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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ian Wilkie Sarin Articles Review

Feb. 25, 2018
(rough, incomplete)
updated 2/25

Newsweek recently ran not one but two opinion pieces by Ian Wilkie, described as an international lawyer, terrorism expert, and risk analyst who claims to be a CW expert to some degree, commenting on Syria sarin allegations. These made some waves but that I didn't notice right away. First I saw this the other day: Where’s the Evidence Assad Used Sarin Gas On His People? (Feb. 17) On first review I found parts of it exciting and others good. Then I saw his earlier piece along the same lines (Now Mattis Admits There Was No Evidence Assad Used Poison Gas on His People, Feb. 8) and some reviews, and consider it a mixed offering.

Scott Lucas at EAWorldview refers to the earlier piece, calling it "one of the worst pieces published about Syria’s 83-month conflict." Lucas mainly cites an analysis by Eliot Higgins over at Bellingcat that's at least as mixed in its worth. I'll consider this here as I do my own belated review of both of Wilkie's Newswwek articles and Higgins' review. Wilkie makes a number of valid points, especially in the second article. But as Higgins shows, he makes some serious errors as well. Let's start with these.

Misreporting Mattis: Wilkie writes:
"Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it very clear recently that “aid groups and others” had provided the U.S. with evidence that was insufficient to conclude that President Bashar Assad had recently used the chemical weapon Sarin against Syrian civilians. In other words, the Pentagon does not believe what has been presented to it as evidence, chiefly because of the dubious provenance of the providers."

This is read as including at the time of the "recent" Khyan Sheikhoun attack in April of last year. That would be a strange admission I wouldn't expect, even from a Trump appointee and especially after Trump ordered missil strikes in response to that incident. It turns out he didn't make any such admission. In the full statements, he was asked to clarify the point and did - he says the Syrian government used sarin in 2013 ("in the previous administration, when they were caught using it") and then despite apparently giving up their CW program, "they used (sarin) again during our administration." (CNN report, Defense transcript) He also said "groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that Sarin has been used ... We are looking for evidence. I don't have evidence credible or uncredible." That was referring to newer allegations of sarin use since Khan Sheikhoun, branching off of a discussion of recent reports of chlorine attacks in the last weeks. It does show that reports of sarin attacks - which have been lodged recently - aren't always borne out by the evidence to the military's liking, for what that's worth.

Mattis should have said there's no good evidence for any use, but - little surprise - the functionary of the US military-industrial complex did not say that. But strangely, Wilkie uses the same characterization in both versions, despite Higgins' explanation intervening. And many have recycled the reading as true - Mattis has leaked the truth of no evidence (for example here). So we have a bad launch point for this review and some people led astray, but there are some valid points still worth considering...

Misreporting Del Ponte: In his first article but not the second, Wilkie writes:
“Chemical weapons are abhorrent and illegal, and no one knows this more than Carla Del Ponte. She, however, was unable to fulfill her U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism mandate in Syria and withdrew in protest over the United States refusing to fully investigate allegations of chemical weapons use by “rebels” (jihadis) allied with the American effort to oust President Assad (including the use of Sarin by anti-Assad rebels).”
It's true she's blamed rebels and not the government for sarin use, back in mid-2013, and later quit the investigation in 2017. But I could find no sign of a connection when I looked, and she publicly blames Syria now, despite prior statements. She'd say both sides have used CWs but mainly the government, and she's strange. Higgins gives a few juicy counter-quotes of her blaming the government and citing Russia's obstruction of "justice" as her reason for quitting. Score one more against Wilkie.

Phosphine? Gareth Porter's valuable work is cited by Wilkie, but not one of the better parts of it. As Higgins notes "Gareth Porter’s article relies heavily on ignoring the tests by the OPCW that detected Sarin in samples from both the impact site, and the indications of Sarin use from biological samples taken from victims." No, in fact he acknowledges the tests, just not that they detected sarin. He relied on noting that but that it was called "sarin or a sarin-like substance," taking it as maybe not very sarin-like at all, and maybe phosphine. (see here, AlterNet gray zone)

But that was wrong. He spoke to unnamed experts, who are presumably valid, but  didn't know the more recent developments in testing (not that recent either - the fluoride ion reactivation test has been used since 1998 or so) - allowing for precise identification down to just a few chemicals, not including phosphine or any other likely poison. (see this reflected two ways in my review, with the updated top part winning). This test, along with others, was reportedly used in both the Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun attack investigations.

So yes, they found sarin, not phosphine. How much, what kind, and how it got there are still unknown. It's not clear if it's the main thing that killed people, nor that it's what people saw and smelled and videos show as a whitish fog over the town. All we know is it's in environmental samples (Terrorists can release sarin for real, soil and debris can be tainted to mimic a release), and biological samples/test subjects. As it so happens, the OPCW has made it so fake survivors can test positive with just a few molecules of sarin in their blood - a fairly safe method of fakery. they don't ask about amounts and just collect possibly meaningless positive results. (see here)

So sarin turning up doesn't prove much of anything in itself, except that there was sarin involved. Someone has it, and someone - likely with some rational motive - is somehow getting it into the people of Syria.

Strong Points
Now onto some of the wheat buried in the chaff:
Wilkie describes himself as "as a counter-terrorism practitioner and cleared contractor" with prior military training against CW use, nowa terrorism expert "well versed in their technical characteristics to the point that the former Central Intelligence Agency Counter-WMD chief has interviewed me on the record about chemical and other WMD. He's "working on a book about the potential uses of WMD by terrorists entitled "Checkmate: Jihad's Endgame.""

Regarding his early training, he calls "Tabun and VX, ... even more lethal than Sarin" As I hear it, he's mixed up here - VX is more deadly than sarin, but Tabun is less deadly. It's a small point - possibly just a little sloppy there, and still valid expertise with important points to make.

Impure Sarin: Wilkie writes:
"MilSpec Sarin is clear, odorless and invisible. The “Sarin events” in Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun  did not employ military-grade Sarin munitions. They produced dirty yellow, chlorine-smelling  clouds, which suggest either: (a) manufacture by other than scientists of the Syrian Scientific Research Council or (b) an “accidental” bomb drop that hit stored chemicals on the ground, but not (c) delivery of military grade munitions against rebel military targets."
This has been an area of interest to me, of course. I still can't say for sure if Syria's military sarin was pure (MilSpec or military grade), but most likely. If so, it would be colorless and odorless like water. In a vapor it wouldn't be invisible, but white like fog. No one has claims a clear link to Syria's military sarin, as surrendered and surely profiled. Certainly no one has claimed that Syria made dirty sarin with the properties described. But as far as I know, they could field impure sarin, either as their regular method, or to "frame" the "rebels." The other side would use impure sarin almost certainly (if they could use any, and had to make it themselves).

So the point can't be certain, but impure suggesting rebels, they are suggested. The stuff recovered after attacks from 2013 forward is only 60% pure, according to French intelligence (re: Saraqeb, 4-29-13). Russian intel calls it impure "cottage industry" sarin lacking stabilizers, made by terrorists and delivered in a locally-made rocket (re; Khan al-Assal, 3-19-13). And the nature of the impurities can be mapped, as Wilkie partly does. My analysis of all known incidents of verified or likely sarin use (29 cases from December 2012 until last year - any newer cases worth listing - and I doubt it - haven't been yet) is a useful reference that goes further.

Wilkie describes a chlorine smell in Khan Sheikhoun, but I'm not aware of any such reports.
<add later on 2/25>This was reported in the JIM final report that I didn't notice or forgot about (thanks to Andrew, via comment):
"70.... In addition, open sources reported that chlorine might also have been released, as indicated by the smell of bleach. While the Mechanism could not rule out the possibility of the use of chlorine, it focused its investigative efforts on the use of sarin"
This is strange - there are some claims (see here) that the bombs (4 chemical ones) contained sarin and chlorine - which should not mix well, and basically cancel each other out. How else chlorine was also released would be a hard question to answer. But still, this is a smell reported in addition to other smells, not instead of them.</end 2/25>

From what I've seen, in this attack especially and in general, the smell is more often reported as (in order of frequency) foul, strange/hard to place, like some organic decay. It tends to be described as pale yellow to white in color as Wilkie notes, which is a another problem. It's also reported as caustic and irritating to eyes, lungs, and skin., as he didn't note So it's similar to chlorine in description, except for the smell, and for the sarin-like symptoms that are inconsistent with chlorine: paralysis/seizures, miosis, loss of consciousness, frequent death, and secondary contamination.

Some cases that seem to be sarin - but not KS that I know - have chlorine smell reported, possibly in confusion (for example Khan al-Assal, 3-19-13, with prominent chlorine worries coloring perceptions) or because there are two or more varieties of sarin or possibly another poison involved in the various cases. At least once case involves blue smoke instead of yellow. But the broad, prevailing description as lodged by people from both sides - opposition witnesses and soldiers and civilians in government-held areas - yellow, caustic, foul-smelling.

General Lack of Evidence: 

"If America did, for example as it alleges in an official White House report, have evidence it calls "our information" regarding the Shayrat airbase “Sarin attack” being prepared, then why not show this?
The intelligence community was more than willing to show Khrushchev’s missiles, but they have no ability to share evidence with the public about Assad today? This defies credulity and calls the "evidence” provided in the White House memorandum into question."

Indeed - in fact, Shayrat's supposed preparations - if they existed - would be ultimately to one or another of the two jets blamed for the attack. And as I noted, those can be proven to not connect to the ground events. In fact the only evidence yet provided linking that base or any preparations, is what allows us to see that they can't possibly connect. Ha! 

As I've explained elsewhere several times, radar records from US or allied radar were shown at a military press conference. The track shown is inexact but not distorted, once mapped out, and is probably reliable. It shows that only one of the two blamed jets passed anywhere near the town, and even that's too far off to matter - at least 3 km south of the sarin impact (5km according to the JIM, who verified the track with another nation's records), and almost as far south of most other bomb impacts. Below is an approximate mapping, deliberately fudged a bit north to be more than fair. 

And it was flying roughly west-to-east (unless I read it backwards, then w-e), so its trajectory can't help a bomb drift north as it falls - it'll fall almost straight down with a slant to the east (or E-SE). If so it would be dropped some ways back on that red line, have a lot of forward drift (probably more than possible), and a lot of time for ... something ... to push it far north as well. Only wind can explain any north drift - and no wind can explain 3-5 km of it (or even likely the lesser amount required if dropped earlier).

Therefore, it's highly debatable if not impossible that these jets can have anything to do with the impacts. In fact, the sarin spot and the two northern impacts have damage patterns suggesting they were hit by rockets fired from the north, not bombs slating in from the south (this still needs a clearer explanation somewhere... some of it's included/buried here and maybe visible in the crater images here).

"Russia and Syria offered the U.S. and U.N. investigators access to the Shayrat airbase, but inspectors refused to go and take samples." 

I believe they went later and found nothing, but it's not clear they'd know exactly where to look. A lack of looking or of finding is worthy of note, but not conclusive. More important to me is the disconnect with the jets the rules out the relevance of anything one might find at that base. 

Other General Points Higgins Didn't Address
not covered: impure sarin clues, policy of Taqiyya, western eagerness to use bogus CW claims for regime change efforts, improper collection by biased Islamist groups, ... extreme lack of motive...

"Chemical weapons (CW) are ghastly, immoral and a red line since even before that term was made popular. The impetus to use chemical weapons is not a strong one since the world will not sit idly by when people anywhere are killed like poisoned rats. President Assad knows this. He is under the gun, as it were, and under the glare of thousands of cameras. His motivation not to use CW is immense."

True! But as usual, we hear that our enemies are suicidal morons, besides pure evil.  The anti-motive got more immense right before he allegedly used them in 2013, exactly one year after Obama issued his "red line" threat-offer, and just as UN-OPCW investigators had landed in Damascus, at Syria's invitation...to investigate Khan al-Assal.  that was the moment he chose to kill over 1,000 innocents right next to those inspectors, so they couldn't get to Khan al-Assal, having to investigate the huge sarin attack that almost got Syria bombed instead. Obviously!  

"The best way to analyze chemical weapons events in Syria is to try to discern who is providing evidence, why they are presenting evidence and what that evidence comprises."

Yes, exactly!

"Since the United States’ false Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) presentation in the U.N. Security Council led to an illegal, unjustified war in Iraq, it is only prudent to question the motivations of people accusing others of WMD war crimes and demanding regime change based on these allegations."


The evidence comes from
"regime change boosters such as the White Helmets (a UK government-backed, soldier-founded medical charity”), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a one-man propaganda shop whose founder is in contact with multiple Islamic State commanders) and tiny bellingcat who made an obvious call on MH17 and used that investigative “coup” to push for yet more interference in the affairs of nations deemed overly pro-Russian or pro-Iran."
"Never once have these propagandists analyzed evidence objectively, preferring to shoot the messengers such as myself by making ridiculous comparisons to tragedies like the Sandy Hook school shooting in America and misguided theories surrounding them."

Conspiracy theorist ... everyone knows this was a conspiracy by Assad and Russia to screw up trump's stated non-intervention policy, by using an identifiable sarin bomb and making it slant way north and release sarin that pushes exactly upwind to kill too many people with the wrong symptoms, in places rebels chose to not let us see. That's the real conspiracy crying for justice. Anything else is just a theory and presumed loony because das komissar's investigators did not report it as fact.

"The importance of the evidence source is critical in Syria because the jihadis arrayed against Assad ascribe to a doctrine of deception called taqiyya. Taqiyya fully supports and condones behavior such as chemical weapons “false flags” to gain advantage against infidel enemies on the ground."

True and always ignore by Higins and co. I don't think I've ever used that term Taqiyya, but I've heard it around and the concept is central to my work. Wahabbi-inspired Sunni Islamists feel authorized to lie to infidels (anyone watching the news in some minds) besides to kill, kidnap, rape, and abuse them in any way they please, as God's chosen people. They lie like they breathe. I wish they did less of both. 

If we're lucky, and we often are with these idiots, the liars will make mistakes in their story-writing that prove it to be a fabrication. They might blame jets that were too far away, having no other jets to blame. And they might make other mistakes, like 'pulling a Postol' - they get a correct wind reading - FROM the southwest - and use that to map their story with a fancy spread of victims and stories as if the wind were blowing TO the southwest. I think we were that lucky. The green range below is a well-centered estimate from correlating all video views of smoke plume and especially ground fog drift - all but a few signs clearly agree on a northeast direction (from the southwest), with the couple of counter-clues having explanations within that. (see here). Purple is what the opposition and its supporters say, later verified many times as their story, and that of several teary-eyed locals recounting what must be fake stories told on video as they walk to locales geo-located in the purple zone. In fact this case stands out for the clarity of the mapping provided or made available and its consistency in suggesting a certain sarin spread. It's not usually this clear at all. 
They aren't just wrong but 180 degrees wrong, which is interesting in its ease of achievement. See the often-brilliant Dr. Postol explaining how he did it here. The direction he first read backwards (from taken as to) was a valueless prediction, by the way, so both his southeast and northwest directions lack a sound basis. His observation elsewhere that the video shows partly east is correct, but he's not sure the video is from this day, since it clashes with records...).

... and a bunch of good points like these Wilkie didn't even know to make, like the compelling clues that the victims in Khan Sheikhoun were actually hostages of the Islamist forces, passed off with false identities after their chemical extermination. See my article at The Indicter for a good starter. 

A point I'm glad he skipped: the overplayed early hospital admissions claim. This sound good - dozens of patients admitted too several hospitals or rebel clinics, often far away and all too early, before the attack even happened, up to about an hour before and continuing for perhaps not as long as it should after the event. This is possible, but the time difference of just about an hour, and the total lack of reports or images from this hour time-frame makes me wonder. If it's real, wouldn't there be some sign of it, some hint we would have picked up on? ("We" collectively have looked at the record in a lot of detail - Qoppa999 is a good part of we and agrees there was never any hint of this missing hour of admissions like too-early videos nor tweets. So I wonder... did it ever exist?

Is this a record of the first few dozen admitted in the first hour AFTER the planned false-flag incident? Did someone just mess up the times on a batch of hospital records, shifting the time back? That could be accidental, but reasons aren't clear (little reason for DST confusion so late, no time conflict with Turkey at the time) ... and it could be purposeful, to give us a false lead and distract us from better leads. Or maybe they screwed up very badly, and gassed about half or more of their victims an hour before the jet ever passed nearby, left the records of that and handed them to the CoI who mentioned it.

I know they screwed up some things very badly, but still ... not everything, I should think. I propose caution with that point, and don't put any of my own weight on it, even as I refuse to rule it out entirely.

Mixed Points and Higgins Fails
Volcano rockets: The rockets used in the 2013 Ghouta attack, Wilkie feels, are a "type favored by insurgents. Higgins is partly right to say this is "totally untrue." The type of rocket used, known as the “Volcano rocket” has been well-documented, and is known to come in two types, explosive and chemical. The chemical variant of the munition has been documented at not only the impact sites of the August 21st 2013 Sarin attacks, but in previous attacks against opposition areas and positions as well."

That's not really known. It's a fair enough reading though: red letters correspond to alleged sarin use, but sometimes suggest FAE detonation instead... It's also seen on video fired by guys in uniforms, who could be genuine military or costumed imposters/defectors. Same applies to a video of guys dressed a Jaish al-Islam militants in gas masks, firing the same things on what they say is the night/morning of August 21. Is that too obvious to be them, or too obviously too obvious to not be them sowing just that image? ("we was clearly framed!") I'm still not sure if the military has these or doesn't, or Jaish al-Islam does or doesn't. They were fired from an area either side could access. Motive 100% favors the Islamists over the government, for reasons most people actually know and just ignore.

Interestingly, the Islamist opposition people documenting a prior use of the Volcano rocket in Adra seem capable of applying fresh nerve agent to a dog just for the sickening visual effect. (see here

No KS Visit: "Likewise, Khan Sheikhoun was deemed too dangerous to inspect, even though American and English “experts” were in regular contact with the White Helmets on the ground, one of whom, Dr. Shajul Islam, is an accused kidnapper of Westerners." Suggestive juxtaposition, but worthwhile. Maybe it's a fear of kidnapping or dying themselves in a false-flag chemical or "regime sniper" attack (ie a tacit admission that terrorists move freely in the western-sponsored "liberated" areas). I would be. Either that, or they don't want to investigate and this is the excuse...

But they say it's ... "yeah kidnapping and stuff in part, but mainly because anywhere rebel-held is dangerous, barrel bombed by Assad, shelled, snipered, gas-attacked, Shabiha-masacred, etc. on a daily basis." (paraphrase) It is unsafe, and it's hard to prove this is not their real worry. And further, an on-site visit is no magic key to getting the true story anyway. Sites can be tampered with and witnesses can lies. Investigators can consider this or not as they decide what to frame as fact. It can be very helpful in the right hands, but the hands here may not be so right. 

Sarin Persistence: Wilkie: "these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin." I take this as a point that may be valid but is too unclear to put much weight on - I feel it's overrated.

But Higgins' response isn't that great either. He notes that sarin evaporates relatively quickly, but it depends on temperature. In fact pure sarin will spread and evaporate just like water. It will spread as a fog of droplets, dampen what it can, then evaporate like dew would. (impure sarin would act like this, mixed with ... whatever taints it - harder to say.) Sarin fails badly in outdoor attacks at noon in the summer, but works in early morning events like this. "According to local weather reports, the temperature in Khan Sheikhoun on the day of the attack would have started at 7°C and raised to 23°C," Higgins decided. I'll have to check, but by "local reports" he probably means online localized predictions, either from reliable reports of wind and temperature (at somewhat nearby airports, at the top of the nearest hour, etc.), or from historical trends prediction, depending. Such records are very limited in their usefulness.

Video of the event is more reliable, if it offers clues. It does. The air at the cave hospital is unusually shielded from the sun, so should be a bit colder than average. Here, it's cold enough people are shivering and you can see their breath on video. That's probably about 4 or 5 degrees celsius or below, not 7+. Any evaporation here would be at that rate. That's at about 7-7:45 am, within an hour of the incident around 6:45.

Still, Higgins' 7 degrees is better than the CoI's call; "Data  based  on  historical  weather  forecasts" (the less reliable method) suggested to them "the  wind  speed  was  just over three kilometres per hour from the southeast, that there was no rain and practically no cloud cover, and that the temperature was around 13 degree Celsius." Duh.

Higgins used a graph from a Norwegian study - valid as far as I know but its exactitude and authority aren't certain. By this, at 15 Celsius ("summer"), sarin evaporates within 30 minutes. But at -10 Celsius ("winter"), it takes 8 hours. We're looking at around 5 (not 7, and not 13). I'm not sure how accurate the chart is or how to calculate a middle time, but 4-5 degrees should be a bit closer to 30 minutes than to 8 hours, but pretty much in the middle. Maybe 3-3.5 hours persistency? And decreasing a bit during that time as it warmed, to come out less in the end. 2.5-3 hours?

At the Al-Rahma cave "hospital," (Islamist death center) people exposed are hosed off some, but then handled with bare hands by people standing in the rinse in sandals, all seeming to suffer no ill-effects. This is from minutes to about an hour after the attack. I have this scene at right of apparent faker Abdelhamid al-Youself being helped up timed to around 7:30 am (see here - this photo is probably 7:33 or so) Yousef says he ran through three different sarin-affected area across town to find nearly everyone else in his extended family dead, before he... passed out. Here we can see he (almost certainly, by visual details) was getting up again about 45 minutes after the attack, safe to handle. A few hours later, he finally checked on his own wife and kids...

That's all troubling, but the rinsing makes it seem at least distantly possible. It wouldn't likely convince even a well-informed investigator inclined to believe the opposition story. Sometimes it seems nothing can convince anyone of anything new.... 

Less troubling are the appearances of unprotected people at and even in the crater with no protection. These are seen starting around 9 am, and mainly around mid-day and later. I'm rusty on the exact details of that. Most such footage is from hours later after the temperature warmed, or even from the following day. And further, I see suggestions of wetness in a spray pattern to the south and a wiggle to the north, like from a dripping hose moving back and forth as a truck slowly moved down the road. This suggests the crater area was hosed down after the event, which would disrupt the evidence, and spread the contamination. But it would also lessen the danger in any one spot, and speed up the evaporation by spreading it out.

By and large and long before these articles by Wilkie, these appearances of unprotected people are cited as if they should be dead, but that's not true or at least not certain. The fancy hazmat suits professionals wear would be precautionary overkill, not necessary for survival to anyone with common sense and the luck to avoid a surprise encounter with the initial deadly fog.

To make such an argument more solid, get specific: For example, identify a time-stamped and/or solar-timed too-early image of someone sticking their unprotected hands into shaded soil that seems splashed by the blue-black-seeming fluid around the crater taken as the sarin. Depending on the time and exact science, that could come close to disproving sarin. Sandaled feet with no socks inside the crater would remain dangerous ... not sure how long. I'd stay out all day to be sure, or get socks and watch my toes... Someone walking on the surface up to the crater and breathing the air even with no mask is probably no issue even just an hour later. Unless they're completely barefoot. 

I haven't tried much to pin down such points of proof. I couldn't well call just where on the troubling spectrum each scene would fall. How early is too early? Does this oily-looking blue-black stuff evaporate slower than water? Most others can't do this either, so you can't just see a lack of hazmat gear or even sandals entering a sarin area ever as a clear basis to cry foul.

Regime Chemical Fingerprint: Higgins: "Porter does not address a key piece of evidence, that chemical tests by the OPCW show that not only Sarin was used, but it had marker chemicals that linked it to the chemical weapon stockpiles of the Syrian government." Generally speaking, there is no chemical fingerprint that can prove whose it was. A method can be adduced, but well-informed people could copy or simulate someone else's recipe. As noted, no one has linked the obvious impurities to Syria's stocks, just Regime chemical fingerprint to other attacks using this dirty sarin, all of which have the same clues suggesting terrorist authorship, none of which have been answered. They're not clear precedents to call on to prove each other, but they're treated like that anyway. 

Soviet CW Bomb: Higgins says analysis by Porter and Wilkie "ignores that objects recovered from the Khan Sheikhoun craters matched filling caps from Syrian airdropped chemical bombs:" Higgins still pushes this? They looked at the cap inside out to make this dubious call of an easily identifiable CW-specific bomb the USSR apparently never exported. Here's his Bellingcat associate Timmi Allen showing that finding, having it rebutted, and having no answer.

HRW passed this on with no improvements in their report, and later the JIM investigators argued the remnants looked like parts of "a  Soviet-era  chemical  bomb. ... Although  the  Commission  is  unable  to  determine  the  exact  type  of chemical  bomb  used,  the  parts  are  consistent  with  sarin  bombs  produced  by  the  former Soviet Union in the 250kg-class of bombs." (see here) That's probably a veiled reference to the same debunked Bellingcat claim it was a KhAB-250 (250 kg). Later in their final report, the CoI considers less clearly that the debris was somehow "uniquely consistent with Syrian chemical aerial bombs." They don't explain their reasoning or specify a model or a source, but it's likely the same earlier finding just stumbling head like the zombie of a well-built football player. Higgins now cites this second JIM mystery statement as the reason he now thinks this was a regime bomb - not specifically what he and friends said at first, to which the JIM probably referred...

Also, whatever it is (could be a plug/cap from any number of weapons), it appears planted in the crater. Most other munition debris is unseen, probably removed as incriminating. They have just 2 pieces that happened to land right inside the crater, as if to clarify themselves? Either way, to wind up at this spot, any sarin bomb CANNOT have fallen out of a jet 3km south of town. It got there some other way. Maybe it was welded onto a rocket tube and fired from the north? Or simply planted.

At this point, it's unclear why Higgins is complaining that people ignore this regime sarin bomb remnants claim. If I were him, I'd be happy to let this failure go into quiet retirement.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Gu Dar Pyin Massacre: Mass Grave Location

February 11, 2018
rough, incomplete

Background (may move and expand)
As I was wrapping up part III of Fake News and Massacre Marketing in the Rohingya Crisis for The Indicter, a new massacre story emerged and got a  decent starting analysis at the end of section 3.5. In review, ...
This cites an AP report of Feb. 1 By Foster Klug heralded: “AP confirms 5 unreported Myanmar mass graves” http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/ap-confirms-previously-unreported-myanmar-mass-graves-52755289 – Version with video: http://www.chron.com/news/crime/article/AP-confirms-5-previously-unreported-Myanmar-mass-12541732.php
at least 75 and perhaps 400 people were killed, innocent Muslims butchered by bloodthirsty Buddhists here in GuDar Pyin. But only so many (unclear) had been found in mass graves, some with faces and flesh burned away with some blue acid the soldiers brought with them: "The faces of the men half-buried in the mass graves had been burned away by acid or blasted by bullets. Noor Kadir could only recognize his friends by the colors of their shorts."

The Government found no mass graves of civilians, according to statement. As the Irriwaddy reported on February 3:
According to the government’s statement, 19 ARSA militants were killed in fighting after about 500 militants attacked security officials with firearms, knives, slingshots, and darts. Officials buried the bodies of the dead militants systematically and opened a criminal case under counter-terrorism Article 50 (i) at Nyaung Chaung police station. 
That would seem to run up against this video record. The raw video is of the most interest, but only snippets were shown. Luckily a pro-Rohingya activist posted five videos on Facebook. These show five bodies clearly, and parts or traces of a few others. The central scene, closes we get to seeing a "mass grave" is three half-buried bodies of fighting-age men. And that same scene was already shown on video back on August 31, at Rohingya Blogger, where we see there's at least a fourth body not seen in the later footage. These four bodies will be analyzed more elsewhere, but for reference, these are numbered in the order seen here in Aug. 31 video:

1. red shirt, black mask (like ARSA fighters wear), buried from the abdomen down, abdomen wound and shot in the left eye?
2. lone head set near buried body with only bare legs partly sticking out (presumed one victim, beheaded)
3. long-sleeved blue shirt, hands raised (rigor mortis?), buried up to the chest, no clear wounds
4. yellow shirt, buried up to the chest, head blown open

Are These Included?
I've had back and forth thoughts on this. As the article puts it, these four "seem executed, with one even beheaded. If this is another Inn Din, it seems to be uglier yet." (then I saw Inn Din was pretty ugly and includes a beheading...) But I'm not sure if these are militants, as the mask suggests, nor who killed them. Wouldn't they take a militant's mask off to maybe see who he is, long before killing him? Sure, and they might put it back on... who knows why.

But they could be civilians, with the mask added - by soldiers to justify the killing by making them look ARSA, or by the ARSA types who killed them, also just for the suggestion. At Inn Din, they went to great lengths to obscure the fairly obvious fact that the ten killed men were ARSA fighters. Why suggest that here if it weren't true?

First, it's better to have them seen as any kind of Rohingya if the victims were actually Rakhine civilians or others ...  Secondly, consider this scenario: 19 ARSA fighters were killed in this one clash, besides those wounded. That's because they lost badly, perhaps because the base they attacked was well-prepared, as many reportedly were based on last-minutes tip-offs. They had an unusually high number of Rohingya men buried here as a background issue and a source of anger. They also have someone who tipped the authorities off, leading to this great defeat. Or so they suspect, but it's hard to be sure or to say who it was. Still, they might go spy hunting in any accessible area, round up 4 infidel men they hated anyway, and execute them here as spies.

Considering the background loss, they might get clever and put one in the mask of a fallen comrade, even before shooting him dead. This would help sow the idea that these were the killed fighters the government will have to admit to. They leave them with faces unburied so we can see this, but smear mud on the faces of the others, and especially the eyes ... so we can't see their distinctive Rakhine features. They pour some blue crap to claim it's acid, so after the dogs eat their faces away, they can show that and say that's what the acid was for (it does't stand up to scrutiny, as I'll try to explain). 

Now the government had to admit to burying 19 killed attackers, but the ARSA guys have video we're to take as proof that ... the fighters were executed, and even beheaded, rather than killed in action, then buried sloppily with weird acid sludge to slowly dissolve them. Or if possible, they'll say these were civilians too, or who knows, but...

They'd also say these are the cleaner or unclear cases the killers left visible - to cameras. Aside from some other scenes described but not filmed ... somehow the regime limited the activist to filming just this scene, another with 2 bodies, and just a couple others with half a skeletal body and some partial ribs, somehow, almost all after everyone was reduced to bone. Somehow they delayed all recording in those cases, and somewhere they've still kept from view are the hacked-up babies and charred elders people describe seeing, but that no one filmed.

The central question to me at the moment was also posed by reporters at the Irriwaddy:
"The statement did not elaborate on whether security forces buried the ARSA casualties in the Gutar Pyin graveyard or in other locations.”
So it’s not clear if the bodies we see, improperly buried in a non-cemetery location, are the same ones they refer to. That mask suggests they were fighters, but it's not proof. So this is the most important question, perhaps. The government may get clearer on this point - may or may not locate this scene and give their own explanation for it - the cemetery location isn't clear for reference, but "near" a cemetery is a relevant locale, by the claims. Ominously, this is where the Inn Din victims were also buried. 

I haven't yet tried to geolocate anything in Myanmar - it's mostly fields and some trees, little that's distinct. Here there's no clear sunlight to establish directions... maybe, by correlating the earlier video with time-stamps, or something, I could find to solar angles and use shadows to set the directions...

general area, at the alleged one, is pretty clear - explained here
* Location on Wikimapia (currently in-labeled)

Scene A: Perhaps the only scene we'll consider here for now, is the one with four bodies. In the September 6 (?) video, from Ro Nay San Lwin on Facebook, we would see them in reverse order of numbering (as in analysis, elsewhere) - #4 isn't shown - need to correlate where he was - the first one seen here is #3, which must be just hidden behind those leaves on the right - it's just a few steps in but not visible until we get close, and see he's now headless, the sunken foot end of his grave flooded with rainwater, one hand missing and the other laying flat (rigor mortis faded?). Body #2 is visible from the start, boxed in red. As we get closer, we can also see the spot where #1 with the mask is, near the fence's corner (another wet gap in the grass there). More is seen, but this is where get our best stray frames with possibly adequate scenery clues. 

Directions, provisional (see below): we're facing northeast, so there's a line of trees to the north (left), open fields ahead to the right (ne and east), mountains seen in the distance to the northeast, blocked by some very large trees to the E-NE. This is from noting mountains will be seen in 2 directions - smaller ones very nearby to the west, or large ones further away to the east. These look semi-distant, and maybe a wider, deeper range like we see further inland (east). The north aspect of this northeast presumption is explained below.

Scene B ...briefly, another video shows bloody mud where people were killed, but no longer are. It's behind some row of little banana trees (?), and amidst a small or middling patch of other lager trees, apparently including at least one tall palm tree (glimpsed in a view ahead not included here). Looking back (right) might be southwest - we see open fields for a ways in that direction

This scene is most likely just off to the left side in the upper view, just behind those (banana?) trees along the left, with other trees including a palm further to the north or NE.  Between the small trees, we're looking out over a similar field, and maybe the same one. Near the likely path at the far edge of the near plot, there are a couple of little indents - possible where these bodies are. We might see on the right the gap in the hedges they walk through. There is a bit of a fence visible on the far left, but I can't verify if there is or isn't a collapsed section in the middle, or a lone little tree a ways inside the corner to match it to the above scene. The line of distant homes and trees is similar between scenes, but that, like everything here, if pretty common and generic. The grass in the field appears lusher in the view from scene B, but we don't know if they were filmed at the same time or after some growth.

From scene (or scene view) A: the distant mountains - with the right comparison work, the arrangement of these can say where it's filmed, or at least give a line of sight. I tried with Google Earth's terrain feature and low level-views and got a good lead. One mountain pops out as having the small, sharp-edged shape in the middle here - not an absolute match, but compelling. That's a bit southwest of Sanmyaywa, or several miles to the northeast of GuDarPyin. (38 km, heading ~45 degrees, from village center). 

The e
xact angle of view to this peak would vary a bit from positions outside of town, as this seems to be. (it would be a view more to the east if you're further north, or if south of the village, more of a north view). Just what explains the larger-seeming but more rounded peaks to the left and right, not so clear, and depends on the angle of view - the ones on the left may be nearer, the larger appearance suggests that, as does the haze difference, but this is unclear or slight - I could not find any angle of view that clearly explains this arrangement of peaks, with most lower peaks not coming trough like they truly would from the ground. Above I included a screen grab of a view from well south of Gu Dar Pyin and looking almost north, as one example. Better views might (or might not) be found closer to the village.  For example, from a bit north of the pin below, we might look up a ravine, with a long hill crest to the left and to the right, the peaks currently under the line.

Whatever the line of view to whatever peak, it will be about the angle of the field orientation here (edges and fences), and about the angle of that line of banana trees. If I have the right hill pegged, that should run somewhat northeast, depending how far it is from village center.

One possible area is just northwest of the village across some fields, 500m northeast of village center. Small square plots, Trees to north/NW, open fields to east and south... 2010 images shows strange round mounds now gone or unclear ... two homes on a hill next to this. (AP: "A handful of witnesses confirmed two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, and smaller graves scattered around the village.") Still, a few things about this spot don't seem quite right - the angle of fields is too north to match the line to that sharp peak, for one thing. The field division isn't right (but can change in years - last image is Jan. 11, 2014). Big trees too near on the right, etc. Really, I think it's just a similar spot. So if only to help visualize what I was looking for, here's that spot:

And maybe I don't even have the right peak to point to. I leave this undone and out there for anyone with better tools, local knowledge, etc. to possibly place this footage so we can see what that means. Like, is it just outside a Buddhist village 4 men vanished from at this time? (Is there such a place? Where is it, so we can narrow our search there and find or maybe rule out a match?)

To consider, from AP report:
Almost every villager interviewed by the AP saw three large mass graves at Gu Dar Pyin's northern entrance, near the main road, where witnesses say soldiers herded and killed most of the Rohingya. A handful of witnesses confirmed two other big graves near a hillside cemetery, and smaller graves scattered around the village.
Mohammad Younus, 25, was crawling on his hands and knees after being shot twice when his brother carried him to some underbrush, where Younus lay for seven hours. At one point, he saw three trucks stop and begin loading dead bodies before heading off toward the cemetery.
In the days and weeks after the attack, villagers braved the soldiers to try to find whatever was left of their loved ones. Dozens of bodies littered the paths and compounds of the wrecked homes; they filled latrine pits. The survivors soon learned that taller, darker green patches of rice shoots in the paddies marked the spots where the dead had fallen.
Bloated bodies began to rise to the surface of the rain-saturated graves.
"There were so many bodies in so many different places," said Mohammad Lalmia, 20, a farmer whose family owned a pond that became the largest of the mass graves. "They couldn't hide all the death."
On Sept. 9, villager Mohammad Karim, 26, captured three videos of mass graves time-stamped between 10:12 a.m. and 10:14 a.m., when soldiers chased him away, he said. In the Bangladesh refugee camps, nearly two dozen other Rohingya from Gu Dar Pyin confirmed that the videos showed mass graves in the north of the village.
(by inclusion, it's suggested the video cited here with beheaded body #2 is what this refers to - those legs are shown in the AP video report)