Syria chemical attack: rush to judgement

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights posted to its Facebook page Aug. 21 claims, based on witness reports, of a chemical gas attack on the eastern Damascus suburbs. Dozens were reported killed and hundreds injured in the towns of Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma and East Ghouta. Al Jazeera puts the death toll at "at least 100," and notes that Syrian authorities dismissed the reports as "baseless." The Syrian National Coalition is apparently putting the toll at 650 lives. The claims coincide with a visit to Syria by a 20-member UN team to investigate three sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used over the past year. Al Jazeera and Russia Today report Moscow's rejection of the claims. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the timing of the claimed attack "makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation." Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich charged that "biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government."

It is another case of the usual suspects blaming the usual suspects. Iran's Press TV runs a commentary entitled "US raises false flag on Syria." It opens with this predictable passage:

A false flag is being hoisted. It is a big one, with garish colors, and it signals large-scale war. Needless to say, it is the Americans who are doing the deceitful hoisting. When it comes to deceit, they are only outclassed by the Israelis. Every sane person knows that, in Syria, it is the insurgents, particularly the Takfiri [Shi'ite pejorative for Sunni militants] lunatics, who are using sarin gas. The evidence is clear. It includes videos as well as testimony from casualties and medical staff.

Oh, "every sane person knows," eh? OK, good. Otherwise we might have to actually do an investigation and pay attention to the facts. Although we are told "the evidence is clear," Press TV doesn't present any, not even with a link to the supposed "testimony from casualties and medical staff." The best they can do is echo the claims of UN investigator Carla Del Ponte over one incident back in May. Even this is presented with a glaring misquote. A few minutes on Google will reveal that Del Ponte did claim that the Syrian rebels "may have used" sarin gas (see The Independent, May 6). But Press TV's purported quote from Del Ponte to Swiss TV accusing US propaganda against Assad of being "on the Joseph Goebbels principle" is purely fictional. Press TV apparently got it from the right-wing crackpots at Rense—but that line was Rense's own editorializing, and not from the Del Ponte quote they lifted, which was limited to: "Sarin was used on the part of the opposition, rebels, not by the government authorities." Very professional, Press TV.

The relentlessy conspiranoid InfoWars seizes with glee on a Reuters quote from Rolf Ekeus, a retired Swedish diplomat who served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in the '90s, who had this to say on the new allegations: "It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country... At the least, it wouldn’t be very clever." InfoWars touts this under the utterly misleading headline "Hundreds Dead In Syrian Chemical Attack As Even Impartial Experts Allege 'False Flag'"—which Ekeus didn't do! At best, his comment was an allusion, not an allegation. 

Russia's Pravda (yes, it still seems to be around) offers this headline: "Syria: The predictable and false 'chemical' attack"...

And just as the UN inspectors arrive... there is a so-called "chemical" incident, a false flag one of course, again, but once again, not a very intelligent ploy by the Syrian "opposition". If one is going to set up a false flag chemical weapons attack, one has to make sure it is deployed in an area where there is a massive advantage in using such weaponry, namely in an area where there is massive advantage to be gained in an active theatre of war.

So, in an area where there has been fighting until recently but where the Syrian Arab Army (Government) has been making steady progress and where the terrorist opposition forces have been getting hammered, it does not make sense for the Government forces to use nerve gas, and it makes no sense at all to use it against large numbers of civilians, including children, who appear to comprise the majority of the victims. [Ellipses in original]

Ironically, even the gung-ho GWOT-boosters at Long War Journal note the Ekeus quote, and write that "it is...conceivable that rebels used the chemical weapons in an effort to frame the Assad regime." As we've noted, neocons and Zionists are divided on whether to give Assad a shove or prop him up as the Devil they know. Long War Journal seems to be throwing in its lot with the latter camp.

Do the conspiranoids grasp the irony that they are doing exactly what they accuse the US of doing—rushing to a conclusion before the facts are in, on the basis of political convenience? We will wait for more objective parties to weigh in on whether there was any "massive advantage" to the alleged attack for the Assad regime. But if it is not contested that the regime was raining artillery fire on these same suburbs (as the Observatory report also said), we wonder if they are really as pacified as Pravda would have us believe.

Furthermore, all this talk as if the claims originated from the White House ignores the fact that they didn't—they originated from Syrian human rights observers. The White House has thus far been nearly silent on the matter, issuing only a perfunctory statement of "concern"—as columnist Max Fisher decries in the Washington Post.

Not to mention that the fixation on use of chemical weapons is a little perverse. Just a few months ago, the death toll in the Syrian war over the past two years was placed at 60,000. On July 25, BBC News reported that the UN had released a new estimate, of more than 100,000. It presumably makes little difference to the dead whether they met their demise via sniper fire, artillery shells or  poisonous gas.

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Clarification on Syria chemical attack

We are skipping the seemingly obligatory adjective "alleged," because we can't imagine what else it could possibly have been. Despite confusion in the early accounts cited above, it is now clear that the chemical attack was in Ghouta, while the deaths in the other named nearby suburbs—Erbin, Zamalka, Ein Terma—were from conventional rocket and artillery fire. So much for the arbitrary notion that Damascus' eastern suburbs were pacified and the chemical attack would therefore provide no "massive advantage" to the regime. Al Arabiya reports that the Syrian opposition is placing the Ghouta death toll at over 1,300. Harrowing eye-witness accounts are online at Global Voices.

Ghouta attack: Idiot Left joins rush to judgement

Well, the idiot left is joining the right-wing and conspiranoid voices cited above in rushing to exculpate the Assad regime in the Ghouta attack (of course). The ANSWER Coalition website features a video clip of their honcho Brian Becker speaking on Russia Today (of course) in the same specious terms about how the "timing" of the attack makes the notion that the regime was behind it "completely ludicrous"—but then, as if realizing how little he has to back up his argument, says: "None of that matters, what matters is [sic] the intentions of White House and their friends in London in terms of escalating their intervention." Yet in the very next sentence he calls the attack a "staged provocation," as if this thesis were an established fact. Very telling: the truth "doesn't matter"; our stance on who was behind the attack should not be determined by evidence but political utility.

Assad partisans on Facebook have taken to posting a clip from the UK's right-wing Daily Mail citing the simply wacky InfoWars (!) to the effect that e-mails hacked from the defense contractor Britam "have allegedly proved that the White House gave the green light to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on Assad's regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country." The problem is that this report was apparently scrubbed from the Daily Mail website as too sketchy even for them—the Assad partisans had to use the Wayback Machine archive to access the Daily Mail story, which was dated Jan. 29. Google reveals that the InfoWars claims have been picked up by several wack-o-sphere nodes (Atlas Shrugs, SecretNews, Conservative Papers), but not by any source with actual bona fides. 

Ironically, Forbes on Feb. 7, 2012 ran a story claiming that Bashar Assad's own e-mails had been hacked by Anonymous, revealing exchanges between the dictator and his media advisors, as well as few sympathetic foreigners such as George Galloway (a devoted enemy of the Arab Revolutions from the beginning). One advisor apparently reassured Assad ahead of an interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters that the "American psyche can be easily manipulated.”

By no means do we dismiss the possibility that the Ghouta attack was a "staged provocation." But this unseemly grasping at straws, this desperation to make the case, is beneath contempt. It betrays an eagerness to use the dead as propaganda ammo—exactly what the Assad groupies accuse their imagined conspirators of doing.

Ghouta attack: rush to judgement redux

Pretty funny. AntiWar posts a story based on the findings of Doctors Without Borders that 355 were killed in the Ghouta attack, "well short of the 1,300-1,600 claimed by rebel factions." It seems not to have occurred to AntiWar that Doctors Without Borders is using conservative estimates of confirmed deaths. If you look at the AP report on the findings that AntiWar links to, you will see that they are based on accounts from hospitals in the Damascus area that Doctors Without Borders works with. The 355 were among 3,600 patients who showed "neurotoxic symptoms." One wonders how many more died before they could make it to a hospital! The big majority, we assume. And if we accept these findings of  "neurotoxic symptoms," we have to finally drop the cowardly but seemingly obligatory "alleged" before the phrase "chemical attack." Unless there was an industrial accident, nothing else could account for this.

AntiWar also gloats about the Assad regime's claim to have discovered a "rebel chemical lab" (as AntiWar calls it) in a tunnel. But AntiWar's source is Global Post, which says nothing about a "lab," only citing Reuters to the effect that Syrian media reported "that chemical agents were found in rebel tunnels outside Damascus." Once again, see how blogging is like a game of telephone?

Not to mention that of course... while the deepest skepticism is applied to rebel claims, we are supposed to assume that the Assad regime is telling the truth.

Gareth Porter jumps on Ghouta "false flag" bandwagon

Gareth Porter (whose distortions we have called out before) on TruthOut also touts the "only" 355 deaths claims in exactly the same dishonestly decontextualized way as the Antiwar piece cited above. Worse, he acts as if the chemical massacre claims had emerged from the White House. He is dissecting the minutia of Kerry's claims about who intercepted what telephone calls without even mentioning that the Ghouta attack was first reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and quickly confirmed by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. Porter has obviously cherry-picked for skeptics. One of his cherry-picked experts asks: "Why don't we see more people vomiting?" Maybe because you don't want to see it. (One doctor at a local hospital, who spoke by phone to an NPR reporter in Bierut, said: "Over several hours, we had 630 patients with shortness of breath, suffocation, bronchial secretions, sweating, convulsions, nausea, vomiting, a slow heart rate and cardiac arrests.") Porter also amazingly fails to see photos of corpses without any sign of wounds, which would indicate a chemical attack. Really? Google is your friend, Gareth.

Phyllis Bennis jumps on Ghouta denial bandwagon?

Maybe not quite, but too close for comfort. Her requisite anti-intervention piece in The Nation still equivocates about whether there has been a chemical attack (the odds that what happened at Ghouta was anything else now appear vanishingly small) and repeats the dubious "Cui bono?" argument about how it is the rebels rather than the regime that stand to gain from such an attack. (Yes, she actually invokes the Latin phrase.) She concludes:

Any US military attack, cruise missiles or anything else, will not be to protect civilians—it will mean taking sides once again in a bloody, complicated civil war. And Al Qaeda would be very pleased.

To which we respond: 1. If I were sitting in a Damascus suburb with Assad's missiles raining down on my head, I might have more pressing concerns than US motives. The notion that the Syrians who are eager for intervention are naive about US intentions is deeply insulting. 2. The word "complicated" is always invoked by those who seek the comfort of neutrality in the face of aggression and even genocide. We heard that same cowardly word from the "left" when Karadzic was committing genocide in Bosnia. 3. Al-Qaeda is also doubltess "very pleased" by Assad's butchery. Should the world stand back and let it continue forever? Are there any lines beyond which outside powers have a responsibility to act?

Just asking.

The Atlantic jumps on Ghouta "false flag" bandwagon

William Polk in The Atlantic is the latest to provide a Syria primer that tells the "anti-war" (sic) people what they want to hear. The "Who Told Us What We Think We Know" section immediately jumps to what John Kerry said, but doesn't even mention the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which first raised the alarm of the Ghouta attack. And the "Who Are the Possible Culprits" section starts off with the "Who benefits?" argument, of course finding that the regime wouldn't--against all evidence. Contrary to what you would glean from Polk, there was massive bombing of the Damascus suburbs around Ghouta with conventional weapons simultaneous with the chemical attack, so the most logical assumption is that this was an attempt to empty a rebel-sympathist district and terrorize the populace into submission. The notion that the rebels gassed their own sympathizers as a "false flag" is the least likely hypothesis—but of course the one all the bogus "anti-war" (sic) people are leaping to.

Polk, as we have noted, is an exponent of the quasi-isolationist, Arabophile paleocon wing of the beltway elites (as opposed to the aggressively interventionist, Judeophile neocons). The official organ of this tendency, Middle East Policy (founded by paleocon dinosaur Chas Freeman) in its Spring issue ran a piece now being avidly promoted by Assad's dupes and partisans on Facebook entitled "Syria Contextualized: The Numbers Game" by one Musa al-Gharbi (more such propaganda may be seen at his website).  It is mostly the usual pseudo-arithmetic sophistry beloved of genocide-denialsts. His distortions in defense of the claim that estimates of the dead (60,000 at that point; over 100,000 now) are inflated, as well as the proportion of civilians among the slain, are too tiresome to dissect here. His main thesis: "In short, the rhetoric defining Bashar al-Assad as a bloodthirsty and indiscriminate killer obscures very important nuances about the dynamics of the conflict..." That line does seem a tad embarrassing now, but the Facebook partisans (who ironically mostly consider themselves "leftists") are either blind to it or comepletely shameless. 

We reccomend that al-Gharbi read some Orwell: "The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."

This wasn't the first Ghouta gas attack

Assad's Facebook partisans are avidly recalling Carla Del Ponte's statements, noted above, that the apparent May gas attack in Syria had been carried out by the rebels rather than the regime.  We have not been able to find any reports that provide further context or explain how Del Ponte arrived at this conjecture. However, we did find this May 27 account from the Syrian Observer which cites both the Local Coordination Committees (body of the civil resistance) and the local division of the Red Cresent as reporting numerous victims in Ghouta with "strange symptoms" including "breathing difficulties and vomiting," as well as "convulsions and loss of consciousness, and in some cases, immediate deaths." The LCC charged "the use of chemical weapons by the regime in Ghouta."

So it appears that the Aug. 21 chemical massacre in Ghouta was not the first. Does it really sound to you like Ghouta was already pacifiied? How likely does the "false flag" thesis seem to you? Honestly?

Robert Fisk gets it wrong on Syria —again. Surprise!

Well, the consistently appalling Robert Fisk has done it again. So recently cheering on the forces of political Islam in Egypt, his latest on Syria is actually entitled "Does Obama know he's fighting on al-Qaeda's side?" Unbelievable. As if all the opposition to Assad comes from "al-Qaeda." By this logic, all of us who marched against the US occupation of Iraq were "on al-Qaeda's side." Not a shred of logical consistency, honest analysis or even basic humanity here. Just mere kneejerk reaction.

Again: If Robert Fisk is its great icon, there is no "left" left that is worthy of the name.

Kucinich joins rush to Qaeda-bait Syrian rebels

Dennis Kucinich, problematic as ever, echoes the same line as Fisk above. Iran's Press TV gloats the he said "So what, we're about to become al-Qaeda's air force now?" Funny how now it has suddenly become permissible among "progressives" to be concerned with al-Qaeda...

Is this your "anti-war" movement? No thanks.

Look at this. The bogus "anti-war" protesters up at Times Square today were holding portraits of the war criminal Bashar Assad. The Arabic reads "We are all with you."

And here are the  counter-demonstrators... I wonder if there were more Syrians in the "anti-war" protest or the counter-protest?

Once again, the "anti-war" movement betrays the Syrian people...

Photos by Barbara R. Lee

Oh, and who organized this dictator-cheering?

The ANSWER Coalition. Of course.

I feel sorry for the naive thing with the the rainbow-peace sign flag, unwittingly marching with fascists.

Act Now to Support War and Encourage Racism.

Photo by Barbara R. Lee

"Anti-war" movement betrays MLK!

Note how MLK's image is wielded alongside that of Bashar Assad! What a fitting tribute to Dr. King's values!

Another one to file under "Orwell would shit."