BEIRUT — The U.S., the U.K. and France fired over 100 cruise missiles at mostly empty Syrian military storage facilities as well as a research facility on Saturday morning local time. The attacks took place the night before investigators from the OPCW were scheduled to begin investigating the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The timing is concerning, as the alleged chemical weapons attack was the pretext for the recent strikes targeting Syria.
The evidence — or lack thereof — is eerily similar to that pertaining to the events that eventually led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was justified using baseless humanitarian accusations that asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Using a similar pretext, these three colonial powers have again joined forces to illegally and unilaterally strike a sovereign nation without any proper investigation or evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the alleged attack in Douma on April 7.
Instead, the court of public opinion is being manipulated through propaganda and the corporate media to convict Syria of a heinous crime based on a single video produced by the British- and USAID-funded White Helmets:
Hours before the strikes took place, Russia accused the U.K. of being directly involved in the creation of the dubious video published by the White Helmets. Less than a month prior, Russia warned that rebels in the area were planning to stage a chemical weapons attack and to blame Assad. The Russians made the claim after the capture of British Special Operations agents in Douma, the same area of Eastern Ghouta where the video was produced.
A photo taken at the time shows one of the British “Black Ops” servicemen captured by the Syrian Arab Army as they took control of Douma in the days after the accusations of chemical weapons use originally surfaced. Some have since speculated that these British captives may have divulged their role in helping to produce and plan the video.
As the dust settles in Syria after the recent strikes, the investigators of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are now set to begin their work. The Syrian government, which immediately granted OPCW investigators visas despite U.S. claims to the contrary, has stated that these investigators will be able to move freely, as the area, having been recently secured by the Syrian Arab Army, is now free of armed insurgents. However, concerns have been raised as the OPCW has been influenced by political forces in the past, particularly regarding events in Syria. One of the first sites investigators will visit will be Douma Hospital, where they will likely question the doctors and staff regarding what they saw on April 7, 2018.
According to testimony provided by the White Helmets, there were many patients seen at the Hospital with severe respiratory problems and who were gasping for air. However, initial testimony from the hospital staff indicated that, while a group of video cameramen did arrive shouting about chemical weapons, there were no patients who exhibited any symptoms of exposure to chemical weapons or related injuries.
Normally, crimes and attacks of this nature are investigated by processing evidence found at the crime scene and piecing together the events that led to the crime. Now, however, Western governments involved in the strike would have us believe that watching a single video created by a conflict-of-interest-ridden group is sufficient to replace evidence collected at the scene as well as victim and witness testimony.
As a result, the “new normal” in reporting on events in Syria has become using a video of unknown origin — unaccompanied by names, dates or locations — as undeniable evidence that a crime, no matter how serious, has taken place. Thus, social media and its influence on public opinion do the convicting. CNN, BBC, and other corporate news media help cement the convictions by merely repeating the claims that have been made, without any detective work. In one example, CNN journalists sniffed children’s backpacks on live TV and claimed they smelled chlorine and that this was proof that the Assad-led government of Syria had launched a chemical weapons attack. The new catechism of war propaganda has become: “I saw the video, and therefore I know who did it.”
Independent journalists are genuinely concerned about objectivity and getting the facts straight. But, their corporate counterparts often dismiss such concerns when it comes to the conflict in Syria. The mainstream Western media is the first to throw out all investigative journalism principles when an unverified video is uploaded to the internet, as long as that video serves long-standing U.S. interests, such as the overthrow of the Syrian government.
Timeline of U.S. claims regarding alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria
Let’s review, one step at a time, the history of incidents and allegations regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria:
August 20, 2012: President Barack Obama makes his “red line” speech, in which he warns that the use of any chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict would result in serious consequences.
August 21, 2013: Video is uploaded to YouTube from East Ghouta showing civilians apparently suffering from exposure to chemical weapons.
News media shows the video repeatedly without any other proof and without disclosing the source of the video. Those same media outlets pronounce that the Syrian government is to blame for the attack.
August 31, 2013: Obama states the U.S. will attack Syria, and the suggested bombing plan would destroy all airports and military capabilities along with some civilian infrastructure.
September 11, 2013: Obama puts his planned attack on hold after being informed by Porton Down, the U.K. Defense Lab, that the chemical agent used was not of Syrian origin, and he calls off the attack.
April 17, 2014: American journalist Seymour Hersh published evidence that the rebels in Eastern Ghouta had been in possession of sarin gas at the time of the 2013 chemical weapons attack and had targeted Syrian civilians with sarin previously. The report cast doubt on Assad’s alleged complicity in the attack.
December 2016: The Syrian Arab Army clears East Aleppo of all armed insurgents. CNN reporter Fred Pleitgen is with the Army as they advance into an area that had been occupied by insurgent groups for many years. He is shown a room containing a warehouse of chemicals that were in the possession of the insurgents, and he subsequently reports this information on CNN.
April 4, 2017: Khan Shaykhun: a video purporting to show victims of another chemical weapons attack is uploaded to YouTube. The armed fighters claim via social media that the Syrian government was responsible. The Syrian government says that an airstrike they launched in the area may have hit a rebel-held chemical weapons warehouse, thus accidentally dispersing the chemicals.
April 6, 2017: President Donald Trump orders an airstrike on the Shayrat military airport in Syria near Homs in retaliation for the Khan Shaykhun attack. The strike killed nine civilians, including four children, living nearby as well as seven Syrian soldiers.
February 8, 2018: U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis announces that “the U.S. has no evidence that the Syrian government used the banned nerve agent Sarin against its own people.” Mattis’ statement means that both the 2017 Khan Shaykhun event and the 2013 Ghouta event are unsolved cases according to both the Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency, as Assad was accused of using sarin in both of those incidents.
Mattis also stated that “We are still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies, we’re still working on this,” when asked whether the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for past chemical weapons attacks in Syria. However, Mattis stated that his belief that Assad was responsible for the attacks, even though he admitted that there was no existing evidence to support this claim.
February 25, 2018: The armed fighters claim a chemical attack occurred at al-Shifoniyeh, in East Ghouta. The attack, however, failed to generate as much outrage as prior and subsequent alleged chemical weapons attacks, owing to the low death toll — only one person, a young boy, was said to have died.
Weeks ago the Syrian government was blamed for a chemical attack in Shifoniyeh, E. Ghouta
Damascus denied such claims and accused the “rebels” of orchestrating the attack to frame the SAA
Shifoniyeh was liberated and the SAA found a chemical factory in the city
— هادي نصرالله (@HadiNasrallah) March 13, 2018
Corporate media outlets, particularly in the West, show the video and, though they claim that they cannot confirm its veracity independently, assert that the attack must have been conducted by the Syrian government.
None of these media outlets asks the question: “Why would the Syrian government gas people located in an insurgent-controlled area, especially when those same insurgents have just made a deal to peacefully surrender and leave? What would the Syrian government gain by using gas on civilians, when the government was already winning its fight to reclaim the area from the rebel groups? Would not the rebels themselves, facing defeat, have the only real incentive to try to reverse their fortunes by staging a “hail-mary” provocation that would bring major powers rushing back to their cause?”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, released statements made by medics who work at Douma’s only hospital. They reported that a group of people with video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that people had been exposed to chemical weapons, causing panic among victims and staff. The medics said that none of the patients showed symptoms consistent with chemical weapons exposure.
#SYRIA Earlier, Russia had made numerous warns on all levels about provocations of chemical weapons use organized by insurgents in #EasternGhouta. #Rus_MoD has other evidences, which testify to the direct participation of Great Britain in organizing of this provocation pic.twitter.com/gqEdLqTnAa
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) April 13, 2018
April 8, 2018: Trump declares that the U.S. will make Syria pay for their use of chemical weapons. He calls the President of Syria an “animal,” though he has no evidence the Syrian government has ever used chemical weapons. Trump writes on Twitter:
Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
I have worked in Douma’s central hospital for seven years. There was an incident in January 2018 when we had six patients with breathing problems. After a medical examination, we found no toxic agents. They underwent oxygen therapy and we had no evidence of the use of poisonous agents.”
The Russian defense ministry denied reports that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in Douma. According to Major General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria, accusations that a barrel bomb containing chlorine gas had been dropped in Douma by the Syrian armed forces were not true.
The only two sources of these accusations were the White Helmets, which produces propaganda videos on behalf of armed insurgents seeking to topple the Syrian government, and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a USAID-funded group that is also aligned with the Syrian rebels as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Dr. Morad is here today to be an inspiration to all of us." Today, 1 year after the sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, UN Ambassador @nikkihaley delivered remarks at a UNSC briefing on chemical weapons w/Dr. Morad as her guest. SAMS has recorded almost 200 such attacks in 7 yrs pic.twitter.com/NUHGK70U5A
— SAMS (@sams_usa) April 4, 2018
April 9, 2018: The International Red Cross, a medical humanitarian group present in Douma and the Ghouta region, states that it has no information regarding the use of chemical weapons in Douma.
April 11, 2018: Defense Secretary James Mattis states that the U.S. and its key allies are still working to formulate a response to the Syrian government’s alleged involvement in a chemical weapons attack in Douma. According to Mattis, they still had not identified who was behind the attacks.
April 11, 2018: The Syrian Arab Army captures British soldiers in Douma during military operations in East Ghouta. These soldiers had come into Syria previously and had subsequently gathered in East Ghouta, apparently awaiting orders to assist a plan developed by the U.K. to attack and destabilize the Syrian capital, Damascus. The U.K. government denies these reports.
Former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, states on British state news, the BBC, that the accusations against Syria in regards to the chemical weapons attack in Douma are unproven.
British Prime Minister Theresa May reverses her previous support of Trump’s proposed military action on Syria, and says she can not commit U.K. to military action without first having evidence and proof.
April 12, 2018: French President Emmanuel Macron claims to possess proof that Assad used chemical weapons in Douma recently, though he offered no hint at what proof he had, or from what source.
April 13, 2018: The first four chemical weapons experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive in Syria. Experts from the UN-backed OPCW are expected to have access to the all of the areas under scrutiny without threat of coming under attack since the area has been cleared of all fighters and the Syrian Arab Army is in control of the region. The full team was set to begin investigating on Saturday, April 14.
April 14, 2018: Syria is attacked by U.S., U.K. and France early Saturday morning local time, between 4 and 5:30 a.m. With independent investigation incomplete — in fact, just starting — conviction and punishment are delivered, the lack of credible evidence notwithstanding.
Following the strike, the French government released an intelligence report detailing the “evidence” it had used to justify the strike. It cited reports from the USAID-funded, pro-rebel Syrian American Medical Society; videos and images published on the internet and social media provided by the U.S.- and U.K.-funded White Helmets; and circumstantial “intelligence” that indicated that Syrian military aircraft were active in the area. Similar evidence was subsequently cited by both the U.S. and U.K. governments.
Iraq WMD Reduex
Criminal investigators around the world must be shaking their heads and wondering how the world could be so easily convinced of who was responsible for the alleged crime in Douma. Even after the wilful and pretextual U.S. invasion of Iraq, the West still has not learned to respond based on the facts — instead using photo or video that suits its agenda to push for a military response based on a knee-jerk, emotional reaction or, perhaps in Trump’s case, based out of the need for a distraction from scandals brewing at home.
Top Photo | A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Barzeh which was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical attack, near Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018. (AP/Hassan Ammar)
Whitney Webb contributed to this report.
Steven Sahouni is an independent Syrian political analyst and writer based out of Lebanon; he has been covering the Syrian crisis since it’s onset in 2011 and has published several articles in numerous media outlets – He is regularly interviewed by U.S., Canadian and German media.