On Bellingcat, Truth and War

Because this post generated some misunderstanding I have replaced it with a revised version.  I leave here readers’ comments to the original post.




This entry was posted in disinformation, journalism, media, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to On Bellingcat, Truth and War

  1. steviefinn says:

    Hello Tim – thank you for the information. I don’t know if you are aware of Seymour M. Hersch’s latest on the subject & it would not surprise me if you were not, as he was forced to publish in De Welt, due to the fact that the mainstream media apparently will not touch him with a barge pole. The articles were initially for the London Review of Books, who refused to publish once receiving them.

    It strikes me as a sad state of affairs when someone with the journalistic pedigree of Hersch is being it seems deliberately sidelined.

    You might find them interesting & keep up the great work:



    • timhayward says:

      Thanks. The reason I don’t cite Hersh’s article is that there is some concern about whether somewhere along the line the intelligence he was receiving was not as reliable as he believed it was. I don’t claim to know, but given the enthusiasm with which debunkers pounce on any mention of it I chose not to.

      • steviefinn says:

        Fair enough Tim – I always come back to the logic of why would Assad, when he is now in a much stronger position than previously, risk everything for so little gain ? A ruthless man yes, but not I think stupid in a situation with so much at stake.

        Encouragement for false flags is what worries me most.

      • Mark Erickson says:

        I would challenge what seems to be an unquestioned assumption – that Assad had everything to risk, as in the survival of his regime. Was it likely that the US or its allies would do anything more than the fairly limited missile strikes? Which we even warned the Russians, and thus the Syrians, about. Maybe some more missiles, maybe for a day or two, and maybe to do a bit more substantial damage, but those wouldn’t force Assad to surrender.

        Was it even remotely likely that the US would start sustained fighter bombing of the Syrian army in support of the opposition (al Nusra and the like)? And there was zero chance of sending in US troops to fight the Syrian army. But it would take something like that kind of sustained intervention to force the regime to collapse. With Russian support, Assad’s position is actually quite secure.

        (I know the US has “mistakenly” attacked Syrian troops and its supporters a few times. And they have had minor shows of force in areas taken back from ISIS. But all of that is very far from actively taking on Syrian troops to force a regime change.)

      • Adrian D. says:

        @Mark Erikson. As I understand it, after the 2013 Ghouta ‘red line’ President Obama was presented with a range of options, one of which involved massive strikes – including direct attempts to target Assad ‘surgically’ (i.e. bunker-busters etc).

        Even a slight risk of that could not conceivably be worth the limited advantage of deploying a piffling amount of chemical weapons on the outskirts of a non-descript town some way behind the lines just to terrorise and disperse an already terrorised and dispersed population?

        Also it wasn’t just the possible retaliation of the west that he was risking. Putin had invested quite some political capital in arranging the destruction of Syria’s stockpiles in 2013/14. Why would Assad jeapodise his relationship with his most important ally by essentially trashing that achievement?

      • Mark says:

        Adrian, you’re conflating 2013 with 2017. I agree the risk was much greater in 2013. But even in that case, a massive retaliation wasn’t likely. The admin said even a sustained air campaign was not an option they considered. The risk that the 2017 attack would trigger a large intervention is smaller.

        As for Putin, that’s not the meaning of political capital. Everyone was happy he helped with the chemical deal. His political capital is invested in keeping the regime in power. And that investment isn’t likely to change after this attack.

  2. Norman Pilon says:

    So admitting to holding an ‘opinion’ is sorta like admitting that you’re not certain that what you ‘believe to be the case’ is ‘actually the case.’ Well, that’s something, ain’t it?

    How much arm twisting . . . erm . . . I mean . . . discussion did it take, Tim, to bring Higgins around to admitting what needed to be admitted? I’m kidding, of course. But well done! It wouldn’t have occurred to me to take on that particular challenge, and not that I would have been in a position of competence (or gentlemanly composure) to pull it off.

    Will there be a colloquium with Monbiot in which you, Robinson, Hitchens, and (now) the Bellingcats will together attempt to bring George around to a slightly more grounded take on the issue?

    And indeed, an ‘admiration of a wholly distinct order’ for Serena Shim. Well said!

    • timhayward says:

      Lol. But what about those other videos that a biochemist would have an informed opinion on?

      • Oh, an informed opinion is one thing, mere opinionating of the kind I’ve seen so far from the Dead Cat Factory is another. It’s amazing how little evidence is required when people want to believe something enough, or it’s intimated on high rotation authoritatively enough.

  3. Adrian D. says:

    Nicely put Tim. However I think you’re being a little over-polite here (I’d have placed ‘set the record straight’ in half a dozen sets of speechmarks). Higgins may well be all the things that you report in his interactions, but I don’t think the same can be said of Bellingcat itself (which your title implies).

    His recent piece ‘summarising’ the ‘claims’ surrounding the KS ‘attack’ is a case in point. It is seriously misleading as it completely excludes the OPCW’s clear statements that there was simply not enough evidence to come to any conclusions regarding how the alleged chemicals were deployed. He included claims from Russia, France, the US and Seymour Hersh, but for the OPCW goes on about the samples and chain of custody. The first commenter pointed this flaw (as have I later in the post), but it remains uncorrected.

    He may well be polite and reasoned, but it looks like there’s a little cadre of commenters there to do his leg-work for him – when I pointed out a couple of facts from the OPCW report the thread took just a couple of replies before apparently regular contributors were flinging muck about OJ Simpson, the WTC and “the 1924 Comintern bible”. (FFS). You’d likely recognised some of the names from replies to your blog.

    A site that does not respond or acknowledge corrections on a matter of fact and closes down debate with an unrestricted comment section really should not be taken seriously at all.
    Well done for engaging though.

  4. timhayward says:

    Thanks Adrian. Just to mention my title wasn’t intended to imply anything, but only to indicate the topics for discussion. Hope it is it not too misleading. As for OPCW, it is certainly challenging to understand how all the most basic protocols for insuring integrity of evidence can be set aside, as the report acknowledges they are, and then come up with the summary of findings that it does.

  5. Norman Pilon says:

    By the way, Tim, if I may and merely to save myself some time, because it states something I’ve been meaning to express, here, at your blog, a comment I left behind some time ago in reaction to something someone else had written:

    The commenter, among other things, wrote:

    “We’d rather see the whole world burn than watch children get gassed by Assad.”

    And my reply:

    Clearly, the culture speaking through you is insane. While you try to delude yourself into believing that Assad is the embodiment of an evil of which you supposedly cannot bear the sight, not a shred of evidence exists that Assad et al. have ever used chemical weapons of any kind against anyone.

    On the other hand, the culture which you venerate and for which you speak, is “in fact” responsible for murder and torture on a scale unmatched by any other so-called ‘nation’ in history.
    Only the United States of America has ever dropped nuclear bombs on civilians — you know, that category of people who are non-combatants but is typically comprised by a great many “children and infants and babies” — not out of military necessity, but to telegraph its “military superiority” to the world and to cynically create conditions to study the effects of its new dread engines.

    Napalm and phosphorous and biological agents and depleted uranium, as part of the munition stocks that have been used by the American military, also did not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants when they were deliberately used against civilians — you know, that category of people who are non-combatants but is typically comprised by a great many “children and infants and babies.”

    But when you really stop to think about it, you realize that “chemical weapons” are truly but the prop of a “propaganda ploy” — a psy-ops, really — intended to normalize what in fact are far more lethal, and therefore by implication, more heinous weapons of destructions. To your way of thinking, it is far more acceptable to maim and murder children and infants with bullets and bombs and shrapnel and sanctions than with ‘chemical weapons.’ But this attitude is actually misguided because in “fact” the former category of weapons comprises devices far more certain to injure children than “CWs” when used under identical “battle field” conditions.

    And then how twisted is it that a distinction can even be made between one means of exterminating people and another, as though one could be less reprehensible than the other, when the end results are identical: interminable emotional if sometimes also physical trauma for the survivors of military assaults by whatever means, and unbearable agony unto death for the victims who ultimately perish.

    All means of indiscriminate murder and maiming are equally repugnant and reprehensible, whether bullets or bombs or incendiaries or nerve agents or nuclear explosions. They are all one and the same thing: murderous instruments of conquest.

    So why would you burn the whole world rather than watch children get gassed by Assad, or by anyone else, for that matter?

    Let me tell you why:

    It’s not so much that you can’t bear to watch children getting gassed; it is rather more that you can’t bear the world knowing that your beloved America, the ‘civilization’ you have been raised to venerate above all else, is in fact most guilty of the crimes most abhorrent to a common sense of decency, namely, the wanton murder of innocent people, and especially of children, whether by conventional or chemical weapons.

    In short, what you really wish for is to lighten the burden of neurotic historical guilt implicit in American culture, and you would do this by eliminating all of humanity, for having borne witness to the crimes of your nation and for constantly reminding you of them.

    Why not instead face up to what your nation and your beloved American culture is about, at least in its most ugly details, and then change the script that is in your head?

    You owe more allegiance to yourself and humanity than to anything that “[America] the beautiful” could possibly represent.

    The only crime of substance is imperialism and its wars. Period. The victims of imperialism the world over, in a situation where they are being brutally destroyed by the hired killers of empire, are are indisputably and morally entitled to defend themselves by any and all means. This and nothing but this is the only justification to arms, chemical or otherwise, all of which are equally deadly and repugnant.

  6. Is this article sarcasm? Because if not, it’s totally mental. It’s a love letter to the man that with the help of his minions does everything to get this World War into it’s hot phase. He’s just a paid NATO propagandist, his job is to with the help of lies prepare the ground for people to accept that “Russia must be Nuked”, that’s his sole purpose in life. Higgins have never been right on anything – ever.

  7. timhayward says:

    If the mainstream majority take Bellingcat as a touchstone of truth, then that weight of opinion and respectability has to be tackled intelligently. The mainstream majority will have closed ears to minority critics shouting from the sidelines.

  8. timhayward says:

    Some readers have thought my appreciation of aspects of Bellingcat work was presented too effusively. One even called it hagiography! So I have today edited it a little in the hope of pre-empting such misunderstandings.

  9. Norman Pilon says:

    A better re-write of what you originally intended, Tim. It’s more obvious to all readers where you stand with respect to the propagandists and warmongering. Yes, the original needed to be rewritten to better approximate the authenticity of your voice.

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