Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

OPCW Leading A Scientific Revolution

Or Everything You Learned about Chemical Weapons is Wrong! 
July 8, 2018
(rough, incomplete)
edits 7/11, …)

No Nerve Agent in Douma? 
Still largely on break mode and not doing fresh research or much writing, I'm reviewing now a larger bottlenecked back-burner project to trace the emergent allegations of chlorine-sarin combined attacks. From the end of 2016 and all though 2017, up to the Douma attacks in April this year, the strange entanglement of chlorine an sarin clues was growing in clarity, despite its uncertain logic and the dubious record of supporting clues.

The OPCW's Douma results were much anticipated, expected to solidify this growing, and possibly cartoon menace. But now their work appears to not do this - the OPCW finds no indicators of sarin or any organophosphate nerve agent in places it would.

As the report explains (only briefly reviewed so far) over 100 environmental samples in total were collected and transported to the OPCW Laboratory. To speed things up, 31 samples were selected - those deemed the most important or fragile - for the "first round of analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories." "The results of analysis ... of the prioritised samples ... were received by the FFM team on 22 May 2018," and form the basis of the report we're looking at.
"No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties. Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive. These results are reported in Annex 3. Note: "Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing."
So it's not a final answer, and about 2/3 of environmental samples haven't been tested, or reported on yet. But for the 1/3 thought to be most telling to come up clean is pretty firm already.

We already knew this much about the victims: no sarin on the surface - unless this WH responder died. (old graphic, prophecy seemingly not fulfilled) (add 7/12: and the not washed part is probably wrong after all. See here. So like most, she's ostensibly contaminated, but has been suspiciously washed at least in the face and hair... )

And for no biological sample positives, this means the local terrorists who would be staging this had no sarin for even token doses, or chose not to use it, or had their plans to do so disrupted. Modern tests can say if it really was sarin, but the tiniest trace too small to feel will register; the OPCW apparently does not measure for quantity, making fakery still very easy. A lack even of breakdown products in the samples suggests the plotters didn't even use the older IMPA powder method. (or maybe they did - IMPA in urine samples was cited by someone …maybe for a prior incident?)

This may leave some potential wiggle room, like if the unnamed nerve agent people saw signs of ... is not orgahophosphate-based(??) But it seems so far they in fact rule out something that would help make the accepted story of the Douma incident make sense ... if it ever did make sense to mix chlorine and sarin in the same weapon or deployed in the same space. All of these are open questions as far as I know - which is actually a good bit, if not enough to be definitive.

Briefly, some of what I was going to say, and where we are now, in part ... I'm still drafting now, but here's a comment space for new report, old ones, incident details, etc.

Sarin in Saraqeb? Pretty Harmless if so...
Back in May Eliot Higgins at Bellingcat was left wondering "whether chlorine-Sarin attacks are the Syrian government’s dirty chemical weapon secret." That was in reference to OPCW findings about a Feb. 4 incident in Saraqeb/Saraqib.

The story there was a helicopter attack at night time, two yellow chlorine cylinders hit an open field, sickening 8 men sheltering in a nearby basement and 3 White Helmets responders, but killing no one. It was reported at the time as a simple chlorine attack. Upon release of the OPCW's report in May, a number of clues came under scrutiny. Among these:
- an unusual cloverleaf pattern on the nose end of the canisters
- missing valves on both of them
- unexplained explosives residue
- spread and topography issues make it hard to belive chlorine would drift to the basement indicated.

And most interestingly, the signs of both sarin and chlorine appearing side-by-side: 11 patients all complained of breathing problems, consistent with chlorine, but also some symptoms only consistent with a nerve agent: costricted pupils, a reported loss of consciousness by some of those exposed, nausea and vomiting (only occasional/secondary w/CL, but a primary sign for nerve agents). Oddly, all complained of crepitus (air pockets in the joints that cause popping), and it was mentioned in the report. That's not a CW signs I've ever heard of. Sarin being more complex, effecting nerves and thus muscles, it might cause tension, resulting joint issues most people don't even notice. I don't see how chlorine could cause it.

And the environmental samples collected from the site tested positive for chemicals that happen to be standard breakdown products of sarin. But oddly, they did not find the chlorinated forms of these compounds, as they did for other recovered organic chemicals. They also did not comment on how these compounds - nor the explosives residue - got there and what that would mean.

I'll be a genius and suggest this is the still-unrevealed whole story - probably fictional. Some unknown device or 4 devices - that cause a cloverleaf imprint when pressed - had been secured to the nose end. That's now missing along with the valve, but they'll say it had a small explosives charge rigged to blow on impact and separately release some sarin.

But so far, it's just an unexplained mystery. But it's one of some interest and potential in relation to other and more prominent events, like the deadlier attacks in Khan Sheikhoun and Douma, and to the course of future CW allegations.

Same Expected for Douma
At the time, Bellingcat's Eliot Higgins noted these sarin indicators are
"...particularly interesting when it is alleged in the Douma chemical attack ... that not only was chlorine used, but reports from multiple groups, including the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), UOSSM, and White Helmets allege an organophosphate (which would include Sarin) or nerve agent was used in the attack, and the US government has also stated they believe both chlorine and a nerve agent, likely Sarin, was used in Douma."
If the OPCW-FFM investigation in Douma does confirm the presence of DIMP, IPMPA/IMPA, and MPA it would add weight to the allegation that Douma was not only a chlorine attack, but also a Sarin attack, raising the question of how many other chlorine attacks that have taken place over the last 4 years which also included the use of Sarin."
Some examples:

"The symptoms described in reporting from media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other open sources—such as the WHO—include miosis (constricted pupils), convulsions, and disruption to central nervous systems. These symptoms, in addition to the dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries reported, suggest that the regime also used sarin in its attacks on April 7."

Or, if no sarin, that the reports were false.

Reuters, April 9
Professor Raphael Pitti, a doctor who viewed videos taken at the scene, said patients appeared to have had convulsions more typical of sarin poisoning. “Everything suggests that during the second attack, chlorine was used to conceal the use of sarin at the same time,” Pitti said.

April 12 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/u-s-has-blood-samples-show-nerve-agent-syria-gas-n865431
"WASHINGTON — The U.S. now has blood and urine samples from last Saturday's deadly attack ...The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said. Typically, such samples are obtained through hospitals and collected by U.S. or foreign intelligence assets on the ground. The officials said they were "confident" in the intelligence, though not 100 percent sure.
The Assad regime is known to have stocks of the nerve agent sarin, and has previously used a mixture of chlorine and sarin in attacks, say U.S. officials."

Did the OPCW confirm these pretty confident reports? I was expecting they would, as it's quite easy to do, even with purely fake means. But there was nothing.

Why the Opposition Story Needed Sarin (or Should Need it)
That's very interesting, because some kind of nerve agent is the best way to explain how so many died from just one weapon. That need was clear from the start, to those informed enough. No prior chlorine attacks have killed 35-43 people at once, let alone the 100+, 180 or 200+ some expected or had confirmed dead in the first days. The worst is about six at once (a family of 6 killed twice - a Taleb family in Sarmin 2015, and a Baytounji family in Aleppo, 2016). These death tolls were in themselves implausibly high, and a different cause of death is strongly suggested in both cases (see links). A realistic average death toll from a chlorine tank dropped from the air would be one, rounding up a bit.

(Here's my report compiling all incidents up to early 2017 - PDF link - does not cover Khan Sheikhoun or anything since. There are some omissions and errors to fix in time, so double-check. But it's a handy resource - check death tolls for chlorine attacks and none is higher than these two stray cases of 6).

In Douma, there are 34 or 35 people dead in one apartment building, all strangely clustered (see count and basic mapping here: we think the full 35 bodies reported are all visible in the limited tours shown on video, with no stray people in the majority of rooms we don't see (body #6 being the one we and others dither over counting). That's all in one building the people were allegedly free to leave. But only a few did, reporting how the chlorine made them pass out, after they saw everyone else die, and other nonsense. There are a total of "at least" 43 people generally accepted as killed, 35 at this place, apparently 8 at the other site with a chlorine bomb (the one taking a nap on an intact bed). 34-35 verified at one site is nearly six times the usual - and already implausible - high end. This may not be ridiculous, but it's very unusual and requires an explanation. So far everyone acts like it's natural, considering Assad's evil.

Why do people so rarely die? The damage caused by chlorine exposure is mechanical: when the yellowish gas contacts water, it forms hydrochloric acid and other acids, which will irritate and damage wet tissues like the lungs, eyes, etc. A mild form happens at wswimming pools, in the shower, etc., with chlorinated water. breathing molecules in the air, obviously, would be unpleasant, depending on the concentration. This damage is cased only during actual exposure. Exposure can be severe but usually isn't, and it's usually short; people find breathing chlorine uncomfortable, painful, and even scary, and they leave as soon as possible. They often rush from the scene, in fact. Any damage is done, and the after-effects then play out; injured lungs, filling with mucous and perhaps blood, will complicate breathing. The patient either slowly recovers or slowly dies, almost always somewhere well away from the gas incident. When the few die, it's usually hours or even days later.

Important point: not only does chlorine not kill instantly, it also does not cause paralysis or unconsciousness, limiting its ability to kill at all. (explained here) Activists have increasingly reported that in Syria it does, and this is why so many die; they pass out first thing and thus keep breathing the stuff until it's too late. Well, that gets accepted, but it makes no sense anyway. If the victim is knocked out by something else, trapped under rubble, tied up or locked into the gas-filled room, then they surely can die in time, and be found at the site. But as with prior cases, no one here appears knocked-out from the bomb's violent impact, nor tied up (here), or locked in or pinned down.

The best source I have for my own findings is this analysis focused on retention of consciousness, also giving various details on real chlorine exposure incidents in war and peace, realistic effects and death tolls.
So what else can make people drop in piles running up to the exit but before they can get there, just from breathing chlorine (that is, in reality, not in Syrian activist lore)? It's a previously unknown property for chlorine; the best scientists should be brought on board, not the ones working the case so far. The thinking has been maybe that's the "dirty secret" of sarin hidden in the chlorine. But in Douma, we hear chlorine is the only thing that (apparently, and probably) turned up.

to be continued...

Friday, June 29, 2018

NYT: One Really Stupid Attempt to Demonize Assad

Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, April 7, 2018
NYT: One Really Stupid Attempt to Demonize Assad
June 29, 2018
(rough, incomplete)
last edits July 3, 7, 12...

For some reason the New York Times had to come back and easily slap down the blatant "lies' by Russia and Syria over the April chemical massacre in Douma. They came back on June 25 with a video report including a detailed visual analysis, complete with helpful narration and dark, though-simulating mood music. This has nothing to do with the Douma massacre story having fallen apart and needing repair, no, no... It's just that damn Russian disinformation warping minds, and their noble need to set the record straight on issues of war and peace. The paper of record, they call it, and they bring all the confidence of that to this endeavor.

One Building, One Bomb: How Assad Gassed His Own People
By Malachy Browne, Christoph Koettl, Anjali Singkvi, Natalie Reneau, Barbara Marcolini, Yousur Al-Hlou and Drew Jordan
New York Times June 25, 2018
Some the visual explained, valuable for those not familiar with the evidence here:

Browne calls this "the most detailed reconstruction of the attack so far." Note how it took seven authors worth of work and thinking! He explains how it was done working alongside open-source investigators Bellingcat and digital imaging experts at Forensic Architecture. Together, as usual, they answer some narrow but relevant technical questions about where and what, then distort the relevance of that and find ways to reach the preconceived conclusion: Assad dunnit.

But after reviewing their pseudo-forensic case, I have to wonder are they idiots or are they deliberately trying to fool us? I suppose it's the latter as usually, but it's also - more so than usual - the former. Host Malachy Browne, his co-authors, their cited experts, research staff, someone in there … is wrong on pretty much every point, to bad effect. Of course that's no surprise, but this case is especially glaring, a low point in the abuse of reality that truly deserves a rebuttal

I've been on break from research/blogging (this mostly-Syria stuff), and mainly staying that way for the moment. But I'll take this on and explain that bold assessment in the space below. It's taken a little assembly I'm not really done with yet, but it's taken long enough. Best to strike while the iron is … above room temperature, hopefully. As usual, this is rough (content and formatting, links, etc.) and will be improved over a couple days, with more improvements intended but perhaps never gotten to...

4 Reasons Why it HAD to be Dropped by Assad
The Times video report focuses on one of the two large chlorine gas cylinders shown as responsible for the April 7 attack, the building it crashed it into, and the 34/35 bodies (all those clearly known of) that were just found there. (NYT counts 34, we count 35, presuming a dark shape that seems human is (probably adult female), but it's debatable - 35 total is reported either way.)

"Our conclusion is it HAD to drop from the sky," Browne proclaims at 6:00. And it's the physical evidence, not power politics, that forces this choice, which they hoped to make for as many minds as possible. These are their four "Key pieces of evidence." (scroll down for small text and images below the video)
1) Indentation near the nose
2) Black corrosion from chlorine gas
3) lattice imprint on the bomb ("most importantly")
4) bomb's rigging found in the debris

Let's deal with these in another order, 2 briefly and 2 in more detail, along with just a few of the things they messed up or ignored here, and probably not on accident.

Point 4, rigging: The crumpled metal pieces they show do seem to assemble into the same kind of metal harness seen on the other chlorine canister blamed for this attack, and on others in the past. These have fins to stabilize the canister and make the nose point down, hooks so they can be suspended and then dropped from a helicopter and, in the case of the two Douma cylinders at least, small wheels on long axles along the bottom side, so it could also be rolled out of a chopper. So they conclude "clearly it was designed to drop from a helicopter."

But that's not really clear, as they ignore the obvious option this was designed to create that illusion. This design impression/illusion/fact matters, as they note at 4:30, because that would prove the government side did it, perhaps the Russians; again, rebels got nothing at all in the air. Case closed. If it really "HAD to drop from the sky." 

As for the quality of this possible costume - not bad. Perhaps overdone - the tiny wheels plus harness seem redundant. But that's subjective and from this alone, government guilt is suggested.

But luckily for NYT it's not alone - there's a wealth of evidence in support. As happens when you're on the true track, every turn confirms it. Like that telltale indentation near the nose; critics claim this thing is damaged nowhere near enough to have fallen from a helicopter, usually 2km or higher above the ground. Of course the way it punched a hole but then just stopped and tipped over doesn't seem right either.

But the Times investigation points out there is a dent (the one shown at right). There is, but compared to other cases, this damage is extremely mild, considering the alleged fall. See at right a fairly extreme example of another alleged helicopter-dropped chlorine tank. The norm is somewhere in between, averaging well to the distorted end. This thing looks more like it was dropped on a large rock from maybe truck-bed height,  before they dragged it upstairs and arranged it on the balcony.

To the extent it's asymmetrical, this dent is suggestive of an angled, not a fully vertical impact, if an impact at all. That is if it same down, it was fired or hurled from the surface, not from the air. In no cases, as far as I know, is an aircraft proven. If canister like this can be hurled, they can be hurled unknown distances, maybe long. If one is launched almost straight up, it will come down from pretty high. I'm no expert but it seems to me this could explain every case we've seen. Except those we can see where launched at shallower angles... (see here). Or perhaps explosives are used in some cases to achieve distortion levels too high for that. It's all pretty unknown and unclear. Let's recognize that.

But the Douma one (as well as the other Douma one we'll gloss over here) appear more likely to be set in place after being carried or dragged up the stairs, not launched or dropped.

The Lattice "Imprint"
One of the other big clues the Times uses to prove it came crashing down may actually help show how it was simply set in place. At 5:50 in the video report, they mention "most importantly" the grid pattern "seared" into the yellow paint, which matches "exactly" the square pattern of a section of latticework it apparently crashed through. Right after relating this, with dramatic musical intonations, is where they drop the bomb; "Our conclusion is it HAD to drop from the sky."
But this point is so incredibly stupid … or am I incredibly stupid to miss how it does make sense? Let me explain how I see it and then tell me if I'm missing anything. I've seen others claim this and ignored it in pity. I forget what idiot claimed this. But now a whole team of people at the paper of record put their names on it...

Below is an image from the NYT video - they propose these crossed lines are caused directly by the metal lattice we see crumpled in the foreground and its grid of crossing bars. They think this was stretched above the balcony. Across the outer railing makes more sense to me, but it could be like they say. We can see a chip in the roofline right at the balcony's corner. Maybe it also tore through this material before impacting just below that. So far so good...

See lower left in the above image for its square grid pattern. That is a nice visual match to the red-circled area, but so what? Does a falling bomb pause and notice "what a nice pattern? I'll have it tattooed on my side?" and then get that tattoo before it busts through the stuff head-first? No, no ... direct physical contact is mentioned. Does it come in nose-down, find the grid red hot and then pause to lay on it sideways long enough to have the pattern "seared" directly into its paint? And then continue its crash down?

No, if it's definitely falling from a regime helicopter, it will come in nose down and punch right through this stuff that way. They say "our analysis suggests that this imprint was made by the force of impact", but seemingly forget that impact is a violent event involving 3-dimensional movement, as in through the lattice. The contact will be passing, and the nature of the passing determines any marks left behind. The grid might imprint the nose end somehow before it splits apart to let the bomb through. The marks from that would be long lines down the cylinder's sides, running lengthwise - scratches dug in by the loose bars of the torn grid, not "imprints" that are "seared" in. They won't be like the marks we see.
Note: crude graphic. The curving lines would actually be straight, I suppose, just slanted; a curve would be caused by that plus a change in the ratio between forward movement and rotation. See below.

The grid we see - if it's even from that lattice - could be burned into the paint if the metal were hot (but why? heat of impact? But that would have movement too, no time for searing...). More logically, it could be rusted in from sitting on the lattice in the rain, but both require laid-on-top contact for some span of time in order to get this grilled sausage look.  It's got nothing to do with anything like a bomb crashing down - as they seem to realize, usually nose-first. Between them, they really don't seem to know what the hell they're talking about here. You can tell the cylinder crashed from the sky through that lattice because it looks like it laid sideways on that lattice?

Hello? 3-D world calling NYT research crew, reporters, experts; Your bodies live here. Those of the Douma victims used to live here. Do you care at all about how things actually happen here? You claim to...

Here are some other possibilities (basic idea, obviously). Possibly the first option (corrosion version), or the last option if repeated and mirrored backwards in one area, would explain what we see. What Browne et al. are certain happened would leave marks more like the second option.

Now there is a similarity in line widths/grid proportions here, and I suspect that lattice is involved - or about three bars of it anyway. If you look, you'll see this grid pattern is sort of fragmentary: there are exactly two lines angling one way near the front, then 2 lines the same length angling the same way, then another 2 the same way with one bending and a third appearing now, at the back of the canister. Then crossing those, two lines about the same distance apart, running perpendicular to the third set. There only does it look like a grid. But what if that's an illusion, and we just see two sets of angled marks, from two different episodes of manual pulling and rotation, maybe separated by days? Here's what I specifically propose:

In fact we know it was pulled an rotated between one early images (below, left: black side down) and all later ones (right, TV4, black side mostly up), perhaps just the degree evidenced in heave 4; this might be the mark of that shift.  (the full scrape isn't seen, so that "total rotation" (not marked as such) is actually a minimum. So is the other one marked in red. Should update that...).

If so, the other marks would be the same thing but in reverse and with a longer pull, about the canister's length, at least. This is likely from the initial planting. The smoke stains here (see below) show this is mainly on the underside in its planted position, so they probably didn't notice the scratching.

Perhaps my reasoning is off (maybe backwards in some regard) on that specific reading. But unless the reasoning above that is flawed (please let me know if so!), … Duh! That's their grilled sausage theory of impact. Paper of record, folks.

The Black "Corrosion"
While suggesting burning along those black scrape marks, this ludicrous NYT report ignores the actual sign of fire and heat here; one end of this non-grilled sausage is coated in black soot like you see after a fire (visible on the underside above), like it tipped into the grill, or down a chimney. But they decide to call this something else, as they ignore the smoking gun clue it's part of.

At 8:11 they address this important "black residue." A metals expert told them chlorine mixes with water, or here frost, and corrodes the metal, creating "a dark compound." That, they decided, is what coats the canister on the underside, where it frosted over during gas release (that it did - they call this auto-refrigeration).

Indeed, chlorine plus moisture - that in the air even - will create hydrochloric and other acids, which will oxidixe metals, creating new compounds with different colors. Generally, that's called rust, but that word is avoided in the report. Cartoon writers know about it (but the passing out part is incorrect). So do others (see "bleach" - same idea: "The oxidizing properties of bleach accelerate rusting; iron loses electrons more readily in the presence of bleach than in plain water.") In most cases rust is not this type of dark.

The color of rust varies with the metal; orange with iron, green with copper, etc. Any black metal at this swimming pool suffering from chlorine corrosion to the metal fixtures? No, it's all sort of orange-colored. I believe these gas canisters are usually made of steel, which is made primarily of iron. So its rust will be what we call rust color, not dark/black. In cases I've seen previously, chlorine canisters exposed to their own contents wind up that color (at the bare metal parts). In fact this one the NYT report refers to rusted orange. Below is a color-enhanced details from Russia 1 footage. There's your "dark compound" that chlorine caused, and it's not black at all (on valve cap threads, a stray wire, and the metal slat). Over there is the black stuff, and it's something else. 

In fact the black material appears on top of, and would derive from, the yellow paint, not the metal itself, in the Times/Bellingcat scenario. They didn't ask a paint and coatings expert what chlorine would do to that. So are we left in the dark? Does it turn black on exposure to chlorine? No. In every chlorine case yet seen, paint stays yellow, while bare metal parts turn rusty orange-brown.

Here's a closer view of the black side. If this is soot as I suspect, it should deposit pretty evenly, but we see an odd parted-hair pattern. Some of this may be streaking from the smoke's original deposition, but it seems mostly this is from some from light rain. Scattered droplet shapes of clean yellow can be seen on the upside, with rivulets of white dust down the sides, wiping the soot away too in streaks that converged in the middle, ran to the lowest point, and dripped down (so that hair-part was its straight-down side during this rain). See light gray streaks here on the lower half to prove running dust. Also the frost of auto-refrigeration would melt and run away the same way, perhaps explaining this effect even more than the rain does.

Does chlorine-darkened paint rinse away like this, to reveal another layer of still-yellow paint beneath it? Uh, no. This something else, black and unexplained, on top of the cylinder, at least the part that was sticking down in that hole after the attack/staging.

Coincidentally, this black stuff they have no good explanation for looks just like another thing they don't mention - the soot stains from a fire set on top of the rubble (after impact) but before that first camera crew arrived. Does someone setting a fire under the bomb help prove it fell from a regime aircraft? Nope. Ignored.

The smoke clearly comes from a fire that somehow broke out in the southwest corner of the room beneath the canister, the corner closest to right below the canister. Above, the burned material ispartly visible on the bottom edge of the image. Below is a Reuters photo facing south:
Swedish TV4 facing northwest
There a few ways of reading this scene, but here's the best by far: a pile of fabric or something flammable was laid ON TOP of the pre-existing rubble, doused in accelerants and lit up, perhaps with more fuel added later. It seems the window was open, sucking in a lot of oxygen to fuel this. The lower south wall is very deeply charred, suffering great heat. The south and west walls here are coated in black soot up to the ceiling, across that and the upper walls all around the room (just what's smoke vs. shadow isn't totally clear, but it's at least partly smoke.). What this means is smoke pooled up here as it waited to exit the main functional chimney here - that hole in the ceiling mostly filled with the chlorine cylinder. Most or all of it would finally escape that way, sticking to any surface it passed on the way.

Most crucially; this fire was set before the first seen video, taken at 10:06 pm on the night of the attack (per data shared with NYT, see 11:44 in the video). By then the ceiling appears dark, and the upper walls also get black, along the same lines we would later see more clearly. So the fire was set after the alleged impact (atop the rubble allegedly from that) but before the "first responder" video - an odd time to be setting fires beneath just landed CW bombs. As for planted ones, it depends whether there's a good reason to do so...

Explaining that in images… marking the smoke lines as seen later (may appear a bit different in different lighting, etc.). On the left, the way the curve relates to the corner (vert line). On the right, tracing those two wires, the starts of a faintly dark area vs. a darker-yet area (app.)

10pm video still, rotate-skewed to match other scene, with its own apparent dark patches outlined in white (and wires in black for reference as they washed out in enhancement). Corner on left can't be called, but the curves of the burn line match. Bands on right side look curved here, straight later, so I call straight with a mild illusion. Bottom view has the above image overlaid after careful matching. I didn't get the line-up completely right, but close - the effect is minimal. (was tricky - decided curtain/window edge illusion (right curtain pulled down before other views), etc.)
Here with just the images and judge for yourself. Check the videos if you want. (the links are … around. I got rusty)
The part that's darker doesn't look much different at all, despite the lighting and perspective differences. Clearly, this is the same smoke-staining, there already at 10 as chlorine is actively pouring from the canister (it's frosted-over). That was allegedly dropped anywhere between 7 and 10 pm - accounts differ, apparently for good reason. The Times report heard this frosting can last, vaguely, for "hours," depending on the conditions. Early evening in early April would be middle conditions, FWIW. (Or actually pretty warm, as Charles Wood finds - 27C at 7pm, 22C at 10pm (see comments)).

The canister should be there, in its own impact hole, after impact. Right? Well the fire was set after impact, and has deposited its smoke and stopped burning by the 10pm video. So the canister's bottom side should already be soot-covered too, just hidden underneath that frost we see. Host Browne reasons "where we once saw frost we now see corrosion." Oops, the order is backwards. After the melt, we see something right there that looks just like that hidden smoke-stain we should expect. Where there's smoke there's fire, but the NYT/Bellingcat investigation ignored the fire and called the smoke something else - that had to be poorly made-up

Why The Fire?
So ignored or not, the clues are clear - the locals lit a fire under the alleged chlorine-sarin bomb as a first order of business after it landed (or was set in place, depending). Maybe it was to melt the frost, thinking that was the problem causing the chlorine? They are Islamists, quite likely idiots. What's the big deal?

Well, none of them seems to have dropped dead anywhere near their fooling around right beneath the chlorine-sarin device blamed for the sudden deaths of dozens on the floors below. So did they set the fire before the gas came out? Were they protected? Was the gas not so deadly (just plain chlorine?) Or is it a combination answer?

And as it happens, there's a good reason someone might set such a fire, depending on the time and their reasons. Recalling the frost means it's releasing its gas, we can note it did this at least partly after the fire. Fire then gas: is that why? I think so.

After positioning the canister - and most or all of the bodies (see far below) - they could use fire to get the chlorine out to complete the scene and document a true frosty release atop of "in-situ" dead people. Here's how: they position the valve so the fire's heat will melt away the softer-metal fusible plug. This is set below the main outlet, designed to release gas in case of a fire, to prevent an even-more dangerous explosion. (here  shown is the poured variety - another kind can be screwed in or out). As you can see, if that were to vanish, gas would start escaping, even if the valve was screwed tightly closed.

This crude method has advantages; Unlike smashing the valve off, that can be done without jarring the thing loose to finally fall in on your head. Unlike simply opening the valve, it can be done without risking a possibly fatal facefull. It has a crude time delay; set the fire, leave, and wait.

The downsides are the right heat level may not be achieved, and it looks obvious - in fact just like this - to anyone paying attention. The crime scene will be coated in smoke (photo above: did they really try scrubbing it off as it appears in that one spot?). 

Also, the soot-coated valve assembly will have an extra and telltale hole in it.  We can see the valve is gone later (see views above, around). Russia 1's argument that we can see the screw threads where the valve was manually removed are incorrect; the threads seen there are for the outer safety cap that's never on these things when they're used or staged as alleged CW weapons. The threads in question are on the inside of that neck and never seen that I know of.

In fact, those odd metal slats laid beneath the cylinder have no clear explanation, aside from how they cover the valve hole, blocking any useful view so we can't see how it went away. There are three possibilities:
- broken off (it'll be partly there, snapped off near the base - any fragment left barely sticks out, never visible - not likely)
- popped out by overpressure (stripping the threads - very unlikely - esp. considering the fusible plug)
- manually unscrewed. I suspect this is how, and the reason is to hide the clues it held; the scorching and the wrong hole in the side that the gas finally came out of.

Considering that, the unusual absence of the valve assembly here is further evidence supporting this release-by-fire hypothesis.

So far the best counter-argument I hear is the fire doesn't matter enough to mention, and coincidentally this abnormal yellow paints turns black on contact with chlorine - at least the outermost coating of it does. Also punching through a lattice head-first leaves a mark like you had the lattice design tattooed on your belly. So you can see why I stick with my line of reasoning here - clearly, because Putin orders it.

Other Errors and What They Ignored (in part)
Idiot expert on corneal burns: I'll pass over the foam issue for now, as raised by one of the Times' experts. The copious foam from many victims' mouths and noses seems legit to me, at least in part if not totally (some details are debatable, I'm unsure). It argues somewhat against sarin of the sudden-death type (the kind suggested by how everyone fell where they were, which has nothing to do with chlorine - in a sudden death, you don't breathe enough to even produce foam). This proves the people were exposed, probably, to one of the many kinds of poisons that can cause lung damage and mucous secretions, etc. to trigger this foam (which is fluids in the airways, filled with the air one is trying to breathe, locked up inside bubbles). This pulmonary edema is caused by (among other things including sarin) irritants, chlorine included. Perhaps chlorine did cause it. But as for other signs...  

Another supposed expert (Jennifer Knaack) thinks chlorine causes corneal burns that make the eyes appear white? What a moron. The literature has been pretty clear for over a century, but a bit more mixed the last few years in Syria; the acid created when chlorine contacts the water in the eyes causes a mild to severe redness in the eyes, which we don't really see at all. In more severe cases, from what I know, they'll start melting, get really red and pour blood. The point where the whites are still white is at little or no exposure, not at severe exposure like they heard. Whiteness over the whites is generally the point the Douma victims are at.

The added whiteness over the pupils she seems to be referring to, I think, is a simple phenomenon; they call "clouding." It's a basic thing that happens to all dead people and animals, like rigor mortis. I'm not sure what causes it, but it sets in quick. (I'm not sure why the activists showed us the victims' eyes so much, when they don't even support the case (no redness).) How is Knaack considered an expert in these things, when she's not even aware of what chlorine does to eyes vs. what any kind of death does? I'm not out to harm anyone's reputation, but hey, she's the one clearly speaking past her expertise, for some reason (which would be what?)

Add 7/7: This eye claim has previously been made by supposed chemical expert Keith Ward. In an article run by Bellingcat, he makes a ludicrous claim that "even if only 1% of the contents of a cylinder (1 pound) of chlorine made its way into the lower floors and basement of the buildings attacked, that would be sufficient to fill a large space with a concentration of chlorine that would cause death to those sheltering therein within a matter of minutes." He also decided "the vast majority of the clinical signs and symptoms (such as the corneal opacification and the frothing from mouths and nostrils, due to pulmonary edema, seen on dead bodies) ... are most consistent with exposure to high levels of chlorine, although they do not completely rule out that a nerve agent might have also been involved." What a moron. He clarifies they refer to clouding, and are unaware this is just a sign of death. Period. Ward is described as "an Affiliated Faculty member at George Mason University. He received his B.S. in Physics from Texas A&M and his Ph.D. in Biophysics from the Johns Hopkins University. He was on the Chemistry Faculty at the University of Wisconsin before serving as a civilian scientist for the US Navy, DHS, and the FBI Laboratory. Since retiring, he occasionally provides technical assistance to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, specializing in chemical and biological defense topics." Huh. He can blame regimes ok. Good prosecution 'expert witness' type. He's also cited in the NYT repot at 9:24, testifying to the frothy mucous clue, but not the eyes. Instead, Knaack is brought on to address that. Did Ward decide to drop that point, forcing them to find someone less qualified to repeat what they had heard around from the likes of Mr. Ward?

This BBC article takes reports from locals of "corneal burns" and/or "cornea irritation" as signs of chlorine, seen/reported on patients and those found in the home. But this image search for cornea irritation shows what I'm saying: this means red eyes, not ones that are cloudy as if one were dead. We hear some kind of burn was seen on the living, but where we can see (the dead victims in the house), we see clouding, and little to no redness. The conclusion to draw from this is they're dead, and it's not from regular chlorine exposure. (but perhaps irregular exposure: if they were wearing goggles, for example, red eyes could be avoided even with exposure to chlorine or another caustic agent.)<end 7/7>

Add 7/12: I could stand to have better sources on this, but here's one easily found online explanation of post mortem eye clouding. Here's another list of the basic signs of death, one of which is "Clouding of the cornea." Explained: "The transparent window of the eye begins to cloud quickly after death."

Some images show an additional red-black band across the white of the eye I've rarely seen or noted. Digging around, it seems they call this tache noir (black spot): if the eyes are left open after death, I guess from not blinking/moving and moistening like usual, the exposed part darkens that way (in the dark or only in the sun or light?). This may be the cause of the dark spots on the eyes of the boy whose left eye is shown below (small, in the lower right corner). That also is not a chlorine burn. 

There are injuries to the eye that cause scarring that appears opaque like the Douma victims and all other dead people. Glaucoma causes similar. But that, I believe, is scar issue. It appears after the initial injury has healed, whereas dead people don't heal. What the injury looks like, before and shortly after a related death: acid burn to the cornea: like after the swimming pool but worse in a severe (deadly) case. cornea burn, chemical: can cause opacification, but also causes severe redness, capillaries engorged with blood - chlorine causes acids, which burn less severely than an alkaline would (per this graphic and other sources.)

Feel free to compare.
Below, the boy displaying tache noir in larger form, to note the dark spots and clouding to show he died, and the lack of red to suggest chlorine did it. But the orange stuff that wound up in his airways suggests it included blood, from inhaling chlorine or similar. So what could be different between his eyes and lungs? <end 7/12>

Lack of rational motive: The report argues that Assad had the motive for this chemical massacre, as his forces conquered Douma the next day - probably because of the attack. Many have wondered why Assad would make such a move and risk re-crossing president Trump's "all kinds of red lines" and incur fresh military strikes or other fallout, when he was on the verge of victory here anyway. But Browne at al. seem sure rebels here, led by the Saudi-backed Army of Islam, were prepared to hold out, despite the fact they were totally surrounded, split in half, and many had already surrendered and left the area. Some others did put on a show of refusing to surrender (and I suspect it was just a show, planned along with their false-flag CW event), shelling Damascus April 6 as a provocation for return shelling and, it's thought, this chemical attack. This is what we're to believe broke their will; they couldn't risk any more dead babies from gas attacks, and had better just fold.

Well if so, that's some unexplained change of heart. Consider how the same basic guys in August 2013 claimed 1,700 civilians were killed by Assad's chemicals, and they insisted at the time they'd never surrender, no matter how many (of their hostages?) wound up gassed/executed (like the one guy and that other one, at least). There should be a no-fly zone, but either way, they swore the fight would go on until God willed otherwise.

They were not surrounded, cut-off, and starting to surrender at that time. On April 7, 2018 they were, and suddenly they also cared this much about whoever those people are? Is it the closeness of defeat improving their ethics, or is this just a coincidence since they were still miles from that? Or is it just more sold and bought bullshit?

Clues the victims were massacred, planted here: At 8:45 the report explains the "most damning" clue  - the 34/35 dead victims are actually verified to be at the building with this shady chlorine tank staging stuff they messed up so badly in reading. And the videos "show that this was a lethal chemical attack," not just some kind without a bunch of dead people piled fairly near the exit/entrance of a building that seems mainly uninhabited.

But there are a lot of clues they blur out or gloss over suggesting those poor folks were killed deliberately (yes, with toxic gasses, not guns) and then planted here. Consider as the terrorists surrendered and were given safe passage to Idlib, etc., they were not allowed to bring any chemical weapons they might have, nor any hostages (both of which they were known to possess, in somewhat uncertain kinds and quantity). Would they just leave and free these, or take a last chance to use them - hostages and poisons together - to score more points against their hated Assad? To save space and slow the alienation of weaker readers, I'll just direct you to victim analysis if you're curious which of these clues I've noted here (there are other clues too, but mine are very interesting, if incomplete).

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How Terrorists were Given Al-Houla in Response to Their Massacre There

Marking Six Years Since the "Houla Massacre" in Taldou
May 23-24, 2018

Al-Houla: At Last! Liberated, or Lost, Depending...
I've been swamped and bottlenecked lately, but this year especially I must pause and leave that clogged. It's time to mark the 6th anniversary of the infamous Houla Massacre. That event on May 25, 2012, is what caught my attention to start studying events in Syria, inspiring me to suggest a collaborative research website. My ally "CE" set up the wiki-format site A Closer Look On Syria in June, 2012. She and I and Petri Krohn (the first 3 core members) focused on the Houla Massacre heavily, besides other things, and soon developed an unusual mastery of the evidence most people barely knew.

Every year since, I've marked the anniversary in some way, at first with detailed PDF reports in 2013 and 2014 (see last year's commemoration with a summary of the previous ones if curious). Mostly these have repeated the same message in different ways. But year six is different. For the first time since mid-2012, Al-Houla is back under government control, as of about a week ago. Here's the Houla-Rastan pocket as it stood April 18 (Peto Lucem map), at the start of the SAA operation to close it. A month later, the effort was complete. All green is now gone, and all orange lines of contest have fizzled away. The Houla area is the north-south strip at the west edge of this pocket, containing Tal Dahab, Kafr Laha, and Taldou.

Shortcut for news; from ACLOS's well-maintained Syria News feed (and I don't even do any of that! except sometimes - should more):

16 May. Syrian flags are raised in Rastan and Talbiseh after the evacuation process in the east and center of the Rastan pocket has successfully been completed (map). According to later reports, the western part of the pocket around the Houla plains is also already in government hands, which would make the Rastan pocket history. The so-called Houla massacre of May 2012 was the event that led to the creation of this wiki, so seeing that place out of "rebel" hands for the first time in six years certainly is something that inspires our curiosity.

18 May: According to SANA National Flag hoisted over Aqrab town in Hama countryside

19 May: SANA publishes images allegedly showing locals greeting the army in the towns of the Houla plains. Technicians are repairing the former pocket's power grid.

One of the photos:

Not everybody's happy. For example:
تحيا الثورة أنقذوا درعا
@VivaRevolt May 16
Also,another painful aspect of this lost,is that Al-Houla and its villages will go back to Regime control,these villages witnessed the most sectarian-motivated and barbaric massacre ever witnessed,the Houla Massacre,the regime will desecrate the area and begin fabrications

There were worse one, but point taken. Indeed, fresh stories may emerge now. But fabrications about the Houla massacre date back to the event itself, though opinions differ on which set of witnesses was making it up.

May 25: Houla FSA Breaks Into Taldou
Of course I've been trying to fight what I see as the lies since the start. Let's start with one place I was able to bring a little improvement to was at the Houla Massacre Wikipedia article, background section anyway. This had cited Al-Jazeera to explain how Al-Houla was a singular rebel-held Sunni "town" that was attacked by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on May 25, chasing out the FSA defenders prior to the massacre committed by local Alawite "Shabiha." I corrected this part a year or two ago, and now... it remains pretty fair or even unchanged (bolding added here):

Al-Houla is an area mainly comprising three towns named, as given north-to-south in the UN's June report, Tal Addahab, Kafr Laha and Taldou. They report the towns have a combined population of more than 100,000 "of which the majority is Sunni Muslim," but are "ringed by Shia villages to the southeast, and Alawi villages to the southwest and the north."

(adding here: a graphic for that)

Houla was a regular protest hub, even before army defectors formed the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian army had been accused of raiding and killing protesters in the Houla region before. But by May, 2012 FSA or allied rebels were in general control of the area, according to both pro-government (acceptable citation needed) and anti-government sources. Der Spiegel was told over the winter "a unit of the Free Syrian Army took up residence (in Houla) and it has been considered liberated since then" although the state's army still controlled "roads into the town." [29] The UN's investigators only really considered Taldou, the southernmost town in Houla, and found "opposition forces may have been in control of parts of the city, mostly in the north." [26]

According to Al Jazeera's correspondent Hadi al-Abdallah, this FSA control of Houla is why the Syrian Army was unable to enter on May 25, and had to shell it from a distance prior to the massacre.[20] However, the UN's June report noted "Government forces are present in Al-Houla" with "fortified checkpoints" they show on an attached map. This shows only the south end of Taldou, between rebel-held Houla and the Alawi and Shia villages. All the reported massacre sites, also labeled on that map, are in this immediate area of Taldou.[26]
Cited here and below: UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) reports (June, 2012 interim report - August final report )

So, a twist few people ever learned of; the massacre happened in an area the army already controlled. They wouldn't need to shell it in order to gain access.

I need to add (or re-add?) this important part about the CoI's findings: two of those five security posts were militarily overrun in a FSA/Islamist offensive on May 25. Their first report heard of a protest that came under shelling attack, and decided vaguely: “Either in retaliation, or in a premeditated attack, anti-Government armed groups, including the FSA present in Taldou, fired upon the security forces checkpoints, probably overrunning one or two of them. Several people were killed in these clashes or as a result of the shelling...” This includes some rebel fighters, and some 5 or 6 soldiers at least were killed, with an unclear number of others captured. But the investigators seem to feel the government wound up on top and did the massacre anyway.

Upon review of the evidence, "probably overrunning one or two" posts means almost surely taking out two of them - and this is an "at least" number, not "at most." The CoI “determined that the clocktower checkpoint was overrun at some point” in the day. (p.10) They didn't go into detail, but a witness says he FSA fully neutralized it around 7:00 PM, but the post was distracted by attacks and bypassed earlier, around 2 P.M.. Video of the scene later shows the place scarred with gunfire, with abandoned military vehicles and sandbagged positions. It would have been no small feat to overrun this. But as The map at the end of the CoI's June report says, it was "overrun by anti-gov't forces."

Later videos show some of the fighting in a mysterious, undated "battle to liberate freedom circle," which this central roundabout came to be called after May 25. It seems that battle was on this day, and is the offensive the CoI refers to, and the videos were delayed in their release just to make the date less obvious. 

Further south down Taldou's Main Street is the secured military intelligence headquarters (MIHQ). The map at the end of the UN CoI's June report has this labeled “Military Intelligence Post (likely overrun by anti-gov't forces).”  They acknowledge in the report a “new front line” that was only “north of the (Qaws) checkpoint,” not clearly at MIHQ. In videos, we see burned building, burned military vehicles out front, and anti-Assad graffiti by the day after. It was clearly overrun, and FSA would have access halfway down main street, at least (see map below).

The investigators decided ultimately that this was all a coincidence, but here's the situation as they would put it (my map based on theirs and other info). The northern majority of town was already FSA-held, and by sometime on May 25 the white posts were knocked out, with dependent areas now open to them; Saad Road especially where the bulk of victims lived.

Orange posts, the investigators decided, still blocked their way as possible, shielding the Sayed families. The Water co. base with heavy wepons and elevation, could shell targets anywhere below, but would be a bit too crude to halt foot soldiers running house-to house. Army snipers at the hospital would likely stop rebels from killing anyone on Saad Road, the Commission reasoned.

In fact, the government's continued control of this part of the "rebel-held town" was key to their finding  “reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators (of the massacre)... were aligned to the Government.”  (p.67) It seemed unlikely anyone else could gain access.

And the army or Shabiha also might have gotten around the suddenly-rebel-controlled majority of town to kill the Abdulrazaq families over on Saad Road. In fact, they must have, presumably on foot across the fields (the creek would be fairly low...). Because after all, who else but the proven killers over on army-controlled Main Street would be going around killing whole families? I hope we can see how poor this reasoning is at inspiring confidence. Most of those relying on the CoI as the final word never even bother to dig into the mechanics like this.

What the UN investigators missed was the evidence that the two other posts on Main Street were also either overrun or circumvented as a consequence of the rebel-initiated conflict of May 25. The one that matters most is the National Hospital, with those snipers helping secure the area. But between video evidence and credible accounts (those in agreement with the video), it seem like someone suddenly changed the management there and set the hospital on fire around sunset on May 25. The best explanation of that is still this 2014 report:

The Battle for the Houla Massacre: the video evidence explained, and the rest re-considered
(I'm open to relevant challenges at this debate spot, or this on-site mirror, or wherever, so long as I'm made aware, I'll check any attempted counter-argument for relevance and accuracy. No takers yet. The challenge has been up for about four years.)

With flawed reasoning (as explained throughout my report, and sharply summarized on p 56/57), the CoI decided the army held this area on Main Street the FSA never quite got to. They half-acknowledge the FSA had control up to the MIHQ, and after that, the nearby mobile post at the qaws (arches) "demarcated the new front line between the opposition and Government forces." (p.66)

This post seems to usually consist of a pickup truck with soldiers in it parked on the side of the street at the arches marking the old city entrance. It's not even clear if it was manned 24/7. Mobile “front lines” are problematic, having the option to simply move out of the way if it became clear they couldn't hold their position. the CoI had acknowledged on its map "Qaws (mobile - maybe further south)." That is, for all they know, the soldiers may have pulled back some distance under the assault. They could retreat about 120 meters and take a new position at the Sayed family's front door, or further yet. No alleged witnesses say what happened here; these soldiers may have retreated at some point, could be among those killed or captured, or they may have held out. Then, perhaps they halted any advance to the south, or perhaps they were circumvented.  

But here's some evidence the arches were gotten through or around, one way or another; the National Hospital seems to be at least partly on fire by sunset. Something on that line of sight is billowing black smoke, apparently just for a few moments so far. It does seem the qaws post is active at this time, however, and shooting back at the FSA attackers (see below).

Ambassador Jaafari at least reported the terrorists had attacked and burned the hospital in their offensive (see here 5:00, but confused about "another village" - other witnesses report the hospital's burning and perhaps a massacre there, or at least the killing of a soldier believed to be a non-Sunni. A SANA animation ACLOS looked at showed attackers driving down the hill from the east, apparently as the Water Co. base on the hill was distracted, and it was they who attacked the hospital, entirely south of the arches post.

Anyway, the army post at the hospital apparently didn't hold. The massacre site across the street would be just as wide open. Here, a government-supporting former policeman Muawiya al-Sayed lived. He was killed alongside his adult son and 8-year-old daughter. The son was an army soldier on leave with a broken leg. The killers gouged his eyes out. (it's alleged the Shabiha targetde these al-Sayeds just for being Sunnis and the father's extremely Sunni name. There is backstory to why Shia dislike the name Muawiya, but as a reason the massacre a loyal family, it really pales. 

Some alleged army shelling was shown on video, but it's mostly vague, and could be part of the FSA offensive. The only time we can see where any of the shelling is coming from, it's clearly that. This guy in the activist crowd carries an RPG launcher, and goes ignored as he fires 3+ shells, very loudly, at something off-frame.  (analysis video) ... all in an area of free rebel access on northern Saad Road (B on the map above), south of the overrun clocktower post (just now liberated "freedom circle"). It's about 6:15 pm by solar angles, claimed as May 25 and posted that day as evidence of the massacre, and widely-cited as such. It was maybe the best video of the "shelling" they published at the time.

Activists here ignore the man firing weapons as they load the bodies of four men into a van that drives south; the Abdulrazaq family was being slaughtered a ways south on this unprotected street around then or earlier, and those same 4 bodies are shown later amongst the Abdulrazaq family victims. This all proves mobile opposition access in this whole area, something the UN's CoI dithered over and finally decided against. 

Some bullets can be seen flying from the mobile post near the arches at sunset. But these come in response to protesters with AK-47s firing at them from behind this corner. it's 170 meters north of the Qaws, and just down and across the street from MIHQ, which is clearly no threat to the gunmen (that is, it's been overrun). This is the same video where we can see the hospital burning further south behind the qaws. So either they were gotten around, or this is a staged scene where rebels shoot at each other to fake such resistance. (this is also a June-posted video, but again, it's from the "freedom circle" battle.)  

But it could be the soldiers at the qaws held out, or this truck was intentionally left intact as a security post. If it were just distracted with defense, as they would be per that video, some other guys could have snuck on foot far around it, moving south. Armed with guns and knives, they could easily overcome the defenses at the Al-Sayed family homes and slaughter the people.

They might leave the bodies if they came on foot, but it seems likely attackers in vehicles were in the area, assaulting the hospital at least. Maybe they would opt to leave the bodies anyway, as proof the government had control, and must have done it. Whatever the reason, while rebels did recover most bodies, at the Abdulrazaq sites and other scattered locales, the Al-Sayeds were left behind and filmed by SANA in the morning as victims of the terrorist massacre (at right, two head-shot sons of Aref al-Sayed, - brothers, allegedly, of fake miracle survivor Ali al-Sayed - UNSMIS investigators sided with the opposition claims, helped some activists claiming to be family load these 7 bodies in the morning and take them to the anonymous mass grave in the north of Taldou).

Standing Up for Rebel-Held Al-Houla

In a news video for ITV/CNN (YouTube) Alex Thomson reports from Taldou with Syrian troops, apparently on May 27, at spots on Main Street that were government-secured on the 24th. Now, as Thomson notes, they SAA are here but not in control, and are in fact "very scared." They get pinned down under sniper fire, taking cover as they can. One had been shot and carried away; we're shown his fresh blood on the pavement. An old man recently executed by somebody is shown, mostly covered with a blanket. Two frames at right: first moving in behind a tank, well south of the arches (visible up the street), later from the burned-out APCs at MIHQ (see map above)

This is the Syrian Army clawing to re-gain control of Taldou. All signs suggest they lost control on 25 May. But as we know, the world community was told a different story at the time.

Al-Jazeera first reported on at least 90 killed in "Houla, a town ... after government forces tried to break into the town." But later we'd learn the army was already in control of the killing sites, that control in fact being central to the UN investigators. In fact it was the FSA that tried to break in. BBC news reported "according to activists and eyewitnesses interviewed by the BBC, other media and human rights groups, army shelling paved the way for a concerted ground attack by the shabiha." The way didn't need paved. It was nice and smooth already. All the violence of that day just made the pavement in their controlled area covered in rubble, and partially rebel-held.

The UN Security Council seemed to be missing some details as well, declaring the massacre "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood" and they "again demanded that President Bashar al-Assad withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian towns." (VoA News) The massacre part was less uniformly condemned; Russia and China seemed to think the FSA or allies had perhaps done it, despite the government shelling. Western and allied nations were clear the shelling proved government guilt for itself and anything that followed. US "Ambassador" Robert Ford called the massacre "the most unambiguous indictment of the regime to date," based mainly on its coming "after the vicious assault involving tanks and artillery – weapons that only the regime possesses."

But the UN CoI's consulted experts felt the damage looked like "heavy mortars, heavy machine guns or light artillery," with nothing about heavy artillery or tanks or Scud missiles. Larger mortars, RPGs, and maybe heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks, which attacking rebels would likely have, reportedly had, or were seen using, could explain all of the heaviest damage seen. 

My first Houla debunk was of a desperate effort by the BBC to prove heavy artillery was involved. It was this easy:

Nothing about the damage proves it was something only the government had at the time. It's down to verbal claims and considerations of motive, etc. 

And what apparently was unclear to the Security Council, Russians included, is the "residential neighborhood" that mattered was under government control to start with. Why would they shell their own wards, at the same time as a rebel offensive on that same area, which the Security Council seemingly ignored? There's still no good answer to this question. And much of that damage was to security posts which they ... must have shelled on accident? 

So ... the world tells Syria Houla is hands-off - leave that FSA-held Sunni village alone. As they moved to underwrite their permanent lease, they didn't seem to realize the Islamist fighters had just seized that last bloody part of Houla. Those in charge of Taldou were best placed to launch the massacre there. Did they realize how likely it was they were rewarding the perpetrators, rather than holding them to account as they insisted was their main goal?

Syria could have ignored these insane demands, but it was maybe too big a pain anyway to reclaim and hold even half of Taldou, so long as Houla in general was run by the terrorists. So the government let it go. The exact details are still unclear to me - maybe they re-claimed the hospital, etc. I'm sure the hilltop "Water co." base remained, along with checkpoints forming a ring around southern Taldou, still protecting the Alawi and Shia villages from raids by the Sunni extremists running wild over Houla.

In December, 2012, Houla rebels broke the northerm cordon, and conquered Aqrab, adding that to their holdings, and cleansing the town's Alawite district with warning and then a massacre, a mass-kidnapping of 500 remaining civilians, and perhaps another massacre of many of these, which rebels blamed weakly on Shabiha and the army (ACLOS: Aqrab Massacre). Alex Thomson came back to the area to report for Channel 4 News, and he was not convinced by the story the Houla rebels told. Either way, the army was gone and the FSA in charge, and so it became 'hands off the Sunni rebel town of Aqrab' as well, but this time with no massacre verified to condemn anyone over.

But after this, that's about how it was until the recent liberation of the area nearly six years later. The danger was contained to a certain area - one this danger had no right to, but which outside powers conspired to help it secure.

Re-Considering Who Were the Original Fabricators
Most of what the world thought it knew about the Houla Massacre came from opposition-supplied alleged witnesses and miracle survivors - an awful lot of them, with often silly stories full of conflicting details. There was always another class of witnesses that denied that story in some detail, but they were telling fabrications, most people decided. These spoke on SANA news, to Abkhazian ANNA News and the late Marat Musin, to UNSMIS monitors, and to other media, investigators, and activists (overview at ACLOS).

These people all claimed Taldou was largely secured by the government up to that day, and had been mostly peaceful until it came under attack that afternoon by heavily-armed "terrorists". These forces included some 6-800 men from Houla, Rastan, and further off, even from overseas. The FSA' notorious Farouq Brigade was specified as involved, and many believed Al-Qaeda's nascent Al-Nusra Front was too. Syria's UN representative Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari called it “a full-fledged military operation planned in advance,” coming in waves over nine hours, blazing through with “pickup cars loaded with heavy weapons […] the Libyan way you saw a couple months ago.” 

A pro-government witness - "Arifah" as we at ACLOS dubbed her (top) - told SANA via ANNA how terrorists fired on the clocktower (aka roundabout) army post and/or Baath Party headquarters in central Taldou (see map above).  She says this started around 1 or 2 pm and ran for a while. They fired from the northwest - with a mortar and then heavy machine guns, in what seems a distraction to allow terrorists to move down Saad road. (note: she doesn't seem to have witnessed all this personally, but is mixing what little she saw with things she learned - or was told to say, whatever).

Below her is a scene from a video of Arabad Bin Souriyeh battalion fighters, firing a larger caliber machine gun (not quite the "heavy" the CoI referred to)  southeast, towards just those targets from a nearby alley to the northwest (clearly geo-located). It's about 1:25 pm by sunlight angles. The one firing here takes return fire from the army, hitting him in the belly, and he's carried away. (see 2014 report, exhibit A.3 and Note: times given in the 2014 report were calculated wrong, given as one hour ahead, so this is said to be 2:25 pm. Apologies.)

This video was posted weeks later, but is described as from the battalion's "battle to liberate freedom circle" (the roundabout army post). So it's almost certainly May 25, the only known time that was "liberated." (see 2014 report, the June Videos issue.) And if this is another day, it's one where just what "Arifah" describes unfolded at the same time of the day. And she didn't fit her story to the video - it was first posted June 23, and the ANNA News interviews were published June 3. 

Collectively, these other class of witnesses have claimed the victorious terrorists killed Sunnis who supported the government, and more yet who had converted to Shia Islam. Then they snatched away the bodies to make videos using them as evidence for false claims. This was all shrugged off of course. We all just knew what happened in the Sunni village of Houla - the guys with the bodies had explained it all. Ambassadors were expelled, sanctions placed, and aid to the protesters increased over the story they told about the Army invasion of the Sunni town of al-Houla.

But it turns out logic, the video record, etc. agrees with SANA/ANNA witnesses, who described the day's fighting fairly well, whereas those reporting a Shabiha massacre don't mention the "freedom circle" battle at all - just unprovoked army shelling seemingly swapped in to replace it. The others explain, with some claimed evidence, that the terrorists just coached their family members to play witnesses to the foreign media. This can hardly ever be proven, but in fact that sounds exactly right, having analyzed what several dozen miracle survivors say. Some of them can't even keep a straight face as they tell their story, and others might be grinning like mad under their Islamist veils.

For Ali (3rd row left and right), wow ... see "Fight for us" and other things Ali said. He was and remains the star witness for the whole thing. He can remember a LIST of his alleged family member's names, but not WHO each name attaches to (father, brother, and uncles). He has a lot of other continuity mistakes between the too-many "testimony" sessions he was booked for. But that one really sunk it for me on first sight in June, 2012, just digging a bit and using common sense. 

This FSA guy gives two completely different stories, one where he's not FSA but was innocently near the crime scene, and another where he's FSA but was fa from the scene - other FSA guys who were there gave him all these details he heard. Except the Shabiha walking back to Foulah part, which he and everyone watched - but which no one filmed.  Both accounts were given to Der Spiegel, for the same report. see here.

That's enough for now, right?