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Monday, November 19, 2018

"Some Type of Non-Persistent Irritant"

Analysis of the OPCW's Investigation 
into the CW Attacks of 29-8-2014 
November 19, 2018
(slightly rough)
(edits/adds Nov. 21)

On August 29, 2014, as reported by the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and alleged witnesses, opposition forces launched two chemical weapons attacks on Syrian troops in the Jobar district of Damascus. It was far from the first such incident, with some before and since confirmed by the OPCW as involving sarin. A list of 10 chemical attacks in 2014 (most seeming to use simple chlorine) was handed to the OPCW bodies tasked with investigating chemical crimes in Syria, including these two - but listed as what seemed like one attack, causing some confusion and the deletion of one of the incidents.

But just from what comes through in their December, 2015 report, we have intriguing clues this could well be another use or even two uses of the nerve agent sarin, even though some key indicators of that are lacking. It's clearly a substantial poison, but neither the OPCW nor anyone else has offered another guess that really explains the evidence. The report closes the case(s) with a sort of "who knows?" conclusion that, as I'll show, is not clearly founded in reason.


Syria's Request and Starting Point
The relevant report long absent from their site, made available by J.P. Zanders, then ACLOS,
http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/File:OPCW-FFM-20151217-Syria-request-Rev1.pdf
and just now, correcting an ostensible error, at the OPCW site
https://www.opcw.org/sites/default/files/documents/2018/11/s-1318-2015r1%28e%29.pdf

S/1318/2015/Rev.1
17 December 2015
Original: ENGLISH
NOTE BY THE TECHNICAL SECRETARIAT
REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA REGARDING THE
INCIDENTS DESCRIBED IN COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE DEPUTY MINISTER
FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND EXPATRIATES AND HEAD OF THE NATIONAL
AUTHORITY OF THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC

The OPCW's Technical Secretariat "received a note verbale from the Syrian Arab Republic (reference number 150, dated 15 December 2014, hereinafter “Note Verbale 150”) providing information about incidents involving the possible use of chemicals as a weapon, particularly chlorine." (The attack(s) under study is at least one exception using a substance they and I agree was not chlorine. Considering these in Jobar, and some vagueness about it, I also wonder about Jobar, 16 April.)

A table 1 lists ten attacks listed in NV150:

- these came over just a five-month span, April to September, 2014. As we'll see, it should have 11 incidents)
- A total of 92 casualties is attached, meaning affected - there were few or perhaps zero fatalities. As we'll see, there are some related deaths missing...
- for some reason (because it hadn't been mentioned yet?) NV150 mentions in passing the December 22, 2012 attack that killed seven soldiers (MMM ACLOS)...
- but it seems to exclude a late April 2014 attack (within the frame of others) that reportedly KILLED 70 soliders. That was likely because it was noted in an earlier NV 41 of 29 May, just a month after the incident. It's not mentioned by the OPCW in this report outside of tables listing Syria's complaints... apparently they didn't look into it at all. (ACLOS)

Of those ten dates, arguably the most important to Syria, the one agreed to start with, was entry 7 - as related, a singular incident in Jobar, Damascus, on 29 August, 2014.
"an agreement was reached between the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic and the FFM -the OPCW's Fact-Finding Mission] to focus initially on the incident reported to have taken place on 29 August 2014 in Jober. The fact that this particular event involved the highest number of casualties from among all of the incidents described in Note Verbale 150 served as the basis for this agreement."

This was one year and a few days after soldiers were attacked in the same district with sarin, just after the infamous Ghouta attack, on 24 August, 2013. The OPCW verified sarin in those soldiers' blood, without ascribing blame as to how it got there (see WhoGhouta). They didn't find for sarin a year later, but as we'll see, their reasoning is debatable.

The 2014 incident had the highest number of casualties of the 10 listed - 33 affected, no deaths.
But that single entry contains a glossed over earlier attack of to in the same day, in which (13?) soldiers were killed in the unclear mix of fighting and gas attack (see below, the deleted 4pm attack). Only two survived, both speaking to the OPCW's FFM, but having their story virtually erased; other than passing this on as a "discrepant narrative," the FFM did nothing, it seems, to look into this related incident, and always refer to the slightly later one when discussing the events of 29 August.

They reached agreements on interviewing soldiers busy in fighting (wouldn't always be possible). Witness interviews were arranged, etc. 38 interviews were conducted in June; 22 affected soldiers and 16 medical staff. Military and medical logs were reviewed, and they had one video provided, from an open source or "available on the Internet" (I haven't seen it, would like to, but have no idea where it might still be found). But "the FFM could not establish a firm link between this footage and the alleged incident."

Casting Doubt?
As the report reads anyway, the FFM picks for inconsistencies and casts doubt on much of the government's claims, in this case and others. Primarily, they point to medical records supposedly conflicting with witness statements. for example:
- "objective medical tests such as blood sampling and chest x-rays" were recalled, but "none of the medical records submitted by the Syrian National Authority contained the results of any such diagnostic procedures...." Were the tests made up? Withheld? Lost or deleted? Actually handed over but overlooked by the FFM in some ostensible error? Not clear.
- "According to the written medical records, all patients were discharged back to their units after a 24 hour admission. This introduces a discrepancy between the story provided by the soldiers wherein 50 % of them report a hospitalization of two nights or more. It is unclear why the two sources of information do not agree." It could be the medical reports were overly-rosy, or said "all" when they should say "most or "half"" - or they did say most or half and it was mistranslated. Unclear.
- While some mentioned excess salivation, others didn't, and reports of dry mouth differed as well; the FFM decided "this discrepancy is hard to explain."
- - On page 83 annex 2, interview extracts - a whole big, well-filled-in column for "narrative departures." It's not clear if they do this for opposition-provided narratives.

"4.1 The FFM could have been "more precise in its findings if further objective evidence, complementing what was provided by the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic, had been made available to the team. The FFM was not able to obtain hard evidence related to this incident, either because it was unavailable or because it was not generated in the first place. The lack of hard evidence precluded the FFM from gathering further facts in a definitive way."
Evidence apparently missing or not provided includes:
- reports on x-rays and blood tests
- Remnants of any ordnance, launching system, ... Unfired ordnance similar to that used
- Environmental samples ... including background samples;
- Comprehensive witness testimonies generated at the time of the
incident.
- military and medical reports were provided, but more "comprehensive" ones would have helped.

It sounds like a lot is missing, but that's not the only issue. An important supposed conflict was identified on the issue of consciousness and alertness. As noted below, about one in three of the affected soldiers reportedly blacked out and had to be carried to safety. But the FFM notes:
"While a considerable number of victims and medical personnel described symptoms like disorientation and loss of consciousness, these symptoms are not documented in the medical records ... (which) state that [the victims] were awake and responsive." 

They took this as a "discrepancy between the victim’s description of their status, the medical personnel’s description of the patients’ status and the medical records" which "may indicate that there is a significant degree of amnesia among the alleged victims, or may challenge the reliability of the records themselves." The alleged victims and medical staff did not likely suffer mass amnesia, innocently filled in with imagined symptoms. Either they were neurologically affected or - as this sounds like a soft implication of - they conspired to fabricate the story. Any such accusation was maybe cut short by the FFM's restrained professionalism. What else could explain this point?
"33. While it is not our aim to critique possible errors on behalf of fellow medical professionals, such inconsistencies are difficult to overlook when trying to establish a confident, scientifically valid, medical conclusion regarding the possible use of a toxic industrial chemical as a weapon."

A reasonable possibility they didn't mention is that this conflict is nothing more than varied subjective descriptions of the same thing; medics accurately noted the victims were all awake (by then) and responsive, just glossing over the disordered nature of some their responsiveness. The detailed accounts win on such details, and the reports, though lacking in some details, don't necessarily clash with them. It's not clear if the FFM had some better and legitimate reasons to be so skeptical, but there's little basis evident in the report.

Also note (Nov. 21 add): they say the accusation is of "the possible use of a toxic industrial chemical as a weapon," not an actual chemical weapon. It's doubtful the possibility as raised by Syrian authorities and witnesses was specific in that direction. But on what basis does the FFM probably alter that claim in this way? They didn't even offer a specific toxin, so how do they know it's some "industrial" chemical?

It will be easy for many observers to compile these questions into a basis to doubt the whole thing - the Syrians lied, but didn't coordinate it very well. Further, as we'll see, the FFM distort the reported symptoms and smells to dismiss the significance of what they claimed, besides glossing over an entire same-day incident with likely the same incapacitating chemicals and about a dozen soldiers actually killed.


The 6pm Incident

At about 6 pm local time on 29 August, a group of approximately 33 (also given as 30-35) Syrian Arab Army soldiers were preparing to advance on an area held by miltants. Before they could do this, someone launched two locally-made munitions that seemingly released the toxic substance in dispute, with "a very bad smell." "Some of the soldiers were indoors, while others were outdoors" when a total of 22 (or just 20?) swiftly experienced the symptoms described below, mainly breathing problems and diminished consciousness, with many of them reportedly blacking out. 
"About 1/3 of the victims lost consciousness on the site and can’t recall how they were taken to the first-aid medical point or hospital.'' 
The FFM notes since the devices affected so many despite being release in the open air, "the substance must be highly toxic in order to obtain the concentration needed to cause these dramatic symptoms."

But oddly, the FFM decided this was "some kind of airborne irritant." It "appears to have produced significant and varied symptoms." Too varied! Irritated airways do not cause widespread loss of consciousness, to start with. We'll come back to this below. Still, the FFM decided throughout that the symptoms are "consistent with acute, non-specific irritation of the mucosa and respiratory tract." "Consistent with" often means next to nothing. This seems to be one of those cases.

And besides, the whole thing is no big deal; "the effects had a short duration and resolved without antidotes or specific treatments." No patients stayed more than a few days, none had lasting problems, and none died. So no firm answers seem to be needed, which is lucky, as they decided none could be arrived at, due to the flawed evidence.

Just for background and possibly further research, the location given on the attached map is not really in Jobar, per Wikimapia labels, but a bit south of it in Al Maamouniye, at the edge of Souq al-Hal, (Wikimapiasome ways south of the Jobar attack a year earlier. "Soap factory" as given vs. "meat market" as lebeld on Wikimapia is considered a point of confusion, but is likely no issue; soap is made from rendered animal fat. Likely this vaguely-named facility is somewhere in the slaughter-sale-rendering process, usually ... At the time, it was some kind of militant base, apparently, maybe a place the militants really wanted soldiers to stay away from.



The Deleted 4pm Incident

Other than the cited excerpts below, this event doesn't exist, or at least doesn't matter enough to mention or consider, in the rest of this report.

3.71 The FFM identified a notable discrepancy in the prevailing narrative referring to an additional incident. The main points of this discrepant narrative are as follows:

(a) Two of the casualties interviewed by the FFM alleged that an incident involving a toxic chemical occurred around 16:00 on the same day.
(b) According to the testimonies of these two casualties, a group of around 15 soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army were confronting enemies in Jober when a device allegedly filled with what was described by these two soldiers as a chlorine-like gas was thrown at the group.
(c) The described chemical incident incapacitated some of the group, apparently preventing them from escaping the scene and ultimately leading to their capture and execution.
(d) The two soldiers who were interviewed described symptoms upon contact with a chemical that are consistent with acute, non-specific irritation of the mucosa and respiratory tract.
(e) There then followed a combat/fire fight with opposition groups that led to other fatalities and the capture of other members of the group.
(f) The two soldiers interviewed by the FFM were the only ones who managed to flee the scene.

That is a grim tale, maybe depressing to repeat. Luckily it was also "discrepant."

Note Nov. 21: these seem to be included in the 22 total they interviewed, so if this is another incident, only 20, not 22, were affected in the later one.

As with the incident covered above, irritants do not usually cause people to lose consciousness, nor to fall paralyzed or suddenly dead. But just what "incapacitated" means isn't explained clearly. (maybe they were just gasping and coughing so badly they couldn't run?) 13 of 15 died, one way or another. These two guys were too busy surviving to get all the details on just how each one died. Some might have dropped dead. One could suspect a nerve agent in this. It seems like one was used in the same basic (or exact?) area against other soldiers, just two hours later. So it should be possible … motives and capabilities don't change much over two hours.

Previously, I took that "chlorine-like" description, combined with an implication the military report cited a chlorine odor, and thought this attack smelled like chlorine - despite being a probable nerve agent. That May be, but that report refers to the later incident, it seems, and it's not clear if it really claimed that (see below). The FFM accepted that attack had a sort of opposite smell of things that could use bleach.

And this only says "chlorine-like," perhaps not by smell. They survived, so were likely further away, like too far to smell it. Seen from further off, it might visibly resemble chlorine, if it was yellowish, like the impure sarin used in Syria is.

There is a clear oddity here in that the initial Syrian request was just for one event on this day, when witnesses were provided for two. Maybe the request had just lumped the two together as one event with two phases? But either way, evidence was provided for two events or phases, and half of that was just tossed aside.
3.72 The FFM was not able to identify a cohesive narrative based on the testimonies of these particular casualties. Additionally, the FFM could not corroborate this narrative
with the prevailing narrative established by the analysis of the testimonies from the bulk of interviewees.

Here's how you might correlate this account if you were willing to try: there were 2 CW attacks the same day in or near Jobar, one around 4pm, the other around 6pm. That's no a contradiction or anything to get confused over. There's no sign in the report that they really tried to sort this out; it almost appears like they didn't want to know, and took the initial confusion as an excuse to go no further.

And from what the FFM assembled here, one might guess this was a different and flawed version of the only Jobar attack story there can be - a "discrepant narrative." And the appearance of one made up story suggests maybe both of them were, and poorly coordinated. Considering the well-known poisoned atmosphere making this so easy, the OPCW might be more careful to avoid such implications.

Minimizing the CW Issue: Smell Games?

This 29 August attack is one of the majority of cases wherein the FFM:
"cannot confidently determine whether or not this potential irritant was produced by factors, including but not limited to:
(a) A chemical payload contained in the launched objects;
(b) A combustion product of a propellant;
(c) The detonation of a conventional or improvised explosive device
on a stored chemical already in-situ;
(d) A mixture of detonation products with surface soil and dust; or
(e) Some combination of all of the factors mentioned above."

It could be anything randomly arising from the conflict, combining to have these CW-grade effects, in case after case. They blame sub-standard evidence from Syrian authorities for preventing firm conclusions, forcing them to this conclusion of, basically, "who knows?"

"[T]he visual and olfactory description of the potential irritant does not clearly implicate any specific chemical." They claim some symptom mismatches (see below), and note vaguely "any number of chemicals or environmental insults" might explain those symptoms. But oddly, these points are secondary. The main issue they raised is smell, and they're completely wrong on that.

There seems to be some confusion, or maybe a shell game (smell game?) involved here. A “Report of Colonel Commander of Brigade 358 for Special Missions on the Exposure of a Group of Soldiers from the Brigade to the Inhalation of Toxic Gases” is cited. This offered a brief description, presumably of the 6pm attack. Among the many points they attribute to this incident overview is, as they put it:

"a description of the smell of the explosion (reported as chlorine-like, according to witnesses)."

This suggests the report cited chlorine smells, while the witnesses interviewed give a very different picture. That might be a mix-up, or a contradiction they don't list explicitly as one. It's not clear if this is their added note, or what the report says. If the latter, it might be incorrect, filled-in, misreported by people worried most about chlorine; The same smell was first reported with the Khan al-Assal attack of 3-19-2013, and it wound up being sarin. 

Other than that unclear spot, the FFM heard and relayed a consistent picture of a "very disagreeable" odor at 6pm, unlike most other attacks in NV150.
"The described irritant had a very bad smell that most victims either did not recognize sufficiently to describe or were described as the smell of rotten bodies, dead animals, corpses and rotten eggs."

"The victims who were exposed all recall that the gas had a particular odour which some compared to the smell of dead animals or corpses and others reported as similar to rotten eggs. Still others reported that they had never experienced anything similar before and couldn’t compare the smell to anything."
Just by smell, the FFM propose a range of chemicals of unclear plausibility with the usual chlorine at the far end of the scale "low probability." Indeed, rot and cleaning products smell quite diferent, if not opposite. "DiBorane" is the second best fit by smell, and taken as most likely by smell and caustic properties combined, and its having some military use (as a rocket propellant). The FFM found it's said to have "a repulsive, sickly sweet odour which could very well be compared to the smell of rotting dead bodies." Wikipedia explains "The toxic effects of diborane are primarily due to its irritant properties. ... tightness of the chest, shortness of breath ... Skin and eye irritation can also occur."

So diborane is good because of the smell fit, and matching "most" symptoms. But chlorine is out from the opposite smell, and also for having the wrong symptoms ("Neither are the symptoms those of chorine exposure"). But as a basic irritant, its effects should be just as consistent as diborane's. (more on symptoms below)

And the next most unlikely substance they considered is called "organophosphate" - the group of compounds including sarin.
39. As for sarin (GB) or other organic phosphoric compounds (OPs), the smell would not
be consistent with the unpleasant signature of rotting corpses or eggs, since the smell of sarin is most frequently described as a sweet smell of apple or pear.
Well, that was a dumb thing to say. As they should know from investigating, as I know just from following, none of the attacks in Syria with confirmed sarin involvement has an apple/pear smell reported. Has the OPCW's FFM been paying attention to the facts they and other have collected?

Wherever there's sarin confirmed by the OPCW themselves, the associated smell is never fresh and fruity; in fact, it's occasionally reported as having no smell (by those who didn't smell it, and think that's the right thing to report?), but the most common description by people from both sides of the conflict who really got a whiff is "foul" like decay, and also "strange," hard to place. Sound familiar?

All such descriptions, perhaps, from NINE cases of verified sarin usage, by date

3-19-13 (Khan al-Assal) "a strong pungent smell, possibly resembling sulfur"
3-19-13 (Ateibah) "foul-smelling"
4-29-13 (Saraqeb) "a horrible, suffocating smell."
8-21-13 (Ghouta) "something like vinegar and rotten eggs" or "like cooking gas"
8-24-13 (Jobar) "a foul and strange odour" "a badly smelling gas."
8-25-13 (Daraya) foul-smelling smoke ... A badly smelling gas ...a bizarre odour
2-15-15 (Daraya) "like burning nylon." 
12-11-16 (rural Hama) "a strong odor, although they could not describe it"
4-4-17 (Khan Sheikhoun) "like rotten food" "foul ... a strange smell. I can’t put my finger on it." a "really disgusting odor," a "stench." - "strong ... really disgusting, but I am not able to compare it to anything else"

see: https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarin-and-foul-irritants-in-syrian-cw.html

And furthermore in these possible but not confirmed sarin cases (besides the one under study here):
8-22-13 (Bahariyah) "a very bad odour"
4-7-16 (Sheikh Maqsoud) "a strange smell"
11-18-17 (Harasta) "a stench that does not exist in Sarin gas." Is this the FFM's adviser?

And one inverse case: 4-7-18 (Douma): One stray report from a refugee camp that it smelled like garbage and rot (because he didn't smell it, and was better informed than most on what to describe in support of the running sarin claims?). Everyone else reported chlorine smells or nothing, depending on their location and/or honesty. The OPCW found chlorine compounds appeared at two sites, sarin nowhere.

Infographic attempting to summarize the above, for some reason:


I've found in research I didn't document very well that the smell, the caustic properties, and the color are all from the impurities in this sarin, said by France to be 40% by volume. This seems to be mostly from solvents residue, and the same idea apparently applies to smelly applications of commercial OPs like malathion - the purest forms are as colorless and odorless as pure sarin. Considering the basic cause then, many, many compounds are bound to have those properties; burning plastics, etc.

But from all I know (a bit), there must be more to it to cause the fatigue, nausea, drooling, and lost consciousness or paralysis or perhaps even some swift deaths - something more like a nerve agent.

Minimizing the CW Issue: Symptoms Ignored

As noted, the way so many lost consciousness is not something a simple irritant is likely to cause. As I found on deep research, chlorine does not make you pass out as opposition sources developed the habit of claiming. So neither would diborane, another simple irritant. Something like sarin quite likely would, but the FFM concluded it was not sarin, primarily by a wrong understanding of its smell, but also because "The symptoms would likewise be different," more severe, and there would be secondary contamination, which seemed to be lacking:

"26. Neither in interviews nor in medical records were any reports of foul smells emanating from the exposed, nor were there any reports of signs of secondary contamination among those who assisted or transported the victims."

This isn't a certain sign of anything; it could still be sarin, depending on the details. None of the soldiers died, so their exposure was limited. Many were affected, 22 of 35 in the end, but maybe just 12 to start, with 10 others comntaminated as they assisted each other to safety - there could have been sarin, but it rubbed off on each other and evaporated before they all stumbled into the hospital. The most acute effects pass within just the few minutes it takes to get there - people who had passed out might all be awake by then. 

And consider in the August 24, 2013 attack, the UN-OPCW investigators found "No signs of secondary contamination were reported to the United Nations Mission," even though it was sarin. The closest they heard to the classic case was "A medical doctor reported itchy eyes in the evening after examining the patients." (UN report) That's too mild to count, but reaffirms the caustic impurities aspect. The smell in that case was "foul" and "strange." And as noted above, the OPCW confirmed by DNA match the soldiers they spoke to were exposed to sarin.

This time, they didn't check if it was sarin, but rule it out partly on this basis which, precedent shows, has limited validity.

As for no antidotes used; there is no antidote for sarin exposure anyway; atropine just limits fluid creation, making breathing more possible, as long as the body has broken down enough nerve agent to manage the complicated task of breathing in the first place. In this case, the victims kept on drooling and vomiting, but it's likely the treatments given were adequate. (per the report: oxygen, intravenous fluids and in some cases inhalation of ß2 agonists such as salbutamol.)

And as for the "different" or more severe symptoms sarin would cause ... it's actually the same, but arguably more severe. Below is the list given in the FFM report, with lines drawn in to organize my added notes. 

Calling this all "consistent" with an irritant is ludicrous. Calling it all consistent with sarin is totally reasonable. They did the opposite. Why?

Still, this isn't enough to say it was sarin, or (as far as I know) that it must be an organophosphorus nerve agent. There are some important missing clues for that:

- no clue the Syrians tested for sarin and found it - ther's no mention of sarin, or even of AcHE levels, let alone fluoride ion regeneration testing to confirm sarin. Was it not checked for? Not mentioned? Mentioned but left off somehow?

- The key pupil constriction - miosis - is not mentioned here, even to note its absence or presence in the Syrian reports. That's an important indicator we could presume was lacking, or perhaps it was left out in some editing error by the FFM.

- Seizures or paralysis go unmentioned, unless they're lumped in with unconsciousness (unresponsiveness?) or supported by interview details not shared here.

But still, it's an open question, because otherwise the symptoms are very like those of an nerve agent: excess salivation, tears (lachrimation), nausea and vomiting (emesis) are part of the SLUDGE syndrome, other parts of which often seem to go unmentioned for decency. Blurred vision that also goes dim is a feature of sarin. Fatigue and reduced consciousness with a sharp headache, and most distressingly, difficult breathing, are all primary effects.

Caustic agents could explain a different sort of breathing problem, caused by physical ("mechanical") damage from droplets of acid, and the production of protective mucous that can cause slow suffocation (the type of difficulty the soldiers suffered isn't clarified). And they could also explain irritation of the eyes and thus tears. But that's it.

So … all clues that support diBorane should work for chlorine as well, or for the impure, caustic sarin used in Syria. But many symptoms would be left unexplained, so these answers can't be right. Only sarin, of these three considered substances, offers a match for the rest of the symptoms, the apparent strength of the poison, and that horrible smell the OPCW is so slow to learn about. 

Review
Therefore, based only on the interviews that were carried out and the documents that were reviewed," and quite a bit of misplaced skepticism, and ignoring the symptoms, and being ignorant of the relevant smells of sarin attacks in Syria … "the FFM is of the view that the soldiers who were interviewed may have been exposed to some type of non-persistent, airborne irritant secondary to the
surface impact of two launched objects." Nothing more, no action needed.

Now as for those alleged soviet sarin bomb and chlorine tank attacks by the Syrian government... despite lacking evidence and clashing stories galore, which they occasionally acknowledge and gloss over, they manage to get more specific with those.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Trial by Word Salad

"Douma Hostage Massacre": Trial by Word Salad
November 10, 2018

I recently resurrected the old Douma Hostage Massacre story of August, 2012, seeing how it hadn't stuck very well before - I produced an undeniable clarified visual match, with explanation of all the coincidences required to evade the conclusion: Islamist militants slaughtered the same soldiers and policemen they had just arrested, and passed the bodies off as innocent "youths" killed by "Assad's thugs." As noted there, the story originates with a brilliant German woman, Ursula Behr, who recently died of cancer, partly spurring this review. 

Anyone who's seen that and doesn't like it might be wondering how to challenge the obvious-seeming evidence. The rest of this post shows how you don't do it  - folks, do not attempt this jack-ass behavior at home. 

A different class of responses from a wider pool of respondents wisely emphasizes not engaging the evidence, and will be covered in another post. Now, we look at the best and only challenge that grudgingly considers the primary evidence in a very poor manner.

"Rami" (@DyingSlow on Twitter) is a self-described Atheist Syrian living in Canada, who has fiercely adopted every claim of the Sunni-extremist mainstream of the uprising - especially their line that there are no extremists. His avatar shows White Helmets as the standard "Heores." As a SYRIAN he claims intimate knowledge of events, authority to speak for all Syrians, who all oppose Assad and rose up peacefully, none of whom are Islamists, or criminal, ever, and received no outside help. And he knows about this … somewhow. He claims connections in Syria, but all the points he brings are from the same dubious mainstream sources anyone can link to.

This Atheist supporter of the non-Jihad also gets to be an expert on events in Libya somehow. And Iran, everywhere else of interest to the global takfiri project. And he's also on occasion an expert on video artifacting, and psychology, and whatever else... just enough to uphold every major Jihadist trope, no matter how widely discredited. He seems to think Iran and Shi'ism as the sole source of Islamism and oppression in the world. And maybe Communism. He's best known for the phrase "misguided foreigner Putin's troll," which he uses nearly once per tweet on average when he's in "debate" mode. His displays of idiocy were so conspicuous and then sporadic my doubts led to the question - finally explained better here - can they really be this stupid? I decided in this case, no - he was playing dumb to invite *education* that's really just his way of wasting your time.

But this is all general portrait, sort of broad-strokes impression, and not the main subject, which is how he handled the findings Ursula Behr originated in 2012. he's the only one to remain engaged - I suspect to keep wasting my time - to awkwardly deny the evidence up-close in more detail. So he offers a preview of what lies ahead to those who persist and don't block me right off, and a good reason why, perhaps, the others decided to cut it short.

But even with Rami, it took a while to get there.

Initial Dancing Around the Subject: video, language, and doubt
First, Rami didn't take to talking about it, because he was sure I had no such videos, maybe used some misattributed video for the still I had shown so far, in a totally fake case.


(minor errors in the details I offered here - and throughout, rushed typos - apologies - trying to waste that time, but minimize it a bit at the same time...)

I find one copy of one of the bodies video I can link to, and he seems unsurprised that it's actually real, not a hallucination or a troll-lie. (Because he knew it was real all along?) With no hint of regret for that false lead, he instantly started claiming I don't understand the claims, or Arabic, and I'm changing the meaning and casting doubt on the whole language - because I disbelieve the video's claims. The title auto-translates fine, to say what Rami says it says, and I presume the narration says the same. I just don't buy what it says. but  if I could understand it myself, without a translator, he suggests I'd realize the claims were somehow all true. But that makes no sense, considering the same men are also seen held by local militants, not by regime forces. That's simply not a language issue.



This is where a reasonable moron who's not on a time-wasting mission should finally start to get that he was ranting from confusion, and he should go and sort it out before continuing. I thought he might be, due to a coincidence in noise patterns. But Rami soon continued with no sign of learning. Some remixed responses

Little-known fact for those like Rami, who doubt every claim from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, always formally issued in Arabic … people can lie in Arabic! A corollary of that; when they do, it should be disputed. Publicly, Rami would agree to that. But he offered no evidence the video title was true, nor the presumably matching narrative, by people with access to these recently-massacred Syrians. All he could do is repeat what it said, point out that it's in Arabic, as if that guarantees its veracity. And that's not my language, so I have no right to translate and make sense of it... and/or I did it wrong … he doesn't specify.

Several people clicked like on his sharp little assertions to that effect, apparently thinking he'd gotten us in some lie or error.

I mention I've got 2 videos here, both translated fine. He keeps on about the one I dispute the honesty of. Then I managed to flip this around to discuss the other video he had ignored so far, showing the men as captives of the militants, seeing if we can get to the point here … 

No we did not agree! Of course, it can never be that way with this self-appointed spokesman for all Syrians...

So next Rami challenges my reading of this other video's content and translation, calling me "hopeless" for making such suspect errors (see tweets below). As it happens, he had no valid basis. He asserted the captives are all military men, and did not include any policemen as I said, and that the group contains a senior officer. I never denied there was a senior officer, and in fact I helped explain (in case he missed it?) he's a police brigadier, not military. Or anyway Abd-al-Bari Abdullah says his post is at Damascus police HQ (a military unit based there?). Another man introduces himself as "Farouk Ismail, policeman." He's one of the 6 apparently seen dead. The other 14, it seems, are military; 3 officers (2 are "first assistant" - equates with warrant officer first class - and one is "assistant recruit," unclear equation), and 11 men who introduce themselves a "military recruit" or just "recruit."

That was all in Arabic, of course. I have a hard time picking out spoken Arabic, and only know a few handfuls of words anyway. I can assemble words letter-by-letter, recognize most letters, and can sound out words, if not understand the meaning - I have some grasp at least (good with languages, and been working with this one for 7 years now). Luckily, Amin2511 on Twitter - who knows it more natively - was my transcriptionist to get the text I could work with. A few others could have, but he's been available lately, and real good. I take that text and post it, and auto-translate with double-checking and refinements. Amin usually reviews it and helps with any rough spots. 

Our process isn't foolproof (some unclear audio, rank translation not so clear, etc.), but it's at least basically correct. I like being hands-on and going word-by-word, and unlocking that evidence. Cool process, good results. And so far Rami can only point to errors that don't really exist. I asked him twice to show the translation errors he implied, and he refused, citing "fun."

I contend: he lied, in a malicious effort to waste more time and cast more doubt. Amin speaks Arabic fine, actually was helpful, made no errors anyone can point to, AND shared the same healthy skepticism of the claims made in his own language - he too disputes the claims lodge by men apparently linked to the murderers. Who accepts their illogical claims? Rami, who makes up fake content just to cast doubt, laboring to maintain ignorance here. He makes it look easy and "fun," but this is serious work he must have some reason for undertaking.

Finally, The Argument! It's Some Coincidence
I was getting ready to pull together his acknowledged detention of those military-police guys with their being the same men shown dead, when Amin2511 popped in to help explain what Rami *seemed* to be missing. But he already knew, and was able to laugh it off instantly with the claim - and this is the first claim anyone offered against this evidence itself - the videos show two different sets of people. Now why did he just not say that from the start? Because that would waste less time.

And he quickly offered a formula I called "too-good-for-a-retard" to dismiss our findings in advance, whichever of two options we might take:


Note on the WH examples he cited as an example of bad racist matching: AFAIK there's nothing wrong with those, but I just ignored that to keep on track, which isn't easy with Rami. I took his point that face matches can be and often are wrong, or unfounded, and that might entail latent racism (they all look alike), depending, and it's hard to tell for sure... I just stayed focused on how that's not the case here.

So he acknowledges the story here, after much dawdling, and with suspicious speed and cleverness, he proposes the match means we're racist (if it's a face match-up) or blind (if we match them by clothing). Amin2511 quickly offered 4 clothing-based matches of his own (We agree on all 4 - one included here, below.) So for Rami, the Arab is blind, not racist, by that formula. Also, he's insane and all alone, and should give up.
(note: horizontal stripes, not vertical. But well all see and know what he means - Osama Salim, see below)

Then I got my imagery together to show, for my part, it's a clothing and combination-logic match of all six bodies shown, with some limited support from matching/consistent features (see top link here). I'm cautious about face-matching in general, and this imagery is far below my threshold for all but the most basic things (like mustache presence and basic shape). So by Rami's formula, I'm mostly blind, a bit racist. I'm also of European ancestry, and Rami seems to class me as mostly racist but also blind, besides mentally ill, and a foreigner Putin's troll and/or baby Ayatollah that's misled and talking about a country I know NOTHING about, and he knows EVERYTHING about, from his seat in Canada.

A Mismatch?
Rami (and no one else) makes some random but specific arguments against a victim match. The only decent one worth pausing over is the apparent difference in stripes on the shirt worn by Osama Hassan vs. the man he might be. Rami thinks it's a spacing issue, but to me the spacing looks right, just the dark stripes have fuzzed to almost nothing in the poor view, and the color appears arguably more different than it should considering light differences). That's probably a simple lo-res video-compression and optics issue, but it might be more significant.

So no racist face stereotypes, no language problems, no logic problems, no visual problems really, except some late-arriving nitpicks …

Still, the shirt issues and the lack of any other obviously matching features, with even a mustache match or mismatch unclear, would raise a serious questions about that ID if his was a lone case. I sure as hell wouldn't match those 2 bodies as one based just on their own visuals, nor rule it out. However, he's one of the 4 quite-possible matches in the same group with the Asaad Dakhil and Hassan Ismail doppelgangers, again with both groups being prisoners of someone, one to each side, in the Harasta area on or around 17 August of 2012.

Even if that IS in fact a different man (seems fairly possible), at least those clearest two simply have to be the same men in both videos. There's no reasonable way around that. You don't get to say if one body is coincidence they all are. Rather, if one body is one of those prisoners of the local militants, the presumption is all of them were, even if the rest have no matches in that video of 16. At one match, the conclusion wouldn't be very strong. But here we have 2 that clear and undeniable, and 4 others of varying strength.

Sputtering Towards the Conclusion
But reasonable ways remain optional. For Rami, the problem remains my blinding racism, and then he decided, maybe for "fun" that Amin is also racist, or like a color-blinded reactionary cop anyway, in dismissing this and 3 other offered matches with similar self-amused flippancy.
Can I try thinking as Rami suggests, just for fun?
<stupid>
See, any non-racist would not make a big deal of 2 Arab guys wearing the same shirt. Aren't they allowed to do that? Would I subject them to a regime of only one Coca-Cola shirt per area, on young guys with mustaches and in blue jeans, that got arrested by someone? No, of course - 2 men held captive around Harasta on or near 17 August2012 are allowed to, and quite likely to be arrested in the same common shirt.

And any non-racist SYRIAN could spot the clear differences between these two men. One has a real blurry face, and he's held by rebels, so no way would he get murdered. The other guy has a different, dirtier Coca-Cola shirt, prob. diff. design or colors... he seems shorter, or maybe taller, hard to say, but def. not the same height … and he's got a clearer face, that's also way bloodier than the other guy's. Also he (and /or others) clearly have fatter cheeks than the prisoners do - on one side. And a flat cheek on the other? They're stiff, possibly zombies prior to death. Some seem to have become half-tree, growing dead leaves, probably at the wrong time of year...

Anyway, these inexplicable mutants are clearly different guys, who got murdered, so must have been held by the bad guys. And since each clothing coincidence could be just that, all of the matches combined must be a huge compound coincidence. And as Rami helped me to see, that's so crystal-clear that anyone who refuses to see it like I once did must have some terrible flaw or several that distorts their thinking or makes them lie. If only Amin and I had BOTH spoken Arabic, weren't so racist, could use our eyes, had basic sanity AND human decency, lived in Syria or were both Syrian, and understood who the one and only bad guy side responsible for every crime truly is … we'd think just like Rami claims to think, and be just as retarded as he behaves.
</stupid>

But even though he was on such a roll visually debunking our "weak propaganda," just getting going, really - Rami did not continue, and ran off chasing another way to dance around the whole issue. The Syrian government supposedly never claimed this match, proving it's fake (?), and such a horrible lie even that liar Mr. Assad regime knew he shouldn't try it. Ok. See me answer hours later when I had a minute, then hours later yet, Rami going off on how I never answered. Then a swift discovery of yet another lie in the answer... (and note: times show may seem odd - I work nights, and do most of my online work after that, well into the morning, before I sleep through the day)

He's sure, with at most 11 minutes of research, that I'm proven to be lying yet again, just like at every other turn so far. So predictable for the Putin toll.... I'll re-locate that report if possible when I'm ready. We didn't make up that it had a video version on YouTube at the time. It's possible for example Addounia retracted the story later, following on some phone calls from guys holding more hostages, and a government request...  But probably it's still there, and only the video was removed, or their whole channel (this happens sometime for unclear reasons, with pro-Syrian media channels). I could find out right on his demand to see what new lie Rami switches to next, but I cut the time wasting at that blindness reply, assisted at first by the mute feature.

I finished the visual matching and muted Rami at about the same time. So it's hard to say what caused his mellowing out on my crimes - embarrassment, exhaustion, or just boredom once I stopped feeding the troll (I un-muted him to check, and saw a mellowing). I'll leave it at these combined tweets.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Re-Considering Assad's 100+ Chemical Attacks

November 10, 2018
(incomplete)

An October BBC Panorama special alerted the public to Assad's ongoing chemical weapons usage - dramatically tallying 106 attacks just from 2014 to the present - that is, all after Syria supposedly surrendered its chemical weapons. Most of these have been chlorine attacks, but eventually sarin has snuck back in. There are also five CW attacks, mainly with mustard gas, blamed on ISIS in that 106, so it's 101 blamed on Syria, or 106 if you blame Syria for ISIS.

They found zero blamed on any other rebel groups. Well that can't be complete. I still haven't watched the program, and don't have much to say except this tally intrigued me. I perused a critique posted at Tim Hayward's blog, and noted Adrian Kent's comments below on the BBC's answers to his questions, including where they got this tally.

I also looked for whose number is this 106. But it seems to be new, a current tally reached by just whoever with whoever's help, for this Panorama program. One place it occurred is the Atlanticist propaganda outlet EA Worldview, following on the report with what I take as a fair breakdown of those 106 alleged Assad-ISIS CW attacks broken down by year. https://eaworldview.com/2018/10/assad-regimes-101-chemical-weapons-attacks-in-syria-since-2014: 30 attacks
2015: 28
2016: 23
2017: 17
2018: 8

What's cool is how I can take this and compare it to my own report compiling CW attack reports, assembled in early 2017, just before the khan Sheikhoun incident. So my totals for 2017 and 2018 are roughly nil. But the other three years can be compared, and our numbers are pretty close, actually, suggesting I didn't miss as many as I thought I probably did. It was never sure to be comprehensive, but did try for that, listing 138 attacks just up to March, 2017.
http://ciwclibya.org/images/Red_Flags_Across_the_Red_Line_final_3-3-17.pdf

I used a different tallying, excluding ISIS attacks (not controversial enough to be of interest to me), including ones by other rebels (22 in the relevant span, to the BBC's zero), a few uncertain cases (rep. CW deaths w/no rep. event, etc.), and mainly a lot of attacks blamed on the government but that I think are also by non-ISIS rebels... as I've explained variously in other places, case-by-case, in many cases over the years.

Some errors and omissions in this "red flags" report. For example, 12-12-2016 Kallaseh was an error, the Dec. 9 incident misread as a fresh attack, not a dated repetition. So that tally drops by at least one. I missed an alleged rebel sarin attack in 2014 on the same day as another one, so that tally goes up one here.

By year, I count:
2014: 45 (was 44) (9 10 by opp.)
2015: 28 (7 by opp.)
2016: 23 22 (5 by opp.)

So 101 or 106 sounds like they skipped some 22 rebel attacks, caught nearly as many alleged gov. ones I missed, included (5?) ISIS ones, and coincidentally got the same total as me for 2015 and (prior to revision here) for 2016. I count 50% more attacks than them in 2014, mostly due to considering 10 CW attacks by the opposition that the BBC didn't hear about, I presume.

Cited for many rebel attacks: an OPCW report following up on the requests of the Syrian Arab Republic. They don't list this on their site, but did produce it.
http://www.the-trench.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/OPCW-FFM-20151217-Syria-request-Rev1.pdf
Some parts included in other context here:
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarin-and-foul-irritants-events-list.html

Chemicals used in the rebel attacks; chlorine, unclear non-persistent irritants, unclear apparent nerve agents, and sarin. Foul-smelling, caustic, yellow, impure sarin. Very similar to, if not the same as, the kind used in all the attacks blamed on Syria. Sarin has been OPCW-verified in THREE fatal attacks on Syrian soldiers in 2013 (19 March, 24 August, and 25 August), but this study excludes 2013. In the later span, the OPCW verifies sarin exposure in only one such case (15 February, 2015 in Daraya, very near the launch of the 25-8-13 rebel sarin attack).

2014: 45 incidents
civilian fatalities (min) 21-24
11/5/3/5 (m/w/b/g)
rebel fatalities:  27
government fatalities 77?
red flags 43

35 att. to Syria + 10 att. to opp.
Those ten;

13 April Al-Maliha, Damascus suburbs - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report -

16 April Al-Maliha, Damascus suburbs - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report, fighting militants in a tunnel, 8 casualties, no deaths, but Syrian tests said to show sarin, no OPCW verification. Report cited: “blood AChE activity in Syrian soldiers: 2013-2015.” Notes: "This document included 13 reports of AChE results dated in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Only three of these reports could be clearly linked to incidents included in the mandate; Jober (16/04/14), Al-Maliha (16/04/14) (NV 150), and Darayya (15/02/15) (NVs 41 and 47)." The third case has OPCW verified sarin exposure, but not these two. But they didn't disprove it either, that I've seen.

16 April Jobar: somehow missed in my report, a document claims another jobar attack on the same day - Syria apparently found reduced AChE activity as with sarin or nerve agent usage. (see above, same day)

24 April Nawah, Daraa - Soldiers gassed, Government blames terrorists, 70 soldiers killed (rounded?), no details. OPCW report  - Jabhat AlNusra gassed and overran base on Golan border, video count of exactly 70 soldiers (min.) dead. Chemical and method totally unclear, other than large amounts of whitish smoke are shown as related, some oddly smoke-stained faces, other clues still not fully reviewed years later. ACLOS
http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_al-Nusra_Chemical_Attack,_April_2014

11 July Jobar, Damascus suburbs  - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report 6 cas. no deaths

11 July Al-Maliha, Damascus suburbs - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report

23 August, Jobar, Damascus - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report 11 cas

29 August, Jobar, Damascus - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report -
2 incidents in a day, confused, both in Jobar; first, incapacitated soldiers captured, killed, only 2 survivors - later, 33 effected, many blacking out, but all got away and no one died.
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/11/sarin-and-foul-irritants-events-list.html
Sarin: Not clearly reported, but symptoms + smell may be consistent - no sign that it was checked for or ruled out. This was an important event to the Syrians: UN report: "an agreement was reached between the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic and the FFM to focus initially on the incident [sic] reported to have taken place on 29 August 2014 in Jober. The fact that this particular event involved the highest number of casualties from among all of the incidents described in Note Verbale 150 served as the basis for this agreement." But having two attacks taken as one confused things so "The FFM was not able to identify a cohesive narrative ..."

1 September Nubel and AlZahraa, Aleppo - OPCW report Shia villages 5 cas, 1 death

10 Sept. Al-Kabbas, Damascus suburbs - Soldiers gassed, OPCW report 

2015: 28 incidents
civ fat 13
6/3/2/2  (m/w/b/g)
reb fat 5
gov fat 13
red flags 32 
in 28 incid.
21 att. to Syria + 7 att. to opp.
those seven:

Jan. Jobar, Damascus, Soldiers gassed, OPCW report, app. 20 casualties, no deaths

8 Jan. Nubel and Zahraa Alep. chlorine? Soldiers gassed, OPCW report, 17 casualties, no deaths

15 Feb. Daraya, D.sub Sarin, Soldiers gassed, with sarin, OPCW report
“burning nylon” smell 8 casualties, pinned under gunfire, watched rats die “screaming” No human deaths. OPCW verified sarin exposure of the affected soldiers (but they won't confirm how)
http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2017/11/daraya-sarin-attack-feb-15-2015.html

6 April, Jobar, Damascus soldiers gassed, 4 casualties, OPCW report

25 April, Ishtabraq, Idlib
Choking agent  - Alleged: HTS Islamists "liberating" Idlib province gassed Alawi village via rockets prior to seizing it. After, they killed and abducted many. ACLOS

29 May, Harasta, D.Sub. Soldiers gassed, 7 killed - OPCW report

29 May, Tadhamun, Damascus Soldiers gassed, 6 killed - OPCW report - twice in a day, killing 13 total in 2 nearby areas.
OPCW says: "Another report, dated 31/05/15, contained results of tests conducted on seven and six fatalities which occurred in Harasta and Al-Tadhamun respectively. This information is not clearly linked to the incidents described in NV 43. Moreover, in the conclusion of the report, the AChE activity was normal."  But they Syrians thought it might have been a sarin attack? Unclear why, if there was some error, etc.

2016: 22 Incidents
civ fat 120 or more
(mostly in Dec. sarin attack in rural Hama)
reb fat 3
gov fat 28?
red flags 33
in 23 incid.
17 att. to Syria + 5 att. to opp.

Those five:
9 March S.Mahsoud, Alep. Yellow phos. or... yellowish + (organo)phosphorous = sarin? see 7 April. Rebels blamed, PressTV. No deaths reported.

7 April S.Mahsoud, Alep. A month later, same besieged area, yellow … chlorine? released. 23 killed! Rebels with Jaish al-Islam admit - retract, play with words - gassing Kurdish fighters, (say unauthorized), high toll ACLOS Sputnik
http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_April_7,_2016
Noting later: two videos show a huge amount of yellow stuff expanding. It's not green enough and not heavy enough to be chlorine.


This lighter, golden-yellow stuff could be our best view yet of the sarin used in Syria (impure, yellow, caustic, foul-smelling), or just something similar - that killed 23 people upon open release... (slightly color-enhanced from a washed-out, pale video). But no one has confirmed what it was. Not the chlorine that most people (including myself) guessed at the time... it's a mystery.

https://ria.ru/syria/20160407/1404681085.html
Locals and medics described a "yellow smoke with a strange smell" - no chlorine-bleach smell noted - and it caused "convulsions, spasms and vomiting." Uh-oh. They're said here to be chlorine signs, but they're more like nerve agent signs. And 23 dying, of course, is not normally a chlorine thing either. Jaish Al-Islam SEEMED to admit to this at the time, blaming a local commander for using prohoboted weapons without approval. It seemed like their answer to the CW charges, but later they said no, that was a coincidence. He used some other banned something. They never addressed this. They would say they didn't do it, have no idea who did. (ACLOS

One wonders, did the BBC even count this incident, or was it one of those they found too murky? As they explained to Adrian Kent:
We only included incidents where at least two of these sources had reported the incident. And even then, we ruled out a number of alleged attacks where we felt that there was insufficient or questionable evidence.

13 June, Housh al-Fara D.sub, Rebels rep. gas SAA soldiers SyrianObserver (few details)

2 August West Aleppo, old city area - some civilians. military, and rescuers all died, at least 13 and perhaps 20+ killed (review needed - Vanessa Beeley covered this, maybe I did work that in and just forget at the moment...) SAA soldiers gassed in breached tunnel, civilians, rescuers gassed with rockets after that - likely diff. chemicals in each phase - perhaps hydrogen cyanide encountered in the tunnel, rockets thought to just have chlorine …
Coincides with/was eclipsed by same-day CW report in Saraqeb, regime blamed for CL barrel-bomb attack, no deaths reported (arranged on time?)
ACLOS page and talk page covering both of the day's reported incidents

28 Sept. Hama, chlorine - Soldiers gassed, 18 casualties, no deaths yet (Al-Masdar report)

That was all I found for 2016. I didn't notice anything blamed on rebels in the covered first months of 2017. Just these 22 incidents, covering 60% of a span in which the BBC's report found zero.