Sunday, 2 July 2017

Make up your mind on trump's accusations of a "chemical weapons attack" in Syria

Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’



Here is some Sunday reading.

I am reposting the discussion from yesterday between Don DeBar and mark Sleboda on CPR News on the Trumps’ accusations of a chemical weapons attack.

While the Americans backed down almost immediately it acts as an open invitation for al-Qaeda or other terrrorist entity to carry out a false flag attack.


Mark Sleboda recommended four sources so that people can make up their own minds.







United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley has pre-warned Assad, about a pre-planned chemical attack that he is putting together, which pre-blames Assad, Iran and Russia.


Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.

U.S. says its warning appears to have averted Syrian chemical attack


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Wednesday that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad appeared so far to have heeded a warning this week from Washington not to carry out a chemical weapons attack.


Seymour Hersh's explosive piece was turned down by the London Review of Books as well as as by US media so was published in the German newspaper, die Welt - an indication of a McCarthyite policy of repressing anything that goes aganst the official neo-con narrative.



Trump‘s Red Line





President Donald Trump ignored important intelligence reports when he decided to attack Syria after he saw pictures of dying children. Seymour M. Hersh investigated the case of the alleged Sarin gas attack.

Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack

25 June, 2017

On June 25th 2017 the German newspaper, Welt, published the latest piece by Seymour Hersh, countering the “mainstream” narrative around the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in Syria. The attack, where Sarin was allegedly used against the local population, dropped in a bomb by the Syrian Air Force, resulted in President Trump taking the decision to launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

As with his other recent articles, Hersh presented another version of events, claiming the established narrative was wrong. And, as with those other recent articles, Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build.
This isn’t the first chemical attack in Syria which Hersh has presented a counter-narrative for, based on a handful of anonymous sources. In his lengthy articles for the London Review of Books, “Whose sarin?” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”, Hersh made the case that the August 21st 2013 Sarin attack in Damascus was in fact a false flag attack intended to draw the US into the conflict with Syria. This claim fell apart under real scrutiny, and relied heavily on ignoring much of the evidence around the attacks, an ignorance of the complexities of producing and transporting Sarin, and a lack of understanding about facts firmly established about the attacks.
With Hersh’s latest article, this pattern of behaviour is repeated. The vast majority of the article appears to be based on an anonymous source, described as “a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency”. As with his earlier articles, details of the attack as described by his source flies in the face of all other evidence presented by a range of other sources.
So what scenario does Hersh’s source describe, and how does this contradict other claims? Hersh claims that “Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives”, and this attack resulted in the release of chemicals, including chlorine, but not Sarin, that produced the mass casualty event seen on April 4th. Hersh’s source is able to provide a great deal of information about the target, claiming intel on the location was shared with the Americans ahead of the attack.
Hersh’s source describes the building as a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town”, with a basement containing “rockets, weapons and ammunition, as well as products that could be distributed for free to the community, among them medicines and chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial”. According to Hersh’s source, the floor above was “an established meeting place” and “a long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.”
The source goes on to claim that Russia had been watching the location carefully, establishing its use as a Jihadi meeting place, and watching the location with a “drone for days”, confirming its use and the activity around the building. According to the source the target was then hit at 6:55am on April 4th, and a Bomb Damage Assessment by the US military determined that a Syrian 500lb bomb “triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground.”
At this point it’s worth taking a look at the claims the Syrian and Russian governments made in response to accusations that Syria had dropped Sarin on Khan Sheikhoun. Walid Muallem, Syria’s Foreign Minister, stated in a press conference two days after the attack that the first air raid was conducted at 11:30am local time, attacking “an arms depot belonging to al-Nusra Front chemical weapons”. It was noted by observers at the time the time of the claimed attack was hours after the first reports of casualties came in, and both contradicts the 6:55am stated by Hersh’s source, and the slightly earlier time provided by the Pentagon, approximately between 6:37am and 6:46am local time. Not only that, but the Syrian Foreign Minister also described the target as a chemical weapons arm depot, not a meeting place that stored other items in the basement.
Russia also published their own claims about the attack. Sputnik reported the following:
According to Konashenkov, on Tuesday “from 11.30 to 12.30, local time, [8.30 to 9.30 GMT] Syrian aircraft conducted an airstrike in the eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun on a large warehouse of ammunition of terrorists and the mass of military equipment”.
Konashenkov said that from this warehouse, chemical weapons’ ammunition was delivered to Iraq by militants.
Konashenkov added that there were workshops for manufacturing bombs, stuffed with poisonous substances, on the territory of this warehouse. He noted that these munitions with toxic substances were also used by militants in Syria’s Aleppo.”
These claims are consistent with the claims of their Syrian ally, but not the claims made by Hersh and his source. In the face of allegations of chemical weapon use neither Russia nor Syria mention targeting “a jihadist meeting site”, and described the location as a “large warehouse” on the “eastern outskirts of Khan Shaykhun”, not a “two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town” with “security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” In fact, the only thing Hersh’s account and the Russian and Syria account agrees on is it was a Syrian aircraft which conducted the attack.
In addition to this, neither Syria nor Russia presented any evidence to support their claim. If, as Hersh claims, Russia had been observing the site with a “drone for days” then they would not only have the precise location of the site, but footage of the site. However, both Syria and Russia have failed to make any imagery of the site public, nor have they provided any specific details about the location of the site. If they had, it would be possible to easily check if the location had been bombed on Terraserver, which has satellite imagery of Khan Sheikhoun before and after the date of attack. In common with Russia and Syria, Hersh’s source seems unable to provide the exact location of the attack, despite his apparent in depth knowledge of the attack.
Ignoring the fact that the version of events presented by Hersh runs counter to narratives produced by all sides, the claims around the chemical exposure are also worth examining. Hersh refers to “a Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military” of the strike, which he provides no source for, which supposedly states “a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement”. He describes the symptoms seen in victims as “consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.” Here it is worth pointing out that organophosphates are used as pesticides, not fertilizers, and it’s unclear if this error is from Hersh himself or his anonymous source. This is not the only factual error in the report, with Hersh stating an SU-24 was used in the attack, not an SU-22 as claimed by every other source, including the US government.
Despite Hersh’s apparent belief Sarin was not used in the attack, other sources disagree, not least the OPCW, tasked to investigate the attack. On April 19th 2017 the OPCW published a statement by Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü describing the results of the analysis of samples taken from victims of the attack, both living and dead, stating:
The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible.”
later report from the OPCW, dated May 19th, provided further analysis of samples from the site, including dead animals recovered from the site, and environmental samples. Signs of Sarin or Sarin-like substances were detected in many samples, as well as Sarin degradation products, and at least two samples which state Sarin itself was detected.
These results are also consistent with intelligence published by the French government, which describes the following:
The analyses carried out by French experts on the environmental samples collected at one of the impact points of the chemical attack at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 reveal the presence of sarin, of a specific secondary product (diisopropyl methylphosphonate – DIMP) formed during synthesis of sarin from isopropanol and DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), and hexamine. Analysis of biomedical samples also shows that a victim of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, a sample of whose blood was taken in Syria on the very day of the attack, was exposed to sarin.”
Based on this and other reports, multiple sources state Sarin was used in the attack, despite Hersh’s narrative of an accidental chemical release. The fact Hersh does not refer to any of these reports seems to, at best, overlook key information about the nature of the attack, and at worst, purposely ignores information that contradicts the narrative he’s attempting to build.
Going back to the attack site, this ignoring or ignorance of contradictory information is also apparent. Open source material from the day of the attack, as well as satellite imagery analysis by various sources (including this excellent piece by the New York Times) consistently point to the same impact sites, one of which is the specific crater claimed to be the source of Sarin released on the day of the attack. None of these point to the structure described by Hersh, nor is there any evidence of a site as described by Hersh being attacked. Journalists visited the town soon after the attack, and made no mention of the site as described by Hersh.
One might argue that all the individuals and groups on the ground, all the doctors treating the victims, and every single person spoken to by the journalists visiting the site failed to mention the site described by Hersh, but there’s a very simple way to clear up this matter. Anyone can access satellite imagery of the town before and after the date of the attack thanks to the imagery available on Terraserver, all Hersh’s source has to do is provide the coordinates of the building attacked and anyone with an internet connection will be able to look at that exact location, and see the destroyed building. A simple way for both Hersh and Welt to preserve their reputations.


Scott Ritter who was demonised in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq for saying that were no weapons of mass destruciton knows weapons of mass destruction like no other person on the planet – certainly better than Bellingcat!

Ex-Weapons Inspector: Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’

Scott Ritter takes on White House Syria attack claims.

By SCOTT RITTER
Sarin gas victim in Syria, as reported in April 2017. | Ninian Reid / Flickr


29 June, 2017


On the night of June 26, the White House Press Secretary released a statement, via Twitter, that, “the United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”  The tweet went on to declare that, “the activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4 chemical weapons attack,” before warning that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

A Pentagon spokesman backed up the White House tweet, stating that U.S. intelligence had observed “activity” at a Syrian air base that indicated “active preparation for chemical weapons use” was underway.  The air base in question, Shayrat, had been implicated by the United States as the origin of aircraft and munitions used in an alleged chemical weapons attack on the village of Khan Sheikhun on April 4.  The observed activity was at an aircraft hangar that had been struck by cruise missiles fired by U.S. Navy destroyers during a retaliatory strike on April 6.

The White House statement comes on the heels of the publication of an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a German publication, Die Welt, which questions, among many things, the validity of the intelligence underpinning the allegations leveled at Syria regarding the events of April 4 in and around Khan Sheikhun. (In the interests of full disclosure, I had assisted Mr. Hersh in fact-checking certain aspects of his article; I was not a source of any information used in his piece.)  Not surprisingly, Mr. Hersh’s article has come under attack from many circles, the most vociferous of these being a UK-based citizen activist named Eliot Higgins who, through his Bellingcat blog, has been widely cited by media outlets in the U.S. and UK as a source of information implicating the Syrian government in that alleged April chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun.

Neither Hersh nor Higgins possesses definitive proof to bolster their respective positions; the latter draws upon assertions made by supposed eyewitnesses backed up with forensic testing of materials alleged to be sourced to the scene of the attack that indicate the presence of Sarin, a deadly nerve agent, while the former relies upon anonymous sources within the U.S. military and intelligence establishments who provide a counter narrative to the official U.S. government position. What is clear, however, is that both cannot be right—either the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun, or it didn’t.  There is no middle ground.

The search for truth is as old as civilization. Philosophers throughout the ages have struggled with the difficulties of rationalizing the beginning of existence, and the relationships between the one and the many. Aristotle approached this challenge through what he called the development of potentiality to actuality, which examined truth in terms of the causes that act on things. This approach is as relevant today as it was two millennia prior, and its application to the problem of ascertaining fact from fiction regarding Khan Sheikhun goes far in helping unpack the White House statements regarding Syrian chemical preparations and the Hersh-Higgins debate.

According to Aristotle, there were four causes that needed to be examined in the search for truth — material, efficient, formal and final. The material causerepresents the element out of which an object is created. In terms of the present discussion, one could speak of the material cause in terms of the actual chemical weapon alleged to have been used at Khan Sheikhun. The odd thing about both the Khan Sheikhun attack and the current White House statements, however, is that no one has produced any physical evidence of there actually having been a chemical weapon, let alone what kind of weapon was allegedly employed. Like a prosecutor trying a murder case without producing the actual murder weapon, Syria’s accusers have assembled a case that is purely circumstantial — plenty of dead and dying victims, but nothing that links these victims to an actual physical object.   

Human Rights Watch (HRW), drawing upon analysis of images brought to them by the volunteer rescue organization White Helmets, of fragments allegedly recovered from the scene of the attack, has claimed that the material cause of the Khan Sheikhun event is a Soviet-made KhAB-250 chemical bomb, purpose-built to deliver Sarin nerve agent. There are several issues with the HRW assessment. First and foremost, there is no independent verification that the objects in question are what HRW claims, or that they were even physically present at Khan Sheikhun, let alone deposited there as a result of an air attack by the Syrian government.  Moreover, the KhAB-250 bomb was never exported by either the Soviet or Russian governments, thereby making the provenance of any such ordinance in the Syrian inventory highly suspect.

Sarin is a non-persistent chemical agent whose military function is to inflict casualties through direct exposure. Any ordnance intended to deliver Sarin would, like the KhAB-250, be designed to disseminate the agent in aerosol form, fine droplets that would be breathed in by the victim, or coat the victim’s skin. In combat, the aircraft delivering Sarin munitions would be expected to minimize its exposure to hostile fire, flying low to the target at high speed. In order to have any semblance of military utility, weapons delivered in this fashion would require an inherent braking mechanism, such as deployable fins or a parachute, which would retard the speed of the weapon, allowing for a more concentrated application of the nerve agent on the intended target.

Chemical ordnance is not intended for precise strikes against point targets, but rather delivery of the agent to an area. For this reason, they are not dropped singly, but rather in large numbers. (The ab-250, for instance was designed to be delivered by a TU-22 bomber dropping 24 weapons on the same target.) The weapon itself is not complex—a steel bomb casing with a small high explosive tube—the burster charge—running down its middle, equipped with a nose fuse designed to detonate on contact with the ground or at a pre-determined altitude. 

Once detonated, the burster charge causes the casing to break apart, disseminating fine droplets of agent over the target. The resulting explosion is very low order, a pop more than a bang—virtually none of the actual weapon would be destroyed as a result, and its component parts, readily identifiable as such, would be deposited in the immediate environs. In short, if a KhAB-250, or any other air delivered chemical bomb, had been used at Khan Sheikhun, there would be significant physical evidence of that fact, including the totality of the bomb casing, the burster tube, the tail fin assembly, and parachute. The fact that none of this exists belies the notion that an air-delivered chemical bomb was employed by the Syrian government against Khan Sheikhun.

Continuing along the lines of Aristotle’s exploration of the relationship between the potential and actual, the efficient cause represents the means by which the object is created. In the context of Khan Shiekhun, the issue (i.e., object) isn’t the physical weapon itself, but rather its manifestation on the ground in terms of cause and effect. Nothing symbolized this more than the disturbing images that emerged in the aftermath of the alleged chemical attack of civilian victims, many of them women and children. (It was these images that spurred President Trump into ordering the cruise missile attack on Shayrat air base.) These images were produced by the White Helmet organization as a byproduct of the emergency response that transpired in and around Khan Sheikhun on April 4.  It is this response, therefore, than can be said to constitute the efficient cause in any examination of potential to actuality regarding the allegations of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government there.

The White Helmets came into existence in the aftermath of the unrest that erupted in Syria after the Arab Spring in 2012. They say they are neutral, but they have used their now-global platform as a humanitarian rescue unit to promote anti-regime themes and to encourage outside intervention to remove the regime of Bashar al-Assad. By White Helmet’s own admission, it is well-resourced, trained and funded by western NGOs and governments, including USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), which funded the group $23 million as of 2016. 

A UK-based company with strong links to the British Foreign Office, May Day Rescue, has largely managed the actual rescue aspects of the White Helmet’s work. Drawing on a budget of tens of millions of dollars donated by foreign governments, including the U.S. and UK, May Day Rescue oversees a comprehensive training program designed to bring graduates to the lowest standard—”light,” or Level One—for Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). Personnel and units trained to the “light” standard are able to conduct surface search and rescue operations—they are neither trained nor equipped to rescue entrapped victims. Teams trained to this standard are not qualified to perform operations in a hazardous environment (such as would exist in the presence of a nerve agent like Sarin).

The White Helmets have made their reputation through the dissemination of self-made videos ostensibly showing them in action inside Syria, rescuing civilians from bombed out structures, and providing life-saving emergency medical care. (It should be noted that the eponymously named Oscar-nominated documentary showing the White Helmets in action was filmed entirely by the White Helmets themselves, which raises a genuine question of journalistic ethics.) To the untrained eye, these videos are a dramatic representation of heroism in action. To the trained professional (I can offer my own experience as a Hazardous Materials Specialist with New York Task Force 2 USAR team), these videos represent de facto evidence of dangerous incompetence or, worse, fraud.

The bread and butter of the White Helmet’s self-made reputation is the rescue of a victim—usually a small child—from beneath a pile of rubble, usually heavy reinforced concrete.  First and foremost, as a “light” USAR team, the White Helmets are not trained or equipped to conduct rescues of entrapped victims. And yet the White helmet videos depict their rescue workers using excavation equipment and tools, such as pneumatic drills, to gain access to victims supposedly pinned under the weight of a collapsed building. The techniques used by the White Helmets are not only technically wrong, but dangerous to anyone who might actually be trapped—the introduction of excavators to move debris, or the haphazard drilling and hammering into concrete in the immediate vicinity of a trapped victim, would invariably lead to a shifting if the rubble pile, crushing the trapped victim to death. In my opinion, the videos are pure theater, either staged to impress an unwitting audience, or actually conducted with total disregard for the wellbeing of any real victims.

Likewise, the rescue of victims from a hazardous materials incident, especially one as dangerous as one involving a nerve agent as lethal as Sarin, is solely the purview of personnel and teams specifically equipped and trained for the task. “Light” USAR teams receive no hazardous materials training as part of their certification, and there is no evidence or even claim on the part of the White Helmets that they have undergone the kind of specialist training needed to effect a rescue in the case of an actual chemical weapons attack.

This reality comes through on the images provided by the White Helmets of their actions in and around Khan Sheikhun on April 4. From the haphazard use of personal protective equipment (either non-existent or employed in a manner that negates protection from potential exposure) to the handling of victims and so-called decontamination efforts, everything the White Helmets did was operationally wrong and would expose themselves and the victims they were ostensibly treating to even greater harm. As was the case with their “rescues” of victims in collapsed structures, I believe the rescue efforts of the White Helmets at Khan Sheikhun were a theatrical performance designed to impress the ignorant and ill-informed.

I’m not saying that nothing happened at Khan Sheikhun—obviously something did.  But the White Helmets exploited whatever occurred, over-dramatizing “rescues” and “decontamination” in staged theatrics that were captured on film and rapidly disseminated using social media in a manner designed to influence public opinion in the West.  We don’t see the actual rescue at the scene of the event—bodies pulled from their homes, lying in the streets. What we get is grand theater as bodies arrive at the field hospital, with lots of running to and fro and meaningless activity that would actually worsen the condition of the victims and contaminate the rescuers.

Through their actions, however, the White Helmets were able to breathe life into the overall narrative of a chemical weapons attack, distracting from the fact that no actual weapon existed and thus furthering the efficient cause by which the object—the non-existent chemical weapon—was created.  
    
Having defined the creation of the object (the non-existent chemical weapon) and the means by which it was created (the flawed theatrics of the White Helmets), we move on to the third, or formal cause, which constitutes the expression of what the object is. In the case of Khan Sheikhun, this is best expressed by the results of forensic testing of samples allegedly taken from victims of the chemical attack, and from the scene of the attack itself. The organization responsible for overseeing this forensic testing was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW. Through its work, the OPCW has determined that the nerve agent Sarin, or a “Sarin-like substance,” was used at Khan Sheikhun, a result that would seemingly compensate for both the lack of a bomb and the amateurish theatrics of the rescuers.

The problem, however, is that the OPCW is in no position to make the claim it did. One of the essential aspects of the kind of forensic investigation carried out by organizations such as the OPCW—namely the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of a crime—is the concept of “chain of custody” of any samples that are being evaluated. This requires a seamless transition from the collection of the samples in question, the process of which must be recorded and witnessed, the sealing of the samples, the documentation of the samples, the escorted transportation of the samples to the laboratory, the confirmation and breaking of the seals under supervision, and the subsequent processing of the samples, all under supervision of the OPCW. Anything less than this means the integrity of the sample has been compromised—in short, there is no sample.

The OPCW acknowledges that its personnel did not gain access to Khan Sheikhun at any time. However, the investigating team states that it used connections with “parties with knowledge of and connections to the area in question,” to gain access to samples that were collected by “non governmental organizations (NGOs)” which also provided representatives to be interviewed, and videos and images for the investigating team to review. The NGO used by the OPCW was none other than the White Helmets.

The process of taking samples from a contaminated area takes into consideration a number of factors designed to help create as broad and accurate a picture of the scene of the incident itself as well as protect the safety of the person taking the sample as well as the integrity of the crime scene itself (i.e., reduce contamination). There is no evidence that the White Helmets have received this kind of specialized training required for the taking of such samples. Moreover, the White Helmets are not an extension of the OPCW—under no circumstances could any samples taken by White Helmet personnel and subsequently turned over to the OPCW be considered viable in terms of chain of custody. This likewise holds true for any biomedical samples evaluated by the OPCW—all such samples were either taken from victims who had been transported to Turkish hospitals, or provided by non-OPCW personnel in violation of chain of custody.

Lastly, there is Aristotle’s final cause, which represents the end for which the objectis—namely, what was the ultimate purpose of the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun. To answer this question, one must remain consistent with the framework of examination of potential to actuality applied herein. In this, we find a commonality between the four causes whose linkage cannot be ignored when assessing the truth of what happened at Khan Sheikhun, namely the presence of a single entity—the White Helmets.

There are two distinct narratives at play when it comes to what happened in Khan Sheikhun. One, put forward by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and supported by the likes of Bellingcat and the White Helmets, is that the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack using a single air-delivered bomb on a civilian target. The other, put forward by the governments of Russia and Syria, and sustained by the reporting of Seymour Hersh, is that the Syrian air force used conventional bombs to strike a military target, inadvertently releasing a toxic cloud from substances stored at that facility and killing or injuring civilians in Khan Sheikhun. There can be no doubt that the very survival of the White Helmets as an organization, and the cause they support (i.e., regime change in Syria), has been furthered by the narrative they have helped craft and sell about the events of April 4 in and around Khan Sheikhun. This is the living manifestation of Aristotle’s final cause, the end for which this entire lie has been constructed.  

The lack of any meaningful fact-based information to back up the claims of the White Helmets and those who sustain them, like the U.S. government andBellingcat, raises serious questions about the viability of the White House’s latest pronouncements on Syria and allegations that it was preparing for a second round of chemical attacks. If America has learned anything from its painful history with Iraq and the false allegations of continued possession of weapons of mass destruction on the part of the regime of Saddam Hussein, it is that to rush into military conflict in the Middle East based upon the unsustained allegations of an interested regional party (i.e., Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress) is a fool’s errand.  

It is up to the discerning public to determine which narrative about the events in Syria today they will seek to embrace—one supported by a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist who has made a career out of exposing inconvenient truths, from My Lai to Abu Ghraib and beyond, or one that collapses under Aristotle’s development of potentiality to actuality analysis, as the manufactured story line promoted by the White Helmets demonstratively does.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.  He is the author of “Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War” (Clarity Press, 2017).


 Jonathan Cook is an ex-journalist for the Guardian now resident on the West Bank and writes from a Left perspective.

After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria


by JONATHAN COOK

Photo by DVIDSHUB | CC BY 2.0 
Nazareth.

20 June, 2017
If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and pliant, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.
These two stories, given such prominence in the western media, are clearly intended to serve as “spoilers” to his revelations, even though none of these publications have actually informed their readers of his original investigation. We are firmly in looking-glass territory.
So what did Hersh’s investigation reveal? His sources in the US intelligence establishment – people who have helped him break some of the most important stories of the past few decades, from the Mai Lai massacre by American soldiers during the Vietnam war to US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 – told him the official narrative that Syria’s Bashar Assad had dropped deadly sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was incorrect. Instead, they said, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on a meeting of jihadi fighters that triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot, releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals that killed civilians nearby.

It is an alternative narrative of these events that one might have assumed would be of intense interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative. Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers.
But, in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag.
There are a couple of possible, even if highly improbable, reasons all English-language publications ignored Hersh’s story. Maybe they had evidence that his inside intelligence was wrong. If so, they have yet to provide it. A rebuttal would require acknowledging Hersh’s story, and none seem willing to do that.
Or maybe the media thought it was old news and would no longer interest their readers. It would be difficult to sustain such an interpretation, but at least it has an air of plausibility – except for everything that has happened since Hersh published last Sunday.
His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection. That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed.
The first spoiler, made in the immediate wake of Hersh’s story, were statements from the Pentagon and White House warning that the US had evidence Assad was planning yet another chemical attack on his people and that Washington would respond extremely harshly if he did so.
Here is how the Guardian reported the US threats:
The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would ‘pay a heavy price’ for further use of the weapons.
And then on Friday, the second spoiler emerged. Two unnamed diplomats “confirmed” that a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had found that some of the victims from Khan Sheikhoun showed signs of poisoning by sarin or sarin-like substances.

There are obvious reasons to be mightily suspicious of these stories. The findings of the OPCW were already known and had been discussed for some time – there was absolutely nothing newsworthy about them.
There are also well-known problems with the findings. There was no “chain of custody” – neutral oversight – of the bodies that were presented to the organisation in Turkey, as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, has noted. Any number of interested parties could have contaminated the bodies before they reached the OPCW. For that reason, the OPCW has not concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the traces of sarin. In the world of real news, only such a finding – that Assad was responsible – should have made the OPCW report interesting again to the media.

Similarly, by going public with their threats against Assad, the Pentagon and White House did not increase the deterrence on Assad, making it less likely he would use gas in the future. That could have been achieved much more effectively with private warnings to the Russians, who have massive leverage over Assad. These new warnings were meant not for Assad but for western publics, to bolster the official narrative that Hersh’s investigation had thrown into doubt.
In fact, the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.
But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.
No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.
Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

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