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Monday, June 8, 2015

Syria: Ghouta Chemical Massacres: Death Toll and Estimates

June 9, 2015 (incomplete)
last edits Oct. 24

Just how many people died in the alleged Sarin attack has never has been clearly established. As I've investigated this off-and-on over the last 20 months I've used the term x-hundred. I've considered it probably between 500 and 1,000, with a shifting idea on where in between, now settling towards the lower end of that range, or maybe even less than 500.
In the aim of getting a best reading and likely range, I've been comparing videos and photos of different body displays, getting some body counts and looking for repeats. Those shown in 2 or more displays that I've identified are at Body Re-Cycling  and go against straight scene addition in creating a visual minimum of credibly-placed victims in non-repeating groups. When there's more to say, it will go below under Our Estimate.

It's also well worth looking at what death tolls informed and/or powerful people have offered and what these seem to be based on.

White House Death Toll: 1,429
White House Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013 (from a few days after the incident) Excerpts on findings - specific - and methodology - vague.
A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information.
We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.
At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage.
This was in line with the most extreme counts offered, and far out of line with more evidence-based tallies (see below sections). A few mainstream news reports addressed this issue. For example:

U.S. toll for Syria higher than others' Britain, France and a key opposition group cite fewer dead in the alleged chemical attack last month. by Ken Dilanian and Shashank Bengali, LA Times September 04, 2013
But Britain and France have cited far lower numbers of confirmed deaths, ...U.S. officials say they can't disclose how they derived their figure without compromising intelligence, but they say it is based on a variety of sources and they stand by it.
In this same report, Obama spoke of "well over 1,000" dead, while Kerry assured the world "at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack," and unnamed official agreeing that "officials believed the death toll could even go beyond 1,429." Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the U.S. director of national intelligence, said they used information "from a number of sources, including international and Syrian medical personnel, videos, witness accounts and social media reports." SOHR's Abdulrahman said "I don't know where this number came from," but then suggested he did know; "The U.S. took this high number from one part of the Syrian opposition that is supported by the U.S. government ...We don't trust them."

Reuters reported September 12 that "three congressional sources told Reuters that administration officials had indicated in private that some deaths might have been caused by the conventional bombing that followed the release of sarin gas." This wound up seeming a minor point (and also most likely an untrue one). More of interest is what the reporters heard
Administration sources told Reuters that they relied on a valid intelligence methodology to make the death estimate. An official said that it involved analyzing video pictures of victims, then eliminating from the fatality total any live person, any dead body with visible injuries and shrouded bodies showing blood spots. Classified intelligence tools then were used to confirm the provenance of the videos and to ensure that bodies were not counted twice, the official said.
This is not how one would reach a count like 1,429; It should be in the low-to-mid hundreds, if they kept to video record the rest of us can see, maybe a bit higher if they dug up all available photos too. (Once I've got a clearer count myself, I'll say what it should be.) The official doesn't specify how many people they counted when doing this, just mentioned that they did it, and it was "involved" in setting the death toll. But he hinted that it was some other non-public source that really mattered; "the official noted that U.S. intelligence had more resources to gather information than human rights or other non-governmental groups."

And they say whatever the intelligence behind the number, it's convincing; "Nobody who has looked at the intelligence thinks this number is way off," an unnamed senior U.S. official told Reuters. I for one find this show of confidence rather suspicious. Most likely they did just accept one of the higher rebel-supplied tallies and added a few to get their number. This would be a matter of policy that desired the biggest stick possible at that moment to threaten Syria with. All their other analysis would just be to appear rigorous, not to provide a useable number, let alone anything towards establishing a cause.

Other Friendly Intel Counts
British and French or whoever offered lower (minimum) counts. Will dig this up.

Unified Revolutionary Medical Office: 1,302
* The VDC's August 23 report includes the final statistics of martyrs issued by the United Revolutionary Medical Office in Eastern Gota." (better view in jpeg form here
this early list gives several areas which I can mainly read, with an Arabic alphabet chart handy - some don't line up clearly or make sense, to me, but this is what it says:
  1.  ?? Douma - 20dead 630 affected
  2. Saqba 105 dead, 1,460 affected
  3. Kafr Batna 125 dead, 2,226 aff
  4.  ?? (reads el-Hsan) 174 dead, 1,200 aff.
  5.  ?? (reads al-shamiya - meaning M. al-Sham, or an area in east Ghouta I can't find?) 6 dead, 74 affected
  6. Jisreen 16 dead, 17 aff
  7. Irbeen 110 dead, 600 aff
  8. Jobar: 27 dead, 700 aff.
  9.  ?? (reads al-mlyahiya - meaning Mleha?) 87 dead, 165 aff
  10. Zamalka 500 dead, 1200 aff
  11.  ?? (reads ankhad (?) Rouh (spirit) - a sad cat video title translated suggests "save the soul" or "save our souls" - is that a place? Does it mean unknown?) 1 dead, 182 aff
  12.  ?? (reads el-salmiya meaning ???) 46 dead, 800 aff.
  13. Hammouriya 27dead, 200 aff.
  14. total = 1,302 dead, 9,838 affected
This raises many questions regarding the now-accepted picture of a Zamalka-only impacts and winds to the W-SW. But so do a lot of unequivocal early statements from rebel sources, and each of the questions they raise has its own questions. The point is, it it yields same (rounded) total as a rebel infographic  shown below, 1300, and both being circulated within the first couple of days, might be a good baseline from which to add 127 later-identified victims and get 1,429.

Other Opposition
* "Where's the proof? Classified, says US, though poised to strike despite lack of evidence" By Zeina Karam And Kimberly Dozier via Hamilton Spectator Summary: Opposition SNC can only list 395 named and semi-named victims, while claiming a number "close" to Obama's. "In Ghouta, Majed Abu Ali, a spokesman for 17 clinics and field hospitals near Damascus, produced the same list, saying the hospitals were unable to identify all the dead." The SOHR had collected 502 properly name-identified alleged victims, and while that may not have been all of them, they didn't seem to feel there were anything like 900 more to identify. Doctors Without Borders/MSF had an Aug. 24 estimate of 355 killed, from 3 affiliated clinics. But they'd lost touch and been unable to get updates. Also a HuffPost report has MSF claiming 3600 casualties, 355 dead.

At one point the VDC listed just over 500 victims to the SOHR's 502, making this seem a likely real number. But the VDC insisted the number was higher and kept adding newly discovered victims, eventually listed over 900 (now down to 898 + one I found listed as "other" and + one with no date) - but by now I've identified dozens of duplicate entries, maybe they've culled some - dozens more are "unidentified,"  mostly all unverifiable anyway. VDC adjusted - they may reflect 7-800 actual dead, and I'd guess that's the highest they could get the death toll is no higher. It's a good roof above the roof of a best estimate.

A go-to source on the Ghouta Massacre(s), great on the issues they cover:
http://whoghouta.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-conclusion.html (November 2013)
Evidence that hundreds were killed:
  • We have not yet concluded our analysis of the number of casualties, but most sources report numbers in the hundreds. A good analysis of the different sources may be found here, reaching an estimate of less than 500.
That always seemed reasonable but I never checked what it was based on. Now I see the link is wrong, going to an unrelated statement. Perhaps they meant the on-site post for victim count from October, not filled-in but with some comments. Some interesting discussion, but the number 500 only appears from fellow ACLOS wiki member CE, in an October comment:
...For me the most credible account seems to be the one of the Center for Documentation of Violations, with around 500 victims, most of them named and many with photos. See here for details on the CDV data. That number is roughly on par with what the SOHR claims - who complained that the US was exaggerating numbers, which is quite remarkable as that outlet has been the default go-to "expert" for all things Syria numbers in the Western corporate media for most of the crisis, and often accused of exaggerating themselves.
So if that's what it Whoghouta was pointing to, it was a reasonable basis, coming from us. But it's not a very good final answer. These opposition sources were never to be trusted, or dismissed outright. The interesting sense of cross-purposes and meshing death tolls was momentary - we see now they're part of the exaggerator crowd Abdulrahman doesn't trust. It might wind up being around 500 anyway, but that's largely coincidental if so.

Our Estimate
A visual minimum can reliably be established - it took a separate post to explain and manage sub-tallies, visual aids, etc. With the work ACLOS already did plus a little correlation, I established how many bodies were at each site and how many were recycled between sites, and placed all sites (by visuals or compelling logic) in East or West Ghouta. Between the scenes, I count app. 420+ victims seen in the Ghouta area, and that's almost all of them we can see anywhere. The remainder probably belong as well. That's not proven, but it's apparently not a massive question. 
Considering that minimum but doing no further work, the death toll is likely 500+ - but how big the plus is remains unclear. I can't rule out 1,000+ or even 1,400+ but somewhere in the range of 500-800 seems most likely. And they didn't very likely come from Latakia, but somewhere nearer to Damascus - the Ghouta area itself, maybe southern Homs province or Deraa.

1 comment:

  1. http://eaworldview.com/2014/01/syria-op-ed-fly-zone-still-needed/

    Military intervention has risks. In NATO’s seven-month bombing war in Libya, it’s likely 40 to 70 civilians were accidentally killed by NATO bombs according to The New York Times. According to Amnesty International, the number may be between 55 to 115 civilians killed by NATO bombs.

    Weigh that toll against the toll in Syria, where in just over a week of aerial bombing in one city, Aleppo, Assad’s military killed more than 300 people.
    On December 24 the Telegraph reported that as many as 480 people were said to have been killed,
    most of them civilians, including 86 children.
    By the 29th, BBC News reported 517 killed by aircraft bombing Aleppo
    in the two weeks since December 15.
    According to The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, 151 of them were children.
    The numbers of crippled and maimed are more rarely reported.

    In November, a report on the child casualties of Syria’s war gave a toll of 11,420 children killed to the end of August 2013,
    out of a total of 113,735 civilians and combatants killed.

    The majority of children, 7,557 individuals, were reported killed by explosive weapons.

    Of those, 2,008 cases specified aerial bombardment: that’s 19% of all children where a cause was recorded.


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