Warning

Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Killing a Fireman in Syria

Killing a Fireman in Syria
September 26, 2016
slight edits Sept. 27

I've had an incident on file for some years that comes to mind recently, as Syria's emergency workers are getting some long-deserved attention as the "real civil defense," in a multi-part article by Vanessa Beeley at 21st Century Wire (the rather amazing part 1 is available here).

This possibly related scene is captured in a terrible video called "GRAPHIC Assad´s Syrian army soldiers beating a handcuffed man to death," published on Youtube October 15, 2012. Other copies have gone missing, so in case they all do, I have a saved copy of this, and present the most important screen grabs here.

This shows a bound man, beaten and bleeding, with a wrapped head, in the custody of men in camouflage fatigues and varied footwear. One grabs the man by his feet and drags him some distance face-down, then into the bed of a pickup truck (Toyota). The poor victim is mostly motionless but alive. One apparent soldier kicks him hard in the face, and he's last seen hanging over the tailgate, breathing hard or sobbing.

This depraved and inhumane sequence is just one of hundreds upon hundreds of alleged regime crime videos, self-documented for fun, that opposition "activists" managed to own. We presume there are thousands more theyhaven't got copies of right? Or, hopefully, this is most of them, and they get so many because of their direct links to the responsible gunmen. Sometimes the videos are described as "leaked," sometime taken from the cell phone of a soldier or Shabih killed or taken captive. Usually it's not even explained how - they just got it and it's total proof. They go on Youtube and shock some into supporting anti-government forces, and may send other useful signals to other people. Some are pulled for being too graphic and "disgusting."

As usual in such productions, the prominently displayed callous behavior suggests the perpetrators are trying to make themselves look bad. Or, since people don't usually do that, maybe they're trying to make someone else look bad. Since they're in Syrian army uniforms, they would be trying to make the army look bad. Note the disciplined salute at 0:07 as the "captain" of this operation walks up. Clearly approved at the highest levels this was!

Video comments from the cited posting include these:
- If these are Assad's soldiers, then why is one of them wearing the black and white Al-Qaeda band on his wrist.  See it at .32
- i'm realy happy when assads infidel dogs are killed by FSA fighters.. every fucking alawi shia pig must die like pigs
- Its assad army. If its FSA we would have heard takbeer (Allahu Akbar) there's no takbeer and of course its assad army

I don't know of any white-and-black wristband connected to Al-Qaeda activity, just some kind of watch, supposedly. But it could be. The brief view of one "soldier's" left wrist is shown here for reference. All considered, maybe these Islamist defectors remembered not to takbeer, but forgot to lose all the wristbands, in their effort to make their uniforms seem not stolen.

They Killed a Fireman!
The first oddity is the victim's removed footwear - strange boots with loops at the top, looking like dark rubber, pull-over units, like firefighters use. It's not the stylized yellow units shown in Beeley's piece, but worth noting. His pants are not inconsistent, and his bald-headed haircut seems likely (to me, anyway) for a firefighter. Even the shovel we see could be a fire fighter's - it's with him and his boots. As the victim is dragged off, leaving a blood smear, someone picks it up to bring it with them. Do they plan to bury this fireman with his own shovel? 

As he's dragged face-down, we see a parked fire engine. There's a smaller red truck sits near a larger red truck with double wheels in the back, and tanks beneath. The ground is wet all around it (but dry everywhere else). Briefly we also see the end of this vehicle, with a ladder up one side. Clearly, these "soldiers" have themselves a fire truck. I can't make out any identifying numbers to help identify this. But I'd love to hear the other side of what happened to that crew.

Now, ask - why would regular army units need to call in a fire at some remote-seeming area and have responders sent to ambush them? They could kill firefighters other ways, arrest them right at the station and take them to a secret prison, etc. They wouldn't do this to steal a fire engine either, having powers to get one officially if they wanted to. Uniforms and weapons considered, this is best explained by defectors working outside the state system, calling in a fire (as we'll see, they'd dial 113) and preparing an ambush there instead.

The whole crew must be somewhere, perhaps being held for ransom. It's likely the rest were Sunnis and this one was found to be Alawi, and sentenced to death over it.

Record Match?
Different posting clues suggest the scene happened before October 15, 2012, perhaps in Baniyas province (A pulled posting was included here as Assad’s forces torture a man in Banyas, Tartous) - I checked the VDC database: no clear matches on people from Tartous province. A few possible matches, none linking to this video or specifying fireman.  There are eight unidentified men executed 10-11, from Reihaneih ( الريحانية ) Tartous (I cannot locate such a place, at least not anywhere near Baniyas - not sure of all province boundaries).  Some other unidentified men had been shot there earlier as well.

But Baniyas/Tartous could be a false lead - they might specify a secure area where the regime can be safely blamed, while really the incident was in, say, Aleppo. It could be hopeless, but just in case they listed his occupation, I checked all killed with "fire" in that field. Two possible fits:

Ja'far al-Qadri from Damascus suburbs, area killed not mentioned (might be the same). Killed by shooting 2012-10-09 "By regime forces gunfire," of course.

Moawyah Abdullah Hoshan - a fireman from Kafr Zita Hama, killed by shooting 2012-09-23 in Aleppo. Notes: "He was martyred by regime forces' gunfire due his duties." Called to a fire and killed by men in uniform - that could be this scene. I'll add his name Muawiyah is one Alawites would be unlikely to use (Wikipedia). Also, that might be why the killers chose it as a replacement name. We don't know if any of that record is accurate.

So there's no reasonably clear match, but either might be it, and the Aleppo entry especially is compelling.

Real Civil Defense and Notes from the Takeover
Now we return to Vanessa Beeley's big and rich article The REAL Syria Civil Defence Expose Nato’s ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters...
For the REAL Syria Civil Defence you call 113 inside Syria.  There is no public number for the White Helmets.  Why not? Why does this multi-million dollar US & NATO state-funded first repsonder ‘NGO,’ with state of the art equipment supplied by the US and the EU via Turkey, have no central number for civilians to call when the “bombs fall”?
Good question. I guess the "Free Syrian Army" calls for you when it's needed? The non-Syrian civil defense folks would say half-jokingly they just run towards explosion sounds, without fear. And that's the most serious they'd get. 

"Civil Defense" in the White Helmets promoted sense, seems to outsiders like mostly building collapse rescue work, and seems a little more involved than the tasks done by what we call  "firemen." But the real civil defense seems to be primarily the fire department, more or less. According to a chart of worldwide emergency numbers available online, in Syria the police are reached at 112, ambulance at 110  and fire is 113 .  (This also notes for unclear reason "Syrian operators, however, are not likely to speak English.")

Like anywhere, they probably handle all kinds of other emergencies. Perhaps also "civil defense" is another level up from regular fire - like the police can call in the army if needed. Either way, this probably is the closest equivalent to the lauded "White Helmets," and therefore the real Syrian civil defense. Civilly, they work with the sovereign government, not with a cluster of interventionist forces backing the Sunni-extremist-identifying replacement for "liberated" areas, that also does things like execution cleanup, running with babies, and saying "barrel bombs" almost as often as "Allahu Akbar."

Beeley spoke with some of the real real civil defense workers in Aleppo, whose helmets tend to be yellow, not white. One dubbed ‘Khaled’ (for safety) told her "what happened when the terrorists (western media still call them “opposition” or “moderate rebels”) started to invade East Aleppo in 2012."
“They came in and they drove us out of our homes and they came to the Syria Civil Defence yard and they killed some of my comrades, they kidnapped others.  They wanted to force me to work with them.  I escaped at night.  I was forced to leave my teenage sons behind. They burned my house to the ground and they put my name on all the terrorist checkpoints so if I go back, they will kill me.”

Khaled went on to explain how those men who later became the White Helmets were among this first wave of terrorists:

“They are terrorists, not rescuers.  They stole our ambulances and three of our fire engines. They don’t do any rescue work.  They drive round with guns in the back of their car like any other terrorist.  Some are from East Aleppo, some are from Syria but not from Aleppo and some are even coming in from abroad.”
I hear the three trucks were stolen in from one captured station, so the engine seen above - intercepted and possibly kept by those "soldiers" - won't be one of them. But there were probably more than those three seized. That is, if this is Aleppo. The same thing surely happened in other cities as well.

The time frame is right - summer and fall is when the rebel takeover there really kicked off. The infamous al-Nusra soldier execution scene (right) was in early September.

This shocked many people, because it was clearly the anti-government forces being criminals here. Up to that point, it seemed, only the regime's forces were yanking people - including soldiers, police, and firemen - into the shadows and murdering them on what would wind up as opposition propaganda videos.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How we "Know" Russia or Syria Bombed the Aleppo Aid Convoy

How we "Know" Russia or Syria Bombed the Aleppo Aid Convoy
September 21-25, 2016

Notes: Sept. 21: This seemed urgent enough to rush a bit and post it with typos, incomplete spots, and probably a few things I forgot, or don't know yet. I'll make it a short 2-3-days-til done post, and  plan for a part 2 fairly soon after. Sept. 22: Since this is getting viewed around (example: slightly different unauthorized but a-ok re-post of the rough version at 21st Century Wire !) ... I should get this finalized quick. Sept. 25: Finally added notes and stuff. See Sept. 25 below.

Washington's Meaningless Confidence
One of the damaged trucks (Aleppo Media Center)
On September 19, someone attacked a convoy of trucks delivering aid to a rebel-held area of rural Aleppo province. Anti-government activists were emphatic there were helicopters dropping barrel bombs, and perhaps surface-fired missiles, followed by fighter jet strikes, which also used cluster bombs and-or machine gunned the area, keeping rebel help at bay so more witnesses would bleed to death.

A video seems to be consistent with that (see below), but it's really not clear at all. Images showed trucks damaged by small-scale shrapnel (and/or bullets?) and gutted by fire - analysis of imagery and reports is well underway at A Closer Look On Syria. We're still far from a clear reading, but from minute one the US has been quite clear the activist version was about right. An unnamed official told the Washington Post

“We know it was an airstrike and not one from the coalition. We don’t know if it was Russia or the regime,” the only others flying over Syria, a senior administration official said. “In either case, the Russians have a responsibility certainly to avoid doing it themselves, but also to keep restraint on the regime.”
We know this? It's not explained how. It sounds like the model of aircraft isn't known, nor whose they were, just that they were present, in the air, and not ours. But another unnamed official said "two Russian SU-24 attack aircraft were in the sky above the convoy at the precise moment it was hit in Urum al-Kubra." (BBC) This sounds like detailed findings including radar, but it could also be just empty words. The official also noted the strike "was too sophisticated to have been carried out by the Syrian army." Is it really excess sophistication? Or just that they just want to blame Russia specifically at this time?

There will be no radar proof brought forth, probably because they were watching and saw no movements. Most likely, this is nothing but circular reasoning - there was an alleged airstrike that must have been the Russians, and they would use SU-24 jets, as usual, operating in pairs. But it will be read as independent proof. "it happened while Russian jets were overhead? Obvious Putin crime! 

The US says it's very certain. Uh-huh. A couple days earlier they were just as clear their aircraft were massacring  Islamic State fighters near Deir Ezzour -  in an area they, and not the Syrian army, normally held. After killing or wounding nearly 200 Syrian soldiers manning a well-known army-held position (see right), they stopped over Russia's protest. Now they're now trying to become sure those were Assad prisoners turned into unwilling soldiers, and/or dressed up as ISIS and put in a crucial spot in the hopes the US would kill them and get embarrassed. But it never works. The US these days seems to be far above shame or embarrassment, as they and their minions team up to mint custom-made realities daily. (See ACLOS)

The point is - we can't trust Washington's unnamed officials when they say what they believe to be the case. They're telling us to believe their mistake story, but they don't swallow that poison themselves. So, are they lying here as well? Especially when that lie would come so soon after and helps distract from the above-mentioned incident?
 
Russia's Side of the Story
Russian defense ministry said there were no Russian or Syrian flights at the time
But Russia, which denied its aircraft or those of its Syrian government allies were involved, said on Tuesday it believed the convoy was not struck from the air at all but had caught fire because of some incident on the ground.
http://atimes.com/2016/09/un-halts-aid-after-convoy-attack-kerry-says-ceasefire-not-dead/

"There are no craters and the exterior of the vehicles do not have the kind of damage consistent with blasts caused by bombs dropped from the air," a statement from the defence ministry said.

Russian MoD found rebel large caliber mortar on a pickup truck moving with the convoy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJU_gWkpYJ8
(as far as I can tell, this is simply a reminder of the kind of weaponry all over the place, which could in fact have been the ground-based murder weapons.)

After Russia's protests, the UN changed its wording of its statement:
After the Russian explanation, the U.N. put out a revised version of an earlier statement, removing wording on “air strikes” and replacing it with references to unspecified “attacks”.
UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said the references to air strikes in the original statement, attributed to the top UN humanitarian officials in the region and in Syria, were probably the result of a drafting error.
"We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact air strikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked," he said.
They added a wrinkle by then noting a US "Predator" drone was flying over the area at the time (RT report). This needs assessed. The alleged track is shown at right (how to read it is another story...), and one supporting argument of potential value is considered below (see also ACLOS talk section).

However, most media and western government sources insist airstrike is evidently true, and it must be Russia or someone they're the bosses of.

Tracked by the Russians - into Terrorist Turf
Some have noted as suspicious how Russia had a surveillance drone to monitor the cease-fire, that happened to pass over the convoy as it sat parked -Elizabeth Tsurkov tweeted how "Russian drones w  cameras followed the convoy's movements." She implies they were tracking to kill, but then they released the video proof of their plot.

Moscow's take: 
"Around 13:40 Moscow time (10:40 GMT) the aid convoy successfully reached the destination. The Russian side did not monitor the convoy after this and its movements were only known by the militants who were in control of the area,” Konashenkov added.
(13:40 will be the same 1:40 pm in both Moscow and Damascus.) 

The scene: the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) convoy of some 30 trucks set out from government-held west Aleppo, headed southwest into Islamist rebel held territory, which starts almost immediately past the city. (time: around 11:30). They passed through Khan al-Assal and Kafr Naha, and at least some of the trucks arrived at a warehouse about two kilometers further west, just east of Urm al-Kubra in the early afternoon. They remained parked there until nightfall, when the attack occurred. The map below shows where they were seen driving through Kafr Naha and where the attack happened. 

The black area in detail, compared to screen shots from the Russian drone video (the ^ points north)

The left-hand image shows the parking-attack site. The sunlight there is at an azimuth of about 225 degrees, which equates to a time of around 1:30-1:40 pm, the arrival time cited (meaning this was their source). They were clearly parked on the side and not moving. various clues in daylight images compared to satellite views make it clear this is the same spot the attack happened, referred to as a center of the Red Crescent (or "Syrian Crescent," but not "Syrian Christains" as some have heard...). So they-were still parked at 7:30 or so when the incident happened.

The destination known to the Russians at 1:40 was the same spot they would be attacked. So they didn't "track" it with the one short span, but it didn't move after last seen. So the Russians did know where it was, although they might not have known they knew it.

Their jets could likely confirm this just before any attack. It's not an issue. If the Russians were for brazenly murdering aid workers in a crime they could hardly deny, they could have easily found the target. It's plain disturbing how that doesn't register as an "if" to so many. "Of course Putin would do that, and obviously did!"

Who decided to keep the convoy there, only partly unloaded by nightfall? Local authorities, of course. They say about 12 people were killed, and about 18 wounded but lived, and probably a few unharmed in the attack. There should be some 31 drivers, any workers who came with them, any loaders sent by the local authorities, and whoever else.  Only about 30 people impacted, when all trucks were torched, some distorted and some torn by shrapnel or bullets ... a very deadly scene, but not a lot of deaths suggests not a lot of people. This might be a small crew, making unloading slow.

Who kept them in a known spot until it was dark, when someone killed them, and videos can't prove who as easily?  Who didn't send more help, letting the offloading drag on so late? Was it someone who wanted to world to see a lot of aid destroyed by Assad-Putin? Someone like this Muslim Brotherhod-looking guy picking up pieces of human flesh to wave at the camera as he explains the results of his own investigation? Are these really trustworthy people? (video source)

Foreign-supported, anti-government, Islamist rebels administered this whole area, and helped set up the circumstances. Did they and their allies set up the rest of it as well? The location would be known to that Russian drone, and to any Russians who mattered. But it would be even more surely known about by FSA-linked Islamist false-flag units, to every terrorist with a mortar or rocket launcher in the area.So, we'd better hope there's finally some real proof it was something flying that did it.

The lauded "White Helmets" were involved and cited as one source convincing the US there was an "aitstrike". But they don't seem to save anyone here, that we see. They have explanations why. The SARC, by the way, are non-Islamist "competitors" to the White helmets, and maintain relations with the Syrian government (so to some, they're "agents of the regime.")

But the terrorists and their supporters were clear it was a jet/helicopter/both, from Russia or Syria or both/whatever/not us. Uh-huh. Hell, they could have just raided the place, robbed and executed the aid workers, torched the trucks, and lobbed a few shells on it afterwards. Hypothetically. We're still waiting to hear survivor stories, from verified witnesses, allowed to speak (unlikely). And besides, all of them   would pass through White Helmets hands first. Incriminating videos could be deleted from their phones, etc.

Video Support?
The order of attack seems to be: alleged barrel bomb attack from helicopter -follow-up alleged attack by jets. A basic night-time attack video sees  fires already, then two two powerful blasts, preceded by a whooshing sound, followed by ambiguous cries of Allahu Akbar. That could be a jet sound, real or dubbed in, or a rocket sound, perhaps. I'm not expert enough to call that point yet. That's evidence, but not proof, at least to me. Unlike video fakery, audio forgery is very easy. There's still no video for the helicopter part that first got the trucks burning. That would be harder to fake. Further video and another video shows continued explosions, with no discernable jet sounds, and still no helicopters.

Scene Analysis
Analysis of the scene and damage is not cited as a reason to blame an "airstrike." It seems unneeded, with all the unexplained total proof they must have. But people are looking.
Photo collection on Facebook 

As Russia's MoD noted, and we at ACLOS so far agree, there doesn't seem to be a single crater in the available images, from an alleged 2-4 barrel bombs plus jet missiles. The road seems unnaturally smooth, as well as wet. It's seen being bulldozed a bit, and sprayed down with water for no clear reason. it seems filled-in and re-graded by morning, making it hard to read any craters for direction of fire, etc. 
Further, Moscow is apt to note simply fire seems to be an issue. It's odd how most trucks, at least those along the highway, just completely burned - this could be from the attack alone, or precede it, in a similar effort to destroy evidence.  There is plenty of evidence of shrapnel damage, and some pressure-waves of a powerful blast, but no signs of any barrel bomb or other munition remains. They'd say these were gathered as evidence, which actually ruins them as evidence. They'll have something they blame.It'll it their claims. Who knows if it had anything to do with this attack.

This photo shows an area of shrapnel marks that will be analyzed.Etc. I plan to come back with a part two for this when there's some findings. They may be small, or not. We'll see. 


How They Really Know 
In a statement issued late Monday, the State Department said, “The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian federation and yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people.” They don't and can't explain how Russia's awareness was supposed to equate with total protection - they have no say over what the US-backed  terrorists do or don't do - this only works with a complete presumption that it was an airstrike. To me, so far, this seems to be a completely unfounded - and thus criminal - presumption. 

The motive was revealed by another unnamed US official recently. In a candid comment to the Daily Beast, that person said the United States had "helped" the OPCW uncover "on its own" evidence for Syria's alleged use of chlorine gas, which the agency then did. This was done, the intelligence official said,  “to work through the slow UN process, get the Russians to a place where they’re cornered diplomatically,” into abandoning support for the Syrian government. 

This latest  move fits that profile splendidly. A convoy full of aid and aid workers is blown to bits. So long as we presume it came from the air, and it couldn't possibly be anyone on the US side ... Russia is held to accou8nt. If they did it, they're to blame. The only other option ... left as an option! Those were Syrian SU-24s, and Russia admits Damascus is bad, and abandons "Assad" militarily, and starts helping with the desired outcome of regime change. How's that for an attempt at getting the Russian "cornered?"

September 25: 
It took longer than I thought it would to decide I at least don't feel I have this case grasped just yet. There are some good points and ideas in the ACLOS pages. Some highlights in review:

We finally found a crater, but it's inside the warehouse. It's got a tail assembly at least of a Russian bomb, OFAB-250 model, and it's below a neat hole in the roof. But it's also in a crater of a smaller weapon (too small a crater if this bomb detonated, and too big for it didn't) and it's right next to a pile of lightly damaged cardboard boxes - that seem shredded by shrapnel from a very different weapon.
And we can see the Russian afternoon drone video the hole was not there earlier in the day, but happened during the time of the attack or thereabouts.  So ... ?? This is the kind of thing that'll need more review. At least for me it will. (rambling multi-topic discussion)

- Other damage clues seem about as they were - general fire and minor damage, some pressure waves suggested and surrounding damage connected. I'm mapping the scene and getting a feel  for how many different blast centers of what types we might be seeing. Conclusions, if any, at a later date.

- Predator drone - an interesting argument lodged as a comment at Moon of Alabama was elevated to an article at the Duran for weapons used being a match for a Predator - sparkling detonation suggests Metal-Augmented Charge (MAC) Hellfire AGM-114N - I can't confirm this yet, but the ACLOS section should be worth watching. One point worth noting here, from the comments of "PavewayIV"
Just to set the stage for the next chapter of lies, CENTCOM or the U.S. DoD will undoubtedly deny that a U.S. drone attacked the convoy (not that any journalist will bother asking). AS we saw in the SAA/Deir EzZor attack though, it’s not necessarily a U.S. aircraft. The U.S. can deny responsibility if needed because 1) any of a number of ‘coalition partners’ have Hellfire-armed Predators violating Syrian airspace every day, and 2) all Predators of coalition partners are not necessarily under the command of their military or the CJTF-OIR coalition. The CIA, for instance, has plenty of armed drones in the Middle East. Not that these potential loopholes will be needed or used – the U.S. isn’t bashful about flinging outright lies when convenient and difficult to disprove.
- An apparent lack of surviving witnesses may prove a central point. First it was said just one Red Crescent member, the director Omar Barakat, died, and about 10-12 other non-SARC people. Later it was said several SARC prsonnel died, among about 20 people total. Then the FSA alerted us 31 had died - 12 SARC members and 19 "civilians." It seems almost like everyone died in the attack or died later, before getting to tell their side of the story. (talk section) This might not be the case, but it remains disturbingly possible as we still hear nothing about the survivors or if there were any. All cited witnesses are of the White Helmets variety, responding after the fact, or one vague "aid worker" who sounds exactly like them. I'm looking into this, hoping to contact the SARC directly.

- A Washington Post article adds:
According to a handwritten ledger kept by the Red Crescent, the youngest victim of Monday’s attack was 16-year-old Taqi Hashim. Five of the most grievously injured, including a 14-year-old, are from one family, the Najeebs. 
But I could find no other reports mentioning Taqi or the Najeebs, in English or Arabic spellings. I'll be asking about this "handwritten ledger." This is the first I've heard about wounded but living people, and it includes the kind of 'several men of one family' so often killed all at once by 'regime shelling' in rebel-held areas.

- SoS John Kerry trying to twist Russia's words to look crazy makes him look foolish, with his "parallel universe" and "spontaneous combustion" comments, then echoed as Russia's own loony claim (see here).

- Russian drone footage, timing refined - images show the convoy around 1:40 pm (I missed something, and had 2:20 pm), so the video was apparently Russia's source citing arrival by then. An earlier scene in Khan al-Assal (where the mortar truck passes) is about 1:08 pm. The propagandists at the Interpreter rag failed badly at reading this and put all images "very close to sundown" (which was 6:38 pm) or even later, in a number of fancy and totally wrong methods. (see here and judge for yourself)
 
- One supposed Red Crescent worker anonymously told the Guardian that others "were too scared to share what they had seen, fearing punishment from Syrian officials." But another member willing to put his own name on his words, has a different-sounding take. Wael al Malas, described as "the representative of the Syrian branch of the Red Crescent" spoke to Russia's Izvestiya newspaper\, saying:
"There is no evidence that it was an airstrike of either Russian or Syrian aviation on the humanitarian convoy in Syria. ... On the contrary, everything points to it being the militants of the terrorist organizations who exploded and set on fire the trucks of the convoy." (Sputnik
- Motive: I didn't cover this well yet, and it's still a bit complex. Apparently, things have been set up so a disruption of or attack on aid deliveries would block implementation of the cease-fire, and related US-Russia coordination against not just Islamic State but Jabhat al-Nusra as well. This being what Russia has long fought for, why wold they go out of their way to scuttle it? By way of a shortcut, I'll cite b at Moon of Alabama
I don't know what really happened.

But independent from what happened is the question of motive.


Why would the Syrian Air Force attack the Syrian Red Crescent with which it has good relations and which also works in all government held areas? Why would the Syrian or Russian forces attack a convoy which earlier had passed through government held areas and checkpoints and was thereby not carrying contraband? I find no plausible reason or motive for such an attack. Nor has anyone else come forward with such.


A few days ago the "rebels" had accused the UN, which had goods on the convoy, of partisanship and said they would boycott it. "Rebels" in east Aleppo had demonstrated against UN provided help and said they would reject it. There was a general rejection of the ceasefire by the "rebels" and they were eager to push for a wider and bigger war against Syria and its allies. Al-Qaeda in Syria even made a video against the ceasefire. A part of the ceasefire deal is to commonly fight al-Qaeda. They naturally want the deal to end. The attack on the aid convoy seems to help their case.
The motive argument makes an attack by the "rebels" plausible and an attack by Syria and its allies implausible.
The Pentagon red-lights any military cooperation with Russia, Kerry demands a "no-fly zone" in response, and we're still distracted from the Deir Ezzour incident. (By way of an update, that same mountain has just been overrun again by Islamic State, and an excellent analysis from Gareth Porter is now in.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sept. 6 Fatalities Seen on Video?

Syria Chlorine Allegations: Sept. 6 Fatalities Seen on Video?
September 18

Background
The latest alleged chlorine attack in Aleppo was almost two weeks ago now, on September 6 (ACLOS page). Barrel bombs are blamed, reportedly dropped from a helicopter in broad daylight, around 1 pm (usually it happens at night, making video impossible, but so far I've seen no videos showing this drop either, nor even the gas cloud afterwards). These were said to said to hit the rebel-held Sukkari district, at least one barrel releasing what seems to be chlorine gas, said to have affected over 100 people and killed two.

This came as a reminder a week after the  UN-OPCW report with its terrible flaws had blamed the government for at least two helicopter chlorine attacks. And it came about a month after Islamists in Sukkari reportedly fired chlorine gas on government-held area(s) of Aleppo, killing at least 13 (ACLOS).

Briefly, here's the science of it for an idea what to look for (feel free to check here for an indicators list  and for supporting source material to explain): chlorine gas turns to acid (hydrochloric and hypochlorous) on contact with water. So moist tissues of any animal will be attacked, causing anything from irritation to outright melting as the victim is hit with tiny droplets of acid on the skin, in the eyes, in the nose, throat, and lungs... bad news. Skin can be irritated or burnt, especially in tender or injured areas. It causes eye damage, starting with watering and redness and proceeding to worse. Lungs and airways are damaged - painful, shallow, strained breathing (dyspnea) results - later the tissues bleed, and later yet protective mucous forms, one or the other often suffocating the victim fatally some hours after the incident. Changes in blood chemistry lead to cyanosis, a color shift to purple and then blue, especially notable in the fingernail beds and the lips, but sometimes visible all over the body or localized.

Activists know this, and made sure to say things like "red eyes" and "incessant coughing."  But 90% of the victims seen on video don't actually have these signs. Video analysis of some 24 allegedly exposed persons shows only 1-3 likely, well-illustrated cases of moderate chlorine exposure - the gas probably was released, somehow. But mostly the available videos show lots of apparent acting or staging, apparently just to exaggerate the scale of it and including more heart-rending images of children with breathing masks on. Here are some representative faces, white eyes, and one apparently effected (fake) cough. (see here for links and more analysis)


The Fatalities
Two civilians killed by the chlorine attack were reported by the next day - a man who had died right after the attack, and a teenage girl who died "overnight" or on the afternoon of the 7th. To my knowledge no one has shown videos or photos of either victim as that ("here is an image of..."). But it's pretty likely both are shown (unnamed) on video, and analyzed below. If these are the fatalities, it would reflect badly on the allegations (which would be nothing new, of course). As the ones who died, these should show the clearest chlorine indicators of all. But they come out just as weak as most.

Hajer Kyali, as Reported
"13-year-old Hajer Kyali, had been in intensive care but died Wednesday afternoon. Officials said her house was directly hit by one of the barrel bombs." (UPI)

"Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of the local forensic department in the rebel-held part of Aleppo, said on Wednesday that the girl died overnight of suffocation and respiratory burns." ... "Mohammed Abu Rajab, a technician in an Aleppo medical center, says ... she was suffering from the impact of the explosion, gas inhalation and burns. Her fascial bones were broken."  (AP)

Note: There are no "fascial bones." There is "fascia," which runs body-wide under the skin, but it has no bones. But there are facial bones, of course, in the face (A Times of Israel report corrects this to facial, while most other postings do not). So to clarify, her breathing was complicated by a smashed face, caused by the physical barrel bomb impact/blast or after effects (or so it's being reported). But the actual chlorine is what finally killed her. And it did it realistically, as described. Clearly, video confirmation in this case should be unpleasant and bloody.

Seen on Video?
On the Ground News (English-language roaming Islamist propaganda "news" source) may have video: site report, September 6. At 1:26, arriving at the clinic with an affected man, they record a girl of about 13 brought in on a stretcher, with facial injuries - seeming alive but in pain, quiet, tense, and still (gripping the stretcher). I apologize for this, but this might be the girl who reportedly died, and this brief glimpse might be of interest to the global public and to the family of this victim. The story may not be true.

Notes: she has strangely torn clothing (pants partly shredded with no injury seen beneath, flimsy shirt seeming intact). She has a light coating of dust that could suggest some explosion, but mainly on her pants and not shirt. Nowhere on her clothing do I see blood suggesting any serious bodily injury.

On first view (at right) the girl's face seems intact but red and swollen on the right side (our left), with blood under the chin on and perhaps into the jaw area on her left side. That could be a serious wound or not - it's hard to say. There doesn't seem to be any blood from it on her (replaced?) shirt. Other injuries are unclear but seemingly minimal or non-bloody. Burns, stains, and/or abrasions on her left hand is all we see.

As she's carried by, we then see the girl in profile, and her face again seems to be intact and not smashed. However, on her left cheek is an irregular, scarred-looking patch and what looks like a large hole deep into the bone, but with no blood - almost like an old wound that's healed. That seems to be related to a swollen area down into her jaw - like a wound-related infection.
Is it a coincidence the barrel bomb apparently tore into her other jaw, of all places, after that had gone on a while? If all the injuries were fresh, this might be called a likely gunshot through the face, from right cheekbone to left jaw. But it seems one injury is old, and the other fresh, but unclear. 

Out of a pool of around 100 people, there shouldn't be very many girls of around 13 with serious facial injuries, old or new. So quite likely, but far from certainly, this is Hajar Kyali. The strange injuries support this in another, roundabout way: people in abusive detention are likely to have horrible injuries that are poorly treated. So she could be from some abducted Alawite family, for example. She is exceptionally thin and might be malnourished (clearly another sign of captivity), or just ill from the infection. And prior research has shown hostages/human shields like that are often, or maybe exclusively, selected to die from alleged regime attacks like this.

If this is her, said to die the next afternoon ... let's check the chlorine indicators list here:
  • dyspnea - no sign
  • Agitation/distress - restrained/calm
  • coughing - no signs (brief view)
  • Coughing blood/mucous - no sign
  • Retching/vomiting - no sign
  • Skin redness - not of the chlorine type (possibly infection-related)
  • Other skin burns - not of the chlorine type (localized, to hand, by blast/heat/etc.)
  • Red face - possibly infected cheek, not the middle part that gets red from coughing
  • Eye irritation/damage - unclear
  • cyanosis - no sign
  • Weakness in the legs - injuries suggested/irrelevant
So ... if this is the girl who died, chlorine probably has nothing to do with it, unless she was gassed after arriving at the clinic. This is actually possible, but not the kind of thing we should presume. More likely, she would be suffocated or overdosed on opiates or something (as with the 2015 Sarmin chlorine attack, and perhaps see below).

Mohammad Abdulkareem Afefa, as Reported
Some first-day reports mentioned one fatality, while most did not. The first of two to die was an adult man. British ITV news was told the male victim was Mohammad Abdulkareem Afefa, age 29. SNHR at first "documented the killing of one individual, Mohammad AbdulKarim Afifa."  

AP heard "a 29-year old man also died from respiratory failure." Usually, a chlorine death is described with "suffocation," not a breathing "failure." The victims don't fail, they try hard and score A+ but they die anyway. To score an F in breathing suggests something else. This could be a minor semantical issue, or something more.

Seen on Video?
A man of perhaps this age, unresponsive and perhaps dead, appears in a video of he 6th, seen for a long time at the start.Ample daylight comes in a window, so it can't be very many hours after the mid-day attack.



This man is quite likely already dead or, if not, then comatose. He never moves or blinks that I noticed, or even visibly draws a breath. He just stares into space as a doctor tries ventillation with a pump, and another draws a blood sample from his neck. 

Appearing roughly 29 and likely dead or nearing it, I would venture this is most like the same man reported. If so, the visual record clearly matters. So here's his face contrast and gamma enhanced at right.

Indicators:
  • dyspnea - if alive (as recussitation efforts suggest), he's having the opposite - automatic non-breathing
  • Agitation/distress: unconscious/unresponsive/comatose (opposite)
  • coughing - not even breathing, it seems
  • Coughing blood/mucous - no clear sign
  • Retching/vomiting - no sign
  • Skin redness - no sign/pale (not the best lighting) 
  • Other skin burns - no sign
  • Red face - no sign/pale
  • Eye irritation/damage - no sign/white
  • cyanosis - no clear sign
  • Weakness in the legs - n/a, seems comatose
So this man who might be the other fatality, even more clearly than the first case, shows no sign of chlorine exposure, and shows instead contrary and roughly opposite signs. These are very like the signs shown by the Taleb family babies seen dying in March, 2015. This is most consistent with a CNS depressant overdose (barbiturates, opiates (morphine, heroin, demerol, etc.) - again, as linked above). Passed off as chlorine, we could call this a "chloroin" overdose if it keeps coming up and begs a nickname.

Mr. Afifa doesn't seem to be malnourished or suffer any other clear abuse or neglect consistent with long-term captivity. He might be a recent capture, or some other kind of person who somehow stopped breathing in the Sukkari district that day.

Conclusion
Neither of these identifications is absolute or equivocal. But both matches are quite likely, and between these two probably at least one and likely both reported deaths in this incident were simply passed off. They would be claimed as chlorine victims, in defiance of the physical evidence that something else (covered-up) actually killed them, here in this "liberated" corner of Syria.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Syria: Crushed Women in Rastan

Syria: Crushed Women in Rastan

On August 28, the Syrian Network For Human Rights reported: at least 2 women died in government warplanes missiles fired on Al Rastan city in Homs governorate, August 28, 2016.
الشبكة السورية: سيدتان على الأقل، توفيتا جراء قصف الطيران الحربي الحكومي بالصواريخ مدينة الرستن بمحافظة حمص، في 28 آب 2016

No further details. One woman is shown in a photo, sort of crushed and rolled to the edge as two concrete slabs came together in a building collapse. Presumably, the story is she was living there, as the dishes suggest, and when it was bombed, everything just came out like this. She might have been living alone and/or "in sin" to some - no dead husband mentioned, and look at those modern, tight pants, with spangles. She wasn't a real salafist, apparently. And that bright pink head-scarf ... or is it red and white pin-stripes? Or tie-died?
Looking closer ... beneath her head scarf is a large head wound we can only see part of. It seems fatal, and to be done while the scarf wasn't on - the fabric doesn't seem torn like her head is. And the color issue is all white cloth plus blood.

It's possible this is all from the jumbling violence where some reinforcing bar pierced her skull while the scarf was pulled back, and then later the it slid back to partly cover the wound. But it's also possible she was shot or stabbed in the head, had that wrapped up with a new headscarf, and her body was placed in some abandoned building - probably with its walls already gone. It might be arrayed with some dishes, all visibly along the edge, before the structure was collapsed on her body as a propaganda stunt. 

I think that's quite likely what happened; they just planted the body of someone they killed, because they're terrorist assholes. They figured it would all come out looking close enough. 

In case we get an alleged attack time here, note: photo is mid-morning (could be measured for solar elevation). Most blood is dry, but there was a lot, and the thickest of it is still tacky. The possibly blood-smeared object to the right is of some interest.  I don't know what that it - some kind of mattress?

Who was she? SNHR had said "at least two women" killed, suggesting both more people and more women were possibly killed.  VDC query: all civilians from Rastan killed Aug. 28 = 1: Ayda Hamdan, adult female, married, killed by warplane shelling, and no further details. The entry includes this "generic video" of others being treated in a clinic in Rastan for genuine-seeming but light injuries. There's no second Rastan woman. 

But there's supposed to be another woman.... VDC shows a total of three women from Homs province dying this day. And this same Rastan video is attached to one of those, from Der Baalba, (northern Homs city), killed the same way. One could presumes she died in Der Baalba, but warplanes don't shell there much. Was she displaced somehow, to Rastan, to then die along with this other woman? VDC query: all Der Baalba deaths on 8-28 = 3. That woman, and the other Homs woman, and her husband.

So that's presumably one of these three women we see squished here.

The married couple share the same family name al-Merei ( المرعي ) - suggesting not very traditional Islamic people. Women usually keep their fathers' names if devout Muslims, so the father and the children have one family name, and the mother has another. These kind of "Western-style," all-one-name families fare poorly for things like getting displaced within rebel-held areas, and then dying elsewhere under alleged Assad bombs in the kind of ignored, daily mini-massacres that really add up over years. See also Hayan Missile Massacre recently, near Aleppo: 2-3 wives with the same name (Qraitem) as 5-8 kids killed alongside them, and same as 3 men killed all at once two weeks earlier (all sorting and killing was, of course by regime aircraft...).

In this case, however, the man and woman are listed together, not separated like usual. Any children, however, seem separated and not dead. They're supposed to be spared, and can be re-educated. Also, I checked the name Marei, and it doesn't have much of a clear pattern - no recent child deaths, one man from Halfaya the next day, one man each from Aleppo and from Rastan  and one that's a "FSA" rebel, in the preceding weeks, etc.

But back to the Hayan case - that connected by one Qraitem man and many from another family killed earlier, in a June 4 barrel bomb attack with a boy somehow crushed between a concrete slab and a section of demolition chute. How that could happen is unclear, but some turned the photo upside-down to claim he was crushed by an un-exploded barrel bomb!

Below: Grisly pic, taken from here and turned right-side-up, and grisly notes:

Note, blood clearly drips down. But not much of it. He was probably dead well before the slab came down. Someone laid his body across the chute, after the massive wound across his upper face wasn't even bleeding any longer. Only when the slab came down was a little thick blood up in his sinuses jarred loose  to make this splatter.

Turning horribly-executed women and children into more victims of "Assad's" bombing ... it's that easy, or usually, even easier. In fact, this is one of the more elaborate methods I've seen.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Syria Chlorine Allegation Part 6a) Site Correlation

Syria Chlorine Allegations Part 6a) Site Correlation
September 6, 2016
last edits Sept. 7

As part of a sub-investigation, here's a space for site correlation regarding the alleged Taleb family home in Sarmin where chlorine gas was generated on March 16, 2015.

From earlier, here are some lightened screen captures of the upper level, from the 9:00 civil defense night video (Youtube). From the elevated walkway looking across the unfinished main floor (pillar with no roof).

Then the views down the stairs, onto the main level, looking right, and looking back. Orange-marked area is approximate - apparently behind the mystery structure, which we'll consider below. The stairs down to the basement level are indicated with the white arrow.

We never did geolocate this, but OPCW investigators were given a location for the siite, besides the first alleged impact of that night in a nearby field. These are shown on a map in their October, 2015 report (via The Trench). The northernmost pin is the one of interest.

Coordinates are given: N 35.903257° E  36.729642°. That points to this building on Wikimapia. It's on the east edge of Sarmin, right next to Abdo Salama school. (It's worth noting schools are often used these days to house displaced people or prisoners, but this doesn't seem like an annexed execution site so much as an inhabited home with children). 
There are a few uncertainties about the match, but as we'll explore it, it's a pretty likely fit. At right is the best view from Wikimapia, date unclear. The night video would show then  entering from the south side. There seems to be an elevated road here, and the ground dips down to the north. 

They cross the walkway, and there are stairs down on the right to the open main level. Night video shows columns apparently 3 rows deep from top of stairs. The pillar on the right at the base of the stairs is not aligned with the next one north - that's a site match. Looking right: 2 pillars, then a wall - site match. That's not very certain; it's a vague place.

Site history, from Google Earth imagery: it was a vacant lot on July 20, 2011, but was dug out into a sort of a pit by December 5. Structure as seen is mostly done by June 13, 2012, little changed since, up to the last image shown - August 25, 2014 - it's now more than 2 years since an update. Below: 7-20-2011, 12-5-2011, 6-13-2012, undated view from Bing Maps. The December view helps establish some kind of dug-into-a-slope situation, and gives an idea of the depth between the elevated south road and the other sides. In the later views, note the dug in area along the west, and apparent gap for air and light along the south, running beneath the walkway. The south side and maybe even the north might be sort-of hacked into the ground. The east end is unclear.

Ventilation shaft?
It was reported, and accepted by the OPCW team, that the barrel bomb in question happened to fall right through a pre-existing "ventilation shaft."  August 2016 report:
50. A ballistic expert analysis supports the statement of the witnesses, improbable as it sounds, that the device impacted through the ventilation shaft. There is a pale whitish mark on the right side of the shaft, which is likely the impact mark.
I'm not sure if we can see or verify this mark, or this shaft. Maybe we can but missed it. But just from above, and considering the earlier report gave "an approximate dimension of 3 m x 1.5 m," here's what might be existing vent holes or structures:
- one slot visible in the middle of the north edge in most views. marked A. Dimensions: App. 2.5 meters long, perhaps one meter wide, or perhaps a bit bigger (glare effect) -  too small, presumably, to expect a barrel bomb to fall through, but close to what's described.
- Google Earth views of August 23, 2013 and August 3, 2014 suggests a larger square hole to the left of the south stairs, usually hidden in shadow. Marked B. Dimensions: app. 2.5 x 2.5 meters. But this doesn't seem to line up so as to be relevant.

That's all satellite views suggest, but 7 months passed between the latest image and the events in question. Video suggests there might be a new addition as of March 2015. The 9:00 civil defense night video, at 4:58, passes over something that seems vertical, some slab, with a gap at the base that seems like a cut in the concrete - with some kind of canister on the right, a little past the second pillar line in. This is the big mystery of the scene so far, marked ??? in the middle of the second image at top. Apparent location marked C? (was too far in) This would run quite near the north wall, but seems a bit too close to be that.  As it turns out, this is also about where the vent or hole should be, and also pretty close to slot A. No hole and no slot is visible - unless that cut is the slot, here plugged with a vertical slab ...  otherwise, what the bomb fell through is on the other side of that vertical mystery thing.

Zooming back, at 4:42 we can see the workers heads silhouetted on what seems to be the same wall just past the second pillars (upper left view of top image, and here again at right). It's big, running at least the span of the purple line above. It doesn't seem to be any building to the north - there isn't one that runs all across, and this seems too close. It looks like a wall finally going in for the home, but it seems to rise higher than the pillars, and to not be based on them either, as they usually should be. Is it a giant ventilation shaft? Or a wall? This could provide a higher ceiling here but an uneven floor above. There could even be a roof there and livable space already - with a shaft or blown hole just on the other side of the wall. 

The hole/shaft is never seen from the underside either, that I've seen.  Photos and videos taken in the basement don't seem to look up ever. All we can really see is that a lot of direct sunlight pours in. It's either a wide shaft with short walls, or a large hole. Next-day site video 1. Screen grab below.

Levels correlated:
From the main level, the second set of stairs seems to start at the left of the bottom of the stairs. The first flight: 12 stairs? left turn, 180°, second flight seems the same. So they should come out about
exactly beneath the bottom of the first flight. Putting that with my previous (rough) mapping of the apartment gives us this approximate match-up:
Orange = blast area, kitchen and bathroom walls blown in and/or out - next day, it's bathed in sunlight, either because the slab above was damaged, or because there was a new and larger vent there. So what that wall represents matters here. It looks like a pretty huge vent to waste so much floor space on, ...

Other Details
Signs of violent entry: Front door split in half may not be bombing related. Doorway to patio seems to have no door, but a frame for one, torn partly loose from the building. The children's room has a loose door laid inside. (images and more detailed analysis forthcoming....)

Debris pile along the back stone wall, perhaps further left than the hole... fire-burnt looking spot at what seems more like a blast center. Here for context, these are along the right:


Looking more right at the stone wall, with the kitchen just off-frame to the right:

 Kitchen wall: unclear burn marks at top, neat hole punched in one spot, right at the bottom, and no other serious marks. This is possible, but strange. Is this just from the impact of a falling barrel hitting just outside the kitchen? At floor level like that, it would let the heavy chlorine gas seep into the mater bedroom - but that already had purple pools of precursors just outside the door. in the hall.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Terrible Flaws in OPCW's Syria Chlorine Investigation

Terrible Flaws in OPCW's Syria Chlorine Investigation
August 29, 2016
last edited Sept. 10


Note 8/29: this is slightly incomplete, links  and cleanup, etc. forthcoming, and drafted just before the report itself is supposed to be published. It's based on early previews and what I know. As the report comes available, I'll add notes, including anything that improves the dismal view I'm taking of their performance.
Note: 8/31 and into 9/1: With a few additions and still no concrete news, this preview is complete.
Note 9/3: The report is now available - UN PDF page - and I fixed more typos here. Any changes or corrections from here will be dated in the text.

Another Sabotage Move in the Propaganda War
Investigators from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (hereafter OPCW - logo at right) one year ago set on a joint study of recent allegations of chemical weapons usage in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) they formed at that time recently finished its work and issued an initial report. This is  to be published on August 30, but was first shown on the 24th to members of the U.N. Security Council, and to the New York Times, who published Syria Used Chlorine in Bombs Against Civilians, Report Says.

This marks "the first time the United Nations has blamed specific antagonists in the Syrian conflict for the use of chemical weapons," the Times notes. The JIM considered nine incidents, three of which it will examine more and report on in September, three it thinks will be too murky or "conflicting" to decide (see below), and three it was able to decide the blame for already. In one case of Islamic State used sulfur mustard (mustard gas), and in two, the Syrian government used chlorine bombs dropped from helicopters. One attack was in April, 2014 and the other in March, 2015, both in the northern Idlib province. This portion is more politically significant and the focus of all below.

The preview happened to come out 3 years and 3 days after the infamous Ghouta alleged sarin attack - helping emphasize how chlorine is just as much a banned weapon. Conveniently for some, this preview was able to make the news in time for US-Russia talks on Syria's future. As the Times says "The panel’s findings further damaged the credibility of President Bashar al-Assad" and raise the likelihood of a renewed push "to impose new penalties on Syria."

The report was enthusiastically embraced by the United States ruling elite. A U.S. National Security Council spokesman said "It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people." (The Daily Beast) Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that “this horrific and continuous use of chemical weapons by Syria represents the greatest challenge to the legitimacy of the (Chemical Weapons Convention) since it entered into force, and an affront to a century’s worth of efforts to create and enforce an international norm against the use of chemical weapons."

However, as we know, claims in support of a regime-change campaign are not guaranteed to be true, even when dead babies and/or incubators are involved.. And this is a case where the factual relevance of the JIM's findings is highly questionable.

Questions They Were Informed About at the Start
I haven't seen their final report just yet, obviously. But when the JIM was forming and taking submissions a year ago, I was sure to send them some information to consider, a short but detailed summary of what we (A Closer Look On Syria - ACLOS) could already find in the public record. Now I publish a slightly revised edit * of the formal submission I sent them on August 24, 2015:

- An Alternative View on Ascribing Blame for Alleged Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria - PDF, 10 pages  * (phone number removed, several typos fixed, some clarity edits, otherwise just as sent). 
- Attachments 1-7 -  PDF, 59 pages published articles collected in the larger file, exactly as sent. Some articles are better in the online version (linked), having been updated in the year since. (CIWCL report page)

It was rushed and imperfect with several typos. Still, it could have been considered, given the stakes. As I put it to them:
    We have good reason to suspect these chemical incidents are mostly or all by opposition actors, with Jabhat al-Nusra most commonly implicated. If so, hundreds of Syrian civilians were selected for death by rebels, sacrificed in a cruel bid at outside support. ... If this is the case with these incidents - and the size of that if should be one of your most serious questions - will the OPCW be among those who helped expose the terrorists responsible to be held accountable? Or - given the hypothetical - will they be among those who enabled the criminals to avoid blame, stay on the field, and continue their murder and deceit?
It sounds like they weren't swayed by our highly relevant findings.

This summary covered both the 2013 sarin and 2014-2015 chlorine phases of CW allegations. It was decided the JIM would only look into the latter, so the best half of our points became irrelevant. The relevant points from the submission, plus a few more worth adding to the record, form the counter-arguments to the chlorine claims below. As in the report, these are either from this blog or, more often, the affiliated research wiki A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS).

Means: Availability of Gas and Choppers
Chlorine is easy to get for either side. Syria's primary or only chlorine factory, near Aleppo, was seized by rebels in August, 2012, and then taken over by Jabhat al-Nusra in December. The owner estimates 400 tons of chlorine gas were stored there, barring fresh production. It can also be seized from other locales terrorists overrun. And, as we'll see below, it can be synthesized from scratch, on site, in the small amounts needed for any one attack.

It's alleged these attacks used "barrel bombs" dropped from helicopters. Once that's accepted, an automatic presumption of government guilt follows, though it might be unfounded. Russian Tass news adds, after seeing the report as provided to Russia, the JIM acknowledges Islamist rebels seized at least nine functional helicopters as they took the whole Idlib area in the spring of 2015, air defense posts and all. "However, the investigators from the OPCW-UN cast doubts over the truthfulness of the version, under which the air attack had been carried out by the militants."

In each case, the options, to be narrowed by the evidence, are:
- government helicopter, unproven
- rebel helicopter, unproven and less likely
- another, local-origin, ground-level, and presumably rebel cause...

Either way, the incident the JIM found clarity on is probably too early for the second option to be relevant - the attack was March 16 (details below), and the major offensive only started at the end of March. The other incident was a year earlier. But in both cases under study, so far as we know up to now, there is absolutely no proof of a helicopter's involvement. If any chlorine was even involved, that third option remains open and valid to consider.
(added Sept. 3): --The report says this helicopter gain was from an earlier offensive prior to the 2014 attack, and it's an issue throughout, but one they feels is safely discounted in these two cases - only government helicopters were around. If there is some helicopter proof we've missed, the basis of deciding whose chopper will need some scrutiny.) --

2014 Telminnes Attack: Not the Shadiest
In April-May, 2014, there were four alleged chlorine attacks with fatalities in the same area of northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces. The one the OPCW found clarity on was April 21, in Telminnes, Idlib. A Reuters report shared realistic detail, including reference to one "young boy" documented as dying and nearer to the Turkish border, seen in a Reuters photograph (will see about finding this). Opposition sources (VDC) have at least three fatalities listed: a boy of a Nawas family, aged 7, who died on the 21st, and two delayed deaths in Turkey, both listed on April 25: A Nawas girl aged 14, and their apparent mother, all from Telminnes. Video footage showed yellow canisters marked Norinco, a Chinese arms manufacturer, twisted by violent explosions.

I'm not sure what set the Telminnes attack apart as extra clear. But unlike the victims of three other 2014 attacks, these people were killed in their home town, per opposition records, while the other attacks all happened to hit internally displaced people (IDPs). People no longer in their home town can easily be abducted persons, with "displaced" used as a thin code. (MonitorMM). (at right: the map of where victims were from vs. killed in, as listed)

For example Ma'an, an Alawi (Alawite) village nearby (circled on this map), had 80 citizens abducted, aside from dozens killed, in a raid in February, two months before the chlorine allegations began. (SyriaNews, ACLOS) The 16  total victims of these attacks include one old man, one younger man, 4 women, 7 girls, and 3 boys. The pool is lacking in fighting-age men, maybe because they were mainly killed in the raid, with women, children, and elderly kept as human shields to absorb regime attacks, real or fictional. If these people were killed and laundered, it would probably be as Sunnis from Soran or Morek, as victims of two attacks were given. (see recent analysis that's relevant here)

And the JIM went with the attack that, by listing, did not kill possible Ma'an hostages. In fact, the other three are ones they've decided to not bother looking into more. JIM chief Victoria Gamba describes these as:
    "...inconclusive – we cannot get sufficient information, or that there is information that is too contradictory for us to be able to continue with this – so there will be no further investigation in these three cases, that is: Kafr Zita (11 April 2014); in Al-Tamanah (29 to 30 April, 2014); and in Al-Tamanah again (25 to 26 May, 2014)." (UN interview, Aug. 30)
It was a kind of inconclusive they didn't want to sort out, like the kind they received about the Houla Massacre in 2012. Is that a coincidence, or did they have something shady about these IDPs proven to them? Either way, I must add here: listing never did equal truth. It could be none of these were displaced or hostages, or that they all were and the one batch was just listed differently.

(Sept. 10:) -- Reviewing the report, as Robert Parry noted here, (and see report pp 52-59) the issue seems to be a jumble of confusion and signs of deception. Dates are confused, witnesses brought in second-hand activist info, stories change, locations couldn't be determined, conventional explosives may have been used instead, etc. Some witnesses provided by the government side  "[came] forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.” Those claimed that these attacks, and especially the one on April 29/30, never happened (although they really couldn't prove a negative...). Residents report various kinds of warnings of impending attack, told to evacuate to a safe place with soda-soaked diapers as gas masks ... and returned to find their homes had been looted while they were gone.

This is all speculative, as evidence on these attacks is thinner, and ACLOS analysis was also limited. But the more emphasized attack in 2015 is something we can really add some perspective on.


2015 Sarmin Attack: Claims vs. Evidence
Basics and Sources
A family of six, named Taleb, was reported killed in their basement apartment after a barrel bomb tore through the roof in Sarmin, Idlib, the night of March 16, 2015. This was chosen as the OPCW's centerpiece for 2015 attack, presumably, because it was the first and worst in a series. Reminder attacks in the Idlib area followed, most of them more vague, with less evidence, and 0-2 deaths each. And these came after the rebel offensive, meaning they could have their own helicopters.

Here, we have the highest death toll, and earliest date at once. But we also have much evidence that, properly analyzed, directly contradicts the activist claims.

Some videos are credited to Idlib Civil Defense (White Helmets), and others to JaN. The famous views of the dying babies were divided; a JaN camera took one video while a White Helmets guy recorded the other. Most of the video field reporting connected to this incident was by this apparent civil Defense worker and host of several videos produced by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra (JaN) and/or Civil Defense, often sporting a long-sleeved sweater with "21" down the left sleeve. We're not sure who this is, a member or just an ally of the terrorist group, but he seems to know all about just what happened here. Why trust the word of Al-Qaeda terrorists and their close affiliates? They all blame a chlorine "barrel bomb" from "Assad."

The most crucial parts of accepted evidence for the Sarmin attack come from an opposition-affiliated doctor, Mohamed Tennari (seen at right, along with the Syrian-American Medical Society director, and an alleged survivor of the Ghouta attack). As Ms. Power reminded the world, "In April of last year, members of the Security Council met with" this witness, at her arrangement. He "dealt with a chlorine attack," she explained, and "played for the Council the video of his team’s attempt to resuscitate children after the gruesome attack." But at the time, she bragged that everyone was reduced to tears and thus, implicitly, might not be thinking straight. She told reporters "if there was a dry eye in the room I didn't see it." (BBC) But teary eyes don't see very well, so maybe she, or others, missed some details we won't miss below.

Dr. Tennari has severe credibility issues. (Sept. 10 He later said he was a family friend of the Talebs, who live in Sarmin - but he first described them as an unknown family "from the neighbouring village.") Tennari says he was sickened by chlorine fumes from the children as he personally tried to save them, and he saw a nurse faint from the fumes. This makes no sense – chlorine doesn't cause fainting, nor does it rise and cause secondary exposure - especially from people that were were stripped and washed. And by the video record - the two emergency room videos, covering the crucial five minutes - Dr. Tennari was not present at all. Unless he's the presumably female nurse hiding under a black veil (who remains upright), he's not a match for any of the seven people seen. He inserted himself into that story, maybe just for dramatic effect. (in detail: where was Dr. Tennari?)

Later, Tennari would exaggerate damage to his clinic in an alleged Russian airstrike, in October, 2015. He would say 13 were killed there, including three staff members, and the clinic was left inoperative, in the 11th and worst directly attack on it. However, video shows how the two missiles both missed the clinic by a long shot, and the worst damage shown is a trashed room with intact windows (ACLOS). In both instances, he has offered false stories involving several deaths in Al-Qaeda turf. Why? And why trust his stories?

Dr. Tennari  or Mr. 21 above might know why the Talebs and relatives had such bad luck in those days, but they may not be telling. The killed grandmother was named Ayoush Qaaq (or Qaq) - a rare name, at least in casualty records. It could be a sign of targeting as 3-5 more Qaqs and several of their relatives died suddenly in the following days. But these too were blamed on a vacuum missile and other indiscriminate regime attacks. (ACLOS) Why trust the implication that this is all coincidence?

It Was NOT Chlorine that Killed the Babies
Following a 2014 alleged chlorine attack, a Reuters report spoke of a "young boy ... lying dead on a stretcher with blood around his mouth." This is consistent with the mechanism of chlorine: hydrochloric acid is produced on contact with water. Eyes, lungs and airways will be damaged and bleed, then secrete masses of protective mucous. The victim doesn't loose consciousness until the end, but coughs violently, and may display cyanosis (blue discoloration), besides skin irritation or burns.Getting it bad enough to die would be a truly horrible experience.

There is one apparent bomb strike in town shown with bleached grass, suggesting chlorine was released there. There are claims of widespread breathing problems and videos of people wearing oxygen masks. The record suggests some chlorine was released, but the full range of connections is not automatic.

Added Sept. 8: --The symptom described to Amnesty International and MSF (who supported this clinic) give an accurate enough rundown: “reddened eyes, shortness of breath, continuous coughing, respiratory distress, vomiting, and drooling from the mouth.” (as "a doctor and a civil defence worker told AmnestyInternational"). Patients were “agitated, foaming blood at the mouth and showing skin rashes,” per "symptoms described by the medical staff of the hospital" to MSF, who support the hospital with supplies and drugs.) These are textbook examples, apparently right from a textbook, and not, as we'll see, from the reality of events.--


Allegedly trapped with a fatal concentration of chlorine gas for too long, the six members of a Taleb family should be coughing violently, perhaps with blood and mucous, and have red or damaged and swollen eyes, and skin irritation. Instead, as covered and widely-seen now (What Killed the Talebs?), they appear much different. The adults are little-seen and unclear, but the children, Aysha, Sarah, and Mohamed - all aged 5 and under, disprove the chlorine accusation. They do display mild cyanosis (purple lips), but this has many causes. There's no hint of redness in the eyes or skin, and they aren't coughing, with blood or otherwise. If they were exposed to chlorine at all, it was minimal and irrelevant.

In fact, they're evenly pale, limp, and unresponsive, and apparently not even breathing. They seem dead, but are at least partly comatose. Sara shows no sign of life, but a man says Aysha is alive at one point, after many seconds of aggressively checking for a pulse as shown at right.

The infant Mohamed is clearly alive and tries once to draw a deep breath, but he's also vomiting, and left on his back to suffocate and fade away. This causes bubbles, and from that alone, some sources claim the children are all "foaming at the mouths," which is taken by the lazy as a sign of chlorine poisoning.

But, as I explained to the OPCW last year: 
    "Rather than any convincing package of chlorine indicators, the observable signs (pale, flaccid, almost completely unresponsive, with little to no breathing or efforts at it) point more to an overdose with opiates or similar CNS depressant drugs (see attachment 4). This happened at an opposition clinic in a rebel-held area, and is not likely to have anything to do with a passing government helicopter."
These symptoms actually seem to be caused prior to Tennari's clinic (the girls are seen being rushed there after being washed outside, in the same limp state), but it would be done locally.  Was this a bit of mercy? They couldn't mist the babies with acid, and opted for a more peaceful-seeming method? It would be less bloody, and painful, but terrifying: overdose survivors talk of claustrophobic panic and the inability to breathe, no matter how hard they try. This causes cyanosis, as seen. It can also cause vomiting, as we see with Mohamed. But simply being an infant causes this as well.

No one at the clinic called this out as medical negligence in the "emergency room" sealed their documented deaths. The children are handled roughly, with strange procedures apparently more for show than to help. The  grandmother's dead body is left underneath the girls the whole time, likely just to dramatize how little room they had.

Mohamed was seen in a different part of the clinic getting breathing support, before he was taken here and left suffocating on his back with no breathing assistance. After a minute, the head doctor spends a minute suctioning out the boy's mouth, which is pointless without respiratory support. But eventually he finds Mohamed is dead. (ACLOS)

This "emergency room" really seems to be the dying and blaming room. Once they were sent here anyway, it was the children's "fate" - as White Helmets chief Raed Saleh put it - to suffer “death in silence before the whole world.” (GuardianAnd it had nothing to do with any chlorine.

Remotely Concocted Chlorine?
The alleged Taleb home  has been shown the night of the attack (civil defense video) and the day after (JaN) - pools of red fluid throughout are seen in both. Initially I took this as blood, and a clue of a traditional violent massacre,- no other clear reason,and at first, the stuff was partially wiped up (at right, by the children's room), as if someone was embarrassed about it. (ACLOS)

The color did seem a bit off, and eventually a non-obvious story emerged, with some kind of science to it. A red-purple fluid said to come from small plastic flasks inside the barrel bombs. Human Rights Watch heard it was unknown, not tested, and had no clear reason, but it was part of the bomb style used here and elsewhere. One recovered bottle is shown at left (Civil Defense photo via HRW). Other flasks of the same size have been shown torn, emptied, and often partially burnt.Puddles or reddish fluid were seen on prior videos of alleged chlorine attacks since February, 2015.

The OPCW report confirms this 'not-blood' was potassium permanganate, and suggested that it was used to generate chlorine.  Adding hydrochloric acid (HCl) to crystals of the stuff is an easy way to prepare small quantities of chlorine in the laboratory. Here they propose the mixing was done in a bomb dropped from a helicopter.  (It was presumably crystals that filled the bottles at first, and it's only fluid when found afterwards.)

In late October, 2015, OPCW's technical secretariat produced an illustration of the alleged bomb, perhaps never published by them but leaked  (ACLOS) and shown at right. In this, the barrel is filled with permanganate flasks, alternated with steel tanks containing the unknown reagent, presumably HCl (plastic lining would be necessary to keep it from dissolving the tanks). The proportions of the precursors might be drastically wrong here. But if so, we could presume the real, alleged, device had it right and this mock-up is just wrong. Apparently these would mix on impact/explosion, the front impact plate being the only trigger mechanism proposed.

There's no room here for much explosives, perhaps because - as discussed at ACLOS – a blast would disrupt the mixing process. It would overpower and scatter the reagents before they could mingle properly. Maybe the detonation cord was rigged to just open the valves, and let the shell crack open? But it seems likely just the impact from high altitude alone would disrupt this system.

This is an illogical proposition. It would be much more effective to just use chlorine gas instead of precursors, and then explosives could be used to spread it wider, with no mixing time required. The only reason to propose this is because we have these chlorine connected purple puddles to explain, and a "barrel bomb" aspect to maintain belief in.

Synthesized On-Site, But NOT by the Bomb?
basic home layout - not to scale
In the end this fails at implicating a regime helicopter. Activists say the bomb didn't explode, just fell down a ventilation shaft, and knocked out a wall with the force of gravity. (some might say it smashed through the floor slab, but citation is elusive, and the visuals are inconclusive at the moment - light pours in through what must be a short shaft at best).

There are at least two big problems with that.

First, the site details are such that the barrel bomb may have been rolled down the stairs, not dropped by helicopter.  - right, the basement level home, with only an unfinished floor above, compared to the areas where "not-blood" was seen - the hole above could be a shaft something did or didn't fall through, or a hole punched by a barrel bomb falling through, or blown out by a rolled device detonating from below.

As noted, any sizeable blast would disrupt the mixing. At the alleged Taleb home, the barrel-type device is blown into twisted bits by a violent explosion that took down the home's kitchen and bathroom walls, and so could not likely disperse any chlorine. It was probably too full of explosives anyway to have any of that stuff inside. At right, the remnants of the blasted bomb, and the mysterious second tank that came in afterwards (?) or was packed inside and survived the blast unharmed. Lucky drop through the same hole? Actually, it seems they ignore the blown-up one and call this the delivery device.

But the home is full of that red fluid; the volume seen is likely more than the whole bomb would contain, spread strangely down the central hall meters from the impact/blast area, and largely beneath the rubble. It seems quite possible that the bomb and the fluid are not directly connected. Rather, this might suggest someone in this rebel-held area used potassium permanganate and hydrochloric acid to generate chlorine, at this site.  If these precursors can be mixed inside an Assad bomb, or on the ground in a lab, they could work in the field, maybe in a basement home, by anyone who has enough of these substances.

They might come in canisters and jugs, manufactured for example in Turkey, by the Tekkim chemical company. It might be this method used by the "Wind Isber" Chemical Brigade to gas the rabbits in their infamous test video of 2012. Clear fluid poured on dark powder causes a purple fluid that bubbles and emits a pale, possibly greenish gas, which slowly suffocates the enclosed test subjects, causing eye irritation at least along the way. (ACLOS) Is this the same, done on a bigger scale inside a home? There are many gallons of this residue.

(Added Sept. 5 - the apparent chlorine reaction from Tekkim test - in a terrorist lab, not a barrel bomb. This again shows why the latter wouldn't work. This process takes around two seconds. Imagine a high explosives blast tearing through the flask just before frame one here. It might not fizz enough all in one spot to ever produce that choking cloud. )

The order of operations is clear: possible chlorine-generation, then the bomb incident, sending splinters and debris over and into preexisting puddles of red (right, just inside the front door). It was decided to acknowledge it as Assad's clever idea to use this method, inside his barrel bombs. Then the bomb was added, but that didn't make sense so ... maybe the second tank - with less space to hold precursors - was added...?

Either way, again, the core victims that moved the world clearly did not die from chlorine, generated in any way, and show no sign of even being exposed to it. It remains unclear who, if anyone, actually was gassed at this site.

Back in Context...
New York Times: the UN Security Council "vowed to impose punishments in the event of noncompliance, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone.” In practice, use by anyone at all, from any side, is to lead to punishment of the Syrian government. All the displayed certainty seems reverse-engineered to support that predetermined end.

"When anyone – from any government or from any terrorist group – so flagrantly violates the global ban on chemical weapons use," Samantha Power says, in practice, she will find any way possible to blame it on Damascus and sternly hold them and them alone to account, logic and evidence be damned. When she held that special closed session for Security Council members to show them a video of babies dying, as Dr. Tennari (in his invisibility cloak?) tried to save them... that very evidence undermined the claims. But it seemed as if no one noticed, and so after that, "members of the Security Council cannot claim ignorance of the devastating, inhumane effects of these weapons," Ms. Power preached. No, now we all know the "gruesome" effects of chlorine, contrary to all prior learning, is just about exactly like an opiate overdose. And Syria must pay for this revision. Now that's smart power, way smarter than science and fact.

What they didn't look at
Note on scope: only the last 2 years, mostly alleged chlorine attacks. They did not address and finally pin blame for the 2013 attacks, including Khan Al-Assal, Ghouta, and others before, between, and after - mostly ambiguous or clearly the work of rebel, once all the evidence is in. That was mostly all by surface rockets, which rebels had. Now it's all down to who has helicopters, and that's taken as obvious.

As it happens, the JIM didn't establish whether opposition groups aside from ISIS used CW, like Jabhat al-Nusra when it conquered Istabraq, Idlib, last year (ACLOS), or Jaish al-Islam in an attack on Aleppo in April, which the group acknowledges (ACLOS). They managed to ignore 2 deadly attacks in 2014, are still considering a couple with no deaths (ACLOS), and decided to never solve three other 2014 attacks, as explained above. They're really whittling this down.

(Sept. 10) -- It seems like the JIM is drawing on the OPCW's October, 2015 report (via The Trench), which fails to correlate the evidence very well. They say the male child was the oldest, but Mohamed was the youngest, about a year old. Assessment of attack site details and narratives also seem lacking; accounts seem to be taken on faith with no skepticism. They examined a spoon and a key, but don't seem to have done any symptoms correlation for the victims we can see dying on video, other than what was “reported.” The fact that chlorine killed them was apparently taken as a given, and they added nothing to the reasons.--

Use of Chemical Weapons Myths, in the Information War
"...under international pressure, (Assad) signed a treaty banning chemical weapons nearly three years ago after a horrific attack in which the nerve agent sarin killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb." (NYT) This was never proven. It's unsure how many hundreds, but hundreds did die, most or all in the rebel-held East and West Ghouta areas, but they didn't display signs of sarin poisoning, instead suggesting other poisons, and their bodies were never tested to find out what. (see here) The sarin that did turn up, possibly relevant or just planted, apparently did not fit the chemical profile of Syria's stocks, because rebels made it themselves.

Certainly all motive arguments favor rebels carrying out this massacre. And the JIM chose not to look into it any further.

"The United States has accused Mr. Assad’s forces of responsibility for that attack."  (NYT) That adds no credibility, when the US also insisted Syrian forces gassed themselves and civilians in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, in March, 2013. Damascus blamed rebels for what turned out to be a sarin attack that killed about 30, including soldiers and civilians. They sought a probe of this, but the Western powers openly stalled it for months. (see here).

These investigators finally arrived in Damascus on August 18, but never got to Aleppo ... Syria stands accused of somehow killing over 1,400 in a depopulated area with sarin rockets, just in time to distract the investigators with a fresh attack just kilometers away, and get themselves blame for something far worse ... and right on the birthday of President Obama's "red line" threat-offer of August, 2012. Yes, embarrassing as it is to this American, this train-wreck of accusations does exist.

Washington's charge that Assad is also behind the alleged chlorine attacks now draws perceived legitimacy from the findings of the supposedly neutral JIM.  An unnamed intelligence official told the Daily Beast “You know the way the Russians treat anything Syria-related, ... If we bring it forward, the Russians would reject it out of hand. So we helped OPCW uncover it on its own." ..."the best option was to work through the slow UN process, get the Russians to a place where they’re cornered diplomatically," and finally get them to abandon support for Syria. (The Daily Beast)

There's been a broad consensus that Syria's sarin and fully-banned chemicals were gone after the deal brokered in 2013, for which the OPCW was given a Nobel peace prize. But this is undermined, as the Times noted, by he OPCW's unnamed director general, who "has complained in an internal report about misleading statements from Syria and potentially undeclared "chemical-weapons-related activities" there." This suggests, just as the report is emerging, even sarin and mustard gas might remain,with plans of criminal use down the road. And certainly that deceptive intent supports the use of chlorine in the meantime.

Would we find it credible if - for example - Turkey's former ambassador to NATO and to Israel, and possibly controlled by Turkey's strongmen Recap Erdogan, helped lay unwarranted blame on an enemy of Turkey, NATO, and Israel? Because that's just who heads the OPCW: Ahmet Uzumcu, as not mentioned by the Times. That's whose government has been the chief sponsors and enablers of Jabhat Al-Nusra and their likes, and who just had to voice these doubts about Syria that emerged a day ahead of the report ... Under his management, OPCW officials were said to have a "feeling" that "no certainty could be had all the weapons were gone unless and until Assad is gone." (The Daily Beast) As usual for some people, there can be no rest until regime change, and then they know everything will be fine.