Experts Weigh in on Syria CW Attack; Swedish Human Rights Group Debunks White Helmets Video; “Mother of All Bombs” Dropped in Afghanistan; Russia & China Dispatch Ships to Shadow USS Carl Vinson Near N. Korea

(Photograph of men in Khan Sheikdoun in Syria, allegedly inside a crater where a sarin-gas bomb landed.)

Now that there has been time to analyze Washington’s purported “evidence” for its contention that the Syrian government (i.e. Assad) was responsible for a recent chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikdoun, for which Washington fired 59 sexualized Tomahawk missiles at the airbase in retaliation, experts are pointing out serious problems that indicate more deception to justify illegal military action in a Middle Eastern country.  As Robert Parry points out, we’ve been down this road before with the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in 2013 that Washington and its stenographers in the corporate media told us, with righteous certainty, was committed by Assad:

One smug CNN commentator pontificated, “we all know what happened in 2013,” a reference to the enduring conventional wisdom that an Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus was carried out by the Assad government and that President Obama then failed to enforce his “red line” against chemical weapons use. This beloved groupthink survives even though evidence later showed the operation was carried out by rebels, most likely by Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front with help from Turkish intelligence, as investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported and brave Turkish officials later confirmed.

But Official Washington’s resistance to reality was perhaps best demonstrated one year ago when The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a detailed article about Obama’s foreign policy that repeated the groupthink about Obama shrinking from his “red line” but included the disclosure that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had informed the President that U.S. intelligence lacked any “slam dunk” evidence that Assad’s military was guilty.

One might normally think that such a warning from DNI Clapper would have spared Obama from the media’s judgment that he had chickened out, especially given the later evidence pointing the finger of blame at the rebels. After all, why should Obama have attacked the Syrian military and killed large numbers of soldiers and possibly civilians in retaliation for a crime that they had nothing to do with – and indeed an offense for which the Assad government was being framed? But Official Washington’s propaganda bubble is impervious to inconvenient reality.

The first expert debunking Washington’s claims is MIT professor Theodore Postol, reprising his role as debunker from 2013.   More from Parry on what Postol has had to say on Washington’s claims of Assad being definitively the perpetrator of chemical weapons attacks in Syria:

With the U.S. intelligence community effectively silenced by the fact that the President has already acted, Theodore Postol, a technology and national security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, undertook his own review of the supposed evidence cited by Trump’s White House to issue a four-page “intelligence assessment” on April 11 asserting with “high confidence” that Assad’s military delivered a bomb filled with sarin on the town of Khan Sheikdoun on the morning of April 4.

Postol, whose analytical work helped debunk Official Washington’s groupthink regarding the 2013 sarin attack outside Damascus, expressed new shock at the shoddiness of the latest White House report (or WHR). Postol produced “a quick turnaround assessment” of the April 11 report that night and went into greater detail in an addendum on April 13, writing:

“This addendum provides data that unambiguously shows that the assumption in the WHR that there was no tampering with the alleged site of the sarin release is not correct. This egregious error raises questions about every other claim in the WHR. … The implication of this observation is clear – the WHR was not reviewed and released by any competent intelligence expert unless they were motivated by factors other than concerns about the accuracy of the report.

“The WHR also makes claims about ‘communications intercepts’ which supposedly provide high confidence that the Syrian government was the source of the attack. There is no reason to believe that the veracity of this claim is any different from the now verified false claim that there was unambiguous evidence of a sarin release at the cited crater. … The evidence that unambiguously shows that the assumption that the sarin release crater was tampered with is contained in six photographs at the end of this document.”

Postol notes that one key photo “shows a man standing in the alleged sarin-release crater. He is wearing a honeycomb facemask that is designed to filter small particles from the air. Other apparel on him is an open necked cloth shirt and what appear to be medical exam gloves. Two other men are standing in front of him (on the left in the photograph) also wearing honeycomb facemask’s and medical exam gloves. [see photo at top of this blog post – Natylie]

“If there were any sarin present at this location when this photograph was taken everybody in the photograph would have received a lethal or debilitating dose of sarin. The fact that these people were dressed so inadequately either suggests a complete ignorance of the basic measures needed to protect an individual from sarin poisoning, or that they knew that the site was not seriously contaminated.

“This is the crater that is the centerpiece evidence provided in the WHR for a sarin attack delivered by a Syrian aircraft.”

No ‘Competent’ Analyst

After reviewing other discrepancies in photos of the crater, Postol wrote: “It is hard for me to believe that anybody competent could have been involved in producing the WHR report and the implications of such an obviously predetermined result strongly suggests that this report was not motivated by a serious analysis of any kind.

(Another photo of the crater containing the alleged canister that supposedly disbursed sarin in Khan Sheikdoun, Syria, on April 4, 2017.)

More directly, Postol told RT the following on April 12th:

“Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real,” he wrote. “No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it.”

Instead, “the most plausible conclusion is that the sarin was dispensed by an improvised dispersal device made from a 122mm section of rocket tube filled with sarin and capped on both sides.”

Similar debunking comes from Scott Ritter.  You may remember him from right before the Iraq war.  He was an official weapons inspector who had been to Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in March of 2003 and stated that there was no evidence that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  As time wore on, his claims were vindicated.   He published a lengthy and detailed analysis in Truthout in which he states:

The Trump administration has yet to provide specifics of the intelligence it relied on to support the allegations levied against Syria. The Pentagon eventually produced what it claimed to be a radar track of a Syrian aircraft, believed to be an SU-22 fighter bomber, that took off from Shayrat airbase and was over Khan Shaykhun at the time of the alleged chemical attack. This radar track was produced in conjunction with what McMaster called “our friends and partners and allies around the world”, but most likely derived from a NATO AWACS reconnaissance aircraft flying over Turkey at the time. According to other U.S. military sources, the same system used to track the SU-22 aircraft also detected the release of weapons, and the impact of these weapons on the ground, using infrared (IR) sensors that detected the heat signatures associated with both events.

According to McMaster, the intelligence linking this documented airstrike to the chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun was drawn exclusively from images released by rebel-affiliated media activists, including the “White Helmets,” and from media reports about observed symptoms by medical personnel who claimed contact with the victims. At this point, there is no evidence the U.S. intelligence community used any independent information to corroborate the reports out of Syria. Instead, a combination of images and alleged eyewitness accounts from persons under the exclusive control of Tahrir al-Sham and medical evaluation of persons presented to medical authorities by Tahrir al-Sham “confirmed” the use of a nerve agent.

Curiously, McMaster also alluded to the existence of unspecified intelligence information that allowed the U.S. to designate specific areas within the Shayrat air base that were used to store the sarin nerve agent, noting that these areas were deliberately not targeted to avoid an inadvertent release of chemical agents and harm to nearby civilian communities.

As presented to the public, the intelligence McMaster cited is woefully inadequate for making a case that Syria used chemical weapons against Khan Shaykhun. Indeed, the evidence seems to corroborate Syrian and Russian claims that the SU-22 aircraft used against Khan Shaykhun employed conventional weapons, and not the chemical weapons the rebels claimed.

The critical evidence is the IR signatures detected by the U.S. and linked to weapons release over Khan Shaykhun, and to weapons impact on the ground. Rebel sources make specific reference to four “rockets” being fired by the Syrian aircraft. These same sources speak of three explosions, and one “dud-like” noise indicative of a warhead failing to detonate. Video provided by the rebels shows four distinct weapons impacts for these munitions in Khan Shaykhun—three showing signatures associated with high explosive events and one consistent with white smoke.

The use of rockets by the Syrian SU-22 is consistent with the IR sensor readouts relied upon by the U.S.—only the ignition of a rocket motor would provide the kind of weapons-release signature the U.S. claims it observed. There would be zero IR signature associated with the release of a gravity bomb, whether or not it carried a high explosive or chemical warhead. Moreover, a chemical warhead, by design, would not produce an IR signature upon impact. The weapon would either fracture on impact, spreading the agent contained through inertia, or use a small burster charge inside the weapon to split the casing and disperse the agent above ground for maximum effect. In short, it is physically impossible for a chemical weapon to produce the impact IR signatures detected by the U.S. and linked to the Khan Shaykhun attack.

The Syrians have a history of employing air-to-ground rockets against rebel targets from their SU-22 aircraft. Photographs and images from Shayrat clearly show the presence of smaller S-8 rockets, with 3.9 kilogram high explosive warheads, and larger S-24 rockets, with 123 kilogram high explosive warheads. The S-8 rocket also uses a smoke warhead for target designation purposes. The IR data collected by the U.S., when combined with the rebel eyewitness statements and video, provides unequivocal corroboration of the Syrian government’s claim that it employed conventional weapons against Khan Shaykhun.

The video evidence of high-order detonation by at least three of the rocket impacts is proof positive of a high-explosive payload. The white smoke observed in the third impact event is consistent with what one would see from a smoke warhead used to designate the target for attack, a common air-to-ground tactic familiar to any pilot who has used unguided munitions in combat. (I qualified as an aerial observer in U.S. Marine Corps OV-10 and A-4 aircraft, and employed these very tactics when marking targets for aircraft dropping conventional gravity bombs.)

The high velocity associated with these rockets—more than 600 meters per second—and their small warhead size makes them ill-suited for chemical weapons deployment. There is no evidence that either the S-8 or S-24 rockets have ever been fitted with a chemical warhead. For the U.S. case to hold any water, Syria would have had to undertake a covert weapons development program that designed, developed and produced a new class of chemical warhead possessing zero military value (the small amount of agent able to be carried, combined with the high impact speeds, makes no military sense).

In addition, the images and first-person narrative relied on by the U.S. to sustain its conclusion that sarin was used against Khan Shaykhun directly contradicts the conclusion reached. Victims speak of a “yellow-blue” smoke, and a pungent odor. Sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid. Furthermore, the handling of victims by rescuers, dramatically captured on video by the “White Helmets,” shows personnel without any protective equipment interacting with contaminated individuals. Again, I have received specialized, live-agent training at the U.S. Army facility at Fort McClellan, Ala., where hazardous materials technicians are trained to rescue persons exposed to sarin nerve agent. Any rescuer who handled contaminated persons in the manner shown on the “White Helmet” video would themselves become victims. In other words, the video images relied upon by the Trump administration is actually contraindicative of the presence of sarin nerve agent at Khan Shaykhun.

Any intelligence analyst worthy of the title, drawing on the information cited by McMaster, would have reached similar conclusions—that conventional, high-explosive, air-to-ground rockets were used by the Syrian SU-22 aircraft against Khan Shaykhun, and that there was a low probability that sarin was used on victims from the town. (It should be noted that the images of victims were taken at the “White Helmets” base, after they had been transported there, and not from the alleged site of the chemical attack.)

There is no disputing that a chemical event occurred that resulted in victims, many of them children, being treated at the “White Helmets” base. The evidence used by the U.S. to underpin its assertion that the deaths and injuries were the result of a chemical weapon containing sarin nerve agent employed by a Syrian SU-22 originating from Shayrat, however, does not sustain this allegation. It directly contradicts it.

Russia and Syria have claimed that the Syrian air strike, ostensibly against a weapons storage facility, caused chemical agents in possession of the rebels to leak, and that it was these agents that caused the casualties in Khan Shaykhun. Russia has provided the OPCW with evidence that rebels affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham had operated a chemical weapons manufacturing facility in Eastern Aleppo that produced a chlorine-white phosphorus agent that was used to fill mortar rounds and land mines. To date, the OPCW has not provided an evaluation of this evidence. When Tahrir al-Sham evacuated Eastern Aleppo in late 2016, many of its fighters, including those who had been involved in the chemical weapons manufacturing facility uncovered by the Russians, moved to Idlib province, where Khan Shaykhun is located.

In a similar vein, award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter, who specializes in coverage of Iran and Syria, reported that a former U.S. official who had knowledge of the situation had also suggested that Russia’s explanation was credible for what actually happened at Khan Shaykhun.  This is in addition to an “internal administration paper” that had circulated in Washington about the incident – a copy of which Porter had obtained:

The Trump administration officials dismissed the Russian claim that the Syrian airstrike had targeted a munitions warehouse controlled by Islamic extremists as an afterthought to cover up the Syrian government’s culpability for the chemical attack. Moreover, the Trump officials claimed that US intelligence had located the site where the Syrian regime had dropped the chemical weapon.

However, two new revelations contradict the Trump administration’s line on the April 4 attack. A former US official knowledgeable about the episode told Truthout that the Russians had actually informed their US counterparts in Syria of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun 24 hours before the strike. And a leading analyst on military technology, Dr. Theodore Postol of MIT, has concluded that the alleged device for a sarin attack could not have been delivered from the air but only from the ground, meaning that the chemical attack may not have been the result of the Syrian airstrike.

The Trump administration is pushing the accusation that the Assad regime was the force that carried out the highly lethal chemical attack on April 4 very hard, perhaps not so much to justify the already politically popular US strike against the Shayrat airbase on April 6, but rather to buttress a new hardline policy against the Syrian regime.

The two unnamed senior Trump officials who briefed journalists Tuesday sought to discredit the Russian claim that the Syrian airstrike had hit a warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun that was believed to hold weapons including toxic chemicals. One of the two unnamed officials said that a Syrian military source had “told Russian state media on April 4 that regime forces had not carried out any strike in Khan Sheikhoun, which contradicted Russia’s claim directly.”

This Trump administration official appeared to be suggesting that there was no evidence that a weapons storage site had been hit by a Syrian airstrike. But an internal administration paper on the issue now circulating in Washington, a copy of which Truthout obtained, clearly refers to “a regime airstrike on a terrorist ammunition dump in the eastern suburbs of Khan Sheikhoun.”

More importantly, the US military allegedly knew in advance that the strike was coming: Russian military officers informed their American counterparts of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun city 24 hours before the planned airstrike, according to the former US official who spoke with Truthout. The official is in direct contact with a US military intelligence officer with access to information about the US-Russian communications. The military intelligence officer reported to his associate that the Russians provided the information about the strike to the Americans through the normal US-Russian Syria deconfliction telephone line, which was established after the Russian intervention in 2015 to prevent any accidental clash between the two powers. The officer said that Russia communicated to the US the fact that the Syrians believed that the warehouse held toxic chemicals.

That information was considered so politically sensitive that after its initial dissemination, it was available only to a few officials, the US military intelligence officer told his associate.

Despite the US denial of the Russian account of a Syrian strike on a warehouse in the city, an eyewitness account appears to confirm it. A 14-year-old resident told The New York Times she was walking only a few dozen yards away from a one-story building when she saw a plane drop a bomb on it.  The eyewitness reported the explosion created a “mushroom cloud” that stung her eyes.

She added that she then hurried back home and watched as people began to arrive to help others in the neighborhood and were stricken by the toxic chemical in the air.

As for the video and testimonial evidence coming from the White Helmets – among other terrorist-controlled sources – the White Helmets has been debunked by numerous sources such as Max Blumenthal at Alternet and on-the-ground independent journalist Vanessa Beeley.  But there has been another source of discrediting recently as the organization, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, has published their analysis of videos posted by White Helmets purporting to show medical treatment of victims of an alleged gas attack in Syria in 2015:

Summary. This article reports updated findings I obtained in a further examination of videos published by the White Helmets, and which aimed to represent consequences of an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015 [See my first report of March 6, 2017]. [1] The videos depict a medical rescuing scenario focused on ‘lifesaving’ procedures on children.

The new findings, which have also been confirmed in second-opinions issued by MD specialists and members of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) on March 12, 2017, a) demonstrate that the main highlighted ‘life-saving‘ procedure on the infant shown in the second video of the sequence was faked. Namely, no substance (e.g. adrenaline) was injected into the child while the ‘medic’ or doctor introduced the syringe-needle in a simulated intracardiac-injection manoeuvre [See video below with the findings’ synopsis]; b) may bring support to the hypothesis mentioned by doctors in the previous report, referring that the child in question, “if not already dead, might have died because the injection procedure”.

The three children subjected to ‘life-saving’ procedures in the second video were eventually dead, and the cause of death –that according to the White helmets video would be attributed to chlorine gas– has been disputed by other medical opinions independently of the assessments by the Swedish doctors mentioned in the SWEDHR reports. For instance, in the opinion of a UK doctor, the health-status in reference to the above mentioned child could be instead attributed to drug overdose, likely opiates.

The findings in these reports raise serious questions about the ethical integrity of the organization White Helmets, on the anti-medical procedures they advertise in its videos, and the war-criminal behaviour represented by the misuse of dead children with propaganda aims.

A frame by frame analysis is provided at the original link here

Warning:  disturbing images

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It was reported by all major media outlets that on April 13th, the U.S. dropped 22,000 pound bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs” on a tunnel system believed to be occupied by ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.  According to the Washington Post:

U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, the Pentagon announced, using the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was “the right munition” to use against the Islamic State because of the group’s use of roadside bombs, bunkers and tunnels.

The bomb, known as the GBU-43, is one of the largest airdropped munitions in the U.S. military’s inventory and was almost used during the opening salvos of the Iraq War in 2003. By comparison, U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs that weigh between 250 to 2,000 pounds.

I think it’s an insult to nickname the bomb “The Mother of All Bombs.” This morning, as I was speaking to one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, Ali, he said, “Would any mother do that? Would any mother do that to Mother Earth? Or would any mother do this to any children?” The effect is what the U.S. military or what militaries across the world want to inflict upon ordinary citizens, which is fear, panic, hunger, anger. And I think that’s what they will get.

Looking at the figures from Global Terrorism Index, Americans and people from all over the world should ask why, like Wazhmah had indicated earlier. The Global Terrorism Index indicates that whatever bombs that the Americans have dropped in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world has resulted in terrorism increasing, not decreasing. So why? Why drop it? Why drop this “Mother of All Bombs”? It’s such an insult to all of us.

A staff writer for Yes! Magazine asked his contacts who are in or know the area to provide feedback:

Nangarhar is a rugged, mostly rural region that shares a border with Pakistan. Many families were split when the border was drawn by the British in 1896. Residents mostly belong to the Pashtun ethnic group, and many are poppy farmers, surviving on small plots of mountain land. War has been constant for more than four decades.

“The way I see it, violence does not get fixed with more violence,” Akseer said. “I am thinking about my young cousins who looked up at the sky and saw the lights, the smoke, and felt the tremor of the bomb. I wonder what impact it will have on their mental well being.”

Akseer knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up with memories of war. She experienced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a child. “Decades later, I still have memories that I wish I did not have,” she said.

After the initial shock of the United States’ decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan by dropping the largest bomb short of nuclear weapons, some analysts concluded that the real purpose of the attack was to send a message to world leaders about U.S. military might. For those who live in the region, however, the bombing has immediate consequences. It adds to the trauma of decades of living with war—and threatens increasing violence and instability.

The massive size of the bomb have some pundits thinking the attack was showmanship.

The massive size of the bomb has some pundits thinking the attack was showmanship, a message perhaps to North Korea, Russia, or China. “Most generally, use of a bomb of this size now is probably a broad warning to others to avoid brinksmanship with the United States,” Rebecca Zimmerman, a policy researcher at RAND, told WIRED magazine.

Adding evidence to that argument is the relatively small scale of the local branch of ISIS—known there as the Islamic State Khorosan Province, or ISKP. Andrea Chiovenda, an anthropologist with Harvard Medical School who conducted his research not far from the bomb site, said that ISKP has only a few hundred fighters, most of them foreign. Even so, he said, these fighters have brutalized the local population. “You might tell me you want to cut it [the branch] down when it’s still young,” Chiovenda said. “But there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not gaining traction among the people.”

Chiovenda said regardless of whether the bomb made sense from a military perspective, his concern is the well-being of local people.

When he spoke with contacts who live about 10 miles away from the blast site on Thursday, they contradicted statements by the Afghan government that residents were warned to leave the area. Instead, they said they spotted soldiers leaving the region and asked them what was going on. The soldiers told them a bombing was coming. That’s when they too left.

“[They] managed to know about it in a very random way,” Chiovenda said.

Some residents initially thought the blast was a nuclear weapon and were concerned about exposure to radiation, said Melissa Kerr Chiovenda, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School who studies collective trauma in Afghanistan.

Andrea Chiovenda added that the video of the blast released by the Department of Defense shows that the bomb hit cultivated fields and terraces—and what looks like a cluster of buildings. However, district governor Ismail Shinwari has denied the existence of civilian property near the blast site.

“The likelihood is that those people who lost their fields have nothing else,” he said. “Arable land is very scarce. … Let’s hope it’s less devastating than it looks.”

Some researchers worry about other forms of damage, as well.

The cost of the bomb is already infuriating some local people.

“The scale of the explosive ordnance being used in this raid will not be lost on local Pashtun tribesmen, for whom the USA’s unmatched technological military is sometimes compared to that of an alien force appropriating the powers of god,” said Benjamin Walter, an Australian political scientist who’s worked with Afghan expatriates living in India. “Bombing strikes like this one will most likely be used by ISKP for propaganda purposes, to increase their recruitment and to delegitimize other insurgent factions like the Taliban.”

Walter is skeptical that bombs can solve Afghanistan’s problems. “The best way to stem the rise of [ISKP] and its ideology there would be to broker a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban,” he says.

But support from the national government would likely surprise most residents of southeastern Afghanistan. “This is a tribal and impoverished area,” said Pat Omidian, an anthropologist based in Pakistan who’s spent time in the area. “They welcome and care for guests in a way that the West cannot imagine,” she added. Yet most live their entire lives without ever seeing a doctor. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high.

And, as Melissa Kerr Chiovenda points out, nearly everyone suffers from longstanding trauma. “They say they almost don’t notice the sounds of the explosions and fighting anymore,” she says. “But they seem to sometimes break down at times when things just get to be too much.”

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It is being reported by the Japanese press that the USS Carl Vinson, sent to the vicinity of North Korea by Washington, has some company:  China and Russia have decided to send their own ships to shadow the US aircraft carrier:

China and Russia have dispatched intelligence-gathering vessels from their navies to chase the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is heading toward waters near the Korean Peninsula, multiple sources of the Japanese government revealed to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

It appears that both countries aim to probe the movements of the United States, which is showing a stance of not excluding military action against North Korea. The Self-Defense Forces are strengthening warning and surveillance activities in the waters and airspace around the area, according to the sources.

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