're reporting in Syria seems to make little scientific sense, and it might be a complete lie, of the kind they've been caught telling before. 

Here, I'll try and review all related cases, with some notes on just how they sat there and died. (forthcoming) 
(rough start to summary part:)

... the batch HRW examined - poorly - includes a seemingly tied up Christian family, killed November 20 (Monitor). The same claim is made, explicitly or not, for victims back to 2014, when mostly displaced families just sat there and died in their new places - the overdosed babies and others of the 2015 attacks, who just sat there and died as precursor chemicals inside the barrel bomb slowly produced chlorine (ACLOS) and choked them to death in their sleep, but skipping the usual symptoms and killing with tools more like those of an opiate

all fatal alleged chlorine incidents blamed on Syrian or Russian forces (there are some blamed on rebels as well):

4 fatal incidents in 2014 - all with the relevant details unclear. But most affected displaced families (IDPs), which is its own issue, suggesting possible captivity - if so, they also will have just sat there and died, from whatever, likely in some gas chamber.
April 11 - IDPs, 2 immediate deaths, from head wounds - a delayed death in Turkey, from the gas - not a good example.
April 18 - IDPs, woman, husband, son, IDP from Khan Sheikhoun + another, details unclear
April 21 - 3 dead, boy died same day, girl and mother 4 days later in Turkey - details unclear
May 22 = IDPs OPCW: "a mother aged 30 years, her sister aged 16 years, and two children (a five-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy) belonging to the same family" - details unclear.

Two non-deadly incidents later in 2014: "The injured showed all the signs of chemical exposure — red eyes, fluids leaking from their noses, red lips. Some were choking. The worst affected had fallen unconscious." (The Times)

4 in 2015
March 16, Sarmin, Idlib:
“There was a very strong chlorine smell there,” Muhammad Yazan, a local activist, told Human Rights Watch. Yazan went to the impact site in Sarmin, as well as to another village that was attacked in Idlib province. “One of our team members passed out due to the smell. ..." (PBS)

"(the victims) had gone down to the basement to seek shelter from the impact of the explosion, as they usually did, which led to their immediate suffocation as the gas, being heavier than air, slipped down to their shelter."
"immediate suffocation" here doesn't mean death, apparently, just immobilization. After some time...
"... The whole family was moved to the field hospital while still alive, but  they were so severely affected that the medical staff failed to save their lives. Due to their exposure to high levels of the toxic gas and the fall of the barrel directly on their house, they died one by one."
By the video evidence, medical negligence clearly played a role in their deaths, and chlorine clearly did not.
"Laith Fares,  activist,  civil defense worker and reporter for the civil defense teams told the VDC that a large number of civil defense workers had suffered from exposure to gas  due to lack of masks. They showed symptoms including respiratory irritation, burning in the throat, redness in the eyes and severe cough." (VDC report)
He doesn't mention paralysis or unconsciousness as anything they experienced. But it seems the victims did:
“We were told that a family lives in the basement. Three of us went down the stairs. I took one breath and (blah blah)  I saw a woman on the stairs. She was blue and was not breathing...."
This the grandmother in the family. She stopped moving, passed out, fell asleep, before she got up the stairs. I know the site, there are many stairs, so it's hard to say how far she allegedly got out of the small apartment, which I doubt they really lived at (the children shown on video clearly were not exposed to any serious amount of chlorine).
"...We evacuated her and a minute later the next team went in and evacuated the other family. They were wearing masks - that is why they were able to go all the way down. They evacuated the father, mother and three babies. They all died.” (Amnesty International)
And none of them could move until then, not even to get out and onto the stairs - they just sat there and died. Five people. Only the oldest one tried to leave everyone behind and half-succeeded. Does this make any sense?

- March 31: little info - one man died in Idlib city, in chlorine bombing just after liberation - vacuum missiles and more were said to kill far more, and Islamist victory massacres of soldiers, minorities, or anyone apparently didn't happen at all (by reports, anyway).

- May 2, Neirab Idlib:
A rescuer told HRW:
"I saw a small child wrapped in blankets but I couldn’t reach him. The third time, fluid started streaming from my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. I felt like I was going to pass out. I started running and I lost consciousness. I didn’t wake up until other civil defense workers washed me with water."
That's just not correct, if this is chlorine. He claims he couldn't even outrun the swift unconsciousness caused by... as we've learned, sometimes, from pulmonary edema triggering cerebral hypoxia, after a prolonged struggle with badly damaged lungs.  He doesn't even mention his lungs or coughing. It sounds more like sarin, maybe. But he wasn't alone: the older man and his infant son never moved from where they were inside, as if chlorine freezes you in place, like sleeping beauty, until a shining White Helmet can defeat the chlorine dragon, break into the castle, and kiss you.
"Two of those exposed during the May 2 Neirab attack later died: the young boy Kayali saw, who died within hours of exposure reportedly from suffocation, and his father, in his 60s, who died at a hospital in Turkey a few days after the attack." (Human Rights Watch)
May 15: little info, a woman dies in Idlib province, Mishmishan

7 fatal incidents in 2016, all in besieged eastern Aleppo in the run-up to re-conquest/liberation

8-10 - a woman and her three children killed ... "One doctor described the deaths of two children and their mother from the August 10 attack: “At first, two children and their mother arrived to the hospital. The children were unconscious and unresponsive. Their mother was shivering, coughing, and wheezing. She barely could breathe and was drooling heavily from her mouth. Their clothes were covered in a wet substance with a sharp smell, like chlorine. The two kids went into cardiac arrest after around fifteen minutes. We tried to resuscitate them to no avail. Five minutes later, the mother also died.”" (HRW)

9-6 - "Some fainted and vomited, one doctor said." (HRW) one teenage girl and a younger man both reported dead from the chlorine - both are likely seen in different videos, and neither looks like a chlorine victim. No known details on how they were supposedly exposed.

11-20 - a family of 6 all died in their home, unidentified by almost everyone
"Abu Mohammed, an employee at the Ikhlas Medical Center, told Human Rights Watch that at least two munitions fellin al-Sakhour shortly after midnight on November 20. One fell 75 meters from his house, he said, and another about 200-300 meters away. He put a wet cloth over his mouth and went out to check the neighborhood. In one house, he saw five dead civilians, a mother, father and three children. Their faces were blue." (HRW)

They were all in the house. Maybe one child made it out the door, or was somewhere else? All are seen in full street clothes, after this midnight attack, but with no shoes. Did they sleep in their clothes, or manage to get dressed after waking up? Because the did not get out to safety, before they tipped over and became passive props in the story, waiting for rescue.

Research suggests they were held hostage, tied up, perhaps upside-down, and gassed with something extreme, likely including smoke. That may sound far-fetched, but they look very strange, with hair sticking up, and this would explain why they just sat there and died.
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/02/syria-chlorine-allegations-baytounji.html

CNN, referring to the same family:
"We were sleeping when a barrel bomb fell near our home," a man explains on the video. "We went down and discovered it was chlorine gas. The victims weren't activists or anything ... but they were suffocating so much, they turned blue. It was a man, four kids, and his wife. The oldest boy was 10 years old. Why did this happen? May God curse you, Bashar (al-Assad)."

In fact, research suggests they might have been a Christian family of the kind that not only doesn't support the Sunni extremist rebellion, they sometimes get kidnapped by it. "Two medics said the al-Baytounji family had suffocated to death because the barrel bomb, which fell in the Sakhour district at about midnight, had been laced with chlorine gas." (Reuters) The name seems connected to Aleppo's Christian community.

11-23 - a woman died, inside her home, age 55 but unidentified by everyone

11-28 - "Firas Badawi, a photographer with the Aleppo Media Center ... saw a helicopter ...the munition had hit a playground ...  "We rescued 11 or 12 people who had sought shelter in surrounding buildings, fearing an explosive barrel attack. Most had lost consciousness and there was foam coming from their mouths. We thought they had died. Others couldn’t breathe and were screaming from pain in the chest, coughing and burning in the eyes." (HRW) - 2 reported dead, no details at all.

12-8 - 2 reported dead, some confusion - "Al-Khattat said that the attack killed two people: Ammar Shohaiber, around 40, and Mohammad Abrach, around 50: "Ammar’s house was very close to the impact site and it was full of chlorine gas. We gave him first aid and he seemed to get better, but at night his conditions worsened."  They don't say if he was found inside or outside his house. Mr. Abrach (listed by the VDC as an un identified woman) is even more vague - did he have his own house, or were they in the same place? (HRW)

12-9 - 5 reported dead, no details at all

1 in 2017 (so far - one rebel died, not a good example that I know)

= 16 fatal incidents total (dozens and dozens of non-fatal attacks reported). The number of fatal attacks isn't necessarily that high considering, and the numbers of dead aren't really suspect. It's these incorrect little details like  instant black-out, and other signs of cover-up, that makes these claims so dubious.

MSF: Building Images of Proof, Using Video-Word Montage

MSF: Building Images of Proof, Using Video-Word Montage
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 20, 2017

On February 15, 2016 (a year ago), Medecins San Frontiers (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) lodged complaints that Russian and Syrian airstrikes had destroyed one MSF-supported clinic in Idlib province, and then targeted a second hospital nearby. They claimed as a fact that 25 civilians were killed, and 11 wounded, in these attacks. Previous reports compiled at ACLOS; our coverage of this case was not very complete, and a year later I have no ready debunk.

But, on the anniversary, MSF revisited the issue, bolstered by video analysis by Forensic Architecture. Building Evidence with Images. The video they show can be seen alone on Youtube here. I like visual analysis and, when I have time, verifying it. They use some computerized version of the same thing I've done since 2011 the rough way - field of view, lines of sight, correlating features and geolocating scenes, and even measuring the direction of sunlight to find the time of day. Only rarely does it not pan out - the video usually is filmed where they say, and does show people criminally murdered, etc. geolocations are considered valid until I see otherwise - they're too easy to prove wrong if not. (but not easy enough to bother with right now) 

The problem usually lies with the unproven backstory attached to the video events. It's often like this: "yes, this is where the event that rebels seem to be lying about occurred, and that's the aftermath of it. They probably killed those people, and that's why they've got the bodies in their pickup truck," etc.

Still, this probably deserves a full double-checking of their video analysis work. But I'm swamped. In fact, I may do this with no visuals, to help raise the point that a snazzy visual analysis doesn't always prove the truth behind the appearance. With some thoughts from others, and just one decent review of the videos, I'll also try for a quick review here, for now raising more questions than answers.

What they add, and what questions remain:
Again, having not double-checked their work except to see that it's likely correct and not obviously wrong ... Forensic Analysis adds seemingly valuable analysis to show these blasts happened about when and where they were reported. It adds more than usual in this case, which is probably why they picked it. I've seen some terrible stories fall apart like wet cardboard as soon as I pull them open. In this case, not immediately. But I think the who, how, and why still are open to question.

We should note at the start, as MSF may not have considered, hospitals may include or be near militant targets, and be destroyed or damaged in the course of necessary fighting. If either jet strike is real, was there a legit target in the same area?
Again, the video - here are the major points raised (@=video timestamp)

- 1st attack, at Atibah al-Haboud hospital in Al-Hamidiya 6 km south of Maarat al-Numan (here on Wikimapia). Four strikes total are claimed - the first two at 9:02 and 9:05 am (and the third unexplained)?

- Geo-location from two video angles shows it is the building they call an MSF-supplied clinic that was destroyed and smoking around 9 am ...  from something that happened. They say it was a jet attack. They show video of the scene, that appears like the right time. If that's the real damage they show, it was powerful: I'd guess a car bomb, or a few heavy air-dropped bombs. Or a few larger surface-fired rockets/missiles. Most of the building is collapsed. One outer wall stands partly, but slumping. A corner stairwell-type portion is the only thing of size that really stands.If this really was a MSF-supported hospital, then one of those was destroyed, somehow.

- @2:02 -Around 9:45 (as reported, could be), after rescuers arrived, a strike (or two) seen on two video - one is described 4th Russian strike, and of a terrorist "double-tap" sort that targets rescuers. And they do run, as if the ruins would be hit again, as a jet is heard. @4:15 we hear a loud whoosh and boom, but see nothing, in either of two videos. Fakery would be complicated here - just audio editing would be needed, but also running, coordinated with the blasts, knowing sound effects would be added (we'll fix it in post). This is imaginative, but I don't suspect it's the case. Whatever the first blast was, this seems to be an airstrike.

-The loud blast has a few smaller, follow-on explosions. Are these cluster munitions? (big but few) or is this an ammunition depot exploding, perhaps? This deserves some more analysis by someone who could really offer a good opinion.

- It's not clear if they placed just where this strike was in relation to the hospital. It can be seen in frame, but the blast is somewhere else (see @5:02, sun and hospital ruins to the southeast, blast one km or more to the south). The other video is the same: people at the hospital film the distant plume rising. What was off to the south? About 2 km south, according to Wikimapia (see link above), is a stretch of the M5 highway to Damascus, with an "army checkpoint" (may be militant-run checkpoint now) on one side, and an electrical substation on the other side. There's little else but fields before that or further out. so I guess this strike was about 2 km south of the hospital, which was already in ruins anyway. Not much of a 4th strike on the hospital, and not very effective deliberate targeting of rescuers at the hospital. Still, the charges stand.  

- In later videos, there is better jet evidence than usual here, both audio and visual. It's not quite proven to me, but maybe close enough to agree on the point ...

@2:37 2 videos show strike on national hospital in the north of Maarat al-Numan, as soon as Atibah's director arrived, having left his ruined clinic around 11. Two cameras captured twin blasts near the hospital, and one view easily sets the time at about solar noon (MSF got 11:55 am) Lines of sight seem good. One view is clear, as MSF's analysis is, that the hospital itself wasn't hit.
 
@3:09 area indicated - not exact, but almost surely one hit was on the hospital grounds, a ways southeast of the main building, and the other hit a bit to the south, outside the grounds. There's little there but the road to the hospital and one small shack nearby - no likely militant bases or facilities there. 

@6:00 - a jet-shaped blur is seen for a few frames at the attack time. They think it's possibly a Mig-23, which only Syria uses, but that's extremely vague - it could be almost any jet from the pixels seen. And the pixels could be real, or added. It even seems to show payload dropping over the hospital. This seems almost too-good, but it doesn't look obviously fake, and I usually presume no CGI is used. But it is possible.This and the added jet noise would be to obscure the reality of an incoming surface rocket. But I'm leaning to this being real. 

- The lack of close-up of damage or specific claims of damage suggest MSF acknowledges the National Hospital was only "targeted," or hit near. If their work is correct, they show areas near the hospital were hit. So "another hospital that was targeted later the same day," but it was targeted poorly. Or maybe it didn't seem as expendable to the false-flaggers. Or ... The MSF-connected hospital director had just arrived, others may be following - was this perhaps a legitimate terrorist target of the mobile kind?

- unverified claims of Russian and Syrian jets taking off shortly before each attack (a rebel "observatory" claims to watch takeoffs, and might) @3:55 - Opp. sources claim they saw Russian jets take off from Hamayman airport, and carry out the first strike and watched a Syrian jet take off from Hama and hit the national hospital. It's not clear to me they really did, but perhaps. Do they have radar to follow it? Or is it just presumed (takeoff, then blast = hit by that jet)? Because it might be a false-flag rocket attack instead, timed to line up with a jet sortie, real or fabricated. But maybe those are the jets that did these strikes. Were they engaged in criminal operations, or in legitimate ones?

Summary
So the claims line up with real-world explosions, but the actual story makes as little sense as usual and remains open to question. Just to be evil and deny medical care to innocent civilians, whom Russia and Syria are constantly bombing, the Russians blow up a hospital, bomb it some more but miss by 2km, and have their Syrian lackeys blow up the replacement hospital ... but miss by a bit, twice. And good enough - they can get some fresh charges out of it and they're happy, right?

Each piece of jet attack evidence here could have one of these explanations:
- real air strikes against valid target that were near or in these places
- real strike, illegitimate target, by cited jet (Syrian / Russian)
- real strike, illegitimate target, by false flag jet (US-Coalition)
- recon or unrelated flight, synchronized with attack
- audio forgery, synchronized with attack
- video forgery, synchronized with attack
- whole attack video faked (sound and smoke plumes all edited in - why not, for logical fullness, let's list that)

I lean to one of the real jet options. Is it possible these were false-flag jets? Not likely, I should think, this far into Syria. However, that's been alleged in Russia: Sputnik, February 16, 2016 "Airstrikes on a hospital affiliated with Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), and a children’s hospital in Syria were carried out by aircraft departing the US Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, a member of the Russian upper house’s Committee on International Policy said Tuesday." The same accusation was lodged, regarding February 11 allegations in Aleppo.

But that needs a grain of salt, with the counter-claims for takeoff, including Russian jets, and neither version proven that I know of. It wouldn't look good, of course, if Russian sources (but not the MoD) denied their jets were there, if they actually were. Still, maybe they were and maybe it's still not criminal anyway - maybe some fool decided to deny it, instead of explaining. No one else has backed up these claims, that I know of.

So there's a strong counter-accusation, but I suspect, more than likely, these are Russian-Syrian attacks, against either legitimate or illegitimate targets. Probably legitimate, in my view, but the question seems an open one. MSF seems to think it's not. I'm curious why, because the evidence they present isn't adequate to consider the case closed.

Other Clues: The Victims
@1:47 - sounds like there was shift change at the hospital (?) at the time of attack (9 am, almost on the hour, as reported). So they had no current (?) patient count. So the "White Helmets" "civil defense" rescuers didn't know how many hey were digging for.

It's not clear why, but the video takes a moment to explain this. They could just dig for whoever, or use the last known count if they must have a good guess. But maybe they presumed there was no one and didn't dig, and that's why so many died? No, they're seen digging a bit, before they pull back. Did they stop then, since it was thought empty, and the danger was so high? That's Russian danger, terrifying even at 2 kilometers' distance. Who could blame them?

And so, perhaps, the unfortunate, randomly selected victims of Russian bombing mostly just died ... right under that rubble. Right? (recalling the other one was never hit, all fatalities should be here). How did MSF ever know 25 civilians were killed, and 11 wounded? The number is usually just handed in by local, Islamist-affiliated activists, and accepted with no questions. I'm pretty sure they don't know and can't verify who died how. I probably have a much better guess than they do.

Checking the VDC database, as I usually do, the victims are suspiciously similar to the usual for shelling anywhere, but a bit different. The note "Due to Russian air forces shelling of Doctors Without Boarders' hospital" appears with 16 killed on 2-15. Using just "doctors" in the notes, and given five days to find everyone, gives 22 total . All civilian. not a single militant killed, according to this. (in fact, no Idlib rebels killed by bombing at all 2-15,  nor from anywhere else but killed in the whole province.You can hardly hit zero rebels unless you're aiming for zero rebels. This was all about killing civilians! Illogical, sure, but a serious war crime!
- 16 men, 4 women, 1 boy, 1 girl
- named some mix of al-Staif and al-Ghajar = 5: 4 men and the boy (age unknown), from Al-Tih town (likely Al-Tah on Wikimapia)
- named Raheel = 3 men, from unclear, Idlib
- named al-Jadoe = 3 men, from Jarjanaz
- named al-Hallak, al-Nisr, Qeetaz, Azouz, al-Sahawaf, Khateeb = 1 man each (Qeetaz appeared among the earliest chlorine victims, from Maarat al-Numan, but with some confusion - see here - and a wife with husband's name, suggesting Christian, or just modern Muslim)
- named Hasan, Hamra, Dashash, al-Sawas = 1 woman each (poss. wives of other named men)
- unidentified = the girl, but aged 12 (a guess?)
- Mr. Azouz and the girl (likely named Azouz) are from Helbeh village, the others are from Kafrenbil, Khan Sheikhoun, Maarat Numan, others (as listed)

Some family lumping from patients and visiting family is likely enough, but these could also be unrelated hostages that were killed off. Lots of men there to support a male patient with al-Staif al-Ghajar group. What this might suggest is hostages, mostly men, but one complete family, another husband and wife, etc. They would likely of banned minority groups (mostly Alawi, but some Christians), and maybe a Sunni family related to an army officer or high official. Maybe if demands weren't met, they might put the captives in the hospital/militant base they suspected would be bombed, or put them there and bombed it themselves, or killed the people somewhere else and just blamed it on the hospital strike.

Or maybe, as MSF seem to take as the only option, all these people were getting innocent treatment there when the Russians blew the hospital up. I'm not in the same business some are of just ruling things out. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Syria Chlorine Allegations: The Baytounji Family

Syria Chlorine Allegations: The Baytounji Family
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 19-20, 2017 
last adds 2-24

A recent HRW report relates a string of eight alleged chlorine attacks last November and December, as the government of Syria re-conquered rebel-held east Aleppo (Monitor analysis,  see also ACLOS page and talk page) An incident in the early hours of November 20 is the deadliest in the set, and worth some scrutiny.

The yellow chlorine cylinder dropped from a helicopter, "witnesses" say, is shown in a damaged home, with some other junk on top of it (right, from a video linked in the HRW report).
Note 2-24: I'll probably be reviewing the videos and doing some analysis in time, which might reveal more lues. But so far, no review or notes.

Activists claim a family of six lived here, and all perished here. A mother, a father, and four children, just sat there and died. Having lost consciousness at the outset, they breathed too much of the caustic gas before anyone could carry them out.

But as I'm in the process of explaining in a definitive way (done, link), that makes no actual, scientific sense, no matter how often it's repeated. Chlorine does not really cause unconsciousness, at least not instantly. In fact if one were already passed out, it might wake them up like smelling salts, as the lungs start burning, and then the eyes. Realistically, they might sleep through a bit of it, but then get out the door at least before collapsing, and finally die later on at the hospital.

But here, as in many cases before, we hear that all victims were found inside the home, perhaps still in their beds (there's no video of them in situ, just verbal descriptions, which are vague - a local saw five of them, all inside, "a mother, father and three children. Their faces were blue." (HRW))

Who were they? A Christian Family?
This Reuters report is the only source to offer a partial identification for the slain family. "Two medics said the al-Baytounji family had suffocated to death because the barrel bomb, which fell in the Sakhour district at about midnight, had been laced with chlorine gas." The HRW report passes this on, but they couldn't verify it. The SOHR couldn't verify the name, or the chlorine. 

The opposition VDC is the same, listing them perhaps as unidentified, killed by barrel bomb, not gas.
They seems to list no one by this name dying, in the whole conflict - but they may list these anyway:
Sakhour, Aleppo, killed 11-20, all by Syrian air strikes - 10 civilians, all "unidentified."
  • 5 Adult-Male = men or blank
  • 1 Adult-Female
  • 4 Child-Male = perhaps "child, blank," so may include girls
This could be the reported family of six plus four others, men or blank, related or not, unclear. Presumably it's four others killed, in alleged shelling but presumably not by chlorine. All entries seem to blame "Helicopter shelling" with "explosive barrels," but maybe it was those yellow tanks, and the VDC's sources didn't get the memo in the chaos. That thy didn't get the names either supports that.

That name - Baytounji - is interesting. It may be a Christian one. I was able to assemble it in Arabic from scratch: بيتونجي. I plugged this into the VDC and found nothing. I tried some internet searches and found it appears occasionally as a word that won't translate, but sounds right: (phonetics given as "bytwnjy") and not usually as a name. I found only one result that made sense and seems to be a name- an old essay in Arabic, maybe from Turkish or verbal records, relating to "construction of St. George's church district Syriacs" (Syrian Christians) in the 1930s. "After the stability of the Syriac community in the city of Aleppo," the auto-translation says, "the Rev. Joseph priest (alqas yusif qsaan) of the Syriac Orthodox Church" is involved. They needed a new church, or at least a new roof, and one guy involved was apparently named (as Google translate gives it), "Mr. Ibrahim Hajjar Betonge" with the last name being the Arabic بيتونجي. He was maybe a donor; in 1933 someone asked him for "share for the construction of the roof..."

So it's a very rare name, linked to Syrian Christians around Aleppo. Here, as Islamist rebels are about to flee parts of that same city and can't take hostages with them, a family of this rare name dies, blamed on chlorine... Add 2-21: A CNN report refers to these same victims: a neighbor says "the victims weren't activists or anything ... but they were suffocating so much, they turned blue." In fact, research suggests they might have been the kind that not only doesn't support the Sunni extremist rebellion,but that sometimes get kidnapped by it.

How Did They Die? 
As the group view (again at right) shows, the children at least did get out of bed and get dressed up in daytime clothes, pretty quickly after this "shortly after midnight" attack... strange that. But they have no shoes on their feet. This may be a fist step of basic body processing (before full stripping, washing, wrapping, and then burial). But shows are often removed before an Islamist executes you. Note: hostages aren't given pajamas to sleep in, and don't even have to die at the stated time. And they don't need shows if they aren't going anywhere.

But shoes or not, they didn't get out the door in time, and died inside from the chlorine gas. But these don't look like normal chlorine deaths. That causes red, irritated or damaged eyes, skin burns, coughing up blood and mucous, and often cyanosis, a blue color shift in the skin. What we see here is something quite different.

The visuals come from the two known videos:
* Group video on Youtube: +18 The New Holocaust made by Putin & Assad in Aleppo  20-11-2016. The same on Facebook for now, better resolution, stills used below.
* SyrianArchve.org copy of truck video, described "One family (4 children and their parents) have died as a result of suffocation caused by the chlorine barrel bomb attack"

Very troubling, graphic images (mid-size - larger view is optional in new window), ordered youngest to oldest, or left-to-right in the group video, numbered for reference (V=victim): for each composite view, it's seen in pickup (left), and right seen in group video (right):
V1 apparent baby girl
V2, boy
V3, girl
V4, boy
V5, the father (off-frame in group view, seen in truck view):
 
V6, the mother: unseen (women often not shown, maybe just for modesty, or for dying differently, or getting sold off instead?).
Possible V7-10 (per VDC's list of 10 victims of this "barrel bombing") also unseen. 

I don't know immediately what this might be, but it's not standard chlorine poisoning, certainly not any passive falling-asleep-at-home kind. Again, they're all dressed at midnight here, but somewhere they can't get out of. The extermination method is something messed up. But it's partly some kind of chemical, possibly chlorine, in a very high dose, but something else at least in part. Here are some visual notes:
  • The children, especially V3 and V4, look almost baked or dried out, like an old orange, or maybe people hanged up in a smokehouse - dark stains with lighter areas - heavy smoke-staining, largely washed off? (see V1, side of face, and all have wet clothes) Some kind of cap attempted? (lighter patch starting near the hairline, V1 and V2) Made to breathe smoke is a sign of abusive captivity by Islamists. General stained appearance, slightly red-orange, seems odd though, a possible gas clue.
  • Cap or not, some of the victims' hair sticks up, and seems crusted that way (V1, V2, V5) - were they left hanging upside down for a time, in a particulate-dense environment (like a smokehouse)? Perhaps minus hair washing for a while? Falling gas canisters can't do that to their victims.
  • they don't seems visibly starved, but might be badly dehydrated
  • deep, dark rings around the eyes, as if super-tired (unclear what this suggests, likely poison-related, maybe a slow death) Note 2-23/24: Split-off to below: Raccoon Eyes?
  • The Reuters report agrees the video "showed the corpses of four children stretched out on a floor, their lips blue and dark marks around their open eyes." 
  • Cyanosis: not so clear with smoke/whatever, but maybe in all (see lips, purple), and maybe in V2's face (blue-ish)
  • white, vacant, rolled up, rheumy eyes - not bloodshot or seeming damaged like with chlorine (or is that just the white residue? see below)
  • no clear sign of (much) mucous or blood coughed up, as with chlorine, but gasping as if they couldn't breathe (V2 mas some blood smear around his mouth)
  • white residue: on v4's face, around nose, corner of mouth, on V3 (girl) along upper eyelids (as if upside-down), and possibly on her sweater (as if right-side-up?). I guess this is mucous that reacted with the chemical, and fizzed up into this. 
  • I've seen similar before, with many "Caesar photo" victims, who were clearly tied upside down, but that tends to be bright yellow, and more copious. Here, in the nose and eyes, holding the eyelids open. "Prisoner #" j-2218, in the March, 2013 folder.
  • Other "Caesar photos" victims resemble the children here, at least a bit... it's not the usual look there, nor quite the same as here, but for what it's worth: 227-411, 1-11-2012, 227-2182 24-6-2013, a better example I've seen but can't re-locate now... one with extra smoke. But none is quite the same - this is something I've never quite seen before.
  • The father's face seems different, not as dark, no white residue, wetter, smooshed, apparently laid on his face, but probably after death, maybe after being cut down... his hair seems to stick up too. 
  • V4 has an odd dark spot on his belly they don't bother covering up. Is that a bruise? Did someone punch him in the belly a few days before this?  
  • Add, 2-23: V2 is the bluest, but his blue is perhaps not cyanotic - it may be more bruise-colored and mottled like bruises, blending into burns on the left side. Was he beaten about the face shortly before he died? Is a boy hanging upside down an attractive punching bag to salafi terrorists? Perhaps. But unlike the others, this victim doesn't really seem to have any black eyes or possible raccoon eyes, nor sign of a broken nose. So why suspect him of getting punched?
Added 2-24: Raccoon Eyes?
The Reuters report notes the video "showed the corpses of four children stretched out on a floor, their lips blue and dark marks around their open eyes."  These don't seem to be 'marks,' but the color of the skin there. This might be of great interest.

V1, V4 and V5 at least seem to have these heavy, dark rings. V2 doesn't clearly*, and V3 probably does. This could be a more general kind of "black eyes" or "dark rings" in the extreme, but a source tips me off that these might be "raccoon eyes" (properly: periorbital ecchymosis - Wikipedia). Usually, 85% of the time people say, these are caused by a basal skull fracture, tearing the dura meter, between the brain and the skull. The tissue bleeds, and it pools up inside the skull, visible under the thin skin of the eyes. Such a fracture is most often to the anterior cranial fossa - something has hit a person hard in the back of the head, at the bottom part of the skull just above the neck. Note the backs of heads aren't seen to rule this out. And the toddler's head looks possibly misshapen, with eyes askew.

Maybe ... I'm checking if this must be periorbital ecchymosis, or possibly some other dark rings/black eye effect. If it is the real deal ... the 85% likelihood of fracture is under normal circumstances. In Syria now, and maybe in an Islamist dungeon, that may not apply. But other causes of this tend to be other damage in the same area of the skull, from surgery or sometimes from cancer there, and (never?) poison-induced, from tiredness, or a simpler injury like a punch in the eyes. So if these are proper raccoon eyes, in several members of one family, it's about 99.5% likely someone hit them all in the back of the head some time prior to the chlorine attack. Maybe the canister managed to whack each of them as it landed? This effect may take a day to form. Maybe they were knocked unconscious by their captors, or simple home invaders, before tying them up for the first part of a slow gassing, and the rings are still forming in these videos from several hours later?  

*V2 may have subgaleal hemorrhage - bleeding between the skull and scalp - if that can happen from the same (externalized to outside the skull somehow), and extend all over the face - maybe the blood from his dura mater is spreading here first, and barely pooling in the eyes. My theory, running it by my source.

In summary:
A likely Christian family in Aleppo with captivity clues was likely hanged upside down and murdered with some horrible gas and/or smoke. This happened as Islamist rebels liquidated property before fleeing to Idlib in the amnesty deal, and as they sought (always) to blame the government for fresh crimes. The mother might have been killed differently. There's no reason to suspect any aircraft were involved in this tying up and gas-roasting-??, aside from that yellow tank in someone's home and the story behind it.

Totally unseen, a woman just sat there and died Nov. 23 (and she's unidentified by everyone), two people Dec. 8 (both men named, but some disagree on one's gender), perhaps two other on  Nov. 28 (unidentified and no age/gender specified), and perhaps five more on December 9 (unidentified and no age/gender specified). But the precedent set by these barely-named first deaths is not good, as we see people getting more and more vague about who's dying here.

Human Rights Watch refers to this same family death, with less detail, and to the other cases with almost no detail. They fill in the gaps with a nonsense story from Islamist activists, and make moral pronouncements as if they know the truth now. Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, is quoted saying “The United Nations Security Council shouldn’t let Syrian authorities or anyone else who has used chemical weapons get away without consequences.” To back that up, "Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using chemicals as weapons," and may have offered complete impunity to the actual killers, as they left east Aleppo Scott-free in a line of green buses.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Assessing HRW's Latest Chlorine Report

Syria Chlorine Allegations: Assessing HRW's Latest Syria Chlorine Report
Adam Larson aka Caustic Logic
February 16-18, 2017
last edits Feb. 20

Note: a rough post, to get in there while people are still paying attention, now fairly complete, but may be added to.

On February 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a new report alleging the Syrian government used chlorine gas against civilians during its re-conquest of eastern Aleppo in November and December last year. "Syria: Coordinated Chemical Attacks on Aleppo" urges in a by-line: "Security Council Should Impose Sanctions." This has been done a lot already, and just seems to encourage "Assad" to keep doing it more. But oh well ...

Villains that they are, Syria and Russia both deny the allegations, calling them fictions spun by the Islamist, interventionist "opposition" to scuttle upcoming negotiations and keep regime change as everyone's goal. (Reuters) There's much logic to that, and precedent for it. But they don't seem to have the specifics to explain the evidence, meager though it is, or to counter the charges like we'll try to do here.

HRW is of course notoriously biassed in against governments that the United States has been trying to overthrow. Their reliability as judges of fact vs. fiction is dubious in such cases, which obviously includes Syria. I'll skip a fluff re-explanation of that here (but see as needed Alternet: Nobel Peace Laureates Slam Human Rights Watch's Refusal to Cut Ties to U.S. Government), and get right to testing it by the specifics at hand.

The report notes how the eight "confirmed" attacks on rebel-held areas (out of more alleged) preceded government advances in that district. HRW's Ole Solvang is quoted saying this suggests the attacks "were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements.” 

However, it's not explained and not at all clear just what purpose these alleged gas attacks would serve in that strategy. Collectively they got 8 dead civilians, and no rebels affected, or apparently aimed at. Aleppo was cleared of the "terrorists" by cutting supply lines, enforcing embargoes, standard fighting and negotiated surrenders. It was not at all due to some random chlorine plumes. Their interactive map shows a reported chlorine drop in a district, and then a few days later the government takes that over, as they were doing across the whole area, with predictable directions. To me, the sequence HRW is more consistent with Rebel false-flaggers about to flee their districts, anticipating government moves and coordinating their claims - but guessing too soon in most cases.

Further, chlorine gas has little reasonable use, to kill or otherwise. In some combat situations, it can be used to deadly effect, if the gas can be concentrated, the victims are pinned in by gunfire, or so much is used the cloud is huge and inescapable (some cases are mentioned below). In a gas chamber, it could be a sure and horrible death, but a slow one. But just fired into a city from a distance, in a couple of rockets giving off limited plumes, is not likely to do much to anyone. 

Chlorine is very common and easy to fake. But surely that's not why "Assad" is using it... It must be because by now, there's a strong record of acceptance that the Syrian government drops chlorine on people. They do it routinely, it's accepted, since mid-2014, with a number of improvised methods and always aiming for civilians. HRW brags that they alone have "published reports on the Syrian government’s use of chlorine in May 2014, April 2015, June 2015, and September 2016," all reaching similar conclusions to this fifth installment. The logic of it doesn't seem to matter - HRW knows a war crime, and this is a deadly friggin' gas. This is like WWII Nazi stuff, totally banned, and people need to be held to account.

1) Said vs. Seen (and heard)
The report states:
Identifying with certainty the chemical used in the attacks without laboratory testing is difficult, but the odor, signs, and symptoms that victims and medical personnel reported indicate that government forces used chlorine.
Words were reported to them. They cite people describing a smell like cleaning products, as if that proves they really smelled chlorine, and they couldn't make it up or be coached to say that. But anyway, there was some real chlorine, in at least one case, so maybe they did smell it. But how was it delivered, and by whom?

Over and over witnesses describe in detail seeing the helicopter, seeing objects falling, knowing where they landed and seeing how they didn't explode. But as usual, no one was able to put a camera lens between his eyes and that event - no one was able to provide video of these objects falling from the helicopters in any of the cases.

HRW considered 8 cases here, and the best they got is a video by Aleppo Media Center from November 20 22, This shows a helicopter above (no sound - it's very high), then a cut - to a different day for all we know. And there's the green gas cloud appearing as seen here, as the cameraman says Allahu Akbar (supposedly in horror, like "oh my god").

The actual drop of a munition isn't shown. That makes zero for eight. Maybe he got bored before that and stopped filming, or the long fall was deemed boring later and edited out. We're to presume the scenes really do go together, but they might not.

There is an audio clue here - a faint whoosh, and a light explosion sound, from a distance, right after the cut. It could be a falling gas tank, maybe, if it had fins and got going fast... but it sounds more like a driven rocket to me, but maybe a light one. The quick cut suggests the duration was short - maybe too short to be from such a long drop. The bang doesn't sound much like the non-explosion most cite. (I'm not an expert, but I'll ask around...)

"In two attacks, journalists nearby captured the smoke on video," the report notes, adding that "Chlorine is yellowish-green in its gaseous form." Throughout the report, alleged witnesses describe chlorine exposure symptoms somewhat accurately, either because they saw them or just know what to say. They describe that color, the smell (akin to chlorine bleach), and the heavier-than-air quality, sinking into basements. This is accurate enough. But the visuals that should serve as proof are half-wrong. 

1.1) November 22: A Bogus Scene
HRW's headlining image is this still from the Aleppo Media Center video linked above. It looks like colored smoke, rising high and drifting on a gentle breeze, with no sign of falling back down, This was noted by Charles Shoebridge and readers on Twitter. Chlorine wouldn't do this. It could be blasted high, but would drift back down, and wouldn't wisp around on the breeze so easily.

As noted by Shoebridge et al., the color is also suspect, a bit too rich of a green hue. It seems debatable in the Aleppo Media Center video, but this appears a bit red-tinted. At right is a comparison of that, on the left, and adjusted on the right. By this, it seems not yellow enough, not pale enough - and of course not heavy enough - to be chlorine. This is some kind of green-colored special effects smoke, not any chemical weapon.

That's not to say there was no chlorine, but ...  A family of six reportedly died earlier this day, every one of them, in another chlorine incident nearby that didn't get filmed. (It happened around midnight). This plume video is from hours later, in the afternoon. It's supposed to help clarify this is a chlorine day, and that's why a family just died. But instead, it shows people trying to make it look like that, which is actually suspicious, (oops: this is from November 22, the family died November 20. It's not quite that suspicious)

1.2) December 8: Some Real Chlorine, at least
Another video showing chlorine gas, of two cited by HRW, by On the Ground News (Bilal Abdul Kareem) has similar audio. No helicopter is heard (again, perhaps it was too high). But there's a loud roar, almost like a passing jet, or an incoming rocket, capped with what sounds like a fairly heavy boom in the mid-distance. 

Someone on screen knows "he's dumping chlorine!" almost as soon as that thud is heard. Peeking around the corner a few seconds later, there's the green cloud, creeping along the ground. This is how chlorine behaves, and the color seems correct - pale yellow-green. It might be originating closer than that impact happened, and already creeping before that. This slow-creeping field of the stuff goes back meters, and has been rolling for a little while. And the blast sounds distant. Coordinated?

They're saying "no one should breathe" "go up on the roof." But it's only heavy an inch or so up, and has only mild effect a few feet higher and a few feet back. The effect is likely real, but only so strong. Note how they respond: No one faints, and after documenting it, they get away from the gas. Not everyone does that, reportedly. Some people inside houses filled with the stuff allegedly sit there and die. (see below). There was that family of six on November 20, and it's said two people died from chlorine in eastern Aleppo on Decembe 8, as this better plume was witnessed. (it's said they died from a different plume in another district, however, maybe at a different time).

The OGN video appears to show the real deal, chlorine gas hugging the ground like it should. But how it was delivered, with that whooshing noise, deserves more careful study.

1.3) The Yellow Tanks
There have been several types of alleged chlorine bombs used since 2014, starting with gas cylinders, graduating in 2015 to barrel bombs, where chlorine precursors are mixed inside upon impact (which is very unlikely, by the way - the impact and/or explosion would disrupt the mixing and produce no gas). Cylinders inside barrel bombs and other types have been dropped in front of rebel cameras in between and since.

This conquest-coordinated series of attacks is a special sub-set, unified by the use of a special and well-documented canister, when any kind is identified (five of the 8 cases). "In all five incidents, the footage shows the same type of yellow gas cylinder." One of those is shown here, from an AMC photo cited in the report, damaged supposedly by its fall from a helicopter. I haven't noticed this exact kind used, but I haven't followed it 100% (2014's were similar at least). We see no engines, nor even fins attached. They don't seem very heavy. Would these make that whooshing sound? And would this bending metal cause those booms we heard on video? I don't think chlorine gas is explosive...(update 2-18: CDC lists numerous explosion hazards with chlorine - ruptured cylinders can even "rocket," but reactivity is rated at 0, so...???)

By size and shape, these seem like these 44-liter cylinders and painted the standard color for chlorine. "A label still visible on the remnant from one attack shows a warning that the cylinder contained gas." A label that remains partly covered in mud, has Roman and Arabic lettering, as posted on Facebook by Lebanese Zaman al-Wasl. The company is apparently based in Jordan, making chemicals for civilian use, not weaponry. This might have been imported earlier, or smuggled in. Zaman al-Wasl asked the manager how "the company's weapons" (products) came to be "in the hands of bashar al-Assad's regime." (from auto-translate). A response might be forthcoming.(links, etc...)

In Syria, chlorine was also made at the Syria-Saudi Chemical Company (SYSACCO)..., in al-Safirah, Aleppo. I hear it's Syria's only chlorine production facility. Rebels seized the plant in the summer of 2012, and Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra seized it from them around December 6. It had some 400 giant one-ton barrels, destined for water treatment plants across the country, and painted the same golden-yellow. The terrorists took video of the place. I tried to get the barrels all in one panoramic view, but had to leave it at this majority view. (Monitor)

They had plenty of time to re-bottle and relocate and perhaps produce fresh stuff during their long tenure as de facto managers there. (It's been back in government hands now for some time). Also, someone had some chlorine, or empty tanks anyway, from a Jordanian company. We don't know what this means.

Also, the regime allegedly has lots of chlorine, runs the SYSACCo plant now (if it functions, unclear), and drops it from helicopters. No one knows why, but it's criminal.

Pending proof these tanks fell from a helicopter, or that they didn't (I haven't seen it yet), let's get back to the Islamist opposition's narrative, and a major problem with it no one has noticed so far.

2) The Dead Make Little Sense
2.1) No, Chlorine Doesn't Make You Pass Out
Relevant fact: chlorine does not cause unconsciousness, nor paralysis, nor even confusion or sleepiness. It's effect is mostly mechanical; it turns to hydrochloric acid on contact with water or wet tissues. It causes red, irritated eyes, perhaps skin irritation, lung damage, severe coughing, possible nausea, headache, and later on in severe cases, cyanosis (a blue color shift in the blood and skin, especially in the lips).

From the inside, the patient feels burning eyes, severe coughing and - most pressingly - an acute pain in the chest, with tightness and labored breathing, causing agitation or even panic, and a strong desire to get the hell away from this gas.Dizziness can occur, and sometimes an odd weakness in the legs tempts the victim to lie down. But they remain alert and aware of the need to get away. If you doubt this, go look it up. Most good sources relate to World War I, but the molecules are still the same.

Update 2-18: This does deserve more explaining, besides double-checking: I'm doing research now, and will post a piece soon, with a link added here. Update 2-20: that explanation, for the doubtful.

Most choose to move out of the gas at first chance, are able to, and wind up surviving just fine after a rough spell. People can die from chlorine if they're trapped somehow - like in World War I, pinned down in a trench by enemy fire, or put into a huge cloud they can't even walk out of before succumbing, or just from getting a very concentrated blast. The damage is done during exposure, however intense and however long that is. Death only come later, as the damage and the body's often fatal response play out. At the very end, the victim gets weak, loses consciousness, and then dies. But this is after a while of enduring it, when the coughing gets too difficult and breathing stops, and as the body is shutting down.

I can't see how, but perhaps there's a way chlorine would knock you out right away in some fluke circumstances. But here, people in the bomb damaged houses seem to just die instantly, or instantly become inert, loose consciousness or "fall asleep." And it happens in perhaps every case where the bomb allegedly lands in someone's home.

In fact, if one passed out from something else earlier, the chlorine would likely have the same effect as smelling salts, and snap the victim awake to get the hell out of there. But not in these stories. Like poorly-scripted silent movie heroines, they lay down in the sleepy fog and await rescue. But the gas makes them unreachable to rescuers, who claim to lack gear, and to sometimes pass out themselves... and so the implausible victim slowly dies inside.  This happens regularly, as if to keep the reminders fresh.

Is someone locking them inside these houses? No. Who could get there quick enough after the bombing? It takes just seconds to get out the door. Were they maybe locking people inside some unrelated place we might call a gas chamber? Some evidence says this is quite likely, and has even been the norm, down the line from the earliest alleged CW attacks to the present.For now, let's just keep an open mind and note the provided explanation doesn't make sense.

We're presented here with about the same formula we've seen since the start of the chlorine allegations - a bomb-damaged house, often looking long-abandoned, with the alleged delivery device in there, said to be filled with chlorine, and the family all just sat there and died.

2.2) November 20: The "Baytounji Family"
In HRW's report are 8 dead civilians verified, and at least two more reported, out of just 8 incidents. I knew about those listed by the VDC, but that didn't include the bulk of these: an entire family of six, killed November 20 in al-Sakhour district.

A witness said this chlorine bomb was dropped shortly after midnight, early on the 20th, impacting a house near a vegetable market. "The smell was like the liquid we use when we clean the house.” Videos show a house in ruins "and remnants of a yellow cylinder amid the rubble." It's said the family died here; A medical activist told them he "put a wet cloth over his mouth and went out to check the neighborhood," finding in one house "five dead civilians, a mother, father and three children. Their faces were blue."

Other activists and reports agree with photos and videos, citing six dead and showing 4 children. The man is seen in some cases, but the woman isn't. I haven't watched the videos yet. That will get a special space if I do. So a better resolution image analysis forthcoming. (Update 2-19: that's done - see here.) Here's a still from a clip of it in HRW's video, with too little detail to say much about the poison.

They seem to be two girls and two boys, maybe 3 boys and a girl. They show no sign of being trapped beneath the rubble (light dust usually, torn clothes, injuries, etc.). They may be a bit dingy and smoke-stained, which is a different sign (abusive captivity). But they weren't pinned down under the rubble. So why didn't they flee the choking gas? Four different children, and two adults ... between them, no one thought of a better plan than to just sit there and die?

Was it because they didn't have their shoes on? It's not clear why they're off here, but they're often removed before an Islamist executes you, and maybe as they start to process you. They did get out of bed and get dressed up in daytime clothes, pretty quickly after this "shortly after midnight" attack... strange that. But shoes or not, they didn't get out the door in time. Note: hostages aren't given pajamas to sleep in, and don't even have to die at the stated time.

Reuters heard these were members of a Baytounji family. "Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently verify the names." There seems to be no record in the VDC martyrs database of people of this name dying, perhaps ever (it's hard to be sure what spelling they would use, and I don't have the Arabic spelling). Unless they were listed under a different name and a different cause, it seems this usually exhaustive source missed out on this mini-massacre.

Update 2-18: The family may be listed, but the VDC didn't get the name. I may have assembled the name in Arabic ( بيتونجي ), and found just one result: a man named Ibrahim Hajjar Baytounji, from the Syriac Christian community in Aleppo, helped fund the building of a church or a roof for one in or near Aleppo, back in the 1930s (Arabic essay). I found no other info, just this indication Baytounji is a rare name in rotation in Aleppo's Christian community. This strengthens the impression this Aleppo family might've been hostages of the Islamists, being Christians, and were killed before the terrorists left the area, since it couldn't be done after... Explained here at ACLOS. 2-19: See also Monitor analysis here. I can summarize like so:
A likely Christian family in Aleppo with captivity clues was likely hanged upside down and murdered with some horrible gas and/or smoke. This happened as Islamist rebels liquidated property before fleeing to Idlib in the amnesty deal, and as they sought (always) to blame the government for fresh crimes. The mother might have been killed differently. There's no reason to suspect any aircraft were involved in this tying up and gas-roasting-??, aside from that yellow tank in someone's home and the story behind it.
... (continued below)

2.3) The Other Suspiciously Passive Croakers
Dec 8 attack: "Al-Khattat said that the attack killed two people: Ammar Shohaiber, around 40, and Mohammad Abrach, around 50." Other sources tended to agree. But as HRW notes, the VDC lists Ammar Shohaiber and an unidentified woman - no ages given, but they seemed like a husband and wife - and the age similarity of the men is notable ... but whatever, in one or two locations, two people with decades of wisdom behind them had their houses fill with chlorine gas ... and they just sat there and died?

A 55-year-old woman was killed, November 2, HRW heard, after the chlorine tank smashed through her roof. No one could get close enough to help her open the door, and drag her out, because the gas was so strong you couldn't stand it. But she must have, you know, passed out. Neither HRW, VDC, or anyone that I've seen got her name.

An alleged two other people were said to be killed on Nov. 28. No genders or details were given. HRW couldn't confirm anything. Maybe that witness misread the memo, seeing 12-8 (when two died) as 11-28, and so he gave the wrong day? There was a reported attack of 11-28, but no one else mentioned any deaths.

Some sources also reported another five civilians killed after the December 9 attack (again, no details). HRW couldn't confirm it, but it's not likely to just be made up. Most likely, as usual, this is in one gas-filled home, where five more people just sat there and died from the chlorine gas that "Assad" dropped on them, for no good reason. That's a total of perhaps 16 implausible deaths, or even more, in this chain of 8 attacks.


HRW gives no explanation for how these deaths happened, or whether it's usual or expected. If they did, they'd point to precedent from Syria in the last 3 years, which is meaningless.  Did the nature of chlorine change recently? Is this a different chemical, or some combination, being dropped from helicopters? Or does the true story follow different lines entirely, ones that run along the ground?

Continuing with the self-quote above:
Totally unseen, a woman just sat there and died Nov. 23 (and she's unidentified by everyone), two people Dec. 8 (both men named, but some disagree on one's gender), perhaps two other on  Nov. 28 (unidentified and no age/gender specified), and perhaps five more on December 9 (unidentified and no age/gender specified). But the precedent set by these barely-named first deaths is not good, as we see people getting more and more vague about who's dying here.
Human Rights Watch refers to this same family death, with less detail, and to the other cases with almost no detail. They fill in the gaps with a nonsense story from Islamist activists, and make moral pronouncements as if they know the truth now. Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, is quoted saying “The United Nations Security Council shouldn’t let Syrian authorities or anyone else who has used chemical weapons get away without consequences.” To back that up, "Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using chemicals as weapons," and may have offered complete impunity to the actual killers, as they left east Aleppo Scott-free in a line of green buses. 

3) What Else Did HRW Miss?
After the (fall / re-conquest / liberation) of eastern Aleppo, signs emerged of a rebel chlorine industry there - Press TV report on Saudi chemicals found stored there (relevance unclear). An RT report with Lizzie Phelan shows a former school perhaps used as a chlorine factory, with hundreds of large jugs of magenta-colored potassium permanganate, in a liquid form. Mixed with hydrochloric acid, this produces pure chlorine gas. That might be able to be bottled somehow. (ACLOS) This is like the 2015 Assad chlorine barrel bomb, but taken out of the barrel and put in a terrorist-run former school. Reverse engineering, or is it more the other way around? Hm...

Some executed soldiers, hostages rebels had killed before escaping on the green buses - seen in photos with no visible wounds or blood - these might have been gassed, though chlorine isn't particularly indicated...  (same link - one other might have been beheaded)

Human Rights Watch start their survey on November 17, but list the first incident on the 18th.  Their interactive map also starts at 11-17, and blank - no chlorine attack that day. But oddly, one was reported and condemned, in a prominent but shady string of reported events I'll write up soon (see here at ACLOS for now) Chlorine victims went to the clinic, which was then bombed, and babies in incubators had to be removed for their safety - all the babies lived, it was said - including the one that was already dead and stiff with rigor mortis before the alleged hospital bombing. Now HRW adds - the chlorine part didn't happen? What next? The barrel bombing of the hospital was staged?

Earlier attacks: Sept. 6, east Aleppo, government blamed: 2 fatal victims, both seen, neither seems exposed to chlorine (Monitor).

Aug. 2, old city, Aleppo (government-held) a quick-killing CW inside a breached tunnel kills 5 soldiers, chlorine rockets after kill rescuers and civilians, a reported total of 13 killed - here's a rescue worker who died (via InGaza). He displays cyanosis (general purple color all over, his blood is in deep crisis, if he's even alive here), skin irritation (redness, and the mud suggests it burned, it might seem like mud could soothe that). Importantly, there's blood from the nose, and he'll have blood in the lungs, and maybe thick protective mucous now, complicating things. He also might have eye damage (lids would look swollen/puffy, and they might).

This was a pretty audacious chemical attack, but it went barely-noted outside Syria, eclipsed by a same-day alleged chlorine attack, from regime helicopter with a barrel bomb of course, on rebel-held Sarmin, but no one was lined up in time to die from it. (ACLOS)

April 7, 2016, Khan al-Assal Aleppo: Jaish al-Islam now operates around Aleppo? Their admitted chlorine weapons were fired - unauthorized, they said, and the  guy broke the rules would be punished - it's unclear if he was. 23 (all Kurdish fighters?) reported killed. One victim at right: bloody face, possible severe eye damage - maybe a strange facial injury, or a nasty dose of acid. (ACLOS)

Further back, the Taleb babies killed by chemicals on March 16, 2015 in Sarmin, Idlib province. Helicopters dropped a chlorine-mixing barrel bomb on the home of a family of 6, all of whom just sat there and died in their basement home. Grandma fell asleep on the stairs trying to leave the babies behind. Mom and dad passed out, but were alive and able to talk at the hospital before dying. The three babies were rescued later, at least 2 still alive. They were rushed to this clinic where they die on camera with poor assistance.
And it seems they were never exposed to chlorine, and died from something else ... white, calm eyes, pale skin, no blood, no choking, no coughing. In fact, they're barely breathing, not moving or responding, and totally limp - they're comatose, and then somewhere they slip over to dead. All this suggest most likely they were overdosed with a CNS depressant drug like moprhine, demerol, or other. (ACLOS, Monitor) This doesn't come from a dropped barrel bomb. It's hand-delivered by locals, with needles or pills, somewhere before this MSF-supplied field clinic, but perhaps from its shelves anyway.

Back in mid-2014, various displaced families, almost entirely, wound up under the chlorine bombs, and tended to die altogether, after just sitting there for never-explained reasons. (Monitor)

Back further ...  March 19, 2013, Khan al-Assal, Aleppo: a rebel rocket releases a yellow-green plume some say smelled like chlorine. But don't worry - it was sarin, all evidence suggests. That's why 20 people died and it makes perfect sense. That was fired by Jabhat al-Nusra, on a government-held area, aiming for an army checkpoint, but mostly killing nearby civilians (the village was majority Shi'ite, for what it's worth...) (ACLOS)

December 22, 2012: seven SAA soldiers die after inhaling yellow-green gas fired at them in Daraya, southwest of Damascus ... perhaps pinned down - and it might have been sarin, of the kind used in Khan al-Assal, despite the chlorine-like color (unclear at this point) they didn't show us this on Youtube, but did report it among several such attacks they wanted the UN and OPCW to investigate. (ACLOS)

The next day, rebels responded with a widely discredited allegation, a chemical attack by the regime in Homs, perhaps with sarin. Exactly seven men/rebels were killed, in what became known as the first deadly alleged chemical incident of the war. But U.S. and most official sources dismissed this, some seven men must have stood there and inhaled an entire canister of the non-lethal incapacitating agent BZ, after it was dispersed in the street. (Monitor analysis). That sounds silly and doesn't explain anything, but at least BZ is known to incapacitate people so they might just sit there and die, eventually. But again, the kind of chlorine that exists in the real world does not do that.