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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Douma Chemical Massacre 2018 Revisited, part 2

Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)

February 5, 2023 

last edits Feb. 18

My personal response to the latest report of the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) continues. Part 1 relates my updated position on the ballistic evidence at "Location 2" in Douma, where the bodies of 35 civilians were found after this alleged chlorine attack in 2018. Even after an open-minded review, it's evident that the blamed gas cylinder was most likely placed manually next to pre-existing damage caused by TWO artillery/mortar shell impacts. 

Other options - including the alleged helicopter drop - remain hypothetically possible, but they don't conform easily to the evidence and aren't very reasonable. The IIT finds helicopter drop is the only option "reasonable" enough to even mention, but I have to strongly disagree with that.

Manual placement would mean there was no aerial chlorine attack, and whatever else might follow has nothing to do with the Syrian military. With no crash to break the valve, any chlorine release, and anything resulting from it, should logically be blamed on the local people who set the thing there. 

That itself might a good place to stop, and we do need this story re-broken, re-set, and healed straight. But I also need to run ahead and start on the chemical and toxicological evidence. 

Let's start with a bit related to part 1. In the prior 2019 report of the OPCW's FFM investigation (Official-Series Document (opcw.org)), many samples at Location 2 are shown as contaminated with trinitrotoluene. That's commonly abbreviated TNT, the military explosive, like mortar shells are packed with. It was on "Concrete debris from the crater-edge in front of the cylinder nose," but all through the building as well, even in the basement, as well as in the street outside, and at Location 4 across town where there were no evident blast signs. The city was a warzone, and the concentrations of TNT aren't specified anywhere. So that doesn't add much. 

For the rest of this post, I consider if chlorine gas was released and, if so, how it might connect to the fatalities. And my review had to go 3-part. No surprise. Part 3 will continue with the chemical clues, alongside other evidence going into the question of just how 43 to 187 people were chemically murdered in Douma on April 7, 2018, by whom, and why. 

See also as helpful: a dated "masterlist" of Douma posts here: Monitor on Massacre Marketing: Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, April 7, 2018. And while I didn't dig for links to some of the great work by others, feel free to read around, and question and consider a wider range of views.

Chlorine Presence: Probably 

The IIT report and interpreters including Eliot Higgins spend a lot of time arguing for real molecular chlorine gas at both attack sites, and against all other options. Someone among OPCW "states parties" - probably the Syrian government - had proposed this idea that chlorine bleach was used to fake the chemical signs. As Higgins summed up in his Twitter thread:

The location 2 results points to "chlorine gas as being the chlorinating agent present at the scene, and in very high concentrations." Not bleach spread around by Al Qaeda or whatever theory the tankies had. ... The myth of the Al Qaeda Bleach Fairy has been busted.

The OPCW IIT also spends a lot of time explaining why alternative scenarios explaining the presence of chlorine byproducts that doesn't involve chlorine gas exposure are pronouncements of nonsense.

I'm not sure if it was mentioned just as a possibility or posed as factual, but it's been made an issue, unfortunately. This gives the OPCW probes and their critics reason to waste a lot of time failing to address the real issues. 

I could be wrong, but this "tankie" has long believed the chlorine in those cylinders was released. First of all, it only makes sense. If the Islamists lugged the things up to visually simulate a chemical gas attack, and they wanted consistent chemical traces to be found later ... they could simply open the valves for the most realistic faking possible. It would be extremely easy and reasonably safe, for someone protected even by a simple gas mask.

More decisively, the visual evidence always suggested the gas was released. Briefly: 

* Location 2: There's apparent frost coating the cylinder underside, in a video filmed around 10PM. This suggests active gas release, which causes auto-refrigeration - the remaining liquid part becomes cold as it tries to "boil" so that metal touching it frosts over. The frosted area seems to have a visible edge (blue) showing liquid is only at the bottom now, maybe 10% remaining - so most of it (~90%) has emptied by filming. That's about 2.5 hours after an alleged impact around 7:30.  The IIT finds this would happen "upon the rapid release of a liquefied gas from the cylinder." But it shouldn't be releasing very rapidly at this point, if their more crucial findings are true and the majority of the contents emptied in the first minute or so, and there's still this much left, it needs to be releasing quite slowly. 

Early on, I developed a theory that the fire set in this room was used to melt the soft metal "fusible plug" from the valve's side, allowing a remote gas release. The fire was set prior to this or any images, and it's now accepted that there's soot on the cylinder beneath that frost (after many including the NYT called it black rust, forming atop yellow paint). The visual record still seems to allow for this plug-melting option, with the valve unseen in the early video (oddly concealed behind crossed metal slats), and later on it looks snapped off, so we can't see if it has an extra hole in it. That's interesting, but it's not proven or necessary. Maybe someone just snapped the valve clean off at the start. 

And hypothetically, being "chill" ... maybe it was snapped off in that impact after the fall from a helicopter. Either way, I'm pretty sure that's a cylinder releasing its compressed gas contents from the top of Location 2. At 2.5 times heavier than air, it would sink down and all through the place.

* Location 4: However this thing got onto that bed, sequential images at right show distinct phases of staining where the bed and debris are stained chlorine green with long-term drip points on a pillow deep brown (it oxidizes to brown over time), then this widens some and it all shifts to brown, then is coated again in a wider green stain. The metal harness still on the cylinder shows massive corrosion and rusting by the end, with signs of splashing with water (chlorine + water = acid that oxidizes metals) - the bed and a board were found soaking wet, and a brown viscous liquid was visible and noted in the room, I would guess being remnants of oxidized chlorine mixed with water and dust, etc.

Furthermore: the cylinder was still half-full but not emptying when OPCW visited some 2 weeks later. In preceding videos, there was an audible hissing of gas release at some times (allegedly, anyway - it's easy to fake) & no hissing at other times. Why? The supposed hairline crack in the valve can hardly matter - it's almost certain that the valve was being opened and closed by the people managing this scene. The FFM even tested a pair of gloves they found discarded nearby, coated in brown goo ... see below. (For more detail on both sites and the whole issue, See here.)

There have been many questions raised about chlorine presence, some of which seem quite impressive. The second OPCW whistleblower, "Alex" - later doxxed as Brendan Whelan - had seemed to claim that chlorinated compounds were found, but just normal background levels of them, suggesting no chlorine was released. E.G. as Peter Hitchens understood it,: 

"A source has told me that the OPCW report, which was eventually published on July 7, 2018, was stripped of a vital fact at the last minute: the traces of chlorinated material which were found at the site were so small, and so easily available, that they could simply not be said to show that chlorine gas was employed." 

Even worse than stripped, any such findings that existed were replaced in the FFM's public reports with some rather high levels of chlorinated compounds they claim to have found. The 2018 interim report listed substances found, but indeed it did not give any concentrations. 2019's final report (Official-Series Document (opcw.org)) gives numbers for some entries, but not others. At Location 2, it says 11,000 ppm combined chlorides were found in "Dry wipe of the cylinder thread." and 1,100 ppm from "Dry wipe from kitchen wall above the oven (level 2)," near several fatalities. 1,100 is not so high, comparitively. Consider too at Location 4, where no one died:

* A wet board under the cylinder "had the highest content of chlorinated organic compounds of all wood samples taken." 06SDS-L4 is listed with findings of alpha-pinene, bornyl chloride, phenol, and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol. The amounts in ppm aren't given for this sample, but for others:

* Dry wipe from nozzle, front part next to thread: chloride: 15,000 ppm (IC) - zinc: 4,700 ppm (ICP-MS)

* Chips of paint from wall behind bed: chloride: 2,600 ppm (IC) - zinc: 150 ppm (ICP-MS)

* Gloves from stairs  (probably used to open and/or close the brass-zinc valve): chloride: 17,000, ppm (IC) - zinc: 1,500 ppm (ICP-MS)

Is that all fabricated? From Whelan as read, I have reason to suspect that. But I also have even greater reason to accept those findings, or their gist anyway. The visual clues seem hard to explain any other way.

This could raise doubts about the whistleblower, as it initially did for me. But overall I suppose it's some misunderstanding, like over what "background" means. Open questions: Does it really argue against a gas release? If not, then why bring it up? Could Whelan just be confused about documents he recalled seeing, in what it says or in its significance? What specific levels did he mean? 1-2 ppb (parts-per-billion) was mentioned. Was that of one specific compound, that could be less common in Syria than usual for reasons he didn't realize? Or was it this low for all such compounds? 

Related? CLOC = Chlorine containing Organic Chemicals. The 2019 report says wipes from "the burnt wall in the room located under the cylinder (level 2)" yielded "CLOC (trace)," as did "Dry wipe from kitchen wall above the oven (level 2)." "CLOC (trace)" is also given for 4 samples from Location 4, and one from Location 1. Every case of CLOC is given as (trace). Some specify (LC-HRMS) and some (GC), whatever that means. 

Aaron Maté's new article focuses on another, rather shady-seeming detail in the IIT report; a newly-mentioned concrete sample provided by the "White Helmets," most likely, that was accepted in violation of the OPCW's long-violated chain-of-custody rules. That's nothing new. Ever since the OPCW FFM's first attempt to investigate on-site in 2014 had opposition fighters attack and arrest them, they've let the opposition collect the evidence for them. They seemed trustworthy enough. Eventually a White Helmets chemical sample unit handled that work. 

In Douma, for the first time since 2013, the OPCW FFM had access to the sites. Yet they apparently used this off-chain sample instead of some concrete sample the FFM collected themselves, but never tested.* From this likely imposter, the IIT added the identification of chlorine marker chemical tetrachlorophenol or TeCP. As Maté puts it "TeCP, it would seem, is the veritable smoking gun needed to establish a chemical attack in Douma as fact." How crucial really is TeCP vs. these other compounds? I don't know. But from this, it looks snuck in. 

* Maté: "a similar sample collected at the same Douma location by the organization’s own inspectors was inexplicably disregarded and not even analyzed." The one they used was from "the room under the crater and the cylinder,” as was the unused "lump of concrete from floor debris in the room under the cylinder (level 2)." But there were several FFM concrete samples from Location 2, with some analyzed and included:  one "from the crater-edge in front of the cylinder" and 2 from the street nearby had Dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, chloral hydrate, chlorophenol, dichlorophenol, and trichlorophenol, but no TeCP. Tetrachlorophenol is listed for 3 samples from locations 1 and 4, but none from Location 2. 

The obvious impression is the OPCW investigators made up the chlorine proof by using tricks like this, probably because there was no gas. But it seems there was plenty of gas. Maybe there was a release at location 2 that was just weaker than the investigators wanted, yielding low traces and lacking especially in TeCP. Or Maybe the OPCW dropped this hint because they want the skeptics to keep doubting this point and thus stay on the wrong track. 

Michael Kobs recently lodged some good-sounding points I can't vouch for, summarizing chlorine gas "is a good and easy way to explain all these chlorinated materials but it's not the only way." That too could leave a reader suspecting it WAS staged in another way. But Michael for one agrees with me that the gas probably was released in both locations (I'm not sure if Aaron does). And if that were the fact of the matter, then such doubts could block serious consideration of the evidence from there forward. And this is exactly where we go in this post - forward. So whatever your doubts, unless you know better than I do, you'd do well to defer, or suspend that disbelief, to open your view. We need to carefully consider - not necessarily believe in - chlorine gas being released at both alleged impact sites, in ample amounts to do the things it ACTUALLY DOES, 

Chlorine Levels: Unclear, Possibly High

IF the gas was released, the next important question is how much and how quickly. This will decide the concentration of the gas and its effects on anyone contacting it. The IIT found extreme levels were reached within three minutes of the alleged cylinder impact. 

"The IIT notes that all models indicate that within three minutes of the release of chlorine from the cylinder, all floors within the building would have exceeded a concentration of chlorine which would lead to occupant death, noting that within 60 seconds the concentration of chlorine on the second floor would have led to occupant death." (6.111 )

A concentration "which would lead to occupant death" in an unspecified time after an unspecified exposure duration is pretty vague. What actual concentrations did they find likely? Paragraph 6.107 is the only place where "ppm" (parts per million) appears in the report, to explain what happens at some levels and to state that those levels were far exceeded; "Finally, the IIT obtained information indicating that the concentration of chlorine released at Location 2 in Douma on 7 April 2018 was at least 1,000 ppm.

I don't know how to calculate the likely levels and challenge that, and I'll take "chill" way for the moment. The rate of release is variable, with the first part releasing quickly as a liquid (due to compression), either dripping or potentially pouring out the unobstructed valve (it boils into heavy gas instantly after emerging). Once the fluid level drops below the escape route - here, a somewhat down-tilted gas cylinder neck - it comes out more slowly as gas. I don't know the rates, but someone does. As noted, it seems ~90% of the liquid is gone by 10PM, and it seems not far below the neck. Let's say 99% of that ~90% poured at once, in the first minute, and just 1% over the next 2.5 hours. I don't think it's that quick, but hey ... maybe. Let's try it out. And the IIT apparently assumed an extreme release like this, concluding that floor 3 was filled to fatal in just 20 seconds.

From a 120-liter cylinder of compressed gas would come a certain volume of expanded gas I don't know. A good bit. Most of it would fill only part of floor 3 and the stairwell there and on floors 2 and 1, some to the sides depending on details, an unclear space just outside the entrance, plus some back in and down to the basement. That's not such a huge space. If it emptied all at once - which we're trying out - I would expect extreme levels in the stairwell. AFAIK 1,000 ppm is possible in this core, if not in other areas or at any slower rate of release. Maybe it would just be 2-300 ppm or even less, but we're trying out the higher level.

The report points out how extreme 1,000 ppm would be: "in concentrations over 400 ppm, fatality occurs within minutes." Is even that maybe instant enough to preclude escape to fresh air? As I read, "The lowest lethal concentration for a 30-minute exposure has been estimated as 430 ppm." (Chlorine Gas Toxicity - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)) As explained below, the IIT version calls for nearly instant death or immobilization, so 430 ppm could hardly explain this. But they cited well over twice that level, and they could have been more to the point. Their own source (https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp172.pdf) cites lots of deaths hours to months later, but it says "immediate death follows inhalation of a concentration of 1,000 ppm." (As explained below, "immediate" probably has to mean suffocation speed.) 

The IIT "obtained information indicating that" this level was achieved. They don't mention it coming from their modeling, so ... was it the REPORTS that people died there instantly that "indicated" the concentration must have been 1,000 ppm or higher? That sounds pretty "reasonable," doesn't it? I wouldn't be surprised. Note 2/18: To clarify, this would be circular reasoning: they assume people died swiftly from chlorine, which would "indicate" 1,000 ppm or higher. This would be just a corollary of their unfounded assumption, but they act like it's separate "information" in support of that assumption. The final report may have skipped the 1,000 ppm citation because, in earlier drafts, its appearance in the text made this circular reasoning too evident. (end note)

Still, it's a good moment to consider the possibility, at least for good measure. But first, let's consider what chlorine does and then come back to what a whole lot of it might do, and how well that explains the evidence. 

HOW Chlorine kills and what it DOESN'T usually do

Higgins continued: "You may wonder why I'm at pains to point this out, but some of the loudest voices in Douma denialism claim the victims were killed elsewhere and placed at the site, rather than killed by chlorine gas exposure at the site. The OPCW IIT makes clear this is a fabrication."

They do suggest and state at different points that this chlorine caused the victims' deaths, but they were not able to "make it clear." Fatally high chlorine levels would not prove those people died there, from that. In fact, it's quite doubtful that they did. All this consideration of chlorine presence, release time and levels might be irrelevant to the true crime.

In most circumstances, chlorine is not terribly good at killing people. It's classed as a pulmonary irritant, with one relevant effect; it generates Hydrochloric and Hypochlorous Acid on contact with water, and this acid damages moist, sensitive tissues like the eyes and airways. It burns, and all else it does is secondary to that. 

In most cases airway damage is not severe, but it limits breathing from the start and causes mucous production that, over time, leads to pulmonary edema or fluid-filled lungs. These fluids often appear as oral foam as the victims struggles to breathe through it. Failure in that is the usual cause of death following chlorine exposure. This edema usually develops as a delayed response, hours after the victim has escaped the gas, but this has been hotly debated. As I've read, pulmonary edema "can be" delayed for hours and usually is. But I'm not sure it's always is that delayed. I've seen some indications it can happen after around 30 minutes of continuous exposure, and even sooner seems hypothetically possible. 

Never mind degrees of edema foam that can form after debatable times. Why would the Douma victims LAY THERE foaming until dead? As the OPCW FFM's first consulted toxicologists correctly explained  (per a record of the visit) "It should be expected that on encountering the irritant gas, victims would instinctively have retreated and exited the building." These unnamed but eminent experts, reportedly visited in Germany, thought "it was highly unlikely that victims would have gathered in piles at the centre of the respective apartments at such a short distance from an escape." 

Indeed, in countless documented real-world incidents, fatal chlorine exposure is avoided almost 100% of the time as people tend to leave the concentrated gas swiftly, using their feet and their completely unimpaired consciousness. (add 2/18: see some cases I considered in this 2017 blog postThe "German toxicologists" (as I'll call them) offered a logical, reality-based assessment the FFM leadership apparently did not want. Like the engineering study, all record of this visit was memory-holed until it was leaked. Any toxicology work the FFM tried in the first months was re-done later, securing a more vague and flexible assessment. 

Eliot Higgins knows this is at issue, and makes a point of pretending the issue never mattered: "The war crime deniers tried to focus on an early FFM meeting about the toxicity of chlorine, which they used to dismiss claims of chlorine gas use in the attack. The IIT brought on even more specialists, who established the symptoms did in fact match with high levels of exposure." The later experts might have provided nothing but nonsense, but "even more" is posed as winning the day. 

The IIT sought to explain why the victims were found all over the 1st and 2nd floors, and on the stairs between and even above, when they had been in the basement to start with. 

The IIT assess that it is likely that the recommended protocol during chemical attacks “to head to higher ground” is why the majority of the fatalities are observed on the first and second floors and on the stairs. (6.104 )

They were told to get above the gas, but this doesn't explain it. 

It does makes initial sense for people to go upstairs after smelling the gas in the basement. Refer to the 3D model above and the image below, showing how to go upstairs requires first stepping almost out in the street, where the best chance at fresh air could be found, But IF the gas had got to the basement, it was via this area, filled with gas the breeze doidn't disperse. Encountering it there too, the victims might think the gas came from somewhere outside, and then seek higher ground inside. 

That still makes complete sense, up to where most of them dispersed into the ground floor, just a few steps "higher" than the outside, and to where they encountered even more dense chlorine inside, and more yet the higher they went. Then - most logically - they would decide it came from inside and the protocol isn't THAT binding, so they would leave the site to save their own lives. 

That protocol is often cited to counter the German toxicologists, who found it unlikely that the victims would run upstairs "counter to the direction of dissemination of the toxic gas," or deeper into the cloud of it. We do have a reason that they might. But as the toxicologists also said, and as the FFM/IIT can hardly explain, "It should be expected that on encountering the irritant gas," even for a second time, "victims would instinctively have retreated and exited the building." No one disputes they would WANT TO turn around and escape the gas - better late than never. But these experts expected the victims WOULD have exited according to that instinct. They did not expect some kind of immobility to set in and prevent it.  

An example from my city, Spokane, in 2015: eight workers at a recycling plant were hospitalized and Edward Dumaw, a forklift operator, died after a mid-size chlorine leak. A partly-filled half-ton tank of compressed gas was crushed, or was punctured as it was loaded in the crusher, most likely by or very near Dumaw's forklift - so probably just a meter or so from his face. It was outdoors, but a lot was released (I didn't yet find exact details). Soon after the incident, paramedics were seen taking one man to an ambulance by stretcher. That's probably Mr. Dumaw, up on his side, holding the railing and his oxygen mask (1:30 in this video: EPA finds source of tank that triggered massive chlorine gas leak - YouTube ). 

It seems like he stayed conscious, and so did everyone else. Another man wears a breathing mask but is walking fine. (Both men are shirtless following decontamination that was probably overdone for a simple irritant). Even Mr. Dumaw could probably walk if needed, but he was badly injured and had spent some unclear minutes with inadequate oxygen, and was probably fatigued. Hopes were high that he would soon recover, though he was put on ventilation at the hospital. But then even that wasn't enough; he slipped into a coma before complications from his injuries finally killed Mr. Dumaw a few days later. 

One report quoted Spokane Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer as saying “The effects of exposure to the chemical plume ranged from minor respiratory issues like coughing to severe respiratory issues.” There's no mention of anyone dying suddenly, blacking out, or being otherwise immobilized. It's something that's pretty well absent from the other incidents I've studied as well.   

Multi-death incidents like in Huaian, China or Graniteville, South Carolina, or most of those WWI battles like at Ypres, will see victims dropping and dying at different distances from the release. These involve huge area-wide gas release that can only be escaped by a long hike. Generally they do hike, but less effectively over time, and some drop dead before they get out of the plume. The worst off are those severely injured by a concentrated exposure, who may only a stumble a short distance before suffocation takes them. Anyone who drops instantly and dies in place is a rare fluke that hardly gets mentioned.

But in Douma, as the German toxicologists pointed out, fresh air would have been available somewhere outside. That's not so far to hike, even after that dash upstairs, but we hear people just laid down and died instead. That's what we call "unexplained."

So this "protocol" thing cannot, in itself, be the answer. We need sudden, widespread immobilization that has never been a known effect of chlorine. This is just why experts early on suggested a nerve agent like sarin was involved. British media spook Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, making the same case for sarin most other observes initially made: "If it was chlorine, they could have escaped. But they died after just taking a few steps." (see Media Lens article with other examples or this WGSPM briefing note). That's about what the Germans had said. 

Unnamed U.S. official even said they had biomedical samples proving that a sarin-like nerve agent was used. But then sarin did not turn up in chemical tests, and sudden, widespread chlorine immobilization started trying to become a new "fact." That's why to the FFM in 2019, the "inhalational irritant or toxic substance" responsible was also "a rapidly incapacitating or a highly toxic substance." Chlorine fit both bills ... because adding "or" makes all these words interchangeable? Furthermore, "The victims do not appear to have been in the midst of attempting self-extrication or respiratory protection when they collapsed, indicating a very rapid or instant onset. This type of rapid collapse is indicative of an agent capable of quickly killing or immobilising." Indeed, the victims were not escaping and don't even seem to have been covering their faces - that's how instant it seemed. Someone probably told the FFM this indicated sarin, etc. and they included it anyway - with some "or" work - as supportive of chlorine.

The IIT now says it was chlorine, the pulmonary irritant, and the victim could take all the steps TOWARDS the gas they wanted - because of that "higher ground" advice - but they could not turn around and escape it because ... over 1,000 ppm was "indicated." Hamish would now agree, of course. Earlier, the agent was "rapidly incapacitating" but chlorine is not, and now they avoid such specifically misleading words. "Unconsciousness" appears once, observed at people brought to medical point 1 (6.100). Some from other shelters reportedly "collapsed" on their way to point 1 (6.103). No form of "immobilized," "incapacitated," or anything similar appears, as they had in the 2019 FFM report. Now, the "rapid release" just caused a "rapid onset of symptoms" that aren't specified, and a "rapid and high fatality rate" with few details to explain just HOW they died and WHY "escape was no longer possible" during the victims' final moments. For lack of better organizing, I'll dwell on this some more below.

Is Syrian Chlorine Different?

Well before Douma, since 2014, it's been alleged that victims of chlorine attacks in Syria DO routinely pass out upon breathing the gas, instantly or within a few moments, and then just lay there to die instead of escaping. As I argued with this 2017 article (already linked above), these allegations are proven false partly by this built-in scientific illiteracy. Or maybe they're proven fiction by the implausible scientific plot twist; activists also dropped frequent hints of a mystery devices and chemical added to the chlorine, like some yellow powder in a separate container, for example. And somehow, unusual symptoms were often reported, including a swift blacking out similar to what sarin causes. 

Opposition sources would later report several dual chlorine-sarin attacks. In fact the Douma attack was initially reported this way, with far more deaths and unique signs like miosis (constricted pupils). Loss of consciousness was reported in general and described by supposed survivors, and there were even purported biomedical samples showing a nerve agent. 

But the OPCW's investigations find a sarin-chlorine attack implausible, correctly noting that chlorine would tend to neutralize the sarin. And at Douma they found no sign of sarin ever being present, in biomedical or environmental samples, and no sign of any other mystery chemical - just chlorine. (Conversely, in Saraqib 2 months earlier, they found sarin traces along with the chlorine signs, but couldn't accept them in the same attack - as was alleged. So they deemed the sarin a random coincidence from some other, unknown use as they blamed Syria for the chlorine part!)

Even with the added blackout feature, Syria chlorine attacks historically had death tolls usually between zero and one. Occasionally 2 or even 3 people would allegedly lay there and die under a single chlorine bomb. A record of 7 deaths happened once (some prisoners of Jaysh al-Islam in Adra that actually appear murdered with chest punctures). Two 6-member families who passed out in their homes and died were tied for 2nd place (Taleb 2015 with additional overdose signs and murderous medical malpractice, "Baytounji" 2016 with additional "raccoon eyes" from recent unexplained skull fractures, and never mind "Baytounji" - probably not their name or a clue they were Christians after all). 

Those attacks with 6-7 killed were the deadliest chlorine incidents until Douma, with nearly 200 deaths initially reported, but with sarin also involved, and finally "just" 43 were reportedly killed, grudgingly, by chlorine alone. And it's accepted without batting an eyelash. 

The OPCW has taken down these prior claims and issued reports including them. They should be able to cite that long record to say the Douma victims simply lost consciousness from the chlorine, like so many others have, and therefore never made it out. But even the OPCW's investigations can't bring themselves to confirm this long-running allegation. Before, they had suggested "immobilization" must have been involved, but they didn't explain why that might be so. 

Now they avoid even this, but the story does still require it. The only way to explain those bodies - aside from body planting - is they ran up into the gas, and were then swiftly incapacitated so they could not leave. And chlorine can immobilize. Let's consider HOW and whether the mechanisms are evident in Douma. 

HOW Chlorine Might Immobilize

Again, chlorine just burns. It's not a nerve agent, and despite the name similarity, it's nothing like Chloroform, so people don't just pass out from whiffing it. Again, pulmonary edema is the main cause of death by suffocation. This usually develops as a delayed response, and can hardly explain people dropping so quickly.

Edema or not, from the first breath of gas, strained breathing can start reducing oxygen levels, eventually leading to cerebral hypoxia, featuring fatigue (especially in the legs), along with a severe headache, and finally, in severe cases, to unconsciousness and death. But this usually takes quite a few minutes or longer to develop. It's not likely to explain the scene in Douma.

The most severe and sudden exposure could effectively destroy the lungs in one breath, causing death at suffocation speed thereafter. Over 1,000 ppm sound likely to do that; for every 1,000 molecules of breathed air, at least one is chlorine. That's a lot of acid in the lungs for each breath - maybe enough to melt half the alveoli at once and fill the lungs with blood. 

Cases of this or similar might leave the victim fully aware & mobile, running, crawling, etc. until their stored oxygen runs out. Death will take minutes, but the crucial loss of consciousness can occur within 40 seconds of total breath loss, or perhaps even less. 

And in some cases, people might also black out or freeze instantly in shock over the extreme injuries. That's not a regular feature of chlorine exposure, but a possibility of unclear likelihood. I think the IIT's reasoning requires about 100% of the victims to succumb to one of these things. 

How about laryngospasm? Sometime the airway locks up in reflexive response the chemical injury, and refuses to unlock, leading to suffocation short of melted lungs. This is an occasional reaction, another suffocation scenario that would take minutes, not seconds. And laryngospasm might block any edema fluid, besides preventing the breath needed to produce foam, which many Douma victims display.

The visual record also fails to help the IIT's case by failing to show signs of the necessary chemical injuries. to the eyes and airways. 

The suggested chlorine level - more than 1,000ppm - would probably cause massive tissue injury, and the quickest death possible - ultimately from suffocation - would entail serious bleeding in the airways. It would leave people coughing up blood, maybe breathing it into a bright pink foam if they had enough time (which is debatable at such extremes). But this isn't much in evidence at Location 2. A couple of cases show blood content (revised Feb. 8: severely with 2 boys and a girl, probably another girl, and one boy with mild blood), but we mostly see a pale-yellow foam that collapses into a yellow-and-then-brown colored fluid. The FFM and IIT have tried to suggest the brown in this is from blood content, but it's a different color that starts yellow and becomes its own clue - see part 3. 

Eye irritation - as far as I can tell - is always met with increased blood flow and visible redness. Here I established it as a regular feature of real chlorine exposure, lacking from many shown victims (mainly children shown recovering), probably because they weren't real victims. Red eyes are excluded from some symptom lists, likely because it's such a non-specific sign caused by many things, but it appears on many others. I could not quite find a source to clarify if there are any exceptions that might apply in Douma or if that's literally impossible. But not a single case of visibly red eyes appears. 

"Corneal opacification" is cited by the FFM and IIT as suggesting chlorine damage, seemingly uninterested in the lack of redness. Adding here, I later learned that opacification does happen right away, not just as later scarring (as the above link says). But I'm 98% sure it should come on top of redness, and the white-on-white we see simply means they died following little or no corrosive damage to their eyes, and then developed post-mortem corneal clouding like every corpse does. 

Ok, stretching the "chill" and open-mindedness, let's consider maybe ... the eyes somehow burn without redness after all, their lungs were massively destroyed but with little to no blood in the foam, the foam shows they managed to breathe for some time, so death wasn't exactly "instant." but they were not much able to move their bodies to escape the gas. That probably needs a widespread shock-paralysis or mysterious sudden black-out that is not a regular effect, but almost has to apply in every case. 

All that combined must be possible, like almost anything hypothetically is. But it's not at all expected or obvious like it's presented. Some unexplained anomalies would be involved, but the IIT just shrugs and pretends there's nothing further to explain, as if there could be no better-fitting explanation they could have considered. 

Escape Was "Impossible"?

Assuming perhaps the quickest release possible, the IIT concluded that within 60 seconds, the gas concentration on floor 2 would lead to "occupant death" - at some point after some exposure -  and suggests it would be instant enough to preclude escape. This is worth dwelling on for a moment.

6.112 ...the dispersion was so rapid that it obstructed the only possible escape route from the apartments via the stairwell. In addition, the IIT notes that approximately 20 seconds after the release of chlorine, escape from the apartments on the third floor was almost certainly no longer possible and after 60 seconds, escape from the apartments on the second floor was almost certainly no longer possible either. 

The specialists’ assessment that all exit routes on the third and second floor were no longer accessible without exposure to a high and lethal volume of chlorine gas are consistent with the rapid onset of symptoms which led to the fatalities recorded on the stairs and landings, as reported by witnesses and observed in videos and pictures from the incident. 

Some areas were inaccessible "without" fatal gas exposure, but exposure is a constant in this scenario and lingering can't help that. And they say after 60 seconds escape from floor 2 was "not possible," period. How so? Reality requires an exact mechanism. They don't seem to know it or care, but they assume that pretty suddenly, the people just couldn't move. 

Now remember that the victims needed to escape these upstairs apartments only because they had first run INTO those apartments, as the IIT reasons, in search higher ground. When "protocol" demands, people are able to climb stairs and enter some apartment, some via a smashed-in doors. Some managed to flee into back rooms on floor 1, as others could climb to floor 2 or even 2.5, to enter apartments here. Alleged survivor Nasr Hanan say he followed his brother to floor 2, watched him wash his face at the sink and the collapse, before Nasr decided to escape alone, and did it just fine. 

Maybe the IIT rejected his account or never heard it. But full mobility could be assumed up to the victims being in the apartments upstairs, where the entrance and the exit is the same doorway, just passed in opposite ways. If the exit is "obstructed," then so is the entrance. By the same reasoning, within 60 seconds people would be "obstructed" from entering those rooms on floor 2. They could not reach this higher ground "without exposure to a high and lethal volume of chlorine gas." ENTRANCE INTO these apartments would be not just unlikely but "impossible." But then how DID their bodies wind up there, somewhat in piles?

To be fair, there is the time difference between entrance and exit. Maybe they could just barely run into the cloud, and then a ways further before the O2 shortage hit them. And say the gas was still building up swiftly, growing a bit worse every moment, and was of course added to what they had already breathed. There is that to make the entrance and exit different thing. Is it enough to explain how they all could get in but not back out before that previously unknown mass immobilization kicked in? Of course I don't think so. 

The FFM noted "The victims do not appear to have been in the midst of attempting self-extrication or respiratory protection when they collapsed, indicating a very rapid or instant onset." It came on so quick they couldn't even get their faces covered, after running up there also without covering their faces, and they never had time to escape. The IIT is less specific, but decided the victims could enter these rooms alive, but then suddenly they cannot even start to reverse that terrible move and escape the corrosive gas. That's a convenient decision, if not a well-founded one.

Taking this as a metaphor for the investigation seems clever. the FFM and IIT are able to run up the stairs of this Jihadist fiction, passing up escapes to clear thinking and breaking doors of logic to get their credibility lodged deep in some vacant apartment with deception levels well above 1,000 ppm. Then, of course, they cannot turn around and escape, at least not without exposure to levels of well-earned distrust that could render the OPCW useless as a tool of empire. For those pulling the strings, it might be escaping that poisoned environment that proves fatal. 

In review

The IIT report alleges delayed-then-sudden paralysis or unconsciousness, induced by acid injuries of an extreme nature, but with oddly limited visual signs, in 35 cases, when we should expect about zero. They reason this was due to an optimally swift release from the dropped chlorine cylinder - the one with a velocity too low to penetrate the ceiling, after it coincidentally impacted where a mortar shell once did, but still such a velocity at impact that it blew the ceiling open just like another mortar shell would do. 

I suppose all of that, even combined, is extremely unlikely but hypothetically possible, in the sense that just about anything is. But it was posed exclusively as "reasonable." It was already assumed as factual by many, and is now read as extra-factual by the same. But that just doesn't cut it for me, and it shouldn't cut it for anyone else. 

Just like the chlorine cylinder fails to match the building damage, the gas it contained - and probably did release - fails to realistically explain the observed fatalities. I always suspected the bodies were planted here just like the cylinder was. And I still suspect that whatever killed them didn't do it here, or under circumstances we can easily know. But there is the evidence to guide a search into those circumstances, which will continue fairly soon with part 3.


  1. Reason to doubt ~10pm L2 chlorine release- earliest tweets at 8pm. A staged scene wouldn't be 'good to go' for another 2 hours?

    Arguably, "staging" at this point would be for things to show in activist videos but with no visible chemical cloud, no clear images of 'frost and (thanks to the FFM dumping the entire testimony mess) we know of no witnesses mentioning it.

    IIT also qualifies things with 6.135- "*could* be explained"... "*may* indicate... frozen condensate".

    Interestingly the video is (page 32) "one hour after the attack"... 6.113- "after 60 minutes".. so possible they have screwed up the timing? Unless there is another earlier unseen video, FFM A.11.6 suggests there was not.

    Worth remembering that the idea was originally pushed by people who also tried to sell L4 as frost -i.e. they don't know what they're talking about. IIT apparently just running with the idea.. as they seem to with most everything.

    Minor point but page 45 IIT states L4 was empty because of "the lack of a basement in the building". But "Ahmed" is reportedly "sitting in the basement with the rest of the residents" (2:37 in now broken link qV-EuMgM9c )

    I don't think there has ever been a good reason why anyone would stage things but then leave their gloves and chisel behind at L4. Equally not so plausible- a guilty side with access to the scene just leaves 'smoking gun' evidence like copper wire?

    1. Also Harkin's article- very specific that first into the building is "civil defense crews". We also have the FFM's 9pm for the White Helmets so the idea that they actually arrived 30 mins earlier and made a video that they 'forgot about' is implausible.

    2. Gas probably released around 8pm - ~10pm is when it's seen, mostly empty. It prob. took almost this long to get back in & work the scene, and just this long before cameras were let in.

      The image is still debatable, but I was sure from the time I wondered why the cylinder looked so white, learned of the frosting, had it all click. I propose IIT language here was over-qualified. Almost surely frost. Runoff of soot maybe not: rain would do that better.

      Not sure who called top-side frost at loc. 4 aside from FA/NYT. But that was really stupid. Different issue there.

      Other points take review, next comment.

    3. I guess some access 60 minutes later was confused with video taken then. Some mistakes like that in there. 7:30 attack, 9pm access, one hour = maybe close enough with rounded times.

      L4 with no basement - odd. There was video of him there, in what seemed a basement, with chickens. Were they trying to discredit him? Or is that just a random goof-up?

      Smoking gun evidence left - by JaI or by Syria? Oppo. would want the chlorine signs, Syria should just accept what is, and they could hardly clean up all signs if they wanted. Logically, they wouldn't bother.

  2. 8pm I would argue has the same problem

    -conditions/temp. vs frost

    apart from that

    -Initial position of the cylinder is not 'in' the hole
    -In earliest images, the dirt on the cylinder could arguably look white

    But, as you say - chlorine lethality is now that of a nerve agent complete with nerve agent symptoms, witness accounts are "consistent" (bizarre considering stories + hospital footage and FFM expert observations), doing the equivalent of running from a small fire in the basement into an inferno in the main house is 'consistent' somehow (ignored/not considered I guess?) and so on.

    1. Worth considering that these are the same conditions that the FFM's expert says would cause victims to sweat so much it produces the literal puddles seen in the ground floor apartment videos. At the same time frost for the IIT does not melt for 2.5 hours. They always check the weather is 'consistent' for air dropping chemical weapons but never for their other assertions.

    2. Dust could look white, but that's on top. Bottom should look soot-black, not white. I was seeing other optical factors as stretches but necessary before I heard about underside frosting. Still not going back.

      Admitting other release signs are vague at Loc. 2 (but then not many are expected) so it's the lesser case for release, or the case for a lesser release (or greater but more spread out). Mainly it just didn't have a bed under it to clearly show staining, instead having a hole under it draining to all over. Maybe I'll check the concrete rubble for color shift if I get bored.

    3. Frost not melted in 2.5 hours: the metal there would still be cold. Higher frost lines it had before would have already melted. It'll shrink and then all melt as soon as the last gas boils out (because it's empty or re-plugged). NYT was soooo dumb to think frost would remain on the TOP side of a cylinder that stopped releasing days ago.

    4. With no valve, having finished venting > 2 hours earlier and (unless IIT et al argue that the smoke damage seen on the walls was caused by another unrelated fire) a fire underneath?

      I don't think positioning a gas cylinder, setting the room on fire below and only then 'remembering' they need to snap the valve off and release chlorine is the most convincing order. Isn't it reasonable to assume that any staging with cylinder would be for visual effect (as IIT etc. would surely argue those involved would not know at that time that anywhere in the house would later be sampled)? I'm thinking of the video in Aleppo (iirc) where they walk down the street ahead of a slowly moving cloud in particular here.

    5. With no valve it can't be easily stopped, FWIW. 2 hours before per the IIT, it finished emptying MOST contents, and this last part must've gone really, really slow. Dubious.

      I'd say the cylinder was for whatever effect it could have - mainly visual, but a chemical footprint is also a good idea and real easy to get. True, an OPCW visit couldn't be known, but it could be predicted & prepared for. And the visual record - it was helpful to see drips & green stains at loc. 4. Didn't do as much good at loc 2, but seems they did it anyway. Or maybe not. Whatever.

      Aleppo is where I've seen a real cloud. Would be similar here, but could be worked in after a while. I guess that's why there's a respirator - they wanted right back in without waiting.


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