Chemical Attack in Douma: a false pretext for escalating war against Syria?

Update 28 April – the appearance of 17 witnesses at the OPCW meeting at The Hague  all testifying to a complete absence of chemical weapons or victims at the clinic has been accepted by non-Western observers as close to definitive proof. Western media have offered some half-hearted thoughts about why one might be cautious about accepting the witness statements at face value, but given how dramatically this belated caution contrasts with their own initial rush to judgement on the basis of entirely untested evidence, the main response has been radio silence. While a cessation of disinformation is welcome, there remains a very important question. While everyone should be very happy to learn there were no chemical weapons deaths at the clinic and to know that the kids appearing in the video scene there are in good health, we also saw images of other kids and some adults, elsewhere in Douma, that genuinely appeared to be dead. Their deaths look to be appropriately subject to criminal investigation. This should not be forgotten. Both justice for these apparent victims of some kind of unlawful killing, and a need to establish still what exactly occurred in similar alleged chemical incidents, require continued attention. So while most of the links below can now be regarded as elements of the historical record of how the investigation has appeared to different observers, the section on ‘current work in progess’ remains very much a record of live inquiry.

Update 22 April – regarding the clinic scene, by now, it seems that the onus is on anyone who thinks chemicals figured there at all to provide some evidence. Attention can focus on whether chemicals were involved elsewhere, and, if so, what they were, what damage they caused to whom, and who was responsible for their use. The announcement today of a discovery of large quantities of hexamine, a sarin precursor, at a lab of Jaish al Islam, could be significant.

Update 20 April – now we have heard testimony not only from residents and medics, but also from one of the children featured in the video. Further update: German TV News from ZDF carries report of numerous witness statements from Douma refugees who all say the chemical attack was staged (from minute 7:30), which does reduce the likelihood that witnesses could have been ‘planted’ or coerced. (I have added a separate note on this latter matter, 21 April.)

Update 16 April – further to doubts expressed by prominent journalists and senior British military figures over recent days, today renowned journalist Robert Fisk visited the actual scene of the clinic and reports doctor’s confirmation of what two medical workers had previously said (April 13), namely, that smoke/dust inhalation following an explosion had caused the breathing difficulties patients presented with. What then happened was that a man came in shouting that there’d been a gas/chemical attack, causing panic, and starting getting people hosed down for the camera. This same story was also reported by Pearson Sharp for OAN who additionally interviewed dozens of local residents, randomly chosen from queues for relief supplies, none of whom had seen any sign of any chemical attack.

Original post 8 April 2018 Allegations of a chemical attack in Douma by Syria on 7 April were met by threats from President Trump to attack Syria. These were followed by Israeli missile strikes on an airfield in Homs early on 9 April. Given the pace of events and their significance for potential escalation in tensions between the Western powers and Russia, it is helpful to have timely information about questions that are under investigation by independent researchers. This post will be updated as and when insightful contributions are published, including as work in progress. Comments are open to allow for readers’ further recommendations and observations.

 

In the media

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, to NewsVoice, ‘Unbelievable that Assad would use chemical weapons in Syria’ (20 April) 3 minute video

German TV news from ZDF reports that numerous refugees from Douma all say alleged chemical attack was staged (20 April) video report, in German, from minute 07:30

Peter Hitchens, on BBC, insists on need for more scrupulous approach to evidence relating to allegations (19 April)

Pearson Sharp interviews doctors, who say: no signs of chemical attack and no deaths recorded at clinic that day (19 April)

Peter Oborne, in The Spectator, ‘We have a moral duty to mistrust the government on Syria’ (19 April)

‘OAN’S Pearson Sharp refutes MSM reports of alleged Syrian chemical attack’ (18 April) – 7 minutes of interviews with witnesses in the street by the site of alleged attack

Tucker Carlson agreeing with Peter Ford that alleged chemical attack has been “intelligence fiasco” (18 April)

US Senator Rand Paul, on CNN, suggests there is as yet no evidence of Syrian government responsibility for alleged chemical attack (17 April)

Chris Williamson, UK Labour parliamentarian, insists on need for proper evidence rather than the hearsay relied on by government (17 April)

Virginia State Senator, Richard Black: Syria Chemical Weapons attack was a rigged “false flag” (17 April)

Dirk Emmerich, RTL Deutschland (16 April) [in German, shows citizens saying they were used as human shields, knew of no gas attack, and are very glad for the food they can now get.] [now with English subtitles, thanks to @walid970721]

Robert Fisk, in The Independent, writes a fuller report of his encounters with doctors and locals in Douma (16 April)

Pearson Sharp, for OAN, investigates on the ground in Douma, finding no evidence or witnesses of alleged chemical attack (16 April) 10 mins video.

Robert Fisk, from the clinic in Douma, reports that there was no chemical/gas attack (16 April) – short podcast, expect more…

Patrick Lawrence, writing in Salon, ‘Trump and allies approach World War III in Syria, on literally no evidence’ (15 April)

Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday, points out that Jaish al Islam are known to have used chemical weapons (15 April)

Major-General Jonathan David Shaw CBE is interrupted by Sky News interviewer as he begins to articulate scepticism (13 April)

Former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, Lord Alan West, articulates deep scepticism about allegations (13 April) – see interview from minute 06:40

US Defense Secretary Mattis admits US has no evidence of who was responsible or even that a chemical attack occurred (12 April)

‘Stunning evidence from BBC journalist exposing White Helmets staging chemical attacks in Douma’ (11 April)

Tucker Carlson defends questioning US narrative against accusations that doing so is spreading propaganda (11 April)

Scott Ritter on ‘Trump’s Rush to Judgment on Syria Chemical Attack’ (11 April)

‘Experts warn Assad is not to blame for latest chemical attack’ from One America News Network (10 April)

Peter Ford, Former British Ambassador to Syria, articulates reasons for scepticism (10 April)

Tucker Carlson on Fox News speaks out forcefully for scepticism about allegations (10 April)

 Åke Sellström ‘Until proven, I’m skeptical’ (8 April)

 

Testimony from on the ground in Douma

Syrian boy featured in gas attack video interviewed. Denies chemical weapons were used (20 April)

Two men working in hospital ER, seen in the “chemical attack” video, testify that there were no chemical attack victims but that a panic was caused by a man with camera who came in and said it was a chemical attack (13 April)

 

Current work in progress

Douma Videos and Photos Steve McIntyre (24 April 2018)

On the alleged chemical attack of 7 April 2018 in Douma, running updates (with analysis of graphic images)  Adam Larson

On anomalies concerning position and condition of the chlorine cylinder Michael Kobs (twitter thread)

‘Syria – Manipulated Videos Fail to Launch World War III’ Moon of Alabama (13 April)

 

Research on previous chemical incidents in Syria:

On previous incidents in Ghouta (2013) and Khan Sheikhoun (2017) Paul McKeigue

Updated assessment of Khan Sheikhoun incident Paul McKeigue

Analysis of video footage from Khan Sheikhoun incident @qoppa999 (twitter thread)

Research on 2013 Kafr Batna incident ACLOS collective

 

Selected interviews about wider context of the current crisis

Lord Green of Deddington, former UK ambassador to Syria (22 April)

Jeffrey Sachs (12 April)

Maria Zacharova (12 April)

 

Summary of key questions

1. Was there a gas attack?

[ If no, how can deaths alleged caused by it be explained?]

2. If yes, was Syrian government responsible?

[If no, who was?

3. If yes, were the airstrikes justified under principles of international law?

The answer to (3), even assuming affirmative answers to (1) and (2) = NO, according to Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution—Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. (Unlawful Reprisals to the Rescue against Chemical Attacks? – 12 April 2018)

 

Further discussion of legitimacy and legality of Western action

Richard Falk, ‘Attacking Syria’, in The Transnational (18 April 2018)

Jack Goldsmith and Oona Hathaway, ‘Bad Legal Arguments for the Syria Airstrikes’, Lawfare (14 April)

 

 

 

Syria

 

 

 

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This entry was posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, OPCW, propaganda, Russia, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Chemical Attack in Douma: a false pretext for escalating war against Syria?

  1. DDTea says:

    This looks like a chlorine attack that was more lethal than intended. The yellow staining on the sheets near the cylinder is typical for chlorine. The foam/frothy sputum coming from the victims’ mouths suggests they died from pulmonary edema. Looks like the gas cylinder fell through the roof, dispersed in a confined space, and quickly overcame the victims. This would have been very painful. Some soldiers at Ypres in 1917 chose to shoot themselves as they were overcome by chlorine.

    The SyAAF has normalized the tactical use of chlorine in all their recent offensives. It seldom causes deaths. It seems to be used like a crude tear gas, to chase civilians away from fronts that are about to be stormed. They messed up this time.

    • AB Hobart says:

      DDTea
      To my mind the video of the gas cylinder to which I think you refer seems unconvincing.
      There seems to be no damage to the cylinder and it does not seem to be directly under the hole in the masonry / ceiling.

      You say the Syrian Arab Airforce has normalised the tactical use of chlorine in all recent offensives to chase civilians away from fronts that are about to be stormed.
      What is the evidence for this.

      And what is the necessity to kill civilians (you say a very painful death) rather than just warn and chase them away.
      Lethality is inevitable with the storming, what requirement is there that the warning also be lethal.

      • DDTea says:

        I don’t believe they were trying to kill so many civilians. I believe they were, in fact, chasing them away. Chlorine is intolerable to be around–I’ve actually felt it. None of the regime’s other chlorine attacks have killed so many. But the other cylinders all landed in the streets or open areas. This time the tank vented into a home and the gas sank into thr bomb shelter. It really takes very high concentrations to kill with chlorine, or an inability to escape the plume easily.

        Anyhow, not gonna argue with false flaggers. I’d rather make some rose congou tea and count down to the fireworks. What was it Ivan Sidorenko said so gleefully on the eve of the Ghouta offensive? “Burn party?”

        May the SAA, its Shia jihadist allies, and Assad experience only what they did to the people of Eastern ghouta and aleppo.

      • timhayward says:

        I am concerned that DDTea makes comments that include allegations which AB Hobart reasonably asks about the evidence for, and yet, instead of indicating any in his reply, DDTea is dismissive. Just so everyone knows, as moderator, I am looking for comments that add to our understanding – and unsubstantiated allegations don’t do that. Regarding the cylinder, reasonable questions have been raised from several quarters. Regarding alleged chemical attacks, I invite links to any credible source of verification.

      • DDTea says:

        I’m not sure why we would expect the cylinder to be majorly damaged after falling through the roof. If it failed on impact, it would not have passed through the roof. After doing so, it could have bounced around inside the room, and maybe even flew around a little bit by the venting gas. An unrestrained gas cylinder with a failed valve is spectacular (and horrifying) to witness.

        So the location of the cylinder, and the fact that it is undamaged, is not suspicious. These peculiarities cannot reasonably be taken as evidence of staging–there is nothing to justify that leap of logic.

        Consider the following safety videos on compressed gas.

        Quote:
        “The sudden release of compressed gas can turn the cylinder into a missile with energy to shoot through a cinder block wall.”

        A cylinder dropped from altitude would do the same thing to a roof.

        A collection of failed cylinder valves:
        Also, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-xmaPSZ6GM

        Gas cylinder causing mayhem to a house:

        And for fun, a Mythbusters segment.

    • Andrew says:

      There is no yellow staining, the colours are wrong on that video. A different video shows that the bed and wood are actually brown

    • Paul McKeigue says:

      DDTea

      Can you explain your assertion that “the yellow staining on the sheets near the cylinder is typical for chlorine”? As most readers will know, chlorine is an oxidizing bleach, although chlorine gas has a pale green colour.

      I am not expert in image analysis, but the green/yellow patch on the sheet and a few other objects in this image looks as if it was done with a spray can before the wooden panel was moved and the cylinder was laid on the bed. Could someone ignorant of chemistry, who knew that chlorine was green, have thought that spraying the sheets green would add verisimilitude? Maybe other readers can comment on this.

      • Andrew says:

        Not sprayed, just the colour is wrong in the video.

        https://imgur.com/qcqPa3l

        Top picture is video 1 where the bed covers and wood look green/yellow. During that video the pillow is moved away from the cylinder to the left.

        If you compare the debris to the right and below the moved pillow, you can see that debris doesn’t move between video 1 and video 2 showing the same bed covers and wood are brown (the correct colour). In video 2 the dust has also been wiped from the top left corner of the bed.

  2. timhayward says:

    A post of mine from last year is relevant again here, is about the reasons why UK Parliament was not convinced of evidence concerning alleged chemical attacks in 2013: https://timhayward.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/should-uk-attack-syria-what-parliament-might-say/

  3. AB Hobart says:

    DDTea
    Thank you for taking the trouble to provide the links on discharging gas cylinders. The myth busters clip is interesting as it shows the vented gas cylinder after it has gone through a block wall with little or no apparent damage to the cylinder, so yes I would agree that such a cylinder could fall through a masonry/concrete roof and potentially bounce to a position not directly beneath its entry site. It is also interesting in that video to look at the entry and exit holes in the concrete block wall. The entry hole pretty much conforms to the diameter of the gas cylinder, and that gas cylinder has a narrower diameter and seems possibly a little taller than the chlorine cylinder.
    Here is a frame from the video with comment from one of the myth busters “my favourite thing is the perfect roundness of the top of this hole”

    Another difference on the chlorine cylinder is the surrounding frame with what appear to be attached fins ? to obtain some aeronautical advantage.
    Perhaps this is evidence that such cylinders are dropped from the air.
    However I do not believe such a frame were it attached to the cylinder in the myth busters video would have remained intact after passing through the block wall, take another look at the video to see what I mean.

    1. Do you believe the status of the fins, as better shown below, is consistent with having come through the hole in the ceiling.

    If you have the time, I have some further questions;

    2. The status of the regulator. I have taken the image reproduced below from the site “Monitor on Massacre Marketing” so I cannot be certain of its veracity, but as what I would have thought the leading point at impact to allow penetration of the ceiling I would have thought it might have been impacted back into the cylinder. Would you expect more damage to this. Are there any parts of it missing. I am happy to be contradicted on this as I don’t know what a normal one looks like on a chlorine clinder. Your previous videos demonstrate different gas cylinder regulators shearing off, but not from an aligned impaction event.

    3. What venting mechanism do you understand or believe the SyAAF to utilise in chlorine cylinder barrel bombs.
    You suggested this cylinder may have flown about a bit from venting gas.
    The videos you provided showed the effects after regulators were sheared off. This one is not.
    And I do not know whether or not it is open. Can you help us with any of these details
    If it is open, how open. Or alternatively for how long does it discharge the contents.
    Is it opened in the helicopter before being pushed out or is there some mechanism for it to open on impact and what is that mechanism.
    Or does the SyAAF just rely on the barrel rupturing on impact. This one does not appear ruptured.

    4. You say the tactical use of chlorine has been normalised in all recent offensives and other cylinders all landed in streets or open areas.
    I don’t normally look at pro rebel sites and so am not familiar with supporting photographic or video evidence.
    Do you have any links to such specific evidence on other sites.
    In particular;
    Are the fins shown on this cylinder a standard adaptation.
    Are there images in previous events with intact or ruptured chlorine cylinders.
    I did have a quick look at HRW and they have some videos in Aleppo of chlorine gas, in the street and rising above buildings but they don’t show any delivery cylinder and are there any videos of such cylinders actually falling from helicopters

    Apologies I am unable to get images to load.

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  6. Alex says:

    The months of mischievous behaviour and delaying tactics by the US and its allies in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) after Syrian ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Dr Bashar al Jaafari’s (March 20 2013) request to the UNSC for an investigation into the chemical attack at Khan al Assal (march 19 2013) is starkly contrasted by the rush to judgement approach of the US and its friends post Ghouta (August 21 2013), Khan Sheikun (April 4 2017) and most recently Douma in the Ghouta again (April 7 2018).

    Not a great deal needs to be said about a rush to judgement approach except that it is a competent indicator of questionable methodology. Keep up the great work.

    Thank you kindly.

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  12. Marko says:

    Oddly missing from most discussions is the fact that NBC had reported on results of blood and urine specimens taken from victims that showed the presence of a “nerve agent”:

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/u-s-has-blood-samples-show-nerve-agent-syria-gas-n865431

    ” The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday’s deadly attack in Syria that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.
    …The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said….”

    Has there been any follow-up on this ? How did they determine that chlorine had been used by testing blood and urine ? Were these specimens examined by an OPCW lab ? Was the so-called “nerve agent” further characterized ? If a nerve agent was used , where’s the delivery vehicle ?

    It seems to me that examination of the corpses from this attack should be an immediate priority for the OPCW , to see if they can determine a cause of death and to see if evidence of nerve agent use is verified. If it turns out those specimens were spiked with something after collection , you’d have your smoking gun.

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  15. Charles Wood says:

    There is a great deal of data on the lethality of chlorine. In particular see http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a527248.pdf

    Working through the data 1000ppm (a very unscientific and imprecise unit used by Bellingcat’s ‘expert’ ) has an LC50 of 10 minutes. That is 50% of subjects will die – and not in just that 10 minutes, over any subsequent duration – long enough to get to hospital for instance.

    So the question must be raised as to why so many people stayed in a building with open doors and windows for long enough to receive a fatal dose and die in that place.

    From personal experience in an incident involving chlorine gas I can say for certain breathing stops instantly during the first inhalation. You can’t help it. And the flight reaction is extreme, you hold your breath and get out fast. You have at least 2 minutes of breath holding available to do that.

    The second question is where are the survivors? There were bodies in the street. There was ample time to get away. Many would have gone to the nearby hospital. However there are no reports of survivors nor of victims being treated there.

    And finally, chlorine gas doesn’t just spring into existence everywhere. It flows. There is a gas concentration gradient that at the outer edges is zero and grows to the maximum concentration over distance/time. It will be more concentrated on the ground than at head height. A significant fraction of people would encounter the gas at non harmful concentrations and run away. Where are they?
    (for an example of exactly this see my tweet at https://twitter.com/Mare_Indicum/status/989328669226090496 where the first cameraman coughs and runs away )

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