Sep 26, 2013

Evidence Contradicting a Regime Attack

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

After examining the evidence presented so far to support the regime attack theory, I will now examine evidence contradicting it.



The Mint Press Story

This story, which received wide attention, contains excerpts from interviews with three rebel sources and claims the Ghouta poisoning was a result of an accidental explosion that released chemical agents brought from Saudi Arabia.

Even if we ignore the mini-scandal surrounding its publication, this report raises some serious doubts:

  1. The quotes seem to indicate aggressive cherry picking, with very short excerpts followed by extensive commentary.
  2. When read alone, the quotes only tell the story of unidentified munitions received from Saudi Arabia which were handled improperly and exploded.
  3. The first quote implying chemical weapons mentions the weapons as containing: "a huge gas bottle". This is not indicative of a chemical weapon. Gas containers are specifically known to be used as regular explosive charges.
  4. The second (and last) quote implying chemical weapons is “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons”. This is mentioned in a context that implies that the weapons were later revealed to be chemical, but when examined by itself there is no indication that this was indeed the original context.
  5. The only location information given is 'Ghouta', which includes areas very far from the chemical attack in Zamalka.
  6. Eyewitnesses consistently report multiple rockets hitting the area immediately before the poisoning, which does not match the single explosion story.
A likely explanation is that some explosives accident occurred some time before the chemical attack, possibly not even near Zamalka, and the reporter heavily edited interviews relating to the incident to seem indicative of a chemical weapons accident.

So until other evidence emerges it seems like this story does not provide any evidence contradicting a regime attack.



Liwa Al-Islam Videos

These videos published September 16th show militants shooting one shell from a Howitzer canon, and three UMLACA rockets. One UMLACA is clearly identifiable by its distinctive tail in one video, and it is launched from a truck-mounted launcher similar to that used in previous documented UMLACA launches. In another video the tails of the two other UMLACAs are hidden but when filmed from a distance just before launch they can be seen. Additionally, they are launched from the same vehicle as the first UMLACA, and are referred by the same name ('Ababil'). The UMLACA's distinctive oversized warhead is not seen in either video, since it is inside the launcher, which is the standard case seen in previous documented UMLACA launches (Credit: Petri Krohn and Anonymous for analyzing the videos)

The cameraman says they are Liwa Al-Islam fighters targeting Assad troops in Jobar and Qaboun. He gives the date of August 21st (the date of the attack) and calls the operation "Reeh Sarsar", a term used in another video in the context of rebel chemical threats. See significant screenshots here and here (credit: Anita Hunt and Petri Krohn).


Naturally, such an incriminating video is immediately suspected as Psychological Warfare, and indeed many issues regarding its reliability were pointed out. Let's examine them one by one:

  1. Dark images on a full moon night
    Anaylsis: This is obviously a low quality camera, possibly a mobile phone. It would not be able to capture reflected moonlight.
  2. Overemphasis of incriminating evidence such as Liwa Al-Islam mentions, Liwa Al-Islam flags, the UMLACA and the date.
    Analysis: This does indeed seem to be the case, although it could be a coincidence.
    Update: This video uploaded August 21st shows a similar pattern including a description of the operation (attack of Assad's hometown), many 
    Liwa Al-Islam mentions, and Liwa Al-Islam flags. They obviously like pushing the flag in the videos (as proof of responsibility? to convince sponsors?). At 1:05 they actually have someone stand with a flag in front of a launcher... 
  3. No Liwa Al-Islam logo on the video, as on most of their published videos
    Anaylsis: 
    Irrelevant as this was reportedly downloaded from the cell phone of a dead militant.
  4. Liwa Al-Islam don't hang flags on their weaponry
    Anaylsis: 
    Generally true, although there seem to be exceptions, such as this video at time 2:12. As mentioned above, they seem to want to have their flags shown during operations, and this could have been the only way to do it in this setting.
  5. No sign of the BM-14 launcher linked to the chemical attack
    Anaylsis: 
    The M14 rocket is probably not related to any chemical attack. In any case this is not relevant as it could have been launched and not videoed, or launched by a different unit.
  6. Uploaded by new YouTube and LiveLeak accounts, as was done for the previous video mentioning "Reeh Sarsar"
    Anaylsis: 
    As with item 3, not relevant as this is not an official video.
    As a side note, I do not attribute much weight to the mention of "Reeh Sarsar". It is a term from the Quran describing wind sent by god to punish infidels, and is therefore likely to be used in many contexts.
Liwa Al-Islam also published a denial, which added the following points:
  1. Only the regime has Howitzer artillery
    Anaylsis: 
    Untrue
  2. The Howitzer does not have chemical warheads
    Anaylsis: 
    Irrelevant, as the chemical weapon is the UMLACA
  3. Only the regime has chemical weapons
    Anaylsis: 
    Unverifiable
  4. Liwa Al-Islam had casualties in the attack
    Anaylsis: 
    Interesting if true.
  5. The flag has Liwa Al-Islam written in a strange way. Screenshot:

    Anaylsis: 
    This is very interesting. I indeed could not find this flag ever being used by Liwa Al-Islam, but this led me to a more interesting find. The flag in the videos is actually Jabhat Al-Nusra's flag with the words "Jabhat Al-Nusra" replaced with "Liwa Al-Islam". I currently can't find any good explanation for this.
    Analysis: I initially thought this was indeed not the Liwa Al-Islam flag, but following a comment from CE below, I found several recent videos (also here and here) showing flags similar to the one in the video. None are identical to the one above, but the high variability indicates there is nothing "strange" about it specifically. I assume further research will eventually find an identical flag - feel free to help.
    A few screenshots:


These flags (above) don't have a good screenshot.
They are better seen in the video at 3:55.


In a later post, Brown Moses added further suspicions:
  1. A journalist with connections with Kurdish groups could not find any confirmation of the story that these videos were found by Kurdish fighters.
    Analysis: Definitely interesting, but hard to evaluate without knowing the journalist's connections. In any case, it is very possible that the story behind the finding of the video is incorrect. If it is not fabricated, then it was most likely forwarded between close acquaintances as a "you won't believe what I just got" story, and there is no knowing how it leaked.
  2. Everyone but the cameraman was wearing a gas mask.
    Analysis: While not seen in the video, the audio does seem to indicate so. Indeed suspicious, but a reasonable scenario can be imagined: There's probably no real exposure risk as the rockets were sealed beforehand, and it's just standard procedure to wear masks for precaution. The cameraman took his mask off in order to narrate the video and keeps it close by. He might also be a commander showing off ("you wear your masks, but i'm not afraid").
  3. People were wearing gas masks, but also short sleeves that exposed their skin, which would readily absorb any sarin in the air.
    Analysis: Sarin requires much higher concentrations to cause damage through contact with skin. Protection by gas masks alone is standard.
  4. Why would they do an operation under the cover of darkness, only to light up the launcher with a big spotlight that would make it stand out for miles around?
    Analysis: Nothing in the video indicates this is done under cover of darkness. It just happens to be a night operation since the regime chose to attack at night. They could well be within rebel held territory, not attempting to hide. In any case, it is near impossible to hide while launching rockets..
  5. In the Storyful newsroom Brown Moses also pointed to the fact that the videos were published on the same day as the UN report.
    Analysis: I don't think this is a strong enough coincidence to be considered. The fact that the videos were published long after the risk of military intervention subsided is a much stronger indication of their authenticity.
Besides these, a few more problems are evident:
  1. The attacks in the videos target Qaboun and Jobar, while the chemical attack was in Zamalka. Specifically, one UMLACA launch is said to be targeting Qaboun, which was never considered part of the area affected by the chemical attack (even when it was mistakenly thought to cover most of East Ghouta).
  2. The attacks in the videos target regime forces, while the August 21st attacks seem like a deliberate attack on residential areas behind front lines.

So what are these videos? It's still hard to tell, but here are a few options to consider:
  1. A real video showing the chemical attack on Zamalka
    Analysis: Unlikely. (a) The target locations are incorrect, (b) Why would people in the process of carrying a complex large-scale chemical warfare operation be bothered with shooting a Howitzer?
  2. A real video from the day of the attack, just not the one on Zamalka (and possibly not even chemical)
    Analysis: Very possible. This seems like the only explanation that fits the evidence well (in the case of a non-chemical attack, 
    the gas masks may be explained as protection from regime attacks). It also fits surprisingly well to the estimated launch source, with Qaboun and Jobar covered well by a 2.5 km range. Evidence of UMLACAs falling in Jobar and Qaboun would be of great help. Anyone?
  3. Fabrication by RegimeAnalysis: Possible, although it would make for a very weird fabrication job: (a) Why publish this when a diplomatic solution is being negotiated and not earlier when military intervention seemed imminent? (b) Why show the Howitzer which no one connected to a chemical attack before, yet not show an M14 launcher? (c) Why describe an attack on the wrong targets when the regime's official story was a rebel false flag? (d) Why use such low quality video making it unusable for mass media? (e) Why put so much emphasis on Liwa Al Islam being responsible, but not give clear indications that this is a chemical attack (e.g. mention sarin like in this video)?
  4. Fabrication by a competing rebel faction to implicate Liwa Al-Islam Analysis: Possible. While this fits the evidence well (low quality work, access to weaponry), the motivation is problematic: If the videos had succeeded in convincing the world, it would save the regime from an international attack. This seems to far outweigh the benefits of smearing another faction.
So while these videos could prove to be helpful, they require more analysis and evidence before they can be used to determine the source of the attack.


The ISTEAMS / Mother Agnes Report

This report mostly analyzes videos from the event and attempts to show they were staged. As it doesn't seem anyone takes this claim seriously, I will not perform a full analysis of the report, and just give my general impression:

The writers go through great efforts to point out any detail in the videos that may somehow be interpreted as abnormal, despite many other reasonable explanations. All the evidence may easily be explained as the behavior of thousands of people in panic and pain.

It additionally claims that the victims of the attack were Latakia residents taken hostage by Al-Nusra. This claim can be easily refuted: Survivors of the attack don't claim to be from Latakia, and there is no way the attack was able to just kill the hostages while leaving so many others alive and with sarin symptoms.


The Quirico-Piccinin Story

Hostages held in captivity by rebels reported hearing a skype call in which their captors said the chemical attack was a rebel provocation and death toll reports were exaggerated.
As with the US's 'senior official' call, and Germany's Hezballa-Iran call, it is difficult to assess the weight of this evidence without access to a recording or transcript. Specifically, speakers speculating about the source of the attack may easily be misunderstood as displaying actual knowledge.

From a probabilistic perspective: If the chemical attack was a provocation, you would expect it to be highly confidential and known to very few people. On the other hand, everyone in Syria and their mother would be discussing who is behind it, and rumors would travel all over the place. The probability that the hostages happened to hear an English skype call of the first kind and not just misinterpret the second kind is very low. When considering that the witnesses are not native English speakers and one of them specifically expressed such doubts, it is clear this evidence has no value.

Nevertheless, it is very interesting to note that senior opposition officers consider a false-flag as the likely explanation, and don't trust the death toll number.

Update: In the comments below several contributors have shown that Piccinin has strong English comprehension, and that in later interviews he described the conversation in a manner that suggests it was not misinterpreted.
However, since Quirico does not seem to agree, and we should be extra careful with evidence coming from a single source that may be interested in a certain outcome (e.g. the Al-Saket story), I will take the cautious route and keep this evidence out of the final analysis.


Jobar Chemicals

According to this report, upon entering Jobar a few days after the chemical attacks, the Syrian Army found materials and a laboratory for chemical weapons (Video1, Video2).

In a close examination of the videos the only relevant items I could see are the gas masks, atropine injectors and Caustic Soda (Lye) bags from Saudi Arabia. The first two could be explained as protection against external attacks and Lye has too many applications to be associated with anything specific. So unless anyone sees anything else interesting there, this does not seem to be of value.

Update: The final UN report provided a description of sarin IEDs used in the attack, which matched two items seen in the videos. This strongly indicates the location was indeed used for storing chemical weapons. Full details here.


My conclusions at this point:

  1. The Mint Press, ISTEAMS, Quirico-Piccinin and Jobar Chemicals reports are of no value.
  2. The Liwa Al-Islam videos cannot be easily dismissed as fabrication, and if so would be of immense value, but further analysis is still required.
In the next posts I will work on compiling all the evidence into a final conclusion.

Did I miss anything? Please share your evidence and analysis and help me improve my conclusions.


109 comments:

  1. ”(a) The target locations are incorrect”

    Not necessarily. One UMLACA is directed at Qaboun (video 2) and two at Jobar (video 3). Jobar is reported to be one of the locations hit. Qaboun is not, but one UMLACA could well have hit that area without being noticed.

    ”(b) The flag is wrong”

    Could you please make a comparison showing what is wrong?

    ”(c) only one UMLACA is shown,”

    Three are shown. I don’t understand why this would be an indication that the videos do not show rebels carrying out part of the August 21 attacks.

    ”(d) Why would people in the process of carrying a complex large-scale chemical warfare operation be bothered with shooting a Howitzer?”

    I can think of several possible explanations. They might have someone reporting where the shells from the howitzer land. That could be useful information for aiming the UMLACAs accurately later. They might fire shells loaded with Sarin. Or maybe they had a howitzer at hand and simply took the opportunity to fire a few rounds at government forces.

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    1. The 2 rockets in video 3 are not UMLACA. They are much thinner and don't have the distinctive tail.
      Hope that helped clarify. Thanks!

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    2. Also, there was no chemical attack in Jobar. This was just false reporting by the US (see the section "US Report")

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    3. I think all the rockets in the videos are of the same type. The guy speaking refers to them all as "Ababil rockets" and they look the same. You just don't see the fins in the last video. No matter what is being reported about attacks in Qaboun and Jobar that does not mean the videos are not from the August 21 attacks. Those areas are wastelands of rubble where fighting has been going on for at least a year. Three rockets with Sarin could easily drop there without that being noticed or reported in the press.

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    4. Very good points. Let me check.

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    5. Why are you saying the target locations are incorrect? I cannot understand you thinking on that one.

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    6. In the videos they target Qaboun and Jobar, while the missiles hit Zamalka.

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    7. But if they are real, the videos only show a small part of the attack. The men in the video could have gone on to fire rockets at Zamalka and at any number of other locations. Rockets could also have been fired from other sites than the one shown in the videos.

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    8. Exactly, that's the second scenario suggested.

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    9. Ok, I understand what you mean. I disagree with this though:

      "The big problem is of course the convenience of such strong evidence appearing when the regime is facing international pressure."

      That isn't really the case, is it? The video appeared almost a month after the attacks, at a time when the risk of a US attack against Syria had already been averted. If the Syrian government had been intent on forging a video it would have made more sense to release it in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when it looked like the US would start bombing in a few days.

      I disagree with this

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    10. good point. added to the post. thanks!

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    11. @Sasa, @Anonymous #1 – What exactly do the UMLACA videos say about the targets? #Qaboun for video 2 and Jobar for video 3? Fact is all UMLACAs are targeted at exactly the same spot. It the narrator gives two different targets, then one at least is wrong.
      See the screenshots here for the three UMLACA laucnhes. You will see that they are all identical.

      Overall I would not put much weight on what the terrorist say on the videos. If they truly where targeting Ghouta with CW, I doubt they would admit it even in their secret video.

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    12. Yes, 3 is Jobar, 2 is Qabun.
      I took some time to look at the angles and calculate, when I noticed that it's not the same location (or angle). In video 2 there are trees in the background, but not in 3. So they probably moved the trucks around. It also makes sense that the launcher can only be used in right angles to the truck, or it will damage it.

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    13. No! They are exactly the same trees in exactly the same position. Compare these two frames of the initial explosions on video 2 and video 3. On the left you will see trees that are a perfect match. Also the high grass or bushes in the foreground are the same.

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    14. Nice catch!
      So it seems that just the lighting has changed. i assume the support truck moves when they use its crane to reload the rockets.
      So i looked again at the angles and they seem to work out ok:
      the truck is facing south, with the single-umlaca launch being at a right angle to south qabun, and the double-umlaca launch having a slight angle towards the front of the truck, which would point to north jobar.
      The angle of the double-umlaca launch is noticable when the camera is far and you can see that the front rocket doesn't hide the far one at all, indicating a significant angle.

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  2. Hi there,

    I read in another of your articles that you are aware of our wiki A Closer Look On Syria.I'm one of the three core team members and created it. The way we work at the moment, we are very bad at doing summaries, most of the stuff is hidden on obscure sub-discussion pages.

    I'll point you to some things you and your readers are more than welcome to take a look at and make more accessible, details at the links.

    Quirco and Picinnin - two journalists in Farouk brigade custody report after release how they overheard communication pointing to rebel false flag

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013#Quirico_and_Piccinin

    Initial reports including a moving statement of a "rebel doctor" point to Jobar as the sole center of attack, a suburb with heavy fighting where an army offensive started that day and allegedly soldiers were injured when chemicals were found in a tunnel.

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Locations/Jobar

    Other Liwa Al-Islam videos show them firing what looks like professional rockets, maybve 140mm, with a professional launcher, on August 21, Damascus suburbs. Notice the other listed videos from that channel, showing Liwa Al-Islam shutting down the rumoured helicopter on that day, etc.

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Rocket_attack#Liwa_Al-Islam_launches_rockets_on_August_21.3F

    A "witness" HRW skyped with for their report takes credit (in a report footnote) for a video which shows dead people, mainly children, in a progressed state of decay, allegedly dated a week after the event, "still finding victims". As we found the location is right in the middle of the alleged impacts in the report. Other videos show the same victims, in thwe same state of decay, uploaded on August 22, how they are collected on a pick-up/dumped into a hole. It's highly likely that those people have been dead before August 21, and it's sure the video the HRW witness claims responsibility for is not showing what it claims to show.

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Locations/Zamalka/Ghost_house

    A "ground report" in the area shows the interviewer and almost exclusively fighting age males, some with beards but no mustaches, who get interviewed and show dead animals. The interviewer is a close friend of Liwa Al-Islam leader Zahran Alloush (facbook has them together at a wedding, etc). Alloush has a post on facebook showing him and some fellow fighters during "The final steps to prepare for a new surprise of the system on the verge of completion", a week or two earlier.

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013/Locations/Zamalka#A_trip_with_Mohammed_Al_Saeed

    The interviewer above and the leader of a Liwa Al-Islam subgroup, Tahreer Al-Sham, named Firas Al-Bitar, and likely also Alloush himself, have been seen showing the UN Investigators around.

    You find the video of the interviewer with the Investigators at the last link, the locations for the other two escape me at the moment, as are likely some other clues. See here for the top level discussion page:

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013

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    1. CE, Thanks for sharing.

      I've been using your site several times and it was very helpful. However, it contains lots of information, so I don't see how I'll even be able to review all of it. This summary was very helpful, so would be great if you can update here when something significant and new comes up.

      Quirco and Picinnin, + Chemicals in Tunnel - You're right. Forgot about them. I'll update soon.

      The Liwa videos turned out to be very helpful. I found a video containing a flag very similar to the "suspicious" one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCoNFW9toxA I will update soon.

      I'm not sure what new conclusions are implied from the other 3 links. Can you elaborate?

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    2. Well, I think especially the implications of the "Ghost House" evidence are huge. Don't forget that we have that list of a dozen impacts in Zamalka from HRW through people on the ground they skyped with. And one of those few people told them about an area where no Investigators have been seen to my knowledge, but about half of the UMLACA's are alleged to have impacted (Mazraa(t)). And this person takes credit, in the report, for a video that not only doesn't show what it claims to show, namely dead people "still found" after a week, but is connected with something that smells of what we call "massacre management". These people are seen in similar scenes almost a week erlier, and they have been seen in other videos only a day after the event, dead and on the way to their final destination, in a state of decay which makes it almost impossible that they witnessed August 21, 2013. The fact that the HRW report relies on this person doesn't say anything about who perpetrated the attacks, but it says a lot about who controls the information on the ground (like some of the other clues I mentioned).

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    3. by the way, do you know for sure that the 12 locations are based on HRW skype interviews?

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    4. Page 6 of the PDF:

      "Human Rights Watch also used GPS data and satellite imagery analysis to map the precise locations were the attacks took place, and the exact positions where eight of the 330mm rockets impacted in Eastern Ghouta."

      Page 8 of the PDF:

      "Witness statements and information including GPS loca-tions of rockets found in the area provided by local activ-ists, as well as satellite imagery locations that match the location in the videos, have allowed Human Rights Watch to confirm at least four strike sites in Zamalka where at least eight 330mm rockets struck on August 21. This is unlikely to be a complete account of the number of rockets used in the attack."

      So take a guess where the other four dots on the map come from and what those four locations are. On the next page you can find the "witness" statement for Mazraat and the footnote 18 which contains the "Zamalka Ghost House" video he takes credit for.

      Meaning, the process is you (or Brown Moses) get footage from your sources on the ground, with GPS locations, you check if those locations can be found on satellite imagery, and there's that. What happened between the event and the arrival of the UN Investigators or the taking of the "rocket remains" is in the hand of the people on the group, like the aforementioned group you can see in this video with remains - which could theoretically have been moved from "location" to "location" - at a site which isn't even clearly one of those twelve on the map. The "interviewer" in that video is as noted a close friend of the leader of Liwa Al-Islam, and it was uploaded two days before the UN Investigators came to Zamalka..

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    5. Sorry, typos, 'taking of the "rocket remains" is in the hand of the people on the group,' should read 'taping of the "rocket remains" is in the hand of the people on the ground,'.

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    6. Thank you! I updated the 'Mapping the Attack' page.

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    7. Your update: Footnote 18, not 16, and it doesn't really show the process, it is only relevant in connection to the "Ghost house" video. You should better put the quotes I gave you from page6/8 of the report there (or re-check the report for yourself)..

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  3. The two videos show a total of three UMLACA launches. The launcher in and the setup in the videos is the same. Just like in the old video uncovered by Brown Moses, there is a large Mercedes support truck. The launch vehicle is a smaller lorry with a Hiab style crane and a double launcher on the left side. It is the same launcher in exactly the same position, as you can see in these two screenshots from the two videos.

    Also, the video frames of the launch show a fingerprint pattern indicating that all rockets are the same. Most distinctive are the color changes in each 30fps frame.

    The fact that the distinctive tail assembly of the UMLACA is not shown in the second video has no relevance. It may be in the shadow, or maybe the camera just is not pointed its way. Other details tie the two videos together.

    The relevant frames are shown here in sequence:
    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Category:UMLACA

    It seems that the videos have been uploaded in reverse order, meaning video no. 3 was shot first. It would make no sense to load one rocket in the launcher, fire it and reload two. Evidently an odd number of rockets were fired, possible because no more were available. Three is a likely number.

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    1. You know what? I think you're on to something. Give me some time to process...

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  4. Quote:
    "So my conclusion at this point is that none of the direct evidence published so far contradicts the regime attack theory.."

    Really?

    So you are disregarding your previous rocket simulation conclusions that the munitions could only have a trajectory distance of 3km?
    Even if this was as much as 50% incorrect this still completely undermines HRW claim that the Regime fired it from their positions.

    Please explain?

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    1. I guess this sentence wasn't clear. By "direct evidence" I meant a single source that by itself proves it was not the regime. Compilation of several pieces of evidence to the final conclusion is planned in the next days.
      Thanks for pointing it out. I'll reword.

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    2. I've already been caught up in this debate elsewhere, so let's try to use consistent terminology. If you are using "direct evidence" in its legal definition, then:

      direct evidence = evidence that tends to prove a conclusion or fact without the need for any further inference to be made (the only common type of direct evidence in court is testimony by a witness as to the witness's sensory experiences - saw, heard, smelled, etc. - evidence about what they sensed, but if used to further infer a conclusion or fact - i.e., I saw "liwa al islam" flag, therefore it must be the rebels, then it is circumstantial evidence - see below).

      circumstantial evidence - often the majority of any evidence at trial, evidence that requires a further inference to be made in order to be considered proof of a conclusion or fact (i.e. virtually all the evidence in the case of Aug 21, 2013 - Sarin traces are circumstantial evidence, so are UMLACA, etc.).

      For a case to be proven on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone would be very difficult in criminal law. Usually, some direct evidence would be necessary to complete the circle of attribution and to provide corroboration and pull together the quilt of factual reasoning. However, if only circumstantial evidence is available, then the rule in Hodge's case applies, and the finder of fact must EXCLUDE every other reasonable theory arising from the matrix of circumstantial evidence before starting to consider whether the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) has otherwise been met in respect of the prosecution theory.

      For further entertainment value, consider "missing body" cases - convicting someone without a body. Technically, yes, possible, but extremely rare. But, NOONE has yet been able to convict when the grave of the apparent victim is known but the prosecution refuses to exhume the body to confirm that the name on the gravestone fits the corpse. In that regard, what happened with UN inspectors getting at least one of the dead bodies for examination? Would have solved a lot of issues.

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    3. Thanks for the explanation. I no longer use the term direct evidence to avoid confusion.

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  5. Thank you for great job! I just wanted to ask, because I coudn´t find it anywhere else: Is there any evidence that most of videos of chemical attack were taken at 21. august or in Damascus? And is there any verified number of victims in Damascus? French government said about 300, US government said about 1400. And how many UMCALAs were actually found in Ayn Tarma and Zamalka?

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    1. It's hard to prove when a video was taken, but there are so many of them and so many independent eyewitness accounts that think it's unreasonable to doubt mass poisoning occurred. What are the exact numbers and who attacked are questions that are still unanswered.
      The common claim is 12 UMLACAs found, but I failed to find a reliable source for it. Eyewitnesses report hearing similar numbers. Let me know if you find anything good.

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    2. The first thought that came to the mind of many skeptics is that the child victims are Latakia hostages killed and filmed somewhere in the north. We have however been able to geo-locate some of the scenes and confirm that they are in Ghouta.

      The most notable set of videos comes from the Kafr Batna Coordinating Committee. They are filmed in the field hosspital in the cellar floor of the Kafr Batna town hall. Another set of victims is seen in a schoolyard in Saqba We can also pinpoint the Zamalka mass grave with a total of 8 bodies.

      The most interesting scene is what we call the Zamalka ghost house – an abandoned construction site with another 8 planted victims.

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Holy Cow! What did you do to the screenshots to get out this much detail? Adjusting luminance? Did you do this to the screenshot images or did you color grade the film? With this level of detail, we should be able to geo-locate the film!

    On the flags:
    The flag in the launch vehicle shown in your screenshot has the text Liwa al-Islam This is from video 3. The same flag is shown on video 2 but this time it has no text in the lower part.

    This is no surprise. Al-Qaeda uses many different brand names. Sometimes they are Ansar al-Sharia. Sometimes al-Nusra.

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    1. I actually copied this from Brown Moses. Want to ask him and do it for more frames?

      Weird find about the flag changing! It made me notice they say "Liwa Al Islam" only in the Howitzer video.
      Interesting to note that if someone were to find just the double-umlaca video he wouldn't know it's Liwa.

      Delete
  7. Sasa,

    here are some interesting tid-bits from NightWatch, a open-source analysis newsletter by a commercial enterprise. I have already posted some of their commentary. Here is the latest excerpt:

    Syria-UN: Syria's disclosures to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reportedly have exceeded US government expectations. However, they are consistent with the statements by Syrian President Asad. Unidentified US officials have described the Syrian list as surprisingly complete.



    Comment: The Syrian disclosures, as described by US officials, suggest that Syrian chemical weapons have remained under strict military control, which is what Asad said. If that proves to be the case, the burden of proof shifts to the rebels.

    http://www.kforcegov.com/Solutions/IAO/NightWatch/NightWatch_13000204.aspx

    You can find a Washington Post article on the CW disclosure by Syria and its implications for the disarmament program here:

    http://t.co/WrFkdzwnWB

    In my opinion, the fact that Sarin is kept entirely in bulk precursor form is, paradoxically, strong evidence CONTRADICTING the claim that Syria uses binary Sarin munitions. If binary Sarin munitions were in wide use, then Sarin would be kept in the munitions themselves, not in bulk form.

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    1. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.
      What do you mean by "munitions were in wide use"? When?

      Delete
    2. Sasa, read my sentence carefully "IF binary Sarin munitions were in wide use" - it just a syllogism by refutation.

      Delete
    3. I'm having a hard time understanding your last paragraph. Can you elaborate?

      Delete
    4. Sasa, sorry, was just tired I guess and slipped into obscurantism. I did not meant to suggest that "munitions WERE in wide use" - have no evidence of that and do not believe it to be a fact anyways. I meant to make a proposition: "IF binary Sarin munitions WERE in wide use [by Syria]" THEN Sarin would be kept in the binary munitions to be ready for a strategic retaliation against Israel. As Syria's OPCW disclosure indicates all Sarin kept in bulk precursor form, then it is unlikely that binary Sarin munitions are being used by Syria. Sorry! Hopefully this is clear now.

      Delete
  8. I think you miss the point of the Lattakia link in Mother Agnes.

    The allegation is that children were abducted from Lattakia and ended up dead on opposition videos.

    There is no suggestion that live adult survivors were from Lattakia.

    In support of the Lattakia children theory is the huge imbalance of the ratio of children to adults in the videos. That, and the almost complete absence of women is very unusual.

    There is an argument put forward that for cultural reasons the women weren't filmed, however many other videos from Syria have no problems with showing women casualties.

    You said elsewhere that the preponderance of video evidence was that there was an attack as alleged. You should also accept the fact that a preponderance of video evidence says almost no women were injured or killed.

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    1. I'm having trouble understanding this claim. Could you describe what were the steps of this process?

      Delete
    2. I'm guessing what you mean by 'process'.

      To perhaps clarify.

      1. There were reports supported by video prior to August 21 of people being abducted in Lattakia e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKTEWYgIZxo from August 13.

      2. The videos from August 21 showed almost exclusively military age males and children. Almost no women or old people.

      3. In any reasonable scenario you would expect to see a large number of women in proportion to the number of children. Ditto old people who would also be child carers.

      4. There is no evidence of Syrian cultural bias in recording injured women or elderly. e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ISK-jc7xA

      5. There are photographs and videos of women being examined by UN inspectors e.g. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2404550/Injuries-Syrians-Assads-political-rivals-say-targeted-phosphorous-bombs.html

      http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/08/28/article-2404550-1B80E773000005DC-147_306x475.jpg

      The conclusions I come to are

      - There is a preponderance of video evidence that women were significantly under-represented on August 21. Both in comparison to the number of males and the number of children

      - There is a similar under-representation for non military age males.

      - A reasonable interpretation of the lack of women and older males is that the area was a war zone and most civilians would have evacuated.

      - There is no reasonable explanation for the large number of children in the videos.

      - The Latakia kidnap theory is the only explanation I know of for the large proportion of children.

      I don't necessarily agree the kidnaps occurred, but it has to remain a working theory till disproved.

      Do you know of a better explanation?

      Delete
    3. So this relies on the videos showing mostly men and children. I think this can be easily explained by male-female separation at the hospitals, and since the cameramen are male, they go to the male areas.
      When you look at vidoes filmed outside you see many women
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6GYavzaNy0

      Delete
    4. Even if male female separation is true - not seen elsewhere - that doesn't explain the lack of older males.

      Delete
    5. I looked through the Mother Agnes' report (the PDF). It is an extremely slow download and has crashed my browser several times. However, if you can get it downloaded there are some very significant pictures of two or more makeshift morgues. Mother Agnes scrutinized those pictures and identified several children who were in both morgues.

      Now, at the very least this shows propagandistic manipulations, carting those kids from one location to another to make it appear as though the attack were much larger and killed many more kids than otherwise would have seemed.

      But the other point is that these videos of the morgues and children were all uploaded within 2-6 hours of the attack. How is it that people in an emergency situation needing to rescue and treat thousands of people take the time to organize the manipulation of such images?

      Mother Agnes has called for these children to be found and DNA tested. Somebody surely knows their location. If nobody is willing to produce them, I'd say that's pretty damning evidence.

      Delete
    6. The url of the PDF I mentioned above is http://www.globalresearch.ca/STUDY_THE_VIDEOS_THAT_SPEAKS_ABOUT_CHEMICALS_BETA_VERSION.pdf

      Delete
    7. @Anonymous / Bill Rood
      The claim that the Kafr Batna child victims were moved between Kafr Batna and Aj Majr region was debunked already in August. Many "Coordinating Committees" would upload footage from Kafr Batna, some of it original.

      The location of the Kafr Batna victims is the Kafr Batna municipal building or town hall – a 7 story office building right in the center of Kafr Batna. A field hospital operated in its cellar floor, one of the few places with electric lights. The dead victims were first laid down on the floor of one windowless room on the cellar floor. After sunrise they were moved to a meeting room in the first floor in the 1 story annex behind (to the west) the office building.

      All of the Kafr Batna footage (KB1 - KB11) contains only about 2 minutes of outside scenes, almost in total darkness, so geo-locating the scene was extremely difficult.

      Delete
  9. Re Jobar Chemicals.

    Caustic Soda is a good chemical to destroy Sarin. Water and mild alkalis are used to decontaminate people, but Caustic Soda damages flesh so it can't be used for that. A more likely use is to destroy accidental spills of Sarin.

    http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2013-09/fyi-chemical-weapons-and-disposal

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    1. It also has endless other uses, so it would be a stretch to associate it with sarin.

      Delete
    2. The 'stretch' is the colocation of the atropine injectors - first line defence against Sarin poisoning. I personally have been trained in the use of atropine for immediate treatment of CW exposure and the use of highly alkaline solutions to decontaminate equipment suspected of Sarin exposure (and other CW agents)

      As to other uses of Caustic Soda? Cleaning drains or stripping paint don't usually require atropine and military grade gas masks.

      Delete
    3. I see. I guess what we need here is a chemist that can describe all possible uses of Lye by opposition forces. Anyone?

      Delete
  10. While I find much of your work very well done, I fail to understand your complete rejection of what you call the "Quirico-Piccinin Story." This is a report by two credible eyewitnesses who have gone on the record with what they heard, and neither one expressed any doubt about what it was that they heard. I find this conclusive evidence that the rebels speaking on Skype did, in fact, say what Quirico and Piccinin say that they did. Now, we don't know if the rebels participating in the Skype conversation were correct when they said that the attack was conducted by the rebels. But we do know, with complete confidence, that they said it. And Pierre Piccinin, at least, absolutely believes it: "It wasn't the government of Bashar al-Assad that used sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta."

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    1. Thank you! Glad you're enjoying my work.
      You can see in the link I provided: "It’s impossible to know whether what was said was based on real fact or just hearsay"
      Not saying this report is meaningless, but it's just too weak to base anything on.

      Delete
    2. Well, Sasa, just so we are clear. At law:

      (1) evidence of what was said - i.e. evidence of the actual words spoken during the conversation - is not hearsay. It is direct evidence of what Quirico-Piccinin actually heard. They are almost completely ad idem in the content of the conversation. As such, and considering who it's coming from, I would say the probative value of their evidence of the conversation is very high, and mutually corroborated, and I would, if I were the judge, accept it as an account of a real, proven fact. In other words, I would conclude that the statements Q-P said they heard were, in fact, statement made by their captors.

      (2) whether or not the acts described by the captors were actually committed (or whether reliable inferences of certain acts being committed can be made based on the statements made by Q-P's captors) is a matter of hearsay. Unless, of course, the speaker describes his or her own actions, if the speaker describes actions of somebody else, such statement are hearsay and prima facies inadmissible.

      If the speaker describes his or her own actions, evidence of those statements being made is NOT hearsay, and, the statements themselves will be admitted for proof of their content - in other words, admissions made by someone and reported by a witness in court are NOT hearsay. The level of the probative value will depend on the witness reporting the statements.

      There are always howevers, however. Hearsay can become admissible if it falls under a number of exceptions and (at least in Canada) if (a) there is sufficient necessity, and (b) the hearsay statement is sufficiently reliable. If, on the balance, the court admits a hearsay statement, such statement can be used to prove its contents.

      Does this makes sense?

      - Q-P's evidence as to what was said is not hearsay;
      - Q-P's evidence as to what was said can be used to prove that what they say was said WAS, in fact, said by the captors during the reported conversation;
      - Q-P's evidence of one of those conversing admitting actions by that person can be used to prove that that person did those actions;
      - Q-P's evidence of those conversing saying someone ELSE did something will presumptively be inadmissible, except if such evidence is sufficiently reliable and necessary.

      Given that Q and P are virtually identical in their evidence, their evidence of the conversation is highly reliable. There are no motivations I can point to for them to collude or lie (in fact, they each have taken different interpretive stances following their release, but have always agreed on the actual content of what they heard).

      Given that we have so little direct evidence as to what actually happened, and that we cannot call any of the direct participants to the stand, a court would also consider such evidence sufficiently necessary to lift the prohibition against hearsay evidence.

      Overall, I am satisfied (as I believe most judges would be) that Q and P evidence should be admitted and may be used for proof of its content. However, as with all evidence, it must be balanced against all other evidence presented. You are wrong in dismissing their evidence. A court would not.

      Delete
    3. Gleb - I agree this testimony has weight. It's just too problematic given that (a) Q did not interpret it the same way as P, and (b) people who have the power to influence such an important conflict, may too easily be persuaded to adjust the facts.

      Delete
  11. I was about to comment on the Jobar chemicals but for some reason I posted my comment in the wrong thread. Here it is!

    ReplyDelete
  12. FYI - this device is very similar to the UMLACA but is alleged to have been made by Hezbollah and used in Qusayr.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-0A6bRcaVfEM/UcCf21gU_LI/AAAAAAAABss/susb64OQnCI/s1600/DSCN5545.JPG

    It has a 107mm motor rather that a 120mm on the UMLACA and has much larger fins.

    The payload diameter appears slightly smaller than the 360mm UMLACA. NB note the filling hole.

    The only significant structural difference is the motor tube doesn't extend into the casing.

    The image shows that a regional insurgent organisation has the ability to construct missiles very similar to the UMLACA. In this case Hezbollah, but ISIS and associated Islamist groups are comparable size and have access to the large industrial base in Aleppo.

    http://imgur.com/a/IH2rY

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    1. Thanks!
      I see Brown Moses also analyzed this and couldn't determine its source. My impression is that the fins are part of the original rocket before modification.
      At this point I think it's hard to determine what level of engineering is behind this, but let's see if we get more information about this munition.
      Anyway, if what you're looking to do here is show that the opposition can have UMLACAs, I think looting is a much better explanation.

      Delete
  13. Greetings! ACLOS core member #3. I've been skeptical of most of these arguments myself, including the Liwa al-Islam video.

    The points I'd argue at the moment are Jobar and Quirico and Piccinin - their story and manner and lack of a reasonable reason or motive to lie in such a manner suggests they're telling the truth, and not substantially mistaken. Subjective, and not certain, but ... gut says yes. The biggest question then is how much the speaker really knew vs. guessed, but either would be its own kind of clue into the rebel world behind-the-scenes.

    On the Jobar chemicals note too material for IEDs, canisters and detonators, etc. Lye, jugs of something, masks, atropine, and quite likely some smaller key component they managed to take with them when they fled, leaving an incomplete picture. And soldiers reportedly were gassed there as rebels fled. Not necc. directly connected to what happened, but another glimpse of the underbelly that I suspect spawned the chemical massacres, whatever and wherever they were (side-note: where are the mass grave burial videos?).

    Mint press ... never trusted that writing or story. Details, I dunno. I haven't scoped out the whole ISTeams report, obv., but there are some fairly bad mistakes in it at least.

    Thanks for your thoughts on all. I think just this Ghouta issue is worth a dedicated blog. I hope you can maintain this level of objectivity, wherever it leads.

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    1. I added a probabilistic analysis to Quirico and Piccinin. I think it proves they misunderstood the call. Let me know what you think of it.

      For Jobar what I'm missing is something that proves this was not a lab for producing regular explosives. The atropine and gas masks are good but not enough. Do you see anything?

      Delete
    2. Those hostages were high profile (it's still not known how and why they got released, afaik) and the Farouk Brigade is high profile as well. And has been around since the beginning, with several features in Western TV etc pp, so they will have people who speak English, contacts outside the country and are high in the "rebel" hierarchy with a story of involvement in key events. And you should assume that educated Italian and Belgian journalists understand enough English to not misunderstand something like that. Hadn't they been sure, they wouldn't have gone public with it. If you read all the links we have on that you'll see that Quirico backpedalled with his "maybe hearsay" stuff, likely because of pressure from La Stampa. So IMHO your probability analysis fails.

      Reminds me, there has also been the McDonald eMail leak. Which could be a complete fake, a real hack with faked content, or for real.

      Delete
    3. These kind of events tend to generate lots of rumors and speculation. It's also possible the speaker heard someone else make some claim and repeated it. It's so much more likely they just heard someone spreading a rumor, than them happening to stumble on a call from one of a handful of people who know the truth.

      Delete
    4. Right, there will be rumors, and also disinfo to confuse us, and true evidence. I doubt that Britam-esque e-mail more than most, could be mentioned, that context copying one rare case where its predecessor has been ruled a fraud in a court of law. Rightly, I suspect.

      Jobar, you could say all planted - only on the word of the gov. was it a rebel place at all, and that same source says its soldiers were gassed in the attack on, I think, that same place. Details not certain, either way. You still don't know what's missing from the picture. The comment about lye for cleanup, interesting possibility.

      Q+P = potentially no value, potentially great insight you'd be a fool to toss aside. These guys took their interpretation seriously enough to go forward, and I see no reason to question their judgment. The one who expressed doubts works for the mainstream media, possible/apparent control mechanisms there as we all know/suspect. The other still expresses no doubts, doesn't seem to be an idiot crank. And speaking to an American, a German, and a Finn who collaborate in US English on a daily basis, you're not going to go far making an issue of language barriers ...your last sentence is actually pretty bad. It should be one half of a much more fair sentence, the stuff above that aside.

      And yet another clue of rebel guilt - the signs that the UMLACA was designed AND ALSO used, in these strikes, as a FAE/thermobaric weapon. This is discussed here (behind where it should be, getting organized now, will be better in a month - the Asheville/Syria Analysis articles are the best to click through to)

      If this is true would it would, I think, rule them out as CW delivery of any relevance to an attack that killed several hundreds, if not 14 hundreds - and would put a bad light on the fact that the UN investigators found Sarin on them anyway.

      Delete
    5. Oh yeah, sorry, and the lye is from a separate bust anyway. July I think the video 2 says, and somewhere else. I saw only dirty jugs at this Jobar place, nothing too impressive left behind.

      Delete
    6. I must say the evidence for Thermobaric is very weak. We are talking about an intense warzone. You have damage and burns everywhere, and definitely no one is growing crops.
      Also, the rockets would never survive so clean and intact.

      Delete
    7. I think the proximity and patterns put the burn and collapse marks on a neat semi-circle centered on the alleged Sarin rockets, dome about 30 meters wide, a rather amazing coincidence if so. Just putting that together though, so I won't be too harsh dismissing your dismissal just yet.

      As for Q+P, sorry - actually your very last sentence is plenty fair and refutes the one right before it: "Nevertheless, it is very interesting to note that senior opposition officers consider a false-flag as the likely explanation, and don't trust the death toll number." That's about what to draw from it, I think. And certainly guys like that know more about the real nuts and bolts than the most "confident" person at Obama's State Dep't, for example.

      Delete
    8. This location looks nothing like thermobaric, but very chemical.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZA4Tknw1Zk
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JStwIlt_zII

      Delete
    9. First one, not one of those that matters, days later, different area. It doesn't look chemical, whatever that means. No burns, but it's likely the HE variant - Can't see the letters if red or black, or if one fill hole or two, but the back part's blown clear away. Second scene, one of those I need to look at. Two fill holes, unknown - should have red letters, either FAE or chemical, opinions vary. It looks more blown to pieces than the others, interesting (BTW FAE would usually leave the shaft intact, I hear - the canister just pops open with a little blast, then the big foomp all around it). We don't get to see the other side of the hole this made, but it looks like a possible pressure wave hole.

      Delete
    10. I meant that there is no scorching. Doesn't seem like FAE, and the crater is way too small for over 100kg explosives. The hole in the wall seems to be where the rocket came from.

      Delete
    11. I was tired. I see now it's all one scene. We think it was probably a dud, whose missing back broke off and flew through the wall. The others of this design that did anything seem to be scorching stuff and knocking stuff down with intense pressure.

      Delete
  14. Piccinin just got interviewed by a norwegian reporter from NTB (a renowned news agent). The article was published today in Aftenposten - the biggest norwegian broadsheet. I've translated Piccinins quotes in the article: - We heard two men, a general from the FSA, and one officer from Al-Farouk in a room next door - talking to a third person via Skype. This man had an Oxford-accent, says Piccinin.
    - They first talked about the situation in Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt. Then they started talking about Ghouta. Domenico and myself had no idea there had even been a gas attack.
    The FSA-general was angry and said there were too many dead. Hundreds. The Skype-voice answered that gas had been involved, and the situation had spun out of control.
    The Al-Farouk officer said: You said there would be only fifty dead. The Skype-man said: It was necessary. It will change a lot in this war.
    Piccinin is convinced the rebels were behind the gas-attack in Ghouta on August 21.

    Link here, if you want to give Google Translate a go.
    http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/uriks/Frigitt-gissel-mener-opprorere-sto-bak-gassangrepet-i-Syria-7324225.html#.UkhqQ7wljRx

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    1. Very interesting find, and it got me to research some more.

      Check out this video from before his kidnap
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkCELx2Dc3Q
      First of all he chooses not to be interviewed with English. No idea how bad his English is, but it's definitely not good.
      Also, he was an opponent of the FSA before being kidnapped.

      And then this:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkc2ZtPvc8o
      From some reason he didn't choose to give the specific quotes when his reliability was questioned.

      Something just doesn't smell right. I'm sure he heard something. Just not sure how clear-cut it was.

      What do you think?

      Delete
    2. Pierre Piccinin is a professor of History and Political Sciences at the European School of Brussels. I doubt you can be an academic at this level, even in Belgium - without at least a basic grasp of english. The same goes for the position as senior foreign correspondent in La Stampa. But I agree that especially Piccinins statements sounds outlandish. So, a grain of salt may be taken.

      Delete
    3. And by the way, the first RT-interview you linked to is very interesting on its own merits. In hindsight it's obvious how Piccinin had an unusually good grasp of the progressing situation in Syria at the time of the interview. (May 2012).

      Delete
    4. Thanks for the Aftenposten piece and the RT 2012 Interview. Added them to our Q+P source list. My description of the RT interview:

      "Pierre Piccinin on Russia Today, May 9, 2012 - Interview with Piccinin after his second visit to Syria (while he was kidnapped on his eighth). Very sober analysis. Interestingly enough he even mentions his future kidnappers the Farouk Brigade as "dangerous influence" forcing the "Islamization" of the "Revolution". Seems he got more sympathetic to the "moderate" insurgency while spending time on the ground (not that this is a new phenomenon)."

      Here is an RT interview about the current events where he says he got kidnapped on his eighth visit

      In other news, a new Islamist group alliance, the "Army of Islam" has been announced and it seems their leader is Zahran Alloush, whose Liwa Al-Islam has its logo printed all over this thing. And the new alliance logo is very similar.

      Delete
    5. Sasa, before I go into the issue at hand, I must ask you a rhetorical question: is sasa wawa your real name? I guess not. What does it tell us about the modern world, if issues like these cannot be discussed openly? CE too prefers anonymity; I do not even know if she is male or female. I do know she lives in a NATO member state – or what used to be called the "Free World". I gather you too are party to this Anglo-Saxon form of freedom. What are you two afraid of? The Islamist or your own governments?

      ***

      Previously I has assumed that the "attack" was planned and executed by hard core Islamist in the familiar pattern of collusion – short of actual conspiracy – that we have seen from al-Baida in Libya to Houla in Syria all the way to al-Bayda in Syria. Islamist would commit massacres and Western powers would look the other way blaming the "authoritative" governments. The Piccinin interview turns the tables on this and exposes the Westerners as the instigators of the Ghouta massacres.

      The other big story of the day is the formation of the Army of Islam. The rebels, including core battalions of the FSA are cutting ties to the Western proxy the Syrian National Coalition and joining forces with al-Nusra Front. Previously I thought this was because the rebels were simply disappointed with the West's failure to deliver the promised air war. The split is however so dramatic that it is hard so see the the rebel brigades abandoning their financiers and armory just because of this blunder. There must be more fundamental reasons to the monumental shift. The Piccinin interview explains it: the rebels are accusing the west for BOTH murdering 2000 innocent Syrian civilians AND failing to deliver the promised air strikes.

      ***

      Rebel culpability is naturally just a working hypothesis. To seriously accuse anyone we will have to find the evidence.

      Delete
    6. Pierre Piccinin was definitely anti-Government before his capture. You just need to read what he wrote then for instance his article "SYRIA – A Journey to Hell : in the heart of the Syrian Intelligence Service prisons (Le Monde, 7.6.2012; L'Espresso, 8.6.2012; Le Soir, 11.6.2012; Neue Luzerner Zeitung, 23.6.2012)" where he describes the horrors of the Syrian prisons.

      Regarding the language of interview, most people will speak in in interviews their native language if possible. The interview was by RT and was going to be translated into a number of languages anyway.

      Delete
    7. sasa wawa stated: "From a probabilistic perspective: If the chemical attack was a provocation, you would expect it to be highly confidential and known to very few people. On the other hand, everyone in Syria and their mother would be discussing who is behind it, and rumors would travel all over the place.The probability that the hostages happened to hear an English skype call of the first kind and not just misinterpret the second kind is very low."

      At face value this is a reasonable assessment, however, the specific quotes by Piccinin (particularly this one: “It was necessary. It will change a lot in this war.”) are not merely "people discussing who is behind it".

      Hence, that leaves three options:

      Piccinin's account is a truthful representation of the Skype conversation (1). I don’t think this option itself is solid proof in favour of the theory that rebels are responsible for the CW account but it would beg the additional question why the ‘Oxford English speaking man’ would claim responsibility when in fact it was Assad’s forces that perpetrated the attack. The other options are that Piccinin unintentionally misinterpreted the conversation (2) or that Piccinin is intentionally spreading misinformation (3).

      It appears that you are leaning towards option 2: "When considering that the witnesses are not native English speakers and one of them specifically expressed such doubts, it is clear this evidence has no value."

      Howeer, I don't think at all that the fact that neither Piccinin nor Quirico are native English speakers, is strong evidence in favour of the theory that he/they may have misinterpreted the Skype conversation. Here is an interview of RT with Piccinin in English:
      http://www.wat.tv/video/video-3zq6r_2o5t9_.html

      It is clear that he is more comfortable expressing himself in French than English, however, from personal experience as a non-native English speaker and of many conversations with other non-native English speakers (French, Spanish, Italian), the expressed English vocabulary is often considerably lower than the understood English vocabulary. I've also found that French speakers can be somewhat self-conscious to speak in English because of their strong accent. In conclusion, I think you have dismissed the Piccinin-Quirico account a little too easily and for the wrong reason.



      Delete
    8. Petri - The choice to do this anonymously is to avoid interference with my day job. Nothing more.

      Delete
    9. Anonymous - thanks for the English interview link. He should be able to understand the conversation. Together with the other findings I'm going to reconsider this story.

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    10. I wonder, Sasa. I have already faced an attack on my credibility and name (at a wonderful forum where I held an audience for close to a week), and yet I have consistently used my name throughout this debate. I am not questioning you or impugning your intentions, I merely wonder.

      By the way, I have assumed throughout that Sasa was your real name (in the name of taking everyone at face value), although Wawa always caused me concern. Anyways, this is a non-issue.

      Delete
    11. And, on topic, Piccinin appears to keep on remembering new things about that conversation each time he makes a statement. Why won't he just write down his best recollection and stick to it? He would make easy fodder on cross-examination.

      Delete
    12. On the other hand, his earlier accounts of the conversation appear to be consistent throughout with his co-captive. That adds credibility

      Since much of the evidence in this fiasco is circumstantial, this is as close to direct (as understood at law) evidence as we get. I would not dismiss it outright or as fishy.

      Plus, according to Piccinin's own statements, Sasa, he was not contra-FSA, on the contrary, he was pro-FSA prior to kidnapping. I'll find a quotation if you need it. That does not change anything, however. His basic story (before the newest recollections) is virtually verbatim corroborated by his co-captive.

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    13. You can see in his RT interview prior to his kidnapping that he does not support FSA.

      Delete
    14. Sasa, interesting. I will investigate further.

      Delete
    15. Sasa Wawa is, interestingly, an anagram of the title of the Edgar Broughton Band's first album, made in 1969: Wasa Wasa.

      Delete
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  16. There exists a report on prior knowledge of the chemical attack on the rebel side.

    http://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/06/obama-warned-on-syrian-intel/

    "... we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria. ..."

    That report of prior knwledge fits quite well with a facebook post of Zahran Alloush from August 13 where he announces "final steps" for a "surprise" of the regime are prepared. Screenshot here:

    http://urs1798.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/zahran-mit-c3bcberraschung.jpg

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    1. Thanks Bandolero, this is interesting information.
      However, in this analysis I try to avoid such evidence. VIPS should provide concrete evidence besides "we have learned". This is the same type of language from the US Government Assessment.

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    2. Of course, that report from consortium news is not much better as the report from the USG because it's claimed facts are almost as hard to verify than the assertions of the USG.

      However, as the facebook post of the Alloush cohorte demonstrates it may be possible to dig deeper into the topic of signs for prior knowledge. From that time there might exist statements on rebel preparations, weapons distribution and so on.

      And that facebook post on prior knowledge is already more evidence than the USG has released on it's assertions for prior knowledge from the other side. The USG claimed they have satellite images showing preparations from the Syrian Arab Army for chemicals in eastern Ghouta, but, at least so far, the USG didn't present any evidence for this claim.

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    3. I agree. If you find anything to correlate this facebook post with anything more concrete - would be great.

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  17. OK Sasa, let´s start discussing the ISTEAM video. The reason up to now you had so llttle reaction on this issue is because it´s so hard! But once the discussion has started, it might get easier.
    I selected the easiest ´it´s a set up argument´ to understand: p25 How can you have these 2 video´s, one with only a few victims, then another one with many more? Even if staged it seems very hard to do!!! Those victims apparently were not moved at all between scenes. For sure, if it is real, they must have died. I don´t think photoshop is a possiblilty but are we sure? How can you obtain these 2 different scenes in this way?

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    1. Great, thanks for helping me evaluate the ISTEAMS report.
      The most obvious answer is that this room was used to store the bodies and it gradually filled up, and one video was taken earlier than the other.
      As to bodies not being moved: In the case of the girl in pink shirt, her left hand is in a different angle. The others didn't have bodies moved near them, so no reason for them to move.

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    2. I don´t see the left hand of the girl with pink shirt has moved. The picture is taken from a different angle, put the position seems the same. I don´t mean the picture at the top of p25, the arm is moved on that one, I agree.
      The argument remains that it is a very strange way of treating people or filling up a room with dead people.
      Look at the child with red shirt to left of pink shirt child. They managed to slip the child únder `the left arm of the pink child without moving it. If you look at the top picture p25 with pink and orange child, you see there is only a narrow space. Looking at the tiles, the children weren´t moved (ok, pink girl has her arm differently). Strange?

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    3. Why is it a strange way of treating people? You have dozens of bodies you need to store somewhere, so you put them in an empty room.

      I think her hand is in a different angle, but never mind - you can see the child with the orange shirt: his shirt was pulled up in between shots. Really don't see anything weird here.

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  18. What about the videos with the same bodies arranged differently and presented as being in different towns at the same times?

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    1. This was a claim made by someone who didn't know "Ghouta" is a region, so he thought it means the second video is in another town.

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  19. I am confused by a couple of references to UMLACAs in this post and comments.

    Sasa Wawa writes: Liwa Al-Islam Videos

    These videos published September 16th show militants shooting one shell from a Howitzer canon, and three UMLACA rockets. One UMLACA is clearly identifiable by its distinctive tail in one video


    To my eyes the tails (or fins) of the armament in the 'Liwa' videos do not show the distinctive tail of the UMLACAs.

    These images from the ':Liwa' video (at 'a closer look' wiki) shows a fin/tail that has an opening in the fins:

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/File:Liwa_al-Islam_UMLACA_Part2-0173.jpg

    http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/File:Liwa_al-Islam_UMLACA_Part2-0185.jpg

    These do not appear to be the same tails/fins as found on all extant pics of UMLACAs.

    Does this make a difference to your tentative conclusions?

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    1. Do you mean the dark rectangles? Those are just shadows. Take a look at the enhanced video. Much clearer there.
      http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/09/liwa-al-islam-videos-improved-quality.html

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  20. I am sorry I did not see this answer before.

    Here is another set of photos that show 'shadows' or 'cut-outs':

    Screen caps from enhanced Liwa video

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