23July2018

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Douma: Part 2 - 'It Just Doesn't Ring True'

Jonathan Freedland's 'committed denialists and conspiracists', and Paul Mason's victims of Putin's 'global strategy' clutching at 'false flag theories', presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

'President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He'd had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn't ring true.

'It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there's likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there'd be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France...

'We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets - who, let's face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they're very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they're not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish - I would say: "Look, we've got to wait until there's another attack by Assad's forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they're dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we'll get the next attack from the allies...." And it is the only way they've got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.'

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

'The debate that seems to be missing from this... was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning... Don't take my word for it. Take the American military's word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom - he said to Congress the other day, "Assad has won this war, and we need to face that".

'Then you've got last week the statement by Trump - or tweet by Trump - that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

'And then suddenly you get this...'

At which point Shaw's sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

'Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?'

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

'I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.'

Only 'looking' for actual evidence?

'As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.'

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

'The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.'

Before Trump's latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

'The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons...'

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

'Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

'Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

'#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta'

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

'For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was - always - less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it's tumbling.'

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