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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Another "Marxist" Critique of Douma False-Flag Evidence

By Adam Larson
aka Caustic Logic
(as usual)
Monitor on Massacre Marketing
June 23, 2019
(typos/cleanup 6/23)
<< Douma Chemical Massacre {materlist}

Background: a conspiracy theory, missing facts, limited logic
The Douma Gas Attack: What’s the Evidence It was a False Flag? Louis Proyect, Counterpunch, June 21, 2019

Louis Proyect should ask that - and listen to the answer - as he apparently doesn't know what the evidence is. Yet he labors to maintain the Western-controlled, corporate-state regime-change status quo of permanent war to rule the word that's behind untold misery and devastation around the world. Because Marxism? Proyect - the "Unrepentant Marxist" would have you think so. I'm not a big expert on the subject, but I don't think he has it right.

My opinion notwithstanding, we might consider how his analysis pans out; how well does this worldview guide his thinking? The author's main effort at the start and throughout is to show all true Marxists, leftists, anti-war and anti-imperialists should support regime-change and regime-blame in Syria. And his main focus is suggesting this will frustrate the plans of president Trump and the right-wingers and of course the bad Russian leader Putin, who along with others seem to be involved in a giant and mutable conspiracy. So let's stick it to the global … bad guy … axis and support the Che Guevaras of al-Nusra Front and the like ("the Sunni resistance to Assad").

To do this, Clay Claiborne and Louis Proyect and all these other odd characters - "Cruise Missile Marxists" (credit: GymRat Hippie)  - have to battle a vast Russian disinformation conspiracy, and the 5th column at home: "propaganda that has been cranked out by the Sputnik left up to this point in the sorry project of burnishing Bashar al-Assad’s reputation during a savage war that has left his country a burning rubble."

The Saudi royal family are right-wingers, and they seem part of the pro-Assad axis to him, panning the notion of a "conspiratorial web that has plotted to replace Assad with a Saudi proxy since 2011—notwithstanding the Saudi rapprochement with Syria that is now underway." Of course, 2011-2019 is a long time of NO rapprochement, and what were they doing then, with plenty of help? Getting these takfiri "Saudi proxies" (simplified but fair enough) in charge of as much of Syria's territory and citizens as possible. ISIS came out of that, a lot of genocide, etc. Douma - the place in question - is one of the hotspots for this, with its own directly Saudi-backed proxies in Jaish Al-Islam, who might be the false-flag murderers behind the crime in question. Yeah, some silly stuff, considering some talks that began well after it became clear that long-running and bloody project of the Saudi monarchy had failed. Right? Because Marxism?

And he brings in John Bolton and his infamous 2002 threats to OPCW DG Bustani on behalf of Dick Cheney, as part of their push for war with Iraq, which he ingeniously does criticize. Proyect concludes the right wingers hate the OPCW and vice-versa, and they remain unfazed and independent, and so can hardly be "a tool of American ambitions." Unless maybe there were threats, or control...if so, they might vote to remove Bustani as Director-General, as they did in 2002 under Washington's demand - a detail Proyect seems to be unaware of. Then they might try to avoid such awkward scenes in the future, by picking people pre-disposed to what the Boltons of the world want without even being asked. Or after being asked … Proyect seems enamored of the fact that Bustani himself, back at OPCW in another role, was in on the review process regarding Douma 
(corrections June 26: he notes the removal from office, I didn't go back to check - he says "Among the four people serving on the committee overseeing such investigations is one José Bustani..." - this is a detail I didn't know or can't vouch for - 'such investigations' as what? - nothing popped up in a quick search (Proyect's kind, it seems) - other informed sources I asked had never heard of this either - I asked after a source, but unless I hear otherwise, it might just be some kind of mix-up).

This supposedly-Marxist analysis tries to dodge the obvious anti-motive for Syria to have gassed Douma, on the verge of victory by other means, arguing president Assad risks nothing much in his chemical attacks, and must gain something worthwhile in trade. As usual, he presumes the goal in Douma anyway "was not to kill people but to terrorize them." And it's not even costly terror; he argues the 2017 strikes with 57 missiles on Shayrat airfield, in reaction to the Khan Sheikhoun incident, were extremely limited; it was barely different from the zero damage before that alleged decision to drop sarin on the town (on-site findings for this earlier false-flag operation and some important errors they made). Also, he sees no damage to Trump's relatively pro-Assad stance - despite the record. Considering the next set of points, the damage seems temporary, but would "Assad" know that as he ran such pointless risks?

Bizarrely, Louis Proyect also claims there was no such reaction at all to the 2018 Douma incident, when of course there was, in fact twice the size with over 100 missiles fired by the F-UK-US coalition, just as OPCW inspectors arrived on April 14, damaging a facility OPCW had recently cleared of any CW production, and arguably locking their controlled agency into finding an adequate pretext for those strikes already called in. But Proyect doesn't know about this at all?
This time Trump did not even bother with a slap on the wrist over the Douma attack. In July 2017, Trump had cut off aid to Syrian rebels entirely. He also ordered a freeze on funding to the White Helmets, the first responder group that Vanessa Beeley and Max Blumenthal regard as part of a Salafist terror network. So, any concerns about a false flag incident triggering a major regime change operation in Syria could only be raised by people who are not persuaded by facts or logic.
So Trump ... went back in time and did other things that prove he's pro-Assad? And that was his only reaction to Douma, or just the proof of why we should expect no reaction?

Later he clarifies the ignorance, arguing how the motive for a false-flag must be "giving Donald Trump the excuse he needed to bomb Syria," but "Suffice it to say, Trump had other things on his mind at this point," as he … famously did not attack, as this *sly allusion* suggests? Furthermore: the Douma incident with chlorine "did not lead to the kind of empty saber-rattling in Washington that typified sarin gas attacks in East Ghouta in 2013 or Khan Shaykhoun in 2017." Those and this led to some saber use, actually (maybe in Douma because they thought sarin was involved).

Proyect really did not hear about that, besides whatever else he doesn't realize (like the full Bustani story?) as he jumps in half-blind, guided poorly by his bad-guys-axis conspiracy theory worldview. He reasons Trump wouldn't attack, after his turn towards Syria in 2017 - and uses that ignorance as a central plank for his argument to show Assad had nothing to fear, and therefore adequate reason to push ahead with this chlorine attack plan? And we doubt that, he thinks, because we lack logic, and also facts?

While we're a bit off-topic, I noticed prof. Scott Lucas likes this Proyect article, retweeting its promotion. Some background on him and his network and the Douma mass murder coverup ... works with the former crime-denier - official spokesman - for Jaish al-Islam, the prime suspects in this false-flag murder someone would be covering up. But you don't go following up on evidence like that about peoples' vested interest. Because Marxism? https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2019/06/douma-academics-and-mass-murder-coverup.html

Considering motive: Proyect asks "Was this false flag supposed to provoke a “humanitarian intervention”?" He decided to answer yes, the morons over presume this as the motive. Then he can giggle at "the hope that the Muslim and poor-people hating President Trump would have come to their rescue" as "patently absurd." IF we take "rescue" as full-on regime change, as he does, that was the motive in mid-2013. But ever since the failure of the Ghouta gambit, and especially by 2018, as Proyect notes, this was a pretty distant hope, and not likely to be a real motive. Syria had pretty much won the war. A lesser motive would be required for a false-flag, like getting Assad blamed and kept in a bad light, getting Syria actually attacked with non-Israeli missiles, and maybe if they had some people on hand they'd rather see dead anyway, when the only other option is to release them as part of the surrender deal - why not just gas them at this last chance?

In fact, Proyect says "the likelihood of regime change could only be entertained by those people for whom time stands still. One might certainly describe British academic Tim Hayward of falling into that category..." Why? "... since he was largely responsible for a new wave of hysteria over a leaked report that supposedly proved that the Douma was a false flag," and of course that can only be explained with the one grandiose motive. Where has Hayward claimed "regime change" as the immediate motive for a Douma false-flag? Anywhere? Also this article exaggerates Hayward's role, but he's definitely been important, and anyway what's important here is the content of this assessment Proyect apparently finds to be insufficiently Marxist.

On the science and the engineering assessment
What got Proyect back on the subject after Clay Claiborne failed, all eager but ill-prepared to defend the status quo? Probably the recent renewed buzz surrounding the science of the Douma case, and a previously unknown controversy involving it. In mid-May, the Working Group on Syria, propaganda, and Media published a leaked document that is, as it claims, an assessment from the "FFM engineering sub-team." FFM refers to the OPCW's official fact-finding mission, and the sub-team's engineering work started from direct site inspection in Douma. Yet prior to its leak to WGSPM, this report was totally suppressed by the OPCW - apparently for being true.

Science is not Proyect's strong suit, but what he says about the central issue is what matters most, where this is the main issue in dispute. As he summarizes, the FFM couldn't specify blame, but since they "found evidence that two weaponized chlorine tanks penetrated a building from above, one might surmise that the regime was to blame..." It could be debated forever, but I maintain that never made physical sense, and simply can't explain the observed damage. As for the limits imposed by the FFM's mandate to avoid blame and whatever else - it's extremely dubious, improvised and inconsistent, and essentially forces a decision to determine attack and blame Syria. Literally, it seems no other choice was left open, if one just follows the logic of all they've said so far. Even I don't think their mandate is literally that broken. I suspect it's just meant to be really flexible, and they've also flat-out broken it and lied about that, somewhere along the twisting path.

Proyect refers to past chlorine use as a lubricant to accepting this use; "...especially since (Syria) had been using chlorine bombs repeatedly in the past two years." Past five years, actually, and all alleged. Well, alleged and accepted by OPCW et al. with little to no question, just like this, and citing all the cases before. The first one ever reported (April 10, 2014 IIRC) was just a little bit harder to argue.

As a weapon, chlorine is not very useful for anything, except getting "the Assad regime" in trouble. "Chlorine gas ... generally will not kill you," as Proyect accurately notes, but in Douma it "seeped to the lower floors with a devastating effect." He reasons that's why 35 people wound up dead there, as it happens strewn across the ground floor and second floor and on the sidewalk just outside. It's been argued they victims ran up to escape the basement cloud, into an ever-higher concentration above, and then died.

But as it happens - and Proyect won't know these little facts - they'd have to come up these stairs below, on the left (from AP video, filmed from the street outside the pivotal "location 2" where 35 bodies are seen). At that point, they've escaped to open air - the usual goal. Then, allegedly, they turn the other way to re-enter the building on the right, and climb up into the thicker descending cloud, sometimes 2 flights of stairs or more, to get to where they were found dead. Doing that would prove they weren't locked in - they would escape briefly, then go back in voluntarily. Is this really a logical attempt at escape? If not, what the hell else were they doing and why?

Here we can also see the gas would only come down to the basement a bit, after expanding out onto the street - if both doors were open anyway.

However it seeps, what chlorine does in the real world is burn. It turns to corrosive acid on contact with water and irritate and damages tissue - that's it. Your eyes burn, turn red and bloodshot, and the airways sting, leading to coughing, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, possibly severe tissue damage, bleeding, and mucous secretion, which can cause various levels of suffocation.

But the victim doesn't drop dead or become paralyzed - they usually decide to leave any enclosed space to fresher air, and then they do that. Usually they get to a hospital if needed and recover, maybe with breathing assistance. Recovery is slow, but happens in the vast majority of cases. Death is rare, mainly for those with severe or especially prolonged exposure and/or inadequate medical help, or aggravating prior conditions.

That's on planet Earth in general. In Syria, they claim many die because they instantly pass out and breathe too much. But from a detailed consideration of several real-world cases, it's clear that would be highly abnormal. Also the near-universal reddening of acid-burned eyes is variable in Syria, and in fact mostly absent. That should be seen as puzzling, but hardly anyone notices.

At location 4 in Douma (cylinder on the bed) no human casualties are reported, but some chickens cooped in the basement reportedly all survived, along with the owner (at least purported) who also lived in  the basement, and wasn't even aware of the break-in during which that chlorine tank appeared in one of the vacant rooms upstairs. But at location 2 we have 35 people who were in a basement, allegedly, and could leave but didn't - or, as explained, they escaped and ran right back inside to die. They died mainly next to water sources, allegedly washing themselves instead of fleeing. And their eyes aren't even red. And they have strange, never-before seen stains all around their eyes and across the cheeks, which might be what they tried to wash off. And they did so just minutes before the first allowed images - or a few hours after the alleged attack - judging by their still-damp hair. That all adds up … because Marxism?

But more important now is how the leaked engineering assessment behind "a new wave of hysteria" and that suggests, as Proyect phrases it well-enough, "Salafists placed the chlorine tanks in the building." But he doesn't find that plausible at all. He manages to not explicitly claim the assessment was part of the Russia-Trump-Saudi bad guys conspiracy, but I imagine he's inclined to suspect this.

The FFM's three external experts, or expert teams as I gather, agreed on the reading that points to an airdrop, and that seemed pretty convincing to Proyect. In itself, the chosen and majority view should be the better one. But then what if there were a different agenda, conspiracies, deceit? That's still the scenario in question, and from that perspective ... three teams came up with wrong but agreeing reports, somehow, and only in the last months of 2018 (commissioned somewhere between July and October, only finished by December), which is apparently AFTER the FFM's own engineering sub-team came up with these logical results the FFM didn't want - apparently decided back in May or June, prior to the interim report pretending like there still hadn't been an engineering assessment - at least not a "competent" one.

As Proyect puts it with bad explanation: "Naturally, people like Hayward, Beeley and Blumenthal would characterize this as just another thread in the conspiratorial web." We do find this pretty suspect.

"If Hayward and company have trouble with the idea of a chlorine tank bouncing off the floor and landing on a bed, the scenario they put forward based on Henderson’s findings seems a thousand times more far-fetched." Maybe to someone who doesn't get the science involved, or who's blinded by undying faith in whatever Western-controlled tools of war are making the best regime-change argument at the moment. Because Marxism?

Proyect carefully explains how absurd this manual placement would be, by crafting a straw man - a fake narrative with absurd presumptions built in, just so he can easily laugh it away: he's sure the building was inhabited by entire families of people who would stop any fakers, maybe report them to the local free media, or even put them under citizen's arrest? The fakers would be strangers posing as a demolition crew, but he doubts that would work. They would have to sneak in "with sledgehammers and ladders to bust the holes in the two ceilings" for their fake impact damage - then carry in the cylinders to arrange - and they had to do all this "unnoticed" as the residents allegedly huddled in the basement (and see above image again for how crazy that would be).

Well there's no reason to presume all these things. In fact, the damage is almost surely caused by explosive weaponry at some earlier time, not by a falling cylinder, nor by a sledgehammer, considering especially (at location 2) the obvious fragmentation patterns (primary and secondary, both wrongly denied by the FFM's other experts), and the way the ceiling came apart so violently, while some of the rebar was left intact - (the evidence at the crucial location 2 is explained here.) A powerful, expansive blast wave is probably the best explanation for the interior damage shown below.

Some alleged survivors claim they were all living there (location 2) and were at the end all huddled in the basement, but these accounts are unreliable, illogical, and likely to be part of the false-flag operation. It's not at all clear anyone lived in this building, and in fact most signs point to general vacancy. It looks like a place that was once a home, then a squat or hideout, with some cooking and sleeping, and a few domestic items largely bagged up for mobility. Mostly it seems unused, coated with dust, with doors long-locked taken off their hinges recently, and then some bodies were documented here, generally seeming dragged about and arbitrarily piled.

So we tend to suspect (theories do vary) the cylinders were set there, and so were the BODIES of the victims, who were gassed fatally somewhere else. What that would require: perhaps a more deadly poison not found at location 2, and/or just enclosure - a gas chamber. (if they're not allowed to escape, people will die from chlorine - just not very quickly) The location 2 basement tested low for chlorine, and the bodies seen outside appear to me and others to have been the last ones brought in from a remote locale before they stopped mid-track with the placement - maybe they were finally interrupted by being "observed"? The last bodies placed, or perhaps first ones to be removed? Why stop in the middle of removal? Three bodies laid like cargo parallel to the curb, one still on the stretcher, the woman was laid closest to the curb before they started dragging her body in (straight legs = dragging, not crawling, and head-first is the logical way to transport a body, especially if the hands aren't tied together. They do that for dead bodies, not for dead bodies that are supposed to be residents who still haven't "dropped dead" somewhere inside.

None of these people wore shoes, but the dust (lower center, on the hatch door) shows heavy foot traffic in this space by others with boots. Strangers, posing as a demolition crew? The rescuers who only got these 4 out so far? Or the body arrangers who hauled in all but these four?

But he's not done. Proyect also cites the weight of these cylinders, which is considerable, and would require at least two strong people to carry by hand. And furthermore, since that's really no problem, he decides they had to do this unnoticed, like there's some bustling civil society that could stop or even expose them, the armed militants of the ruling "Army of Islam."

He thinks these guys - engineers of a vast tunnel system beneath the area - cannot possibly have made that aerial harness, with its off-center lugs, AND redundant rolling wheels, all wrapped around a weapon that's pointless for anything but getting Assad in trouble. No, and he knows all about Marxist welding; only Assad could and would have these things made up and dropped. Maybe from a tangled look at the photo evidence, he thinks the way the assembly is tangled with the ceiling - besides tangled far more than the cylinder it was supposedly ON - is beyond their means to set up. This is lazy thinking at work, not entertaining the scenario very well. Because Marxism?

"Occam’s razor states that when presented with competing hypotheses," that are designed to have the weaker option win, by making the other into a cartoon of itself, one should identify or be alerted to that, and then seek a more balanced assessment.
Add: As Qoppa 999 reminds me: "Occam's razor is good and sharp - but it is meant to cut out unnecessary assumptions, NOT the evidence!" Also, Proyect preemptively blocked Qoppa, and some other smart voices on Twitter. Probably me too, now. Way to learn, Louis!

Absurd to Proyect: "The notion that jihadi devils would have killed 43 people in a city that was a stronghold of poverty-stricken Sunni resistance to Assad for 7 years". A tidbit few know - at least 1/3 of those killed seem to be related to an "FSA" commander with the rare family name Bakriyeh, whose Douma Martyrs' Brigade led a 2014 Sunni resistance to the Saudi-backed overlords Jaish Al-Islam. That was ruthlessly crushed. Bakriyeh's family might be seen as fair game for kidnapping, depending what Fatwas they were following at the time. 12+ apparent relatives are among the 35 identified fatalities. (see here). That's according partly to the records of the VDC - a Douma-based opposition group, but not quite tools of Jaish al-Islam, who once kidnapped and killed their founder and her husband … and the VDC complained it was barred by JaI from even documenting the location 2 crime scene.

Finally, as I had to interject a couple of times, there's a lot of good explanation for why manual placement was decided - it's the only way, engineering-wise, that the cylinders and damage make physical sense. Proyect managed to barely even consider that level of the evidence and what, if anything, might be wrong with it. That's lucky for him, as there is nothing wrong with it. So the core issue stands untouched, and all that above is a catalog of Proyect's missteps in his dancing around that.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Douma, Academics, and Mass Murder Coverup

By Adam Larson 
aka Caustic Logic (as usual)
June 16, 2019
(same day edits - may include later updates)
last updates and edits June 18

So someone is covering for mass murder
A professor of International Politics at Birmingham University (UK), Scott Lucas, recently tweeted "So this UK ex-academic, to cover up #Assad mass murder of civilians in #Douma, is now accusing international inspectors of #OPCW of.... Covering up mass murder." He was referring to my friend Dr. Piers Robinson, founding member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda, and Media, of which I'm also a member.

update June 17 This term "ex-academic" is clearly a dig at Dr. Robinson ending his job as a professor at the University of Sheffield, back in April. (ex-academy/Univ. = "ex-academic") There had been pressure on the university to have him canned as a dangerous conspiracy theorist, aggravating some very fragile pursuits of "global justice" with some too-smart questions - there were smear pieces in the Huffington Post, etc. A gloating follow-up at HuffPost (amplified by others as here by cyber-thug academic Idrees Ahmad) seemed to hope they helped have Robinson canned, but he said no pressure, just circumstances and his own choice. It was right at that time, but whatever - he stands by that.

It's all gotten a bit political, really. Some misguided people or others dragged reality into dispute (and just who is disputed).

For what it's worth, Piers still directs an 'academic' organization (Organisation for Propaganda Studies) besides the Working Group, (semi-academic? including even current academics) And as he reminds me "I am a journal editor. At the very least I am accurately described as an Independent Researcher but most would see me still as an 'academic'" … besides between jobs as an actual academy-nested scholar. Also he says the move allows more time to work on the more important things he's doing now, and I think this is already paying off, so I guess … gloat away. Anyone curious also might compare the researchgate.net profiles of the public minds Scott Lucas vs. Piers Robinson for more context.
- - End update.

The WGSPM's case is strong, and this is where the evidence has always pointed. If the scene was staged (and this is getting clearer all the time), and considering all the mysteries surrounding the bodies' appearance, there would be - and likely WAS - a chemical mass murder, as in gas chambers. It would be even clearer in the intent than any remote killing with a dropped weapon, especially if it's just barely-fatal chlorine. That could almost be a fluke on top of an accident. But locals locking men, women, and children into poison-filled rooms until they were dead  … would be pretty darn clear.

 And it would almost certainly be done by Jaish Al-Islam, the Douma-based "Army of Islam" or "Islam Army." And in that likely scenario Prof. Lucas laughs off, this smug UK academic would be helping to cover it up, papering over the gaps in logic as he does with appeals to authority, distraction, and baseless smearing of his opponents.

For Prof. Scott Lucas, it's what the OPCW says and not, for example, what the Islam Army says. It's about the same thing, as it so happens, but note who he prefers to cite …

The Toran Center-Douma connection
It should also be noted Prof. Lucas works with the former spokesman, the public face, for that group, the prime culprits for this possible mass murder - he helped them deny crimes in the past, like professionally. As fellow Working Group member Vanessa Beeley wrote recently for UK Column, he does so as a consultant for something called the Toran Center for Strategic Studies, which "appears to have been established in early 2016, just after Russia had intervened" in Syria at the government's request. The center confirmed to her at time of writing that Lucas was still on staff as a consultant in 2019.

"Toran" is apparently Turkish, meaning "the mother nation of all Turks worldwide" as Beeley heard. They seem to be based in Istanbul, and claims are their largest source of funding is the rogue Erdogan regime in Turkey. But its operating languages are Arabic and English.

website: http://torancenter.org/ - many articles in Arabic

http://torancenter.org/en/ - maybe just the two articles on (it seems) understanding a couple of obscure Islamist formations in Syria?

https://twitter.com/ToranCenter (Arabic) and https://twitter.com/ToranCenterEN, a self-described "independent institution that aims to build an intellectual edifice based on scholarly foundations that places the reader at the heart of current policies." That sounds deep. They also claim a mission to:
"Approach reality through all its dimensions and contexts, analyze all possible steps and paths thereto, and come up with recommendations and mechanisms to put before stakeholders and decision-makers." 
And what a multi-faceted prism this is. Among the other sharp minds gathered were a few opposition luminaries, including a female - Dima Moussa, a Vice President of the Syrian National Council - and no one with a pro-government view. Some other Syrians involved include Capt. Rashid Al Hourani "most closely associated with the Homs Liberation Movement" (allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qaeda franchise) and perhaps with "the splinter group, Tahrir Al Watan that has connections to Nour Al Din Zinki, beheaders of 12 year old Palestinian child, Abdullah Issa in 2016."

More to the point, another face at the Toran Center is Majdi Nema, ( مجدي نعمة ) formerly a spokesman for the mentioned suspects Jaish Al-Islam (JaI). Based then in Douma and backed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, JaI is also allied with Al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda). From 2013 at least, Mr. Nema apparently took the group's mission and the founder's family name for the clever nom de guerre Islam Alloush, attaining the rank of captain, and helping keep their west-facing façade as shiny as possible. Here he is (right) with JaI founder Zahran Allouh (left - or is it Mohammed Zahran Alloush? I've heard both, but the former is more common and I'll keep using it for now). They're posing on a highway, I think, to Damascus International Airport south of Douma.

Beeley: "The Toran Center have informed me that Nema is the contact point for information on the administration and financial records of the centre. I have also been reliably informed, by sources on the ground, that Turkey is the primary source of funding for this organisation but have not been able to find accounts evidence to support that claim."

Website: http://www.majdinema.com/ still in June 2019 "coming soon." Twitter accounts (Arabic and English)  describe him as based in Istanbul, "a Researcher in Syrian Affairs" and "Vice President of @ToranCenter."

A Feb. 4 2018 Toran Center tweet maps "The Areas Lastly Targeted With Chemical Bombing By Assad Regime In The Eastern Ghouta" (right). This shows Douma and surrounding areas run primarily by JaI  ("revolution forces"). Attacks in Douma, Harasta, and Irbeen are shown. These feature partly in the earlier incidents lacking fatalities as I listed here. As that green area was whittled down and defeated Islamists lodged more shrill claims, the alleged chemical attacks turned deadly. This ran from late February up the big one in April.

Nema himself doesn't seem to be the social media warrior; his tweets and replies are sparse. He notably hasn't mentioned Douma in his own tweets since he was JaI spokesman in 2016; there's no talk of the April 2018 incident or OPCW issues. You'd think he would have something to say, and he probably does, but perhaps the arrangement is here to let Prof. Lucas speak, and mainly cite the OPCW; the Army of Islam cover story guy will NOT publicly be left in charge of deciding the narrative about a crime that could be by Army of Islam. Because...

Nema's record on truth re: Jaish al-Islam's crimes
Let's consider the fairly famous abduction, on December 9, 2013, of Razan Zaitouneh (Wikipedia), the Douma-based founder of the opposition VDC, and a co-founder of the Local Coordinating Committees. An exhaustive AP report from Bassem Mroue in 2017, where many witnesses were even to scattered or scared to talk, still found ample evidence Jaish al-Islam had almost certainly kidnapped Zaitouneh, her husband, and two other activists. A computer seized during the abduction was reportedly opened inside Tawbeh prison, run by JaI. Much evidence from eyewitnesses and scrawled messages on the walls has her held through 2016 and early 2017, when it seems likely she was finally killed.

None of these points is smoking-gun certain, in my estimation. But the collective clarity and lack of plausible alternatives leave this case relatively obvious to call. This was the main suspicion from the start, and it was denied from the start. As the Islamist opposition supporters at Zaman Al-Wasl reported at the time (December 12): "Islam Army denies kidnap accusations":

"Opposition Coalition member, Rima Flaihan, in a letter submitted to the coalition members has accused Islam Army leader of kidnapping Zaitouneh , according Zaman Alwasl source. Islam Army spokesman, captain Islam Alloush, denounced to Zaman Alwasl Flaihan's claims that Zaharn [sic] Alloush, Islam Army Leader had threatened Zaitouneh."

There was never any word from JaI about who did kidnap these folks in the heart of their control. There doesn't seem to have been any hunt to find out, or to rescue the activists. Despite the fairly obvious blame, Majdi Nema still doesn't buy it. Or does he now acknowledge the truth, as generally accepted? Whatever position - if any - he choses on that awkward subject, we can conclude he was willing to lie back then to help conceal the crimes of his compatriots, and it's unclear how hard that old habit would die.

Mr. Nema also - and I have to cite myself here - helped sow the false story for an August, 2015 massacre of over 100 civilians, which they blamed on a Syrian jet attack on three public markets at mid-day. Islam Alloush said of the Islam Army “We do not have any presence in the residential areas” and so couldn't themselves be the target -  the regime meant to kill civilians. As I gather, JaI had recently agreed to leave the city center under massive public protest. But one of their positions might be at the edge of town, about 820 meters south of the stricken markets. Someone there (at right: a pre-adjustment graphic showing 800m) fired 4 rockets in a perfect arc of attack, all evenly spaced 11 degrees apart and all frag patterns and other clues suggest (at least for impacts 1 and 3) they were fired from the south to southwest - all unlikely to happen from the described jet attack.

"Islam Alloush" and others blamed regime jets, claimed the civilians were attacked for their support to JaI - not for the protests against them. They showed off dozens of bodies of men and older boys, long-dead and gathered by solar noon, meaning they were killed before those surface-fired rockets even hit. Just over 100 males of several families were listed as killed, and no females, in these three market attacks. That could mean they were actually gender-segregated captives, pulled from detention and killed on cue. Whatever the truth, it's not what they presented, and the current Toran Center Vice President Majdi Nema was there to help with the cover story.

Other cases: what would Nema say?
The sectarian massacre and mass-kidnapping in Adra Omaliya near Douma was launched December 11, 2013, just after the kidnapping of the VDC activists (ACLOS). Even the pro-opposition Human Rights Watch and UN Commission of Inquiry had to admit "Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islam abducted hundreds of civilians, mostly Alawites, according to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The hostages, many of them women and children, are being held in unidentified locations in Eastern Ghouta." (HRW) Hundreds is a minimum; the SOHR would later report (in a possible mangling of the truth) there were 9,000 people taken in Adra (with 3,000 believed held near the end in 2018, and only about 200 finally released), and ISIS was involved in the raid.

I could find no statement from spokesman Islam about the alleged raid, massacre, and mass abductions in Adra. But by normal standards, he'd praise the raid, deny the massacre or blame the other side, and claim the civilians were taken "for their own protection" from "regime shelling." He would say they're treated well, and would be released later in exchanges - regardless of when that "shelling" ended.

Unknown numbers of others, especially captured soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army, were also held in al-Tawbah and other prisons across Eastern Ghouta, reportedly used as slave labor to dig tunnels under the area. Some of these, described as Alawites and probably from Adra, were put in cages and placed on rooftops, supposedly to deter airstrikes, in October 2015. A JaI spokesman and also their political leader Mohamed Alloush (but not Islam Alloush himself that I could find) spoke in defense of this "shields of protection" campaign, calling it necessary to protect the local (mostly Sunni) civilians, and also a "bargaining chip".

As for deterring airstrikes, the cages stunt was inadequate to prevent a Syrian bomb from killing JaI founder Zahran Alloush just a couple months later, on Christmas, 2015. Upon his belated passing, the genocidal fanatic (see Landis) was given a long and ultimately positive assessment from Prof. Lucas at EA Worldview as, for one thing, the main barrier keeping ISIS from getting a foothold in Eastern Ghouta. A little sectarian, perhaps ... controversial ... a different picture ... promised once to be nice to Christians ... blamed Assad-induced stress for earlier sectarian rants ... part of a proud tradition ...

I didn't find a statement from Islam Alloush on the Ghouta chemical massacre in August, 2013, but Jaish al-Islam are the likely culprits behind it. Of course the US and allies and compromised bodies at the UN, OPCW, etc. all tended to accuse the Syrian state, and claimed up to 1,429 were killed. We can verify several hundred at least were killed in the Eastern Ghouta area, and there are many clues for their captivity prior to death, and the execution of at least one that didn't die from the gas. The rockets blamed for delivering sarin can be traced back by impact damage to a firing spot 1.75 km NW, under control of JaI. (work by several involved, including initial readings by "Sasa Wawa" (WhoGhouta),  the late Richard Loyd, and Prof. Theordore Postol, working with others like Chris Kabusk - with later refinements by Michaels Kobs along with Kabusk and myself - partly explained here, also in tweets and other places...)

A mortar shell fired from the same area a few days later (August 24) reportedly released a paralytic gas on SAA troops who had cornered some militants here. None of the soldiers died but four of them tested positive for sarin in government tests. Considering a long delay, OPCW could only verify one of those four had been exposed, but they probably all were, from that shell, from the same area the Ghouta attack was launched from. (indicated spot above - too precisely as a pin, but with a question mark - compared to UN report placement of Aug. 24 incident locale).

JaI founder and supreme leader Zahran Alloush was seen in Turkey a week before the incident, amid meetings with regional opposition commanders and foreign backers, seeming visibly excited about a "new surprise" planned in the coming days, as some predicted "an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria." … and would have left JaI (then called Liwa al-Islam) leading an march on Damascus, should US airstrikes go far enough to assist. Weapons deliveries were agreed based on the unspecified surprise someone felt capable of delivering. What was that surprise? Why was ZA so excited? Nothing emerged in the following days to fit the description of that "surprise/event" - aside from the Ghouta incident itself.

But considering even all of that … oh plus the murky video of apparent JaI men in gas masks firing the same kind of rockets on what they say is the day of the attack (see WhoGhouta and note JaI said it's an obvious frame-up). But even considering that too, we can still be sure "Assad" was behind this incident that nearly got him bombed for crossing Obama's red line so enormously at the perfectly wrong moment. Considering the UN-OPCW investigation, we can be sure this used the same impure sarin - with hexamine, caustic properties, yellow color, and a foul smell - that was used up in Khan al-Assal on March 19, 2013 (ACLOS), and in perhaps all cases since. And THAT has been linked to the "Assad regime" ... perhaps from a recipe similarity to their known and surrendered stocks, or just because it keeps getting used in incidents that keep getting blamed on "Assad." The exact reason was kind of opaque last I checked.

For much of that time, any cases of sarin usage in the Douma involving JaI (or LaI at the time) would be explained, at least partly, by their man Captain Islam Alloush.

Finally, I can't skip this one: Adra Omaliya was taken by JaI and allies, including the Al-Qaeda franchise Al-Nusra Front, in December 2013, as noted. It was held by the opposition side for about 9 months before Government forces pushed out the Islamic Front fighters then led by JaI and another allied faction, in late September, 2014. About one day before they folded and fled back towards Douma, they informed us Assad forces used chlorine gas to kill civilian men there, 7 in total, who happened to be "prisoners" of the militants. 4 or 5 of these are shown on video with no chlorine signs, (four dead and one still alive). They're described as prisoners - likely used for slave labor, but past their usefulness. One is elderly, one quite ill (emaciated and yellow-colored), one is crippled by prior hand injury (bandaged) and a fresh, bleeding leg wound. Three of these four men have small, lightly bleeding holes in the left sides of their chests, as if pierced or shot right in the heart. That's not a chlorine symptom. A day or two later the Islamists packed up valuables, including worthwhile "human resources" and fled, leaving some dead weight behind - this part thanks to "Assad's chlorine attack."

Spokesman "Islam" was around for all these incidents before he left the group in September 2016, for muddled reasons involving Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli interlocutor and ally of prof. Lucas (Beeley, Syrian Observer). Former-Captain Nema was soon using his real name and getting paid, working up in Istanbul with mid-to-high-level Westerners including still-UK-Academic Scott Lucas, to help with "strategic studies" and "approaching reality" through some mix of the many possible dimensions of that.

In his heart or mind - maybe even in the minds of others - Mr. Nema might still be a Jaish al-Islam spokesman, despite the public statements. After all, we know some of these are not trustworthy. But either way it's pretty likely he would continue sympathizing with JaI - privately at least - accepting their claims when possible. That would certainly include the April 7, 2018 murder with toxic gas of 43-187 people (counts differ) back in Douma. If that happened, he'd surely deny it, whether he knew the truth or not, and make the same case as the JaI activists at the poorly-staged scene. I mean, pretty much everyone else does, so why not?

What might he know and gloss over? For one thing, let's return to "the short-lived Jaish Al-Ummah rebellion" mentioned above. Meaning "Army of the Muslim People/Community," that ran for a few months in late 2014. Several group joined, but perhaps most central was the Douma Martyrs' Brigade, whose conflicts with JaI likely ran back to and before the death of its founder and commander Mohamed Diab Bakriyeh in April, 2014. He was said to die in clashes when JaI reinforcements were slow to arrive, but then a likely brother of his (Amjad Diab Bakriyeh) died in coincidental "shelling" the same day, suggesting more to that story. Commander Bakriyeh's DMB would lead the rebellion later that year, and his own family might become fair game for abduction. 12+ apparent relatives of his were among the 35 identified victims of this Douma massacre.
(rel. info here, about halfway down - should be summarized better somewhere fresh: https://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2018/05/bakriyeh-family-deaths.html )

This likely mass murder has its coverup aspect as well, seeking to shift the blame in a way the opposition nearly always can. Here, it was sloppier than usual. It includes placing those cylinders to give outsiders something to work with as they labored to implicate some helicopter, and thus Damascus. The outsiders' intent would not be to cover up for mass murder, but in the scenario, that would be the only way to blame it on the "Assad regime."

Some of that work, or related signal amplification - would be done via this Toran Center, likely by the 'former spokesman' for the possible killers. And just on the Toran end, some more can be done by - or just passed over to - supposed Syria expert Scott Lucas and EA Worldview, to further assist in that coverup, using especially his over-estimated rhetorical skills (sophistry, deflection and diversion - in Native English!) Maybe Charles Lister was asking too much, etc.?

Monday, June 10, 2019

The FFM's Mysterious "Mandate" to Blame "Assad"

<< Douma Chemical Massacre
The OPCW FFM's Mysterious "Mandate" ... to Blame "Assad" 
June 10-16, 2019
last additions June 17

Not allowed: specify blame
When it comes to blaming specific parties for alleged uses of chemicals, as weapons, in the Syrian Arab Republic, via the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) ... there have been some mechanisms over the years. One (called JIM) was tacked-on with a 2015 vote, then allowed to expire with another vote in 2017. Another avenue (called IIT) was voted in 2018 and is trying to operate now, with key state signatories refusing to recognize it as legitimate (covered briefly at the end of this piece). The running issue is a growing concern based on growing evidence that the agency has been corrupted by one bloc's geopolitical interests, and effectively weaponized to serve them.

Otherwise, the "watchdogs" at OPCW have done most of their detective work on CW use through the FFM (Fact-Finding Mission), which has run by a more limited "mandate" - which applied at the time of the incident in Douma on April 7, 2018 - "to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria," and not tasked with "identifying who is responsible for alleged attacks," as the OPCW reiterated with the release of the FFM's final report, nearly a year after the event.

This has been the norm since the FFM's creation and first work in May 2014.* Many lament the limitation as a political constraint on the quest for accountability. They might be right, or right but backwards; the same critics can also point to the FFM findings that point obviously to Syrian government guilt in every case, despite the usual contrary clues that get glossed over. They can't state the blame, but could make it totally clear what would be stated, so people with a grudge against Damascus can push for that power to state the obvious, as that might help punitive measures to go forward.

*24 days in Syria under a mandate that included site inspections, then when opposition (false-flag) chemical and rocket facilities were included, on the first chance to test things, opposition forces shot at and arrested the FFM team on May 27, spurring a new approach that's held for 5+ years, with the exception of this case in Douma, 2018 - they don't inspect in rebel-held areas, initially at least for fear of shooting and detention. (see here).

There are actually multiple mandates; the FFM's final report on the Douma incident (S/1731 March 1, 2019 - PDF) states more specifically: "The aim of the FFM, as specified in Mandate FFM/050/18, was to gather facts regarding the incident of alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon, in Douma ... and to report to the Director-General upon conclusion of the FFM activities." Also noted are "three further mandates (FFM/049/18, FFM/051/18, and FFM/057/18) were issued by the Director-General instructing the FFM team to conduct further activities" relating to the Douma probe. That's a total of four mandates issued, with the (most operative one?) 050 being the second in sequence.

The relative content of these and such details are worth more study, but here I'm interested in how "the mandate" in general is used. It's cited - by the FFM and by OPCW leadership - as shaping the investigation by allowing some lines of inquiry and commentary, and disallowing others. The reasoning seems inconsistent and perhaps improvised, but the results blame Syria in all but name... which may be the reason for any such improvisation.

Allowed: pursue clues for aerial delivery
As Guardian Middle East editor Brian Whitaker put it in a curious May 24 article we'll return to (Medium, Al-Bab):
"Although the FFM determined that the cylinders were probably dropped from the air, the published report (in line with its mandate) omitted any mention of the obvious implication that they had been dropped by regime aircraft."
So the mandate allowed them to consider and publish evidence with "obvious implications" pointing to one party. Keep this in mind.

In fact this hypothesis was developed into a major theme of the FFM's investigation, as shown in their various reports. When it's convenient to explain the scene, a cylinder can be left "without sufficient energy to fall through" the hole it just punched, but usually the things are described as "falling" with a "velocity" and on a "trajectory," maybe an "altered trajectory" but with enough "kinetic energy to cause the observed damage" - on adventures like "passing through the roof" - a simulated "low speed impact" suggests higher speeds were tried and didn't work. - "independent experts in mechanical engineering, ballistics and metallurgy" were called on to assess "the range of force, velocities, and trajectories possible for the cylinder to have caused the damage observed." You get the picture, and it's a petty kinetic one.

Obviousness review: Considering precedent, only the opposition side has the motive for such an event to be reported, falsely if needed. Manual staging is the simplest way to do that, but motive alone ups the slim chances they might figure out how to hurl the things in by air. Surface firing of such a large object with no onboard propulsion remains unknown, difficult enough many consider it impossible, especially with the giant but snug aerial harness included. A crude catapult could put nearly anything in the air, if not with much ability to fly and hit a distant target. We might wonder if the opposition had any aircraft - some of them once seized some helicopters, years ago and across the country, never very useful considering Syria's strong air defenses. They can field aerial drones with no problem, but it's had to imagine one this burly being rigged up to carry and release such a weapon amidst the government assault. So no - they could probably not do this.

Motive alone argues for higher, but the physics of the Douma incident lobbies for around 0% so - as a sort of illogical compromise number - I offer a generous 3% likelihood for opposition air delivery, to give the other side a little play in the comparison below. So let's say aerial delivery would point with the converse 97% certainty, in this case, to Syrian military aircraft.

So they weren't allowed to spell it out, but this clear finding wound up pointing to one side in the conflict, and it was read by many as more like 99-100% sure. The well-endowed pseudo-skeptics at Bellingcat are among OPCW-favored experts who help amplify the inherent signal, muting that limit on their mandate. Commenting on the FFM's final report:
"While some may find comfort in increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories about what happened in Douma, the OPCW FFM report continues to make it clear that the Douma attack was yet another chlorine attack delivered by helicopter ..."
See also extended example from Prof. Scott Lucas below the main article, taking this sort of line until he realizes he shouldn't...

The scientific findings seemed strong enough to overcome obvious and widely-noted inverse motive for the Syrian government. At the verge of defeating the occupying "Army of Islam" with regular military tactics, they had to cap it with a pointless gassing of civilians, and NOT because that's the only thing that gets the U.S. to attack them - it just seemed worth the risk. Now it's hard to prove if the Islamists surrendered due to the horrifying CW attack, or if it was just their last false-flag event before they surrendered, based on the pre-existing state of total defeat.

So motive could be debated forever. But setting this aside for the sake of argument, we could assume Assad did it, marring his own victory and inviting missile strikes, whether it makes sense or not. We could presume that because the FFM's presumably careful work made aerial delivery so clear and obvious. And again, the effort spent on that seems to be allowed by their mandate.

Not allowed: pursue clues for manual delivery
But for all the effort put into developing one hypothesis, there is no sign the FFM gave serious thought to how the cylinders might NOT line up with the building damage. The reader might presume that's for lack of any other explanation, and so accept it as less of an idea than a fact that makes the linkage - and the suggested blame - "clear" or "obvious." But that would make such a reader misled, because there is another and very plausible hypothesis, which the FFM was aware of, and deliberately left out of their reports.

Outside observers like myself could always see this other option and, as we learned just recently, there was a body within the OPCW's investigation called the FFM engineering sub-team (hereafter EST), that reached the same basic conclusion. The EST visited the sites in Douma and carried out later analysis, consulting relevant experts and computer modeling, producing a report called "engineering assessment of two cylinders observed at the Douma incident" signed by likely sub-team leader, Ian Henderson, who is an OPCW trained inspector.

A later version of this report, and presumably the original,* states: "observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.” They felt, with provided reasoning, that the evidence did not match up to show an impact-based relation. Rather, the building damage was caused by explosive weapons at an earlier time - a point that's well-supported by the physical evidence - and the cylinders were just set there, as we're left to presume, as part of an organized deception.

* note: what was leaked is a later "expanded rev 1" of that report, issued by hand to team members only on Feb. 27, 2019 - just prior to the final report's publication. The exact contents and date of the original assessment are uncertain; presumably same or similar, but less expanded. When: apparently in time to be considered, most likely prior to the July 6, 2018 interim report that promised a (first-ever?) engineering assessment would be carried out soon.

Of course the OPCW never allowed us a glimpse of this line of inquiry in the FFM's work, even in its long-delayed final report on March 1. That was left to whistleblowers within the organization to bring it public, via a leak to the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, prior to May 11. Its startling revelations sparked the weeks of drama and debate since. But previously, this alternative hypothesis had been ruled out to the point of exclusion from the final report. Why?

There will perhaps never be an official explanation, but "informed sources" have put out the word that the EST findings might have violated the FFM's narrow remit. Brian Whitaker's May 24 article explains:
"According to the informed source, when Henderson’s assessment was reviewed there were concerns that it came too close to attributing responsibility, and thus fell outside the scope of the FFM’s mandate."
This is simply amazing. When you're pointing to the air, "too close" doesn't seem to exist; you can be right on top of and wrapped all around that unstated blame. But if you're pointing the other way, it seems no distance is far enough - nary a whisper of that possibility is allowed by this rather convenient and malleable "mandate."

Obviousness review: maybe, for extremely unclear reasons, some Assadist sleeper cell in Douma could sneak into these flats with cylinders, maybe dozens of bodies ... and set it all up with no interference ... then trick the opposition into filming and promoting the site ... No, no. The foreign-backed opposition - here meaning Jaish al-Islam - "Army of Islam," Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists who freely massacre and kidnap civilians on sectarian lines - would have the motive to have the scene happen. They could massacre captives they didn't want to see freed, as would happen otherwise upon their inevitable surrender any day. Only they had the exclusive means in their control of the area (albeit crumbling at the time) as to be the obvious culprits in such a scenario.

I'd say manual placement is 100% certain (rounded up a bit) in pointing to one side in the conflict. Compaing to 97% (conservatively) for aerial delivery would mean this hypothesis comes a bit closer to explicit blame. So is it just that difference behind the decision? You can get ~97% specific in all the detail you want, but you can go nowhere at all down a road that goes to ~100%? Or put another way: the clearer case has to be left off? That could explain the decision, but quite poorly.

The ban on specified blame shouldn't be the problem here; it's left obvious what kind of hands would be involved, but it's never spelled out in the EST report we see. By the standards used for the aerial clues, this hypothesis should fit the mandate and be included - especially as that would have left it more balanced. But the same standards don't seem to apply.

Asked about this "too close" claim, Whitaker expanded with a more limited but direct quote from his source: "The exact words were that the engineering assessment looked at "hypotheses that the FFM determined to go beyond the scope of the FFM’s mandate"." This is more vague, suggesting the prior claim ("words were") had been misread by Whitaker. But perhaps it was read correctly, but now they're backing off from the blame aspect, maybe due to its overly-evident hypocrisy.

But there's not much else known about this mandate to suggest another reason to cut of those "hypotheses" (and note that's the plural form). I asked Whitaker if anything made aerial delivery less specific than manual placement, or if it was simply a matter of the "closeness" to its option, or was it just a double standard? (here and under the above tweet). He didn't respond. But I estimate aerial as ~3% less specific than manual, at most. There can hardly be a valid reason for such a total sorting of the two options, so one of just two was excised as the other got to ride shotgun the whole way, posed as the only option. It must be an unstated double standard.

Not allowed: consider (consistently) how they got there
In late May, OPCW released a Russian criticism of the "FFM final report" (note verbale 759, April 26 - PDF) and the response from the OPCW's Technical Secretariat (S/1755, May 21 - PDF). That response was a questionable exercise, and Peter Hitchens submitted some thoughtful questions to the OPCW (doesn't seem they answered... June 13 no answer). He focused especially on response 14.1, which closes the document S/1755. The language here is not clear enough to be sure, but it seems (straight reading) that they claim the manner of the cylinders' arrival is outside the mandate altogether.
"The FFM report does not refer in any part to “the argument that they were dropped from an aircraft.” Also, the FFM report does not elaborate in any part on the “high probability that both cylinders were placed at Locations 2 and 4 manually rather than dropped from an aircraft”. In fact, this type of information is deemed outside of the mandate and methodology of the FFM."
Information of "this type" seems to mean how it got there (from an aircraft vs. manually or by foot). But that clashes with all the kinetic analysis about how the things arrived on a "trajectory" with "velocity" to "cause the observed damage" in what's described as an "impact." Hitchens found that puzzling, given their stated work, ongoing in July 2018, regarding "the relative damage to the cylinders and the roofs, and how the cylinders arrived at their respective locations."

This response , S/1755, was issued May 21, after the EST leak (all about the latter option's absence) on May 12, with widespread news only by the 16th or later, and just before Whitaker's source was claiming (May 24) that option might've come "too close" to pinning blame. Considering that, it might be a hasty, last minute effort to distance the whole issue.

But on reflection I suppose that might be too puzzling, and the wording leaves open a more vague dodge of the issue, a twist on the usual semantics: they don't make the exact case they cite the Russians with, because both quotes include "aircraft" - and perhaps also because they don't consider manual placement or related clues at all, because of ... well, in line with their mandate.

Either way, the mentioned question of "how the cylinders arrived" (from the FFM's interim report) could just mean how fast, how angled, etc. But it kind of suggests different methods (like air vs. manual) were on-line and needing consideration, for some valid reason the FFM was aware of at the time (prior to July 6, 2018).

This report says, for the location 4 scene (paragraph 8.14) "Work is in progress regarding the location of the cylinder, its provenance, and the damage to the reinforced concrete roof terrace and the cylinder. It is planned that a comprehensive analysis will be conducted by suitable experts, possibly in metallurgy and structural or mechanical engineering, to provide an assessment of how the cylinders arrived at its location." A similar but shorter statement for the location 2 cylinder precedes this (8.12): " Work is in progress regarding the location of the cylinder, its provenance, and the damage to both the reinforced concrete balcony and the cylinder. A comprehensive analysis by experts in the relevant fields will be required to provide a competent assessment of the relative damage." No question over how it got there, as with the other. Was that decided at the site with the fatalities, while it was left more open at other site?

The problem with location 2 sounds like they hadn't gotten a "competent" assessment of the rebar damage and such. It does seem like they had gotten the Henderson assessment, and had enough time to decide it was not what they wanted, and they would for sure need a different one. It took a while from there; DG Araias says, on coming to office on July 25 "I was informed that the FFM would require more time to produce its final report. (reasons: "complexity" and "large amount of evidence", but also they needed to re-do the engineering assessment; they needed three teams of experts to be wrong and also agree with each other, and the acceptable and "complementary" results were only gathered in October to December.

So these public statement might have been meant to suggest a multi-track investigation was underway, with questions about provenance and arrival. That could be to placate those inside or outside the organization who insisted on a more balanced approach. But if so, it was vague and non-binding; in the end the "how" was taken for granted, and it was all a matter of how fast they fell from a point way up in the air, well above the reach of the tallest known human beings.

In contrast, the OPCW's "Internal Vision" states "we take nothing for granted, subject our actions to keen examination, acknowledge other points of view and learn from our mistakes" In the same vein, S/1755 states "The analyses of the FFM are based on the facts and data collected and corroborated by the team and not on assumptions." But the way they focused only on aerial delivery with impacts sounds like an assumption, upon which much of their analysis was based.

The main clear point remains; let's back to the above long quote from the FFM's response: the aerial option is not so much "referred to" as it is directly argued every step of the way. The manual option is not argued, nor elaborated on, nor even mentioned in the final report. And so "this type" of information must actually be two types of information, to get such different treatment. As Hitchens put the suspicion, in his questions to the OPCW, referring to "internal vision" (see above) and its disavowal of assumptions:
"... you could not possibly have ‘taken for granted’ that the cylinders were dropped from the air. Could you? Your minds must have been open to alternative possibilities. ... Surely it is not the case that such information is only within the OPCW mandate if it suggests that the cylinders were dropped from above?" 
Surely not? Perhaps not. But alas... it seems their mandate is that narrow as to only let one option pass, at the risk of choking out the truth.

Altitude deception required by the mandate?
It's true the FFM's reports completely omits the A-word, and avoids some details like the type (almost surely helicopter) and - for reasons that must be strange - the possible altitude from which the weapons fell is off-limits. S/1755: "The analyses of the FFM are based on the facts and data collected and corroborated by the team and not on assumptions. In this context, the FFM report on the Douma incident does not contain assumptions or statements about the use of a helicopter (or any other craft) and the height of flight."

It's a detail of the aircraft they can't mention, but also a detail of the falling cylinders at the center of their single hypothesis. The duration of fall leads to the velocity needed to maybe explain the impacts. That seems worth mentioning, even if it's not necessary. They could call it an unexplained "descent initiation," and even avoid the leading word "drop." But rather, they opted to leave it out entirely.

Is it a coincidence they also arrive at a drop altitude that's implausibly (and thus embarrassingly) low? From the provided images of some modeling work, not the report text, we can summarize their best-fit velocities, chosen to perhaps explain the damage and/or sudden stops suggested:
Location 4: ~60 m/s impact pierces the roof straight-down, cylinder bounces off the floor at an angle into a bed.
Location 2: 30 m/s final impact, after a prior corner impact slowed it from about 50 m/s, it tips over on the balcony, next to the hole it made.

The FFM is emphatic about not "assuming" an altitude, and instead using these estimated velocities as a starting point. Then, they conducted "reverse scientific calculations" which would - among other things - point back to a range of altitudes (depending on variable like exact weight, wind, etc.). Everyone who calculates what that range should be, and shares the results, comes to similar conclusions. But no one supporting the FFM seems interested in trying - just the critics.

The Russian analysis (see NV 759) estimates the FFM's chosen velocities equate to an altitude range from 45 meters for the lower speeds (Location 2) and up to 180 meters (Location 4), depending on whatever variables they considered variably.

Fellow WGSPM member, engineering-minded Michael Kobs tried for the faster Loc. 4 cylinder in graphs I couldn't read easily enough (see here for one). He had to explain to me how - for a 260km full cylinder - it could be dropped anywhere from 120-200 meters up, depending on any tumbling (mix of vertical vs. horizontal alignment). With the design considered, mostly vertical is expected, so closer to the lower level; maybe around 150 meters.

Eminent but quite fallible professor Theodore Postol's recent analysis (Washington's Blog) - 30 m/s impact at Location 2 would require - quite broadly - "an altitude of between 50 and 250 m, with the most likely altitudes being between 50 and 130 m" or as he also says a 30 m/s impact "would only occur if a helicopter dropped the cylinder from an altitude of roughly 50 m." But it seems he didn't figure in the supposedly crucial corner impact in comparing (my concerns - The difference is not serious, but could be exploited.)

Renowned climate scientist Stephen McIntyre reviewd this "insolent OPCW response," considering the Russian numbers as similar to his own for Location 2 ("balcony"): "a drop altitudes of 50 to 150 meters" depending on variables, starting from a "slightly narrower range of impact velocities of 30 to 50 m/s." The FFM claimed the higher speed prior to corner impact, so the higher altitude would apply: ~150m.

None of that is gospel, but all come out pretty similar, and nothing much different comes out at all.

How this compares to aerial reality: all kinds of sources agree normal practice for Syrian aviation is to stay above 2,000 meters (and even higher by some sources) while passing over opposition territory, to be well above their anti-aircraft fire. This isn't proof any aircraft had to be that high over Douma, as the Russian NV579 paints it, nor at any particular height; dips to lower but fairly safe levels shouldn't be ruled out, nor even risky dips to lower levels yet, if there's some reason. But no one wants to hover at 150m or 50m and get shot down by an AK-47 or RPG, just so the FFM's later calculations can be valid.

So 2,000 meters remains a good reference point, if not a lowest possible level. The Henderson-EST report, for example, assumed some altitudes to test the evidence (an inherently proper idea, but supposedly outside the FFM mandate - see above). They or their experts felt anything from 2000 down to 500 meters should be considered (even at 500 the damage was much more severe than noted - to the buildings and to the cylinders). A graphic showing the expected impact damage at Location 2 indicates (barely readable in the scan) "initial velocity 100 m/s."

Stephen McIntyre explains the significance:
"...had the OPCW reported the range of trajectories, readers would have been informed that the observed damage at the balcony corresponded to a drop altitude of only 50-150 meters. The inconsistency of this figure with known operating altitudes of Syrian helicopters would undoubtedly have been immediately pointed out, raising major questions about whether the chlorine cylinders could be attributed to a drop from Syrian helicopters as opposed to manual placement (as had been concluded in the leaked OPCW Engineering Sub-Team Report."
Summary: the FFM mandate is to blame "Assad"
In review, the following "not allowed" and "allowed" lines of inquiry and commentary were supposedly crucial in shaping the FFM's findings, in line with their "mandate and methodology":

* Allowed: consider if chemicals were used as a weapon without specifying blame (indicating is ok).
* Not allowed: consider manual placement, which would say no, indicate oppo. for staging of an attack, suggest related crimes like murder of the deceased victims.
* Allowed: pursue aerial clues, which say yes, and indicates "Assad regime"
* Not allowed: in this context with two options and one is deleted, no competing hypotheses are allowed. Therefore:
* Not allowed: a No answer to the weapon/attack question
* Not allowed: the option of indicating (and thus possibly blaming) anyone but Assad
* Allowed, exclusively in this case: a finding that Assad regime clearly/obviously used chemicals as a weapon, chlorine dropped from helicopters - which the opposition doesn't have so case closed.

* Also not allowed: discussion of certain embarrassing details like the low drop height needed to partially explain the damage. Or conversely:
* Allowed: selective use of the mandate to obscure any embarrassing steps in developing their preferred hypothesis.

So in essence, the FFM's mandate requires them to make the case for yet another obvious Assad regime CW attack. They don't get to state the case, but they make it well enough that nothing else fits in the provided blank line. They get to screen out any alternative hypothesis that might compete for belief, and present the preferred option as the only one. And as they give it, it's their mandate and its established limits that force all this and prevent them from getting any other result, even if it were true. It was already pretty evident they were required to reach this blame, but here we can trace it in their own references.

Postscript on the IIT's mysterious mandate
… not so crucial, but related and interesting, so forthcoming.
… June 16: finally deciding it can be its own post in the near future.


Prof. Scott Lucas' altered trajectory (June 11)

2018: OPCW is still investigating ... 3. @ClarkeMicah ignores findings re helicopters & munitions, both pointing to #Assad responsibility

2018: UN Commission on chlorine attack on #Douma in April 2018: (linked)
Para. 92: "At approximately 7.30 p.m., a gas cylinder containing a chlorine payload delivered by helicopter struck a multi-storey residential apartment building" (based on OPCW)

March 1, 2019: [FFM final] Report points to helicopters dropping canisters...

March 1: Desperate stuff from InfoWars Guy —- pretty sure he hadn’t read OPCW report pointing to chlorine attack by helicopter on #Douma on April 7, 2018

April 30: With respect, OPCW report is clear that 1) there was deadly chlorine attack on #Douma on April 7, 2018; 2) chlorine was in canisters dropped by helicopters.

May 26: #OPCW final report --- based on 3 sets of experts in 3 countries --- working from calculations & data, differing from Kobs' extrapolation, pointing to drop from regime helicopter.

After the OPCW statements of May 21-24 sunk in:

May 30: How dim are you, Fake Chemical Engineer?
1. OPCW FFM, limited in mandate, does not issue conclusion re means of chlorine delivery
2. Evidence & analysis point to #Assad regime copters. Follow-up OPCW inquiry, w mandate to attribute responsibility, will determine

May 31: So Peter Hitchens still doesn't understand.
1. OPCW FFM, limited in mandate, does not issue conclusion re means of chlorine delivery
2. But evidence & analysis point to #Assad regime copters. Follow-up OPCW inquiry, w mandate to attribute responsibility, will determine
(note, he wrote this out once carefully, and copy-pastes it from there. Did someone help him get the wording right and advise he use exactly that?)
May 29: 6. This is also why, even if technically sound, Henderson dissent is not in #OPCW final report but is referred to IIT: it attributes blame with its assertion that canisters were likely to have been placed rather than air-dropped.

And we can see why Prof. Lucas, as opposed to Mr. Hitchens or most of us, will always "understand" the OPCW and, so long as he doesn't get too confused by its twists and turns, will remain on its good side.

Some helicopter quotes collected by Per Firdous al-Buyun @lissnup, May 31 with commentary:
Leaked @OPCW report exposes an internet phenomenon, #Douma Loop Syndrome: repeatedly crashing into opposing viewpoints and continuing altered trajectory.
Scott rigidly defends the FFM now but it was a different song not so long ago, in replies to @21WIRE, Hitchens and myself.

OPCW DG Arias on blame vs. facts (June 12)

Diector-General Fernando Arias, speaking recently at a conference in Bratislava, Slovakia:
At 1:41:20 he explains how the Henderson-EST assessment was "produced by a staff member of the organization" - not by some interloper as suggested by initial OPCW statements, and to the present by some of their supporters. The assessment "is going to be given - it has already been given to the Investigation and Identification Team in charge of attributing responsibilities [sic]..." (app. a recent decision that's barely sunk in) "... Because this information you referred to is more focusing, is more targeted to establish responsibilities than focused to the facts." Not mentioned: it suggests blame with information at least as factual as that used in the analysis used to attribute blame in the other direction, unchallenged, in the FFM's self-undermined final report. Arias also mentions how this is a spot where some information is "not fit to the conclusion" - for example if they conclude for air delivery, as seems to be the case, manual placement would not "fit" with that.

BBC's Frank Gardner posed the questions about the EST assessment, specifically Robert Fisk's article in The Independent. Gardner started (1:40:55) with "I know this is uncomfortable for you..." and asks if this classes as 'fake news' or that "misinformation" Arias spoke of. "Not exactly," he replied, then a long explanation including the points above.

Prior to that (1:39:02) Arias poses the OPCW as victim of a malicious conspiracy to undermine its credibility, and pleads  for more of the antidote; ongoing faith in the OPCW's process and findings: "...we are attacked with misinformation, with proxies that produced reports to undermine an official report of the fact-finding mission about investigations in Syria. And I ask you, civil society, to believe in what we do. We work for the protection of the international community. ... anything you can do to help the organization to reinforce its legitimacy will be to the benefit of peace and security in the world." Journalists present got the message, and perhaps to do their part to preserve that faith, they asked no questions (1:42:45).

"Misinformation" = information that clashes with the OPCW's biased findings taken as fact, and much or most of it is true info, not "mis." "Reports" likely = briefing notes, because Proxies likely = a WGSPM in particular, of which I'm a member, apparently taken as proxies of the Russians. He'll have no real evidence for this untrue suggestion, and for our part at least, our "attacks" on the OPCW and its credibility are only to expose how they already lack credibility. People should know and adjust their faith allocation accordingly. It could be that our works are sticking with the public mind, despite all the authority the OPCW enjoys, because the problems with the organization are quite real and need only to be pointed out.

DG Arias forces a further Lucas course change June 17) EA Whirledview's logically inconsistent rejection of the suppressed assessment of the FFM engineering sub-team continues with a June 12 update to note DG Arias' recent statements: Bizarrely, Lucas here claims: "[DG Arias] reiterated that Henderson’s memo “pointed at possible attribution, which is outside of the mandate of the FFM”" and clarifies the document "went beyond the FFM’s mandate by considering an airdrop of the chlorine cylinder." See, they don't do blame, and to suggest it was dropped from the air would implicate the Syrian government. That's the kind of reckless unfair thing this Henderson chap might pull, but not the FFM or OPCW at large. Previously, Lucas had praised the FFM's consideration of airdrop as the only mentioned option (so is it considering vs. presuming that's the problem?), and complaining the EST doc's blame issue was "with its assertion that canisters were likely to have been placed rather than air-dropped."