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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Ghouta Massacre's Sarin Myth, Brightly Lit

The Ghouta Massacre's Sarin Myth, Brightly Lit
Exploring Kafr Batna’s … Rebel Gas Chambers?
By Adam Larson
May 22, 2014 

Note: Originally posted here at the CIWCL site after a few tries to get it somewhere with a higher profile. I re-posted this article here November 24, 2014 in the hopes of getting more fresh views; as far as I can tell, this story and the report it's based on have not yet gotten the attention they deserve.
(the author acknowledges Denis O’Brien, Dan Kaszeta, Charles Wood, and “Pmr9” for direct input on this report)

As a refresher, the “official story” of the August 21, 2013 Ghouta Chemical Massacre is that the x-hundred fatalities * were killed by the nerve agent Sarin, delivered by Syrian government rockets fired into the rebel-held Ghouta region(s) of rural Damascus. By now, this has been seriously challenged; anti-Assad insurgents clearly had a good motive to get their enemies blamed, and increasingly the evidence suggests they would have the means as well.

* (unclear: 3-500 at least, probably more than that, perhaps over 1,000, 1,429 per the Obama administration, and higher yet by other counts – x-hundred is used here – overwhelmingly civilian)

One aspect generally shared by both sides of the blame debate, at least so far, is that the alleged Sarin rockets actually killed the x-hundred; whose copies of the rockets, and whose type of Sarin, remain the foci of dispute. But while those might be the key questions so many take them for, it's worth a mid-sized pause to consider a recent report challenging the entire debate as it stands.

This possibly crucial twist is based on an unprecedented visual study of one segment of the massacre - about 100 victims in a certain morgue. This allowed focused findings that, here, strongly suggest death by Carbon Monoxide or Hydrogen Cyanide gas, likely in the basement of the same rebel-held building they were later displayed in.

One victim who survived the gas was slaughtered right there in the morgue. That last fact was not quite hidden by a couple of sheets, and yet missed by all researchers until now.

By these findings, it seems the victims here were enemies and captives of the insurgents, cashed-in on a bid at outside military support. If this is true, the same is suggested for the entire massacre - batches like this added up for massive impact. Unless this is just a bit of rebel "exaggeration" tacked onto the regime attack...

But before delving into the details of that startling new material, it's best to review just how solid the "Sarin myth" it challenges really is.

Sarin in Ghouta: Facts and Gaps
Initial “fears” that Sarin was responsible had a political flavor and lacked evidence. But they were soon made near-gospel by the findings of the U.N. investigation led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom.

His team had arrived in Damascus a day before the Ghouta attack, in part to look into a previous, alleged, rebel gas attack. Their original work interrupted, they were able to visit two sites; the Zamalka district of East Ghouta where several rockets landed, and Moadamiyah to the south, which had a separate alleged Sarin attack at the same time. The Sellstrom team conducted interviews with rebel-selected alleged survivors, collected environmental and biological samples, and then had the samples assessed in OPCW-certified laboratories. As we all know, the “feared” nerve agent turned up, confirmed with science.

But less people are aware of the gap in that science at least the size of the massacre itself; the investigators failed to collect a single sample from any of the x-hundred who actually died.

This was a conscious choice, they said, and not a limit forced on them. UN disarmament chief Angela Kane, who accompanied the “inspectors” to Damascus, explained “there were so many victims who are still alive that there was really no need to exhume bodies.” Her bizarre and completely incorrect reasoning: “a dead body can’t tell how the person dies … a living person can tell you that.” [1]

Angela Kane (right) to RT's Oksana Boyko: "a dead body can't tell you how the person dies."
The real reason for this choice could be speculated on. But obviously the dead didn’t get to do interviews either, and so neither their words nor their bodies were called on. Other people - presumed to be about the same - stood in for them in both regards. This exercise in faith may have an honest outcome, and it may not.

In that light, what the Sellstrom team gathered was circumstantial evidence with many possible explanations. For example, Sarin and its degradation products turned up with the Zamalka rockets and impact sites. This could be from the August 21 impacts, either as a main cause of death (as presumed), or just seeded to show up later. Or, it could have been planted at the insurgent-controlled site at any later time.

The human samples show that some people in the area were exposed to Sarin; there are ways to fake exposure, but the tests used apparently rule that out. [2] But there’s nothing to say just when and how it happened, other than the accounts they gave. These are made of words, delivered by rebel-screened people. Such words might be true, but there is a Jihad going on and lying to infidels is allowed. Their propaganda-to-plausibility ratio merits some scrutiny.

Finally, investigative reporter Gareth Porter recently analyzed the U.N. report and decided the subjects probably had “extremely low” exposure to the agent. [3] If so, that leaves an unexplained gap between the subjects and those who supposedly died all around them. It also makes “voluntary” exposure by Jihadi fakers more plausible than one might think.

The Myth in Action
All these gaps matter when neither common sense nor the visual evidence ever suggested Sarin.

In the first murky days, renowned CW expert Jean Pascal Zanders had said “everyone is saying Sarin ... but not everything is pointing in that direction," and “we – the public – know very little beyond the observation of outward symptoms.” [4] CRBN expert Dan Kaszeta reviewed those and said that the deaths “probably were not caused by Sarin,” noting the indicators “are not widespread or are present in confusing manners." For example, some supposed miosis (pinpoint pupil) victims “are clearly having a bright light shined in their eyes." [5]

But the U.N. team’s findings, flawed as they are, apparently resolved the early doubts. Zanders seems to have said relatively little since confirmation. And Dan Kaszeta has pursued a case that it wasn’t just Sarin, but the kind and quantity only the government could have deployed. [6]

Asked how his current views correlate with his early doubts, Kaszeta said by e-mail: “I always thought Sarin was a possibility. But several things erased the uncertainty in my mind.” He cites three points, two being the UN findings (field, and human). He also saw how “other theories and explanatory narratives began to crumble,” sometimes under his own analysis. Asked specifically for anything in the visual evidence, Kaszeta instead pointed to the limitations of video diagnosis (“telemedicine”), and even of the textbook symptoms to compare them to. [7] His points are technically valid, but limited in their relevance. It’s as fair now as it was last fall to note that it just doesn’t look right.

Even those who question the government’s guilt tend to see through the same Sarin-misted lens. “Sasa Wawa” of the research blog Who Attacked Ghouta, Gareth Porter, Seymour Hersh, and others focus on rockets filled with the stuff, but the rebels’ improvised version of it (which exists) and fired by the rebels (which is the best reading). [8] But in fact those rockets, and both sides’ Sarin supplies, might be largely – or totally - irrelevant to what happened that night.

Consider one case where that’s evident: a set of 9 alleged victims (including at least 5 children) found on the 22nd at an unfinished building, dubbed by researchers “Zamalka Ghost House.” It’s right amongst the rocket impact sites, but the signs say these victims were executed there at least two days before the attack. While they seem mainly intact (potentially poisoned), it appears that the man and one boy were shot in the head, and one woman has a sliced arm at least. And the fluid from some of their mouths, like the rest of the horrible things wrong with them, are most consistent with … 4-7 day’s worth of decay, as seen about 36 hours after the attack. [9]

Even though they landed all around the crime scene, August 21 Sarin rockets probably don’t explain those nine fatalities. But the other small and larger sub-totals, making up the entire x-hundred killed, remain open to question.

Enter the "SunMorgue"
Denis O'Brien is a different kind of expert skeptic - not as renowned as Zanders or Kaszeta, but more tenacious and central to this article. A former attorney and professor, with a PhD in neuropharmacology, O’Brien first laid out his worries with a September 9 letter sent to Congress as they were debating a measure to allow military strikes. His first analysis was thorough, but based only on the “Feinstein package" of 13 videos. He asked the legislators to go ahead and really look, and to "please ask President Obama and his administration to explain how scores of people could be exposed to lethal doses of Sarin and yet not show physiological effects that should be evident." Mass vomiting, urination, and defecation were some of the unpleasant signs that didn’t appear at all. [10]

It doesn’t seem he had much effect with his letter, but he didn’t stop there. In contrast to the other critics, O’Brien dug deeper into a narrowing study of the images from Ghouta. A sub-set of people and places solidified into one, with a defined story he could see emerging. This he developed and relates in a massive (200-page) but engaging report, released April 14, titled Murder in the SunMorgue: A Critique of the Sarin Myth and a Cyber-Investigation of the Ghouta Massacre Mystery (hereafter MITSM) [11]

The study centers on one building in the East Ghouta district of Kafr Batna (or KB), just southeast of Zamalka. Early opposition reports said 150 died here (so at least 10% of the total, likely more). MITSM concludes about 120-125 victims are visible in the complex, with “about 100” seen dead; the total number here could be higher, but not lower. [12] Other researchers have geo-located the apparent building in KB. [13]
Confirming the location: Inside the 4 windows is/would be the SunMorgue. Campared - nighttime arrival scene (panoramic) vs. 2009 satellite imagery. (see here for more graphics and discussion on the location matching) 

The most widely seen video (dubbed SM-a) shows at least 80 children, men, and women laid out in close rows in a simple, white-tiled, sun-lit room. Activists mill about between the bodies, collecting blood samples, saying Allahu Akbar, and making their own videos. [14] O-Brien named this the “SunMorgue” of the report’s title.

The "children's corner" of the SunMorgue (still from Sm-a)
In a basement space beneath that is another area O’Brien dubbed the "DarkMorgue." Videos showed some victims on both levels, and scenery clues connect upstairs to down, and one room to the next. Token medical efforts are seen down here; it’s apparently supposed to be a clinic, but with no real equipment besides gas cylinders – audibly hissing. Children, some women, and several men lay dead or prone across the different floors, most of them wet, some of them bloody from sloppy phlebotomy. [15]

Sarin Doesn’t Slice Throats
"Compared to the DarkMorgue,” O’Brien writes, the SunMorgue seems “almost cheerful,” mostly from the natural light and that “its occupants are past their final suffering." But one man at least – dubbed victim M-015 - seems to have passed it right there in the morgue. His blood across the floor is evident in video SM-a and elsewhere, but just where it’s coming from only becomes clear with the kind of all-sources study O’Brien did here.

Victim M-015 (center) (rotated video still from video SM-a)
The middle-aged M-015 has a larger build, so he’s a good candidate for under-dose. Lying face-up, he has a blue sheet wadded beneath his neck, and a white one across the front. Blood is visibly coming from his neck (left side at least), not the back of his head; it soaks up lightly into the white and down heavily into the blue, saturating it and overflowing across the floor beneath other victims. To bleed this much, the victim was almost surely alive with a pulse, maybe even as the videos were made. [16]

If one has followed his exhaustive run-down of each image and each possibility, It’s hard to disagree with O’Brien on this analysis. M-015 was brought in not bleeding, a white cloth over his face, and laid on a blood-free floor with his hands relaxed, laid cross his chest. Later, the face cloth is over his neck, there’s blood everywhere, and the victim has clenched his fists; his right hand is still where it was, but it’s gripping his shirt now. That was the last grasp on life he tried for, it seems, and it was not a helping hand he got back.

Further, in the same array, O’Brien identifies blood-caked possible victim of a throat-slicing prior to the morgue. That one (another adult male, dubbed M-012) is less clear; either a washed-up neck wound left completely uncovered, or an odd necklace-and-blood coincidence. [17]

From this reminder of Islamist slaughter culture, an upsetting alternate version of the brightly-lit SunMorgue emerges, like a photo negative. This is a place to collect and exploit death, and finalize it if needed. It might not be a massacre site, but could well be networked with one. The basement, for example, might be a good spot. Other signs become suspect. Just what are those hissing 44-liter gas cylinders emitting into the air down in the DarkMorgue? And what about the emptied ones all over? There’s a compelling possibility emerging on the MITSM discussion page; one set of tanks poisoned the air here, and another set with oxygen was used to clean it up. It seems okay at filming time. [18]

Consider now the death toll for the Ghouta massacre: 3-500 at the low end, and as many as 1,700 alleged. The entire range is far beyond the usual toll of an alleged CW attack in Syria, with or without enclosed spaces: from zero to around 30 killed. Something employing gas chamber efficiency is suggested here, and this might be a glimpse of that process as it unfolded on the Kafr Batna front.

What was the Poison?
Despite the dramatic power of victim M-015’s obvious in-situ murder, it’s clear that O’Brien considered the more crucial part of his study to be the challenge it lodges to the dangerous "Sarin myth.”

He’s not an expert in assessing the dead, but he at least has enough medical background to know where to look. The “biological mystery” he follows to the molecular level is related in Part C. [19] It should be noted for the critics that in Kafr Batna, there are high-quality photographs, besides the usual video sources. And in contrast to Ake Sellstrom’s mission, at least this study looks at the alleged Sarin victims that really matter.

One of the first things O’Brien noticed was the overall healthy pink color of the victims. This he first took to mean that they might be alive, and briefly pursued a “Juliet hypothesis.” But upon noticing their Pallor Mortis (the paleness of death) and Livor Mortis (the redness of it), that ended. As the heavier red blood cells settle with gravity in the hours following death, lower parts become red and upper parts pale, in an effect that fades within 10-12 hours. He notes many blood samples drawn are just straw-colored plasma, proving that separation and the absence of life.

Distinct line between Pallor Mortis and deep red
Livor Mortis on an adult male victim
(in the far back of the above image)
What’s remains striking is how totally red both colors-of-mortis are in the SunMorgue victims; drained cheeks are still fairly pink and normal-looking, as he had noticed, while the reddened parts are almost lobster color. O’Brien’s research led him to conclude this “rubicundity” after so much time had passed (roughly 8-12 hours) was unusual and a valuable clue. It clearly pointed away from Sarin – its victims sometimes adopt the opposite (cyanosis, or blue skin) or show no change, but redness like this is “low to nil.”

It then fell into place that a “rubigenic” poison, one that locks the hemoglobin in its red state, was to blame. The two examples that occurred to him were the gasses Hydrogen Cyanide and Carbon Monoxide. While there could be other candidates, research and visual observations bore out the theme. Combining entries from appendix I, table III and IV, here’s the short list of useful Sarin signs vs. what’s seen in the KB morgues:

  • Prominent salivation – Sarin: incidence high – Observed: no examples seen
  • Fecal Incontinence – Sarin: incidence high – Observed: no examples seen
  • Ante-Mortem Skin Color – Sarin: high incidence of cyanosis, low to nil instance of rubicundity – Observed: very high incidence of rubicundity, no cyanosis observed.
  • Pallor Mortis color – Sarin: Exclusively bluish grey - Observed: red/pink consistently observed w/ minor questionable exceptions. 
  • Livor Mortis color – Sarin: exclusively dark blue to purple - Observed: Red/pink consistently observed. [20]

The conclusions, taken together: strongly supports Carbon Monoxide, supports Cyanide, and strongly contradicts Sarin. Nothing here can totally rule out that even these victims - let alone others gassed elsewhere - might have Sarin, trace amounts or higher, included in their engineered last breaths. But this best visual assessment of the KB victims says the basic mechanism of their deaths was of another sort.

A final crucial point is the presence of at least two sorts in this same morgue; an apparent gender difference in the post-mortem color. The color details above apply to the majority of KB victims – all of them men and children. The fewer women are usually covered, but when seen (not terribly well), they seem to have no color issues. This could be Sarin, or a “normal” non-toxic death, but it’s different from what the others received. The report accurately notes that they were likely raped along the way, but in the end the women of the SunMorgue may have just been suffocated. [21]

Who Were the Victims?
If in fact insurgents executed the Ghouta victims themselves, then the records they provide – the only ones available – will not be trustworthy. What these say about the SunMorgue victims, for example, probably gives no direct clue why they and their handlers were on such bad terms. It’s a vague but real impression from the morgue videos, best highlighted by the murder of M-015. That was not a friendly action.

It could be that these corpses in rebel custody were that way when alive. It’s been presumed that the victims came to this “clinic” from elsewhere, and two nighttime videos show a couple of arrivals. But those might be the only arrivals and filmed for that reason, while most people were there all along. The apparent gender-segregation of death is a chilling clue; a cloud of Sarin vapor doesn’t differentiate like that, but jailers and executioners might.

Further, it seems unlikely a mass killing in Kafr Batna would coincide with a government Sarin attack in other areas. More likely, it would be just one point in a massive rebel crime spree across the area, played out mainly on controlled captives. Recall the Zamalka “Ghost House” victims - they were dressed like prisoners, the two women wearing their winter coats in August, all with no other possessions. [9]

Now consider mass-scale execution of hostages in previous massacres that were blamed on the government. In rebel-held Khalidiya, Homs, on February 3, 2012, reports said army shelling killed whole families in their homes. But opposition records show the 138 dead were strictly male and 94% adult – probably hostages executed by the “terrorists,” like the government and locals had said. [22]

Daraya, Damascus, August, 2012: Hundreds of hostages were held by rebels in basement prisons as talks broke down, the Army moved in, and rebels started “finding” sex-segregated people executed by the army - in basements and in the same insurgent-run mosque they retreated to and buried the dead at. Death toll unclear: at least a few hundred – some opposition sources said it was over 1,200. [23]

A year after Daraya and a few miles northeast, the Jobar district of Ghouta claimed hits in the Sarin attack, now discredited. An added cause of death there, a rebel medic said, was people burning tires while they hid in basements. [24] If this bizarre claim reflects anything real, it cannot be good. On December 2, 2012, insurgents from al-Houla kidnapped around 500 Alawite civilians in Aqrab, Hama province. They denied them food and water, and made them breathe heavy smoke from burning tires. Half were freed in swaps, and the other half reportedly massacred on December 9 and 10. One likely victim was shown on rebel video - a young girl coated with smoke, her skull hacked open as if by a sword. Army shelling was blamed. [25]

Considering, then, what opposition fighters in Syria sometimes do with their “human resources,” imagine what they might do with those plus access to Sarin, other poisons, rockets, and many enclosed spaces. Imagine that choice being made on the fringes of Damascus, by the anniversary of Obama’s “Red Line” offer, which came just after the UN’s “inspectors” had landed in the capitol.

Motive, means, and opportunity are all evident in spades. The means included the capability to generate “human resources” on the scale we see. in the first days of August. Islamist rebels in the north of Syria abducted at least 4-600 “enemy” civilians (mainly Alawites and Kurds, including women and children) [26] But any link between these freshly “displaced people” and East Ghouta is only so likely. Claims that child victims have been identified are inadequate for an issue of this gravity. [27]

Initial suspicions that the victim videos were filmed in the north is countered by the geo-location of several in East Ghouta, including the SunMorgue. And so the distance issue is a problem for the northern captures theory. But there are quieter abductions, closer to the crime scene, or longer ago in time, that could easily fill a gas chamber system in Ghouta.

More must be learned, since these shady victim patterns continue with the recent CW attacks now being pursued by Human Rights Watch. [28] Opposition reports say “displaced” civilians from neighboring Morek were under the chlorine barrel bomb that fell on Kafr Zita April 11. Only two of these - a baby girl and an elderly man - actually died, and that was from head injuries caused, activists said, by the bombing. [29] In February, the Alawite village of Maan - right next to Morek - had a reported 80+ citizens abducted, following its second rebel massacre. In both cases, women and children had their heads cut off or at least cut in half. [30]

Conclusion: Settled Lies and Re-Claimed Sunlight
Recall Angela Kane’s Orwellian inversion of the truth-to-death ratio: “a dead body can’t tell you how a person died,” but a living, insurgent-screened person can be trusted to tell you for them. Rather, like the blood settles after death into that striking livor mortis, so too does the ability to lie settle after death, leaving brutal honesty alone on the surface.

The study encapsulated in MITSM reveals the story hidden in plain view, by re-claiming the same sunlight the insurgents used to illuminate these cancelled Human Beings. With the same obvious motive they always had, and evidence of a chemical massacre well within their means, it can't be ethically ignored any longer - the handlers of at least this hundred in Kafr Batna, and their foreign backers, may have lied to us about who and what is to blame.

Again, the American threats of force against Syria last year were cancelled only by maneuvers on the world stage, and did nothing to change the perceived truth. The pretext that pushed us there once lingers, awaiting another push. Truth is the best solution to that, but the Sarin myth may be blocking our view of it. In this corner of Hell at least, we now have one cleared view that is brightly lit and should be widely seen.

(ACLOS = A Closer Look On Syria, a research wiki site the author contributes to)

[1] RT October 3, 2013. ‘No sarin detected in West Ghouta environment, only in human samples' - UN's Angela Kane. RT video, published October 3, 2013. (time-stamp: 12:29) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcfIj6WLqRkNote: The author asked both Dan Kaszeta and Denis O’Brien what they thought of that. Kaszeta countered (see note 7): “you can tell a lot from a dead body. Principally the same protein adducts that would be analyzed by fluoride regeneration as from a live body. It would have been great to get some bodies and do some testing.” The remarks reminded O’Brien of an “old Mickey Spillane quip” that “dead men don't tell lies.” (e-mail message from Denis O’Brien to the author, April 27, 2014) See also criticism here.
[2] ACLOS member Pmr9 cites “fluoride ion regeneration test” (see here). A search indicates that exact name isn’t usually used, but a test like that exists. Dan Kaszeta mentioned “a much newer method, one that forced me back to the library to read up on, called fluoride regeneration or fluoride reactivation.” (see also note 1) Both agreed this rules out the known methods of fakery (like ingestion of IMPA powder) and/or proves actual Sarin exposure.
[4] Syria: Chemical Weapons Expert Jean Pascal Zanders Says Gas Might Not Be Sarin, Urges Caution By Mehdi Hassan, Huffington Post, August 30, 2013. - Is It Possible The Syrian Rebels (Not Assad) Used Chemical Weapons? by Eyder Peralta, National Public Radio, The Two-Way. August 27, 2013. Note: In the latter, he also warned "we need to keep our minds open that the events of last Wednesday could in whole or partially have alternative explanations."
[5] What Happened? If it isn’t Sarin, what is it? By Dan Kaszeta PDF (revised 26 August - original version was Aug. 23)
[6] (for example) Why Nigel Farage Has It All Wrong: Smoking Guns, Hexamine, And Syrian Sarin Dan Kaszeta, guest post on Brown Moses blog
[7] E-mail message from Dan Kaszeta to the author, May 2, 2014. Kaszeta cited the low number of human cases, problems with translating animal studies, unknowns about victim age and health, and unknowns regarding how Sarin interacts with other chemicals in the weapon or environment, or smoke. “Because of these considerations,” he said, “I have to say that what the "received wisdom" in the manuals is about signs and symptoms is an educated guess more than a definitive known fact.”
[8] Gareth Porter: See note 3. - Seymour Hersh December 19, 2013: Whose Sarin? - Sasa Wawa, Nov. 2, 2013: The Conclusion.
[9] ACLOS: Zamalka/Ghost house The house has been geo-located in Zamalka – someone even marked it on Wikimapia The decay reading is the author’s own, informed by prior study on body decay.
[10] Lack of Pharmacological Proof of a Sarin Attack at Damascus: An Open Letter to Congress. By Denis R. O'Brien, Sep 09., 2013. PDF link Note: he also brought it to ACLOS. sparking our early contact. Note: In MITSM (see note 11), O’Brien explains he enlisted the help of congressman Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, to warn Congress “that before they authorize any bombs, they better have a closer look at the evidence from a pharmacological point of view.” But: “the only thing I got for my efforts was being put on Paul’s weekly Email list, which I have not been able to escape from yet.”
[11] Murder In The SunMorgue. A Critique of the Sarin Myth and a Cyber-Investigation of the Ghouta Massacre Mystery. by Denis R. O'Brien. August 14, 2014. Project page. Report in four parts (A-D), with appendices, and a discussion page where new evidence is still being considered. Part A offers a good overview. Direct PDF link
[12] See MITSM part A, pages A-4, A-13. Victims of special interest, but not all, are given identifying numbers like M-015. Some are given nicknames, like the girl “Bunny” to whom (along with her playmates) MITSM is dedicated.
[13] ACLOS: Kafr Batna hospital. Identified by Petri Krohn 7 Sept., 2013. His “town hall” description is not confirmed; these are buildings. Location-video match confirmed by the author 26 April, 2014 with graphics. The location given in MITSM (p. A-13) is incorrect (points to Zamalka) Actual coordinates,: 33° 30' 55" N, 36° 22' 27" E Google Maps link
[14] Video SM-a, previously listed as Video 011a in the MITSM videos index (MP4 downloadable) (#11 in the “Feinstein Package”),
[15] “Connecting the SunMorgue to the DarkMorgue” MITSM part B, pages B-28-39
[16] “The in situ death of corpse M-015” See MITSM, part D - pages D-11-22 direct PDF link
[17] “Another Slit Throat?” MITSM part D, pages D-25-28
[18] The gas cylinders are discussed throughout the report, with a new video and discussion about the hissing and the theories on the MITSM discussion page This is still nebulous; no one is even sure yet what the two colors (pale green, bright blue) usually mean in this (Syrian/ international) context.
[19] MITSM, part C: Read Their Lips: The Ghouta Massacre as a Biological Mystery. Direct PDF link
[20] MITSM, Appendix 1 - Tables. Direct PDF link
[21] MITSM part C, pages C-34-35
[22] ACLOS: Khalidiya Massacre Part of: Homs Massacres
[24] If rockets only hit Zamalka, and winds were to the E-SE, Jobar (west) would be unaffected. In this video, a “Jobar medical point doctor” describes a CW attack on Jobar and Ain Tarma (S-SE) alone. At time-stamp 3:45, as he explains how victims put themselves in basements and started fires, including “burning tires" - "putting tires on fire added insult to injury." He suggests an education campaign to counter that behavior.
[25] Unverified report that the final 235 (88 of them children and women) were killed then. [ACLOS: Aqrab Massacre
[26] Latakia: Civilians, primarily women and children , were captured by terrorists during the horrifying conquest of 11 small mountain towns. At least 200 killed (confirmed) during a joint FSA-al-Nusrah-ISIS assault. ACLOS: Latakia Massacres. – Kurds: ACLOS: Talk:Tal Abyad massacre Captives taken before and after a massacre (of 70?) August 5. Kidnappings preceded this and continued after: at least 263 by August 11, possibly 400 total. Homs: Aug. 17 raid on Christian Marmarita, apparently turned back; civilians killed, but no mention of abductions. ACLOS: Marmarita Massacre
[27] There have been reports of child victims identified by families in Latakia. If true, these would have weight, but no details are provided and the source (an activist nun) is of sporadic reliability. Amateur attempts are worth trying, but all so far are inadequate for an issue of this gravity. SeeACLOS: Latakia connection? See also the MITSM discussion page. – O’Brien pans some attempts.  
[28] Syria: Strong Evidence Government Used Chemicals as a Weapon Human Rights Watch, May 13, 2014
[30] The first Maan Massacre was Dec. 25, 2012, ACLOS: Maan Massacre The second one was Feb. 9, 2014, ACLOS: Maan Massacre, 2014 Syria News.cc reported "the missings list extends to 80 civilian." Woman’s head chopped in half explained: ACLOS Al-Taman'ah Bus Victims

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How "The Russians"* Covered up the Truth ... Partly, Gradually ... About MH17

How "The Russians"* Covered up the Truth ... Partly, Gradually ... About MH17
November 26-28, 2014
last edits Dec. 7

* "The Russians" here meaning whoever it was that ran and operated the Buk launcher (if it's all one and the same) that we're calling 3x2, blamed for the shoot-down of MH17. Note: it's quite likely they weren't Russian at all... 

Shortly after the July 17 crash of the Boeing 777 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) and the Bellingcat team accurately tracked a certain mystery Buk (SA-11) launching unit across Eastern Ukraine, up to a last point very near a likely launch site for the missile that brought the jet down (while the full implications aren't clear, I concur with their basic findings, as explained here on an ACLOS page where a lot of my other points below are explained out).

More recently, Bellingcat landed another coup in the saga, in early November issuing a new report claiming to link that very launcher, or at least the truck hauling it, to a truck-bound launcher also seen inside Russia a few weeks before the incident, and again just after. If true, it would seem to be a smoking gun. I think it's at least partly true, and the problem is only with the "seem to be" part. And I have no solid alternative at the moment, just verifying part of, and pointing out some puzzling implications of, their findings.

The report and whole site was not coming up when I tried (might be a problem on my end), so I don't even know what's behind their pay-wall. In the interim I checked around. Here's a critical blog article I like that mentions another article praising the report. But what was useful was the Daily Mail's Australian promo article with the cover and a few images from the report as well as a summary. 'There is strong evidence indicating that the Russian military provided separatists in eastern Ukraine with the Buk missile launcher filmed and photographed in eastern Ukraine on July 17,' the on-line report states..."

In this, they identify Buk Telar launcher "3x2," as the report puts it, where the x is a middle digit seemingly painted out for some reason. 3x2 therefore seems a fair name for the thing, and I'll follow suit. From the Mail's graphics, I can see how they link the trucks hauling the launchers by license plate numbers. That looks sound, and minor details support that this is the same truck, apparently in Russia and then in Ukraine. (Or is this not the same famous truck here? It's a side-point.)

The actual launcher link sounds less clear in the Daily Mail report, but in Russia, that truck was hauling a launcher marked on the side with a small, unreadable number and the large number 3x2 (top frame in the below comparison). Seeming to have a number painted over, many will note, smells of a mini-coverup - and it's with a machine that then went (back?) to Ukraine for some secret work Russia denies, before going (back to?) about the Russian border, via everywhere, on a truck advertising a phone number of a guy who swears it was pro-Russian terrorists who stole his truck... (see below for the fuller picture)

However absurd the whole story, there's this compelling, supposed, cross-border match-up. Tying things together more yet, the top frame below shows the relevant part of the Paris Match photo (windscreen dots and all, after being skewed to match as much as possible, and darkened a bit) at the bottom. Again the top image is from Bellingcat via the Mail, with enhanced contrast to make the compositing clearer. The middle is the composite - bottom laid over top with transparency to let us compare). Another layer of just the number box, carefully lined up, had its white spots outlined in black, lining up with white in the other image. All areas of interest highlighted in red.

In fact, comparing the two like this, we can also see other points of continuity. Earlier, I guessed maybe "4 240" for the smaller number (or maybe "return to Putin"). The new image doesn't seem to help much there. I'm guessing it matches though, whatever it says. The light patch right before the small numbers, and on the lip just below that (the red marks on the right) seem to correspond. Also on that lip, just to the right, is a bend visible in the June image. I cropped the Paris Match sample too close to be clear here, but that too comes through on the machine seen in Ukraine. Best explanation for that: it's all the same weapon.

I noticed earlier the sliver of white paint (or so it seemed) in the blank ID number area in the Paris Match photo, wondering if it was a telltale partly-painted-out number meant to be noticed later and used to blame Russia. It may be exactly that; now we can see it's consistent with the edge of the "2" here, or a couple of other numbers painted at that level. Note also in the bottom image the tiny white dot left of the white sliver, on the cable shadow, that seemed like an artifact. In Russia (if so) we can see it there before - apparently the last part of the first number they also managed to never paint out fully.

That middle digit could well be a one. I thank ACLOS member Resup for bringing this to my attention. As Resup notes, there's the issue with Buk 312 of Russia allegedly seen going back to Russia, put out by the SBU but then pulled, as it was Ukraine's Buk 312 in the photo (the unit's number: bottom image at right). That was also seen in the field not long before this (top image at right), and may or may not be accounted for on the days in question.

Now ... if "the Russians" were smart, what they'd do is paint out the original 312 and then paint over it with Ukraine's style of marking 312, or really any number of a known unit seen in the field (and hope it can't be proven to be elsewhere...) It seems they did not do this. Here, 312 as seen in March (skewed as it was to fit the composite below. That's underlaid by the Bellingcat find, and we can see the lack of the little marking, and the much bigger, bolder, easier-to-spot numbers "the Russians"* had such a hard time hiding (below alone for comparison, not enhanced). Below all, the same area from the SBU pulled photo.

What all this implies, read as the Bellingcat agency reads it, and as the global masses and decision-makers they're informing have read it, is simply that this was all the same unit and clearly a Russian-controlled one. Since it was the same one as seen all around the MH17 crime scene, Putin or top officials almost must have approved something that special. This in turn justifies more sanctions and so forth.

All I can vouch for is the number match and vehicle match, or a complex paint job and bend-mimicking operation. The paint part seems most interesting, with consistent bits remaining of a number ... that might have been falsely painted on, by whoever, to begin with. The June image location I'll credit as likely sound. It seems a troubling challenge for anyone suspecting a Ukrainian and not Russian hand. Proceeding from there...

What Bellingcat probably mentioned but I'm emphasizing is that "the Russians" also, in doing this, made a display of shadiness in the gradual, partial, and traceable erasure of the ID number. Read straight, the alleged coverup is plain silly: they wanted to hide this thing's identity, maybe because they were about to do something secret with it. So first they painted out the number in the middle. Except they left one little corner of white visible. Maybe they just got tired. It's identifiable (in both images). Then before it appeared in Ukraine, it was rendered totally unidentifiable: they boldly blacked out the 3, and perhaps at the same time even, the 2 - except for a larger identifiable sliver. Just got tired, maybe. It's next to the other dot. Haha, no way to connect these now!

- "Now has no number on it AT ALL. No one can say what it is."
- "Brilliant, boss. they will think must have been a Kiev fighter jet! And we will make fake satellite photos to prove. The world will stand behind our invasion!"

That's not just sloppy and stupid like people can be. It's more like something someone else would have them do, in a script they wrote for other parties playing "the Rusians." Its purpose seems to expose, illustrate, or imply a crime, not to cover one up. In fact, it's a bit too obvious to even be a good false flag operation. But maybe that we can chalk up to run-of-the-mill Human stupidity (or worse yet, Neo-Nazi psycho stupidity)

Addendum on Consistency with the Operation, as Known Otherwise: 
Whatever one thinks of this graphic comparison and interpretation, the strange and suspect thinking it implies is consistent with what else we know about how this "secret" operation was carried out. If true, it would fit this broader pattern (real or reported clues left by whoever, all open to interpretation, and here couched in the terms of allegations by Kiev and supporters):
  • Recalling that this whole weapon itself would have no normal business in the area and would be denied later, it should have been kept secret. Instead, it was driven around in broad daylight on the same day as the crime, just partly covered with a tarp but revealing all clues needed to identify it, its hidden ID number, and its full rack of missiles.
  • The truck it was so displayed on was stolen in Donetsk, and kept with the huge sign on its side with the apparent owner's phone number on it. When the media called that number, little surprise, the owner told them pro-Russian "fighters from Slaviansk" who took over his whole trucking company on July 8 (see here) Put lightly, this is a stupid way to secure a rig one intends to use for a secret operation like this was supposed to be.
  • They loaded the truck in Donetsk, likely at the commandeered site in the north of Donetsk, near the Ukrainian base with Buk launchers, in a coincidence. This truck then got seen leaving Donetsk on the 17th, parked pointing east at the east outskirts, then seen driving in convoy (a couple civilian cars with the operational crew moved with the truck) past Zuhres and then through Torez to the east. They were seen arriving in Snizhne around noon, then the Buk unit seen off the truck and driving in stand-alone, and it was then seen again driving south out of Snizneh, towards the apparent launch location.
  • The people running the convoy made sure AP journalists saw them in Snizhne just before the shoot-down from a bit south of there. The convoy stopped, and a man in unusual uniform "approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn’t" filmed that secret missile launcher there, but had noticed it, and their intention to remain sooper seekrit "the convoy moved on." All this was made quite clear to the media and apparently published even before the news that MH17 was shot down. (AP Via Washington Post
  • After the disastrous attempt to secretly provoke a Russian invasion, with utmost discretion the operators put the smoking gun, its rack of one-less missiles left uncovered, back on the same truck and drove it and the phone number back to Russia - by a strange detour on a long route towards the other easily-recognizable smoking gun rebel capitol, Lugansk ... when government ATO forces had just battled their way to the edge of Lugansk ... and got seen there passing at dawn on the main highway south, apparently having come from the center of town, and then presumably drove to Krasnodon (rebel-held) and to Russia....

The fail delivery here is almost flawless, with no mistake left unmade and hardly any reasonable gaps to call for deduction. Letting multiple camera views on both sides of the porous border capture and track the gradual move to this stealth mode seems pretty consistent to me.

Note, Dec. 7: Obviously, the big wrinkle with this apparent match is that it puts this shady device on Russian territory, worked into a whole convoy there, and thus presumably Russian in origin as alleged. That remains the simple (usually most logical) reading, but it has maybes and second thoughts worth raising at each branch of the possibilities tree of "if (or whether) Buk 3x2 was in Russia), which I explored here at the ACLOS Buk tracking talk page. Some of the possibilities: faked imagery (perhaps removing the evidence for Buk 3x2 being in Ukraine) - a rogue officer in Russia helping with the false-flag Trojan horse operation - similar to or exactly as reported, with some serious questions about the logic and method, and the hostile world reaction to the "crime" also called an accident still worth questioning. I really don't know how to call this case. As I said at the wiki, I feel sort of "weightless" compared to usual. This may be the extra-nuanced false-flag I wondered if I'd ever see - one that's got tricks we're not used to involved, and comes out harder - or impossible - to solve clearly - the perfect crime.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Fight For Us" and Other Things Ali Said

"Fight For Us" and Other Things Ali Said: Houla Massacre Star Witness Reconsidered
Re-posted here November 15, 2014

This is a revised and updated version of an article originally posted July 3, 2012 as "Houla Massacre Star Witness Reconsidered" at SyriaNews.cc. After that site’s closure, it was also carried by Arabi Souri at Wordpress.com). This revision, with much new information, was drafted for and included in the 2013 CIWCL report Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre. Small updates and an extra graphic only are added here.

<-- Houla Massacre (Syria) {Masterlist}

1. Adored, Not Ignored

Ali Al-Sayed has been heralded as the most important survivor of and witness to the Houla massacre of May 25, 2012. Just over one hundred people, nearly half of them children, were cruelly butchered in the collected villages called Al-Houla, in Syria’s Homs province (the killings were in the southernmost town of Taldou). But this boy survived, a miracle and a ray of hope. And most importantly, by living to tell, he was a window for the world onto what happened, and what should be done about it. (Or, alternately, a window onto what someone wanted us to think and do).

As related by the news, the victims of the massacre were members of Sunni families being punished for aiding the protests against Assad’s regime, or just on suspicion, or just for being Sunni. Ali’s is no exception; the eleven-year-old says he was shot at but unharmed as his entire family was massacred around him. He dramatically smeared himself with his brother’s blood, after seeing that Nader’s spirit had left his body, and played dead. He then escaped unharmed into the night to tell the world. Or so he says.

Ali wasn’t alone in surviving to blame the government and its allied shadow militia, the Alawite “Shabiha” (roughly “ghost”) armies. [1] Perhaps two dozen others who say they escaped from various targeted homes, most by playing dead, are known so far. [2] Like Ali, they all blame soldiers, Shabiha, or “Alawite pigs,” and ask for outside protection. Ali actually puts it best, if not most subtly, conveying his strong personal feelings about the world’s responsibilities, considering what he says he saw.
“I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria & in Houla … We’re being killed in our homes. The international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything. The people must fight for us, do what they say, and protect us.” (3:09-3:38) [3]

The world is now dimly aware of a whole other set of alleged witnesses with an opposite story. These have said rebel-affiliated terrorists, including known local families and unknown foreign helpers, carried out an attack on loyalist families remaining in this rebel-dominated area. This witness set contain less miracle escapees who saw the killings, and their accounts are thus more distant, more vague, and more realistic. But somehow these others were ignored while Ali, above all, was adored.

Little Ali is so cute with his baby face and “supergame” t-shirt that he barely even looks eleven. In fact he doesn’t; by the video Ali looks about eight or nine. Perhaps he is younger than stated, maybe after someone decided that the sophisticated plea for foreign help just looked preposterous coming from an 8-year-old.

2. Contacts and Suggestion

Later in 2012, Ali was interviewed by German news Der Spiegel [4] and gave a lip-chewing Skype interview for a documentary by France 2 [5], as well as being featured in an Arabic-language opposition video re-enacting his ordeal. [6] But it was in the days after the massacre that Ali made such big waves in English and worldwide, initially speaking out at least four times, all apparently via a Skype video connection. The first was a video of the boy interviewed, in Arabic, by an unknown man. [3] He also spoke to Martin Chulov of the UK Guardian via Skype, first un-named but with plenty of detail. [7] Both of those occurred on or before the 28th, but he also spoke to the Associated Press the same way on the 30th. [8]

Chulov noted that, with all his family allegedly dead, the boy was living with “a town elder who is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Council and is now caring for him,” as well as arranging the discussion. The AP contacted him “through anti-regime activists in Houla who arranged for an interview.” [8]

The UN Commission of Inquiry’s initial report, released June 27, shared their investigators’ doubts about a boy that’s clearly Ali. They spoke to him via Skype, making a fourth known interview, but with no details shared. They also reviewed the previous video, but not apparently the Guardian or AP interviews. “In both interviews he blamed the killings on Shabbiha and soldiers of the Syrian army,” they found. "In one interview the survivor stated that the perpetrators arrived together in tanks. The CoI took note of the age of the boy and duly considered his suggestibility." [9]

  The bolded part is something the corporate media and world leaders apparently never did. Considering Ali’s guardian and handler and his network, it’s quite clear who would be doing the suggesting and what basic form it would take. That geo-politically useful form is likely the reason it was accepted with no question.

  Suggestibility is a type of unreliability, but only a potential one. New research shows that active story break-down is a more immediate problem with this alleged witness and survivor. Between only three publicly available accounts, the kid has managed to contradict himself to the point of absurdity, as explained below.

  3. “That is True” – The Attack

In the video, Ali says the attackers entered his home after emerging from “the tank” that pulled up out front. To Chulov, he said “they came in armoured vehicles and there were some tanks.” To the AP, he said they arrived “in a military armored vehicle and a bus.” To Der Spiegel, Ali described, by sound, a “BMB” personnel carrier. [4] Later in the video (around 4:00), he says in Arabic: “they wanted to burn the house, and then they left in cars.” That sentence was bypassed in the translated captions. [10]

  In general, Ali describes the attackers as eleven in number, primarily military in appearance, with some in uniforms and some in civilian clothes, sporting big beards and shaved heads. Some commentators, like Martin Janssen and by him Rainer Hermann, have noted the hair and beard style could describe anti-government Sunni fanatics. [11] However, in various details Ali clearly describes them as Alawites and Assad loyalists. At 2:07 in the video, he’s asked “how did you know it was the army, not armed gangs?” He answered “the tank was outside, they came out of it.” Further, they “were dressed as military,” and were “Shabiha.” [3] Chulov noted the boy’s calm delivery relating his family’s massacre, but how he then grew argumentative when asked how he knew who the attackers were. “Why are you asking me who they were? I know who they were. We all know it. They were the regime army and people who fight with them. That is true.” [7] Later, he was quoted by Chulov as saying the attackers “spoke with an Alawite accent,” and “said they were from Foulah (a neighboring Alawite town). They were Shabiha. And they were proud of it.” [12]

  He agrees in all accounts his mother was killed after shouting at the soldiers. In the video, he says “my mom screamed at them as they were arresting (brother) Shaoqi and my uncle(s),” who were taken alive but killed before the next day. [3] AP reported back “the men led Ali’s father and oldest brother outside” and killed them there, and then she screamed “Why did you take them? Why did you take them?’” before being shot down. [8]

  But in the version told to Chulov, Ali’s mother and the young children were shot dead while the sought men stayed hidden nearby in the house. “My mum yelled at them … ‘What do you want from my husband and son?’” They gunned her down, tried to kill Ali, and murdered Nader and Rasha, then started looting. After all of this, “on the way out of the house, the boy said the gunmen found the three men they had been looking for. “They shot my father and uncle. And then they found Aref, my oldest brother, near the door. They shot him dead too.”[7]

  In general, Ali claims he escaped only after the attackers left, having played dead until that point. They had found him and shot right at him, he’s said, but managed to miss, and then he dramatically smeared himself with someone else’s blood as a disguise. Some sources say it was his mother’s blood he used, but no primary sources seem to support that. Martin Chulov reported in the Guardian “he smeared himself in the blood of his slain brother.” To the AP, he specified it was Nader’s blood, a point played up in the cited New York Post publication (the photo is captioned “blood brother”).

  However, in the video interview, he doesn’t mention anyone’s blood. He does however say that when they shot and missed, he was actually “hit,” or grazed on the back of his right hand. He shows this to the camera, which can make out what seems like three faint scratches, less than three days after the massacre. It seems it was his own (bloodied?) hand that he used to hide under; “after they killed us, I went like this (right hand covering the side of his face), acting like I was shot.”

  There are other points he was more consistent on between his Guardian and video interviews. For example, the number of bullets (five) fired through the front door lock. The stolen items are consistent; on video, he lists three televisions, a computer, and an item translated once as a vacuum cleaner, another time as a broom. [3] (2:36) The Guardian’s Martin Chulov listed only “three televisions and a computer.” Later speaking to Der Spiegel, however, the vacuum cleaner had been explicitly replaced; they stole “two TV sets, our washing machine and the computer.” [4] This seems to refer to the usual, bulky and low-value, domestic clothes-washing machine, but to be fair, it could be just another translation issue.

  From his attack chronology conflicts alone, the boy’s account is highly questionable. Traumatic reality has a way of driving facts home better than attempts at memorization, and these alleged facts are pretty loose.

  4. A Fungible Family

  Considering Ali as a questionable witness, it might well follow that he was never a member of the massacred Al-Sayed family. And if that were so, his alleged facts of this family might be as loose as his attack narrative, seeming to be sloppily memorized rather than driven into place by a short lifetime of shared history.

  And in fact Ali seems unable to keep his family members straight. A certain pool of names remains constant, but these shift freely from one member to another between accounts. The effect, distilled below, is bizarre.

  To Der Spiegel, Ali recalled his unnamed father fondly; he took his son "to many demonstrations," always having "kebabs and cola first!" But an arrest in November left Mr. Al-Sayed "afraid to go." [4] Rendered harmless, he was killed anyway.

  As for the father’s name, Ali gives that as identical to his own – Ali Alsayed -  in the video interview. But to the Guardian, he’s apparently named Aref: “They said they wanted Aref and Shawki, my father and my brother.” Then it turns out Aref was “my oldest brother,” and Shawki apparently his father. [7] In the video, Shaoqi (Shawki) is his killed older brother. [3] So perhaps Aref is the father after all? No – the video is where it’s specified he was named Ali.

  On video he names two uncles, Oqba and Arif/Aref. Though the interviewer repeatedly reminds him both uncles were taken, Ali keeps using the singular form, apparently referring to Oqba, and insists the third male killed was his own brother, not his father’s. [3] But to Martin Fletcher, he said the killed uncle was named Abu Haider. [13] (MF) To Martin Chulov, the killed uncle isn’t named, but the gunmen initially “asked about my uncle, Abu Haidar. They also knew his name. ” [7]

  Ali’s mother is always dead and never named, and his younger siblings are a bit more stable. Rasha, 5, and Nader, 6, both killed before his eyes, both mentioned in the video and in both early interviews. To the AP he also adds another brother, Aden, age 8. That’s seven murders minimum, eight if there were two uncles taken. But when he saw the soldiers later “they were describing six people dead in my house. They included me. They thought I was dead.” [7] By this he thinks there were only five people killed, forgetting at least two.

  The one known victims list, * from the Damascus Center for Human Rights Study (DCHRS), comprehended with Google translate, doesn’t even contain the family names Al-Sayed or anything close. There is a family name “Mr. Arif” or Aref, the first name of Ali’s brother/ uncle as given, and the father of the family by other sources (see below). This appears for entries 30, 31, 48, and 93, with matching first names Nader (#30) and Rasha (#48). But there are only the four entries when 7-8 family members are said to have been killed. [14]

   * 2014 note: other lists were later tracked down and correlated - see updated endnote 14

  The other two Arifs given on that list as dying are Mohammed and Adel. [14] Adel is similar to Aden, the brother who was mentioned by Ali only in his later interviews with AP and Spiegel. And it’s Ali’s middle name too; “A baby, Ali Adel al-Sayyed, miraculously survived,” anti-government activist Maysara al-Hilawi told Reuters. [15] To Der Spiegel, the witness spoke as “Ali Adil Sayyid.” [4] Further, when the interviewer in the video repeats back Ali’s father’s name, he seems to add, and even emphasize, an “Adel,” repeating “Ali Adel Sayed.” [3]

  The Adel link might also help explain why the DCHRS victim list also contains one “Mr. Adel Shawki,” perhaps meaning “Mr. Aref Shawki,” meaning Shaoqi Al-Sayed, the brother/father that Ali cited. [13] Thus it seems possible these related entries were gathered from Ali himself, who managed to confuse things again to create the mess recorded here. (DCHRS is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH/IFHR. [16])

5. The Physical Family

  A partial family identification, pieced together by A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS) after this article’s first publication, draws on several sources. The first appeared only in September, when Ali made a video with opposition Houla Media Office and a couple of rebel fighters, taking a long walk together south across the fields just east of Main Street. At a certain home, they stop so he can re-enact the massacre as he allegedly saw there (this is still not fully scrutinized for details). [6]

  The home in question is the same one shown by SANA news on May 26 and filmed by UN monitors as well. As both showed it, the home featured in situ bodies matching the family Ali describes; two dead boys (aged app. 6-9), a girl (app. 5), and an adult woman inside, and three men executed just outside the door. [17]

  Further, the identities SANA specified are head of household Aref Mohammad al-Sayyid, killed alongside "his two brothers Imad and Ouqba, his wife Izdihar Ali al-Daher,” and the three children, unnamed. (The mother is seen in a room apart from the others - laid across a bed - in a UNSMIS video. Though fully clothed, it’s said in a France 2 documentary that she was raped before her murder, conflicting with Ali’s claim she was simply shot right in front of him). No survivor is mentioned. [17]

From SANA TV, May 26, the men killed just outside Ali’s alleged home. SANA cites Aref Al-Sayyid and his brothers Imad and Ouqba. Ali cites his brother Shaoqi / Aref, their father Ali / Shaoqi, and uncle Ouqba / Aref / Abu Haidar. 
  The father’s name, Aref, is a common one in Ali's narratives, used for his uncle or his older brother, but never for his father. All three were, he said in most versions, taken outside and shot. Uncle Oqba is a fit, but the third man is in contention: Ali cites his older brother Aref/Shaoqi, while SANA said it was his alleged uncle Imad.

  At this point, it’s more than reasonable to put the name “Ali Al-Sayed” in quotes, on suspicion of being a fake witness who, lucky for him, was nowhere near the massacre sites that day. His winding up under protection of opposition people could be from being born there. Perhaps the “town elder who is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Council” is his uncle.

  His story then would be untrue, but it does seem crafted to fit with, and explain, the very real demise of this one particular family.

  6. A Government Family?

  Abdelmutti Al-Mashlab is a name that doesn’t appear in Ali’s early narratives. He was in the Syrian parliament, the Peoples’ Assembly. This had just been chosen on May 7 in an election the rebellion insisted was a regime ploy no one should participate in. [18] (Rebels managed to block polling in many areas, but about 52% of eligible voters managed anyway, according to official sources). The winners – this time including many pre-rebellion opposition members, and working with a brand-new constitution – were sworn in on May 24 and voted into positions within the parliament. [19]

SANA reported that “Abdel Mou'ti Mashlab” was elected as one of two secretaries that day in Damascus. (A previous version of this article said that he was elected the parliament’s speaker, but SANA says that went to one Mohammad Jihad al-Laham.) [20] The next day, as the new assembly set to its first day of work, it’s strongly alleged that part of Secretary Mashlab’s family back in Al-Houla was one of those slaughtered. As with all the others, that was blamed on the government, right along with its “reforms” and “democracy.”

  One of the ignored local witnesses explained the man she called Abdullah Al-Mashlab “was elected on May 24th, and the next day they killed his wife and three kids and his brother and his big family as well.” [21] She may have the name wrong and the victims too closely related. SANA reported, as do other witnesses, that the family with Oqba in it was only somehow “related to a People's Assembly member.” The link was distant enough to have a different actual family name, but close enough, SANA implies, to matter here. They say the election raised the ire of “one Haitham al-Housan,” (aka Hassan, Hallak) a local bandit who already hated the Al-Sayeds, and oversaw their murders on May 25. [22]

This parliament connection to the Houla massacre is acknowledged, if vaguely, by the other side. American NPR reported on the testimony of a possible alleged relative of Ali’s, 17-year-old Maryam Sayid. “The Syrian government says [the attackers] were out to punish one family that had a relative in the Syrian parliament,” NPR reported. But Maryam, a self-described member of that family, “said the government’s version is simply untrue.” She wouldn’t “hide with anti-government rebels,” as she did, if that’s who she was running from. [23] But it could be, as it could be with Ali, that she was always with the rebels, and only pretending to have first been a survivor of a government massacre.

The killed family Maryam describes was headed by retired police officer Muawiya Al-Sayed, who, as SANA reported, “didn’t defect (to the rebels) and was always in danger (from them).” [22] Maryam says he never defected, but was killed by the government anyway, along with some portion of his family. This included his grown son, Maryam said in a more detailed interview with Der Spiegel - an army soldier on leave with a broken leg. [4] Innocent of rebellion and seemingly almost on the government’s side, they were apparently hit for their sectarian credentials alone, in her provocative and propagandistic narrative. “They killed us because we are Sunni,” NPR quoted Maryam as saying; the killers were “Alawite thugs wearing all black and chanting sectarian slogans.” [23]

While they share a common name and lived close to each other on Main Street, the available information is not decisive on whether the Muawiya Al-Sayed family and the Aref-Oqba Al-Sayed family were directly related. But Maryam says - to NPR, if not to Der Spiegel – that she was related to the People’s Assembly secretary. And the latter heard that Ali from down the street was “a distant relative of Abdulmuti Mashlab, a member of the Syrian parliament.” [4] In fact, Ali says, he “was merely the uncle of his uncle's wife,” probably too distant to hurt like the authorities suggested, or to be related at all. [4]

The article further says this tenuous kinship “prompted UN observers to make the assumption” that’s why the family was killed. [4] No source was given for that claim, and no such statement is readily available. It would be encouraging to learn that the UN’s investigators had become open-minded when presented with a clue like that. But in the end, such things didn’t seem to matter much to them.

7. The Unnamed Evil Uncle

Despite the amazing confusion over his alleged immediate family and their names, two of Ali’s accounts consistently suggest another, closer relative, described as an uncle – unnamed but living nearby – was complicit in the killings.

To the Guardian, he reported running to this uncle’s house for safety, but strangely, the soldiers who had attacked his own home then arrived right after him. Unseen, apparently by everyone, he overheard the Shabiha talking to his uncle as if on good terms. They mentioned the six killings that were only five, and then he recalled them “asking his uncle if he knew who lived in the house that they just rampaged through,” as if he had been the one to send them. [7]

Furthermore, in the video, Ali says his father, uncle, and brother were taken away, rather than killed there. He said he only knew they had been killed because “the next day I saw them dead on the government TV channel.” [3] This 8-11 year-old from an ostensibly rebel family apparently makes sure to keep up on what SANA is saying, perhaps while eating a bowl of cereal back at his uncle’s house. After that, “my uncle came on saying that armed gangs killed his children.” (emphasis added) But Ali knew this wasn’t true – he caught the lie on both ends, at his own home and his uncle’s, in his fanciful story.

The name of this evil uncle is unspecified in both cases, which is noteworthy. Relation Abdelmutti Al-Mashlab, the Peoples’ Assembly secretary, is likely to be featured on state TV following the murder of his family. Was Ali accusing him of celebrating his election victory by running back to Al-Houla and overseeing the massacre of his own traitorous or too-Sunni  family? Maybe that was the idea at first, but the there’s no indication Mr. Mashlab lived in Taldou, and Ali’s Spiegel interview all but rules him out even if he did, as too distant to be called “uncle.”

  These stories could refer to Muawiya Al-Sayed, the possibly related police officer up the street. But he was killed that night, Maryam and the Syrian authorities say. SANA has specified an uncle Imad, but Ali never has, so that’s probably not it. He too was killed. Ali might also refer to his uncle Abu Haidar, whom the soldiers asked after before gunning down uncle Oqba. Unless Abu Haidar was the uncle killed along with Ali’s father and brother, as he once said. [13] Then, maybe it was Oqba he ran to, but he too is reported dead, and more reliably so.

  None of these works very well, and none of them seems to be the intended match. So it must have been some other uncle yet to whom Ali ran, only to find he’d sent the killers himself and lied about it on national TV. And still, this villain allowed Ali himself to see it all and survive, apparently escaping again to his new anti-government friends and their world audience.

  Perhaps this convenient uncle was more of a literary device than a real person. That would explain it.

8. Conclusion: Abilities and Disabilities

The case for a Syrian government-ordered massacre at Al-Houla was taken as obvious fact from day one by the Western powers and all those kept on the same page with them. The blamed government had its ambassadors expelled over the blame, along with harsh condemnations of the blamed government, and increased talk of arming the rebels to help stop the killing.

But the blame comes down to a handful of alleged miracle escapees and the “activists” they now live and roll with, divorced from all consideration of the non-rebel witnesses. The believed batch is anchored by this juvenile star witness, but we can now assess his abilities and disabilities.

He’s not able to remember the names of his own father and older brother, nor of his cluster of named uncles simmered down to a dead one vs. an evil one. He apparently cannot count past six or know when he should try. He cannot remember consistently whether the men of the house were killed first, were taken away and killed later, or cowered by the door in silence as the youngest and their mother were mowed down one by one. He cannot well explain how he escaped with those faint scratches on his hand standing in for the slightest actual injury. He reports gunfire only, no stabbing, throat-slitting, eye-gouging, or any such thing. We know these things happened in the Houla massacre, but not to Ali or any of his kin, he reports.

Ali’s abilities more than make up for his shortcomings. Like a video camera he consistently recalls minor details, like the five bullets in the lock and that everyone knows it was the regime, and those who fight with them, who did it. He can expose his scheming uncle’s wicked plots, detect an “Alawite accent,” from the Foulah “Shabiha” a mile away, who don’t seem to exist. [24] He’s incapable, apparently, of telling us what really, realistically, might have happened. But as we’ve seen, he’s been fully able to move a world that badly wants to believe the poor little guy anyway.
2014 addendum: an odd pattern that popped up where one early list of only 7 names seems almost like half of the Aref al-Sayed family, with the other half of its members swapped in from other families. (Fatima stayed appearing on her own merits as a real victim, while Ali and Khawla - listed as adults, maybe meant to be his "real" parents - remain unsupported anywhere else but for seeming phantom entries at the VDC (Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria)

[1] http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/The_Shabiha:_Ghost_Stories%3F
[2] http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Houla:Alleged_witnesses_for_a_government/Shabiha_attack
[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9KnjNxU8nI (account deleted, said vacuum cleaner) or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6yVbOBbO6I (says broom)
[4] Christoph Reuter and Abd al-Kadher Adhun for DER SPIEGEL, "Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre", published July 23, 2012 http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/a-look-back-at-the-houla-massacre-in-syria-a-845854.html
[5] Houla, autopsie d'un massacre, France2 documentary aired September 20, 2012 http://envoye-special.france2.fr/les-reportages-en-video/houla-autopsie-d’un-massacre--20-septembre-2012-4605.html
[6] http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Ali_Al-Sayed#Field_expedition_with_Ali 
[7] Houla massacre survivor tells how his family were slaughtered. Martin Chulov, the Guardian, May 28, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/28/houla-massacre-survivor-boy-syria
[8] Syrian boy says he survived military massacre of his family by smearing himself with his brother’s blood and playing dead. Associated Press, via New York Post, June 1, 2012.  http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/syria_slaughter_miracle_boy_awn8GLCUh0o8Qp3kRcVVLO
[9] UN Human Rights Commission, Oral Update, June, 2011 A/HRC/20 http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/COI_OralUpdate_A.HRC.20.CRP.1.pdf
[10] Comment by “Shaamnews” on posted original version of this article http://arabisouri.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/houla-massacre-star-witness-reconsidered/
[11] Janssen: http://opinie.deredactie.be/2012/06/02/de-verschrikkingen-van-houla/ Hermann: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html (translation from German) http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/prime-german-paper-syrian-rebels-committed-houla-massacre.html
[12] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/01/houla-massacre-reconstructing-25-may
[13] http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120602/jsp/frontpage/story_15560453.jsp#.UWlHaUbTQ98
[14] 2014 note: DCHRS victims list, Arabic, compressed with original auto-translate names, better translation, etc. available here at ACLOS: http://www.shoutwiki.com/w/images/acloserlookonsyria/archive/3/3a/20140708110056!Houla_Victims_Arabic_Correlated.pdf
[15] “Families herded “Like Sheep” to die in Houla massacre” By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters (Amman), May 30, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/30/us-syria-crisis-houla-idUSBRE84T1BH20120530
[16] Damascus Center for Human Rights Study. http://www.dchrs.org/news.php
[17] “The Household Ali Explains,” A Closer Look on Syria: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Ali_Al-Sayed#The_Household_Ali_Explains
[18] SANA, May 15: http://sana.sy/eng/21/2012/05/15/419139.htm
[19] http://english.cntv.cn/program/asiatoday/20120524/122858.shtml
[20] SANA, May 24. http://sana.sy/eng/21/2012/05/24/421043.htm
[21] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD0PA0BxNAQ
[22] Witnesses to al-Houla Massacre: Massacres Were Carried Out Against Specific Families That Support the Government. Syrian Arab News Agency, English. Jun 02, 2012 http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/06/02/422915.htm http://nsnbc.me/2012/06/02/witnesses-to-al-houla-massacre-massacres-were-carried-out-against-specific-families-that-support-the-government/
[23] “Sectarian Syrian Group Blamed In Houla Massacre” by Kelly McEvers, NPR Morning Edition, June 05, 2012 http://www.npr.org/2012/06/05/154335032/sectarian-syrian-group-blamed-in-houla-massacre
[24] Alex Thompson’s blog, Sunday June 3, 2012. http://blogs.channel4.com/alex-thomsons-view/search-houla-killers/1811

Saturday, November 22, 2014

May 22 Bus Hijacking - Houla Massacre Link?

Originally posted here, July 22, 2014
Re-posted here November 22, 2014

I'm not meaning to find things this interesting at the moment, but ...  As I just posted in graphic form here at ACLOS, there's some intriguing patterns in a reginal rash of violence on the same Friday as the Houla Massacre, and a bit of stuff right before and after. The details are discussed in the talk page there, worth copying here, but in reverse for variety.

First, a report from October, 2013:

Lebanese Al Manar TV reported the release of 9 Lebanese pilgrims after 17 months of being held captive by Qatari-backed terrorists in north of Syria.
On 22 May 2012 a group of terrorists stopped a passenger’s bus near the Turkish borders north of Syria and the passengers were held by a group of anti-Islamic Wahhabi terrorists with direct links to Turkish prime minister office and the Qatari Emir. The terrorists then released the women and children and kept 11 men captive, 2 of them managed to escape after a Syrian Arab Army operation in Azaz last year that killed one of the terrorists leaders responsible of the kidnapping.

I doubt this basic event - the taking of a busload of people including (Shi'ites, it sounds like, from Lebanon) three days before the Houla Massacre and a long ways away - will be disputed. Just where south of the border this happened isn't clear, but presumably way north of the al-Houla area. But another source might help narrow it down, and show the terrorists did not release all their women and children hostages. Nor the driver. Unless maybe there were two busses hijacked that day ...

here's the clincher story, part 1: VDC query - all Hama martyrs May 24 - 7 total. All but the top one play in here. Five represent a family:
* Natania Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Male
* Yahya Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Female
* Yakoub Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Male
* Farouq Oreib Al-Saleem, Child-Male
* Fadwa Al-Shaddeh, Adult Female (mother) (details f/c as needed, available there, including (alive) photos).

These entries tend to say "Date of death: 2012-05-24," "Cause of Death: Kidnapping - Execution" Notes:
"The whole family, consisted of a mother and five children were kidnapped 2 days ago while they were on their way back from Sahl Al-Ghan to Hama. They were executed, and their corpses were found today in Mesyaf. They were slaughtered by knives." 
Note "Shabiha" or the regime aren't specifically blamed. The VDC, like the SOHR, accepts information from a variety of sources, so maybe no rebels even reported this, just alarmed locals. Who knows? There is apparently one child not listed - maybe not dead for all we know.

Sahl al-Ghan ... not sure how I figured out that means al-Ghab plain, aka Sahl al-Ghab. It's north and west of Hama, and part of the province - its northern panhandle I didn't know about, running north, flanking Latakia up to the Turkish border. It's a large, vague locale to return from. You might drive south to Mesyaf a bit south of its south end, then east to Hama. Or get killed anywhere prior and dumped in Mesyaf - not far from Aqrab, just 16 km direct.

This family wasn't driving their own car back from wherever as far north almost as Turkey. The other relevant victim on that list is Refaat Al-Hussein, adult male, killed also May 24 by "Kidnapping - Torture - Execution." Notes:
"He was a bus driver. He was transporting the family who was slaughtered. His corpse was found too with signs of torture."
So ... were there only the six passengers on his bus, or are these seven corpses the residue of a once-larger pool? The date of death isn't clear - found "today," apparently meaning the 24th, after being captured by some kind of bus hijackers two days earlier, is the best reading - so it should be May 22.

If the bus hijackings are the same, and both reports are accurate, we can say it was at the north end of the Al-Ghab plain not far from Turkey and the infiltration points there for foreign Islamists. And if this all lines up, these 7 or so victims of that then proceeded way south with some friends of their captors before getting dumped by the 24th just shy of the arena's edge for the coming Houla Massacre. This has its Aqrab connections  - fighters from there swooping south to help, victims from there dying either with the Abdulrazaqs in Taldou, in Aqrab, or both) - and alleged units of unknown foreigners, presumably filtered in via Turkey as usual. This Salem-Shaddeh family might've been the kind of thing a horde of fresh Ottoman mercenaries track in on their boots/sandals.

It might sound like grasping at straws except we must remember video evidence repeatedly backs the witnesses who describe a rebel attack on Taldou the 25th. They say that attack was huge, with 6-800 fighters total. That's an attractive (alleged) force, like a dry sponge is to water. Hundreds of people, probably more than were just hanging around already, would need to swoop in, probably from the north, at about this time, to fill the space that apparently was filled. So I propose it's quite likely the southward journey of that poor Syrian family and their driver is a valuable clue to understanding the Houla Massacre.

Update, August 4:
I just stumbled across the missing Oreib-al-Saleem child: listed as dying earlier, on May 22, VDC victim #16911 Shahd Oreib Al-Saleem], girl, age 4 (rounded down, it appears - see photo). Her notes are the same, kidnapped, slaughtered with knives. A Facebook page is provided: https://www.facebook.com/aribalsalim This was started on May 24 to share photos of the just-killed children. It's all in Arabic and I didn't check the content, but it seems to completely lack rebel colors and icons - and government ones. It was active at least into 2013.

From the VDC entry, her photo at left. What eyes. The name Shahed means "witness," it seems - a girl of that name had her mouth torn off a few days later in al-Houla. Again, what this episode suggests is a mappable movement of child-slaughtering terror towards the site of the Houla Massacre. And it's not from the Alawite villages just south of there, but from the distant and ominous Turkish border to the north. Someone should seal that thing off for good. I think little Shahed would agree.