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Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad

Monday, April 24, 2017

A valuable admission: #Russia controls #Syria & #Putin runs the war

In its rush to defend Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime from charges of committing the mass murder of civilians with sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017, the Russian website Pravada Report made what I think is an extremely valuable and important admission:
Now the media are trumpeting that it was Assad's troops that used chemical weapons in Idlib. This is absolute nonsense, because it is Russian headquarters that supervise all combat actions in the region. Assad will not be able to use any aircraft unless the Russian command in Hmeymim gives permission for this.
Pravada Report comes out of Moscow and is seen as a Putin mouthpiece. This statement is attributed to an unnamed "Russian expert." Hmeymim air base in Latakia is the main Russia airbase in Syria and after Trump's cruise missile strike against Shayrat airbase, Assad moved all his fighters to it. The Russian high command in Syria is stationed at that base. They have advanced Russian surveillance instruments there that track the movement of all aircraft moving through Syrian airspace. Russian SIGINT [signals intelligence] and the Russian spy agency GRU are also located there. Syrian operational staff officers also work out of that base. Two days after the sarin attack, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in a news conference @35:20:
We are coordinating on a daily basis with Russia.
Yes, that is the polite term for it. I "coordinate" on a daily basis with my boss too.

In the case of the United States military assistance command to The Republic of Vietnam [MACV], there was never any doubt about who was really running the war. Those who think Assad is still running the war just don't understand how these things work. The Washington Post, which discovered and translated the secret "status of forces" agreement that allows the Russian military to operate in Syria described it as giving Moscow "carte blanche."

If the Pravada statement is true, and that seems very likely, if "it is Russian headquarters that supervise all combat actions in the region" for their side, it means that the decision to use sarin on Khan Sheikhoun, and to bomb the hospital, were Russian decisions. It also means that anyone who looks to the United Nations to end this tragedy is a fool because those committing the atrocities have veto power over anything the UN might want to do about it. This been shown time and time again in the six years they have been attempting to put down this uprising. The UN never stopped the US from killing more than 3 million Vietnamese, and the UN will never stop Russia from killing millions of Syrians for the same reason.

It also means that all our brave Assad Advocates with their one-sided "Cui Bono" argument that Assad had nothing to gain by using sarin on Khan Sheikhoun can pack it in, because Assad didn't make that decision, almost certainly, Putin did. Those "who benefits" questions needs to be put to Putin not Assad, and Putin operates on a much bigger playing field than just Syria. Putin can almost certainly be counted on to be more concerned that the US president he worked so hard to elect was getting into trouble because of his Russian connections than what affect a sarin strike may have on Assad's standing.

Clearly Trump has benefited greatly, not from the chemical attack of course, but from the opportunity to respond and thus stage a falling out with Putin just when he needed it badly. Before the attack, the major news story in the US was the growing scandal about Trump's ties to Moscow. The new revelations around this story haven't stopped coming since the sarin attack. Two days after the attack, Rep. Devin Nunes attempts to sabotage the congressional investigation fell apart and he was forced to step aside. Then Paul Manafort announced he was registering as a foreign agent. It was revealed that a FISA warrant had been issued for Carter Page. European intelligence agencies started talking about what they had, and we found out the FBI has an investigation going. Most likely both Trump and Putin knew this, and much more was about to be coming out as the sarin attack was being planned. The sarin attack, at a cost of 87 Syrian lives, was just the set up, the payoff was Trump's attack on the airbase.

a very polite way to make war...

Two things make the attack on Shayrat airbase look like a staged rather than a real confrontation:

1.) We know that Trump gave the Russians plenty of advanced notice, so they and the Syrians could get their people and planes safely away before the attack. As a result, they suffered really minimal losses. Trump didn't even bomb the runways. As a result, they were able to resume air operations from the base the very next day.

2.)  Russia has its most advanced air defence systems in Syria, S-300s and S-400s, and they didn't even try to shoot down Trump's cruise missiles.

The Aviationist reported:
[L]ater reports say that most of the aircraft based there were evacuated before the strike, and initial footage from Shayrat seems to show at least some areas of the airports, including taxiways, shelters, aprons, etc. with little or no damages.
...
According to Pentagon, the Russians were informed ahead of strike.
...
Noteworthy, the TLAMs [BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles ] flew across the MEZ (Missile Engagement Zone) of the S-400 missile battery the Russians deployed to Latakia to protect the Russian air contingent deployed there in 2015.

Did Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft defense system detect the missiles? For sure there are no reports of any of the BGM-109 intercepted by the S-400.

Designated SA-21 “Growler” by NATO, the S-400 is believed to be able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles. Equipped with 3 different types of missiles and an acquisition radar capable of tracking up to 300 targets within the range of over 370 miles, the Triumph (or Triumf) is a system made of 8 launchers and a control station.

Supported by effective EW (Electronic Warfare) capabilities, the S-400 fires missiles against aerial targets flying at 17,000 km/h.

So, at least on paper, all non-stealth aircraft and missiles would hardly be able to dodge S-400 missiles. Assuming that the Russians probably detected at least some of the Tomahawks flying fast and low towards their targets at Shayrat Airbase it’s not clear why the Triumf did not attempt to intercept any of the TLAMs launched by the US destroyers,
...
Perhaps, considered that they were informed beforehand, they simply decided to let them pass.
Why would they do that? They would have been shooting down drones, not even killing US pilots. They had that capability. Why didn't they use it? One can only conclude that they allowed the Syrian base to be attacked, and maybe that was because, as the Aviationist speculates, Trump was so nice and polite about notifying them in advance about his attack. That's warfare in the Milo Minderbinder tradition. If ever an attack seemed staged, this was it.

If we apply the "Cui Bono" test to Assad's opposition, it just doesn't work. If the argument favored by the "anti-imperialist" Left is that 2013 sarin attack that killed 1400 opposition supporters was staged by the opposition to get Obama to intervene in the name defending his "red-line," how much sense does it make for them to try the same thing with a lot less casualties with Trump, who hates Obama, after his administration just announced three times its support for Assad remaining in power? It just doesn't fly.

If we ask instead: "How would Putin benefit?" We can provide answers that really takes off. That is how Cui Bono answers the question of what happened and why in this particular chain of events.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why is Russia Today attacking Rep. Maxine Waters?

In Sunday's post I noted that if the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun and the US attack on the Shayrat airbase was given the cui bono, or "who benefits" test, clearly Donald Trump won out big time. Before the sarin deaths and his cruise missile response, he was way down in the polls. Most importantly, things had been coming to a head in the investigation into his ties to Vladimir Putin. Trump's Nunes gambit had fallen apart, and although we didn't know it at the time, Paul Manafort was preparing to register as a foreign agent, we were about to find out that a FISA warrant had been issued on Carter Page, European intelligence agencies were about to weigh in, and much, much more. He badly needed to be rescued. Just about any mass casualty event that allowed him to look presidential would do, and Bashar al-Assad, at Putin's prodding, was only too happy to help him out.

There is some evidence that the Trump and Putin were cooperating on the airbase strike. Rawstory said:
Two U.S. military officials told Matthew Cole at The Intercept Thursday that this plan would “overwhelm Russian air defense systems used by the Syrian military.” 
Although Russia has some of its most advanced air defense systems in Syria, the need to overwhelm them proved unnecessary because they stood down and never even tried to shoot down Trump's Tomahawks. Rawstory also stated:
ABC News reported early Friday that the Syrian military seemed to know that something might happen. Eyewitnesses claim the military then evacuated personnel and moved equipment before the strike took place.
I said this scenario was highly conspiratorial and therefore pretty unlikely because it sees Assad doing the sarin attack so that Trump could bomb the quickly emptied airbase and have a big show of falling out with Russia, proving to everyone that there couldn't possibly be any collusion between Trump and Putin.


While it is clear that 86 civilians were murdered and hundreds injuried, this far-fetched idea that the whole Syrian sarin thing just might be a show hatched up to divert our attention away from Trump's Moscow ties has been gaining some currency. Lawrence O'Donnell has been saying that the Trump-Putin theory can't be ruled out on his MSNBC show. The Washington Post reported on it in "MSNBC host’s conspiracy theory: What if Putin planned the Syrian chemical attack to help Trump?", 8 April 2017. It says:
“Wouldn't it be nice,” O'Donnell asked a nodding, smiling Rachel Maddow, “if it was just completely, totally, absolutely impossible to suspect that Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week — so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all the praises he's picked up over the past 24 hours?”

The theory was impossible to rule out, O'Donnell said, because of the Trump campaign's ties to the Russian government.
According to the Washington Post, O'Donnell picked up this conspiracy theory from Bill Palmer. On 8 April early AM he published "Syria gas attack and Donald Trump’s military response don’t add up – unless Putin orchestrated it." In it he opined:
But Vladimir Putin knows full well that a gas attack like this was likely to prompt at least some kind U.S. military response against Assad. So Putin wouldn’t have been behind this unless he wanted the U.S. to take military action in Syria. And the only logical reason for Putin to want that is if he was trying to set up a win for Donald Trump, which could boost his historically low approval rating. It would also allow Trump to paint himself as being willing to go against Russian interests, as an argument against the most serious charges in the worsening Trump-Russia scandal.
Maxine Waters
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a African American Democrat from Los Angeles with a long history of activist, has made the impeachment of Donald Trump her new mission in life. She spoke at the Tax Rally in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 15th. Heather Digby Parton reported on that in Salon, 17 April 2017:
The anti-Trump resistance is very much a grassroots effort, but there are leaders emerging. One of the most vocal is Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat who represents Los Angeles. Appearing at the Washington Tax Day march last Saturday, Waters put it bluntly: “I don’t respect this president,” she said. “I don’t trust this president. He’s not working in the best interests of the American people. I will fight every day until he is impeached!” Then she led the crowd in a chant of “Impeach 45!” It doesn’t get any more resistant than that.
She is also starting to raise these questions about the Syria strike. Reporting for the Huffington Post, Lauren Windsor wrote:
At the rally before the march, Waters vowed to fight every day until Trump is impeached and questioned the motives behind the U.S. attack on Syria. She believes Syria to be “phony tension between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, all being hyped up by the White House, still trying to distract us.”

After her speech, I asked the congresswoman whether she believes Putin and Assad were colluding to help take the heat off of Trump from the investigations into his ties with Russia. She believes that Putin and Trump are “tied at the hip,” the tension is a charade, and that the end-game is getting the oil sanctions lifted for drilling in the Arctic.



She must have hit a nerve because RT.com, formerly known as Russia Today, came down on her like a ton of Brexits. It published this vicious attack on her, 17 April 2017:
‘People like Maxine Waters put Democratic Party at risk by proposing loony conspiracies’

17 Apr, 2017 16:44
The Democratic Party should not give any more publicity to Congresswoman Maxine Waters because she is discrediting the Party among thinking Americans and people around the world, says Charles Ortel, geo-politics writer.

US Representative Maxine Waters has accused President Trump on of being “in bed” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At a rally on Saturday in Washington, DC, Waters said she considered Syria to be “phony tension between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, all being hyped up by the White House, still trying to distract us.”

The Democrat from Los Angeles added: “They [The Russians] see Trump as helping them to lift the sanctions so they can drill in the Arctic for the oil that Tillerson negotiated on behalf of Exxon with Putin.”
I've seen RT be insulting before, but this piece is just downright mean spirited:
Charles Ortel, the private investor, and writer said that Maxine Waters is a lady “who has had many firsts to her credit.”

“For that, some people do respect her. But when she opens her mouth and says things that are this stupid – she deserves to be fully exposed and fully criticized,” Ortel told RT.

In his opinion, some of the comments by the Democratic congresswoman are just “bizarre ravings.”

“This is the kind of raving that comes out of people on the right and the left frankly, who walk around wearing tin foil hats. It makes no sense whatsoever that the president of the US and the Russian president would engage in this type of loony conspiracy theory putting many lives at risk,” he said.

He added that on both sides of the political spectrum “there are people who are not deep thinkers, who surround themselves with other simple minded people, who fall victim to the type of loony theories that many people like to think about.” More...
In a piece titled "Donald Trump's War Crimes", 5 April 2017, Truthout, Marjorie Cohn reports:
Over the past month, the US-led coalition has killed an inordinate number of civilians.

"Almost 1,000 non-combatant deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March -- a record claim," according to Airwars, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that monitors civilian casualties from airstrikes in the Middle East. "These reported casualty levels are comparable with some of the worst periods of Russian activity in Syria."
This reality makes the claim that the presidents of the US and Russian would refuse to take such self-serving actions because they wouldn't want to put many lives at risk, ring hollow.

Personally, I am coming to believe that Trump's empty airbase strike was "a play within a play," which would make this four hundred year old observation by Hamlet's mother still the perfect response to Mother Russia's slander of Maxine Waters:


Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why would Assad use sarin in Syria now?

This question is again being raised by those that don't think the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the sarin attack that killed 86 civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province on 4 April 2017. In Assad's defense they argue that he was already winning the war and had nothing to gain by such a provocative act, for example in a piece published by Portside on 15 April 2017, titled "Cui Bono, Who Benefits," Uri Avnery asks the question:
Why did Assad do it? What did he have to gain?

The simple answer is: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
...
With the help of Russia, Iran and Hizbullah, Assad is slowly winning the civil war that has been ravishing Syria for years, He already holds almost all the major cities that constitute the core of Syria. He has enough weapons to kill as many enemy civilians as his heart desires.

So why, for Allah's sake, should he use gas to kill a few dozen more? Why arouse the anger of the entire world, inviting American intervention?

There is no way to deny the conclusion: Assad had the least to gain from the dastardly deed. On the list of "cui bono", he is the very last.
Some think this apparent lack of motive makes for a compelling argument for Assad's innocence. Dina Formentini and Chris Ernesto make the same argument in a Counterpunch piece titled "Assad Had the Upper Hand So Why Would He Gas His Own People?," 11 April 2017:
This major policy statement by the US took regime change off the table, and was obviously great news for Bashar al-Assad. Combined with Syrian military gains on the ground, Assad was in the strongest position he’d been in since the war in Syria began.

So, why 5 days later would he gas his own people?
These are just two examples but the Internet is crawling with many more because it is a staple of all of the Assad defenders. Whether they are from the "anti-imperialist" Left, or the Alt-Right, whether they agree Assad bombed a terrorist warehouse that released the sarin, or claim the sarin was released by the terrorists after Assad dropped a conventional bomb on the street, they all agree that it is ridiculous to think Assad would risk the outrage when the is so close to winning without it.

The principal flaw in this argument, this time, is that it was made by many of these same personalities after the sarin attack that killed more than 1400 on 21 August 2013. It was widely held then also, that he was so close to winning that it would be ridiculous for him to risk direct Western military intervention by carrying out the sarin attack he was then accused of. Here are a few examples of that era from just one source, Counterpunch. Andrew Levine used "Cui Bono" to defend Assad in that attack, 27 August 2013:
Maybe Assad really is culpable; he has never been a leader who bothered much about ethical side constraints, and he does seem intent on holding onto power by any means necessary.

But the cui bono? (who benefits?) principle suggests the opposite. The Syrian government plainly has enough popular support to withstand the forces arrayed against it. Indeed, it seems to be winning the war.
Stanly Johny chimed in, 30 August 2013:
The Assad government says it is rebels who used chemical weapons. Backers of the regime asks why it should use such weapons at a time when it’s already making gains in the civil war.
Ajamu Baraka thought Hillary Clinton much more dangerous than Donald Trump. Last year he was the Green Party vice presidential candidate and together with his running mate, Jill Stein, they diverted enough progressive votes to put Trump in the White House, but in 2013 he was part of the Assad didn't do it chorus, 2 September 2013:
The justification for this breech of the United Nations Charter is based on the dubious claims made by an insurgency, armed and trained by those same western powers and their regional allies, that a chemical attack was launched by the al-Assad government. An attack that illogically and irrationally took place at the precise moment the Syrian government was clearly winning the war against the so-called rebel forces and when United Nations inspectors were already in the country.
Now do you see the problem with this argument? It seems rather lame to have argued after the 2013 sarin attack that Assad wouldn't have done it because he was on the verge of winning, and then come back after the civil war has been raging on for another four years to make that same argument, that he wouldn't have done it in April 2017 because he is still on the verge of winning. It just has a kind of "fool me twice, shame on me" feel to it. So maybe we should start looking at some reasons why Assad may have used sarin.

In past blog posts, I have pointed out that chemical weapons, while relatively ineffective against a prepared enemy force, are a preferred weapon for use in the suppression of rebellious civilian populations because it can injure or kill people without destroying property. For precisely that reason, milder chemical agents like tear gas and pepper spray are legal and used by almost every government on the planet. Given the growing intensity of the class struggle worldwide, it is not much of a stretch to imagine a bourgeois desire to bring back stronger toxics, and a plan to use the Syrian conflict to normalize their return. This is in fact, what has been happening. Chemical weapons, once effectively banned, have now been used dozens and dozens of times in the past 5 years, and not just in Syria anymore.

Since Assad's concerns are more immediate, I don't think his desire to normalize the use of CW would play a big role in his decision to use them, but I do think those with broader concerns, in Moscow, Tehran, and even Washington, might see the normalization of CW use as a big win, and be willing to push Assad in that direction. That argument applies to all the CW attacks but also explains why some must be so massive and graphic as to make the news. If people don't know chemical weapons are being used with impunity, their return can't be normalize.

With regards to this most recent attack and response, the cui bono question gets much more complicated. Clearly Donald Trump benefited big time. Before the sarin deaths and his cruise missile response, he was way down in the polls. Most importantly, things had been coming to a head in the investigation into his ties to Putin. Trump's Nunes gambit had fallen apart, and although we didn't know it at the time, Paul Manafort was preparing to register as a foreign agent, we were about to find out that a FISA warrant had been issued on Carter Page, European intelligence agencies were about to weigh in, and much, much more. He badly needed to be rescued. Just about any mass casualty event that allowed him to look presidential would do, and Assad, at Putin's prodding, was only too happy to help him out. I admit this scenario is highly conspiratorial and therefore pretty unlikely. It sees Assad doing the sarin attack so that Trump could bomb the empty airbase and have a big show of falling out with Russia, proving to everyone that there couldn't possibly be any collusion between Trump and Putin. Assad isn't the prime beneficiary in this scenario either, again he would be doing it at the behest of a patron, but that happens quite often. Those gifts are rarely free.

But perhaps the best argument for why Assad would use sarin again in spite of all the downsides, can be found in a couple of tweets I saw this morning:



These tweets mean that after all these years, and all they have been through, the revolutionary cultural movement we have come to associate with Kafranbel is not dead. That means the people's democratic movement that is the Syrian Revolution is not dead! Shooting unarmed protesters couldn't kill it. The arrests and tortures in his Gulag couldn't break it. His sarin attack on a Damascus suburb in 2013 couldn't kill it. He unleashed the jihadists but ISIS couldn't kill it. All his barrel bombs and cluster bombs since couldn't kill it. Even with massive military aid from Russia and Iran, they still can't kill it, and the cowardly attack on the civilian convoy won't break it either! To hear Assad, and his supporters tell it, he has been on the verge of winning since day one, and here we are, having sacrificed six years and half a million Syrian lives, and he still can't kill it!

That is because the spirit of revolution lives in the hearts of the people. It is not a question of numbers killed or territory conquered, as long as the flames of liberty remain alive in the people, the revolution is not defeated. In point of fact, it can never be defeated, only delayed. Braking the revolution requires breaking the people's spirit. This is why such horrific violence is employed against civilians. LBJ-Nixon thought they could whip the rebellion out of the Vietnamese and killed more than three million trying. Assad has killed a half million of his own people and still they will not bow down to him. A sarin attack, especially if there is no effective response from the world, is extremely demoralizing, and after six years he is becoming increasingly desperate and willing to try anything. I think that is the main reason why he used sarin on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, 4 April 2017.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Did Trump just kill thousands of people in Afghanistan?

MOAB blast radius on New York City
The big news yesterday was that United States President Donald Trump dropped the largest bomb on people since the atomic bombs dropped on Japan to end World War II. The MOAB also known as the mother of all bombs, is the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal. It has a blast radius of more than a mile, which is to say that if it were set off in lower Manhattan it would destroy most everything on the lower half of the island. Fortunately, it didn't go off in New York City, it went off in the Achin district of Nangarhar, Afghanistan. We are told that the MOAB was tasked with taking out a deep ISIS tunnel network, and early reports say that 36 ISIS members were killed.
So far there has been little talk of civilian casualties and the feeling is given that this was an isolated mountain valley up in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan with nobody around except these terrorists. Otherwise Trump never would have used a weapon designed for Iraq but never used by Bush or Obama for fear of massive collateral damage, right?

Even in the time I have to Google before work this morning, I have found something that indicates that may not be the case. Pajhwok Afghan News put the population of the district at 150,000 less than a year ago:
Why Daesh chose Achin district as its base in Afghanistan

By Pajhwok
May 09, 2016 - 18:01
JALALABAD (Pajhwok): The Islamic State (IS) -- or so called Daesh -- has chosen the Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province as its headquarters for a variety of reasons.

The district’s proximity to the Durand Line, a contested borderline haunted by militants of all stripes, and easy weapons and logistical supply routes seem to have driven the rebel group’s choice of its HQ..

Geography and tribal structure

Achin district is located 35 kilometers southeast of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar. The Durand Line, Kurram Tribal Agency and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lie cheek by jowl with Nazyan Kot, Ghanikhel and Spin Ghar and Achin district.

Achin has an area of 350 square kilometers and a population of 150,000 --all of them Pashtuns from Shinwari and Alisher Khel tribes. Majority of residents of the district are reliant on agricultural, cultivating wheat, maize, potatoes, cotton, onion and others crops.

Where Daesh fighters came from

A source close to the group confided to Pajhwok Afghan News that five years ago when Pakistani forces launched operations in Orakzai and Khyber agencies, families of Daesh fighters started sneaking into Achin. Most of them were Pakistani militants.

The rebels then built seminaries and cultivated local residents, as well as the Taliban, the source said, adding the predominantly Salafi fighter gradually joined forces with Daesh. The move caused differences within the Taliban groups.

Salafis from Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and a number other provinces joined Daesh in Achin and converted the district into their stronghold. Daesh wanted to extend sweep to the north through Sarobi and Tagab districts, but its plans had been foiled by Afghan and foreign forces, the source revealed.

Despite losing many dreaded commanders and leaders, Daesh still has several training centres in Achin. Nangarhar police spokesman, Col. Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal said: “Daesh has chosen Achin as its base where the rebels could easily receive supplies from across the Durand Line.” More...
For those interested in what ISIS is going in Afghanistan, this article is well worth reading in full. The point I want to make is that this was no empty place, no doubt civilian were killed and the potential that thousands were killed is real and the media should stop acting like that is not even an issue until we know a lot more. Clearly, this was an important ISIS stronghold, but if thousands of civilians were slaughtered in the process of wiping it out, it will prove to be both a humanitarian and political disaster.



Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Democracy Now debuts new lie about Khan Sheikhoun sarin attack

Almost from the beginning, opinions about the cause of the sarin attack that killed more than 80 civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, 4 April 2017, have fallen into two camps. Most media outlets, intelligence agencies and governments have agreed with reports from eye witnesses on the ground that what happened was that a Syrian jet dropped a sarin bomb on them.

The Assad regime, and its supporters in Moscow, don't dispute the fact that a Syria warplane dropped something or that civilians died from sarin, but they say that the chemicals came from a terrorist warehouse that was bombed with a conventional bomb, and it was the stuff in the warehouse that did the real damage. RT.com stated, 4 April 2017:
The Syrian Air Force has destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province where chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped to Iraq, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, Konashenkov said. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there, he added, pointing out that both Iraq and international organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.
Sputnik News stated 12 April 2017:
MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Russia stands by its assertion that the Syrian forces struck a militant chemical weapons production facility on April 4, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday.
"According to our absolutely reliable information, the point at issue are Syrian Arab Republic air force's Su-22 airstrikes on a site controlled by terrorists where chemicals were produced," Ryabkov told reporters.
Using that logic, the US could have gone ahead and bombed the dikes in North Vietnam, something it never did, and then denied responsibility for the mass drownings because it didn't drop any water. The best that can be said of the Assad/Russian explanation is that if it happened as they insist, then they took advantage of preexisting conditions to cause the chemical massacre of civilians.

Perhaps seeing the weakness of this original lie, or more likely because the whole sarin in the "terrorist warehouse" thesis is falling apart, today Democracy Now floated a third explanation that the conspiracy theorists will love. Now the new story is that the terrorists released the sarin in the street to implicated the Assad regime and get western support. If that sounds familiar, you were alive in 2013. To promote this new story, host Amy Goodman brought in a well known pair of Putin apologists, Stephen Cohen,  a contributing editor at The Nation magazine, and Jonathan Steele, former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian. Steele led off in introducing this new thesis:
JONATHAN STEELE: But as Lavrov pointed out in his remarks with Tillerson when they were having their joint press conference, the Syrian government has written to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, offering an inquiry, offering access to the airfield that was hit by the American cruise missiles, but also calling, quite legitimately, for the rebels to give access to the site where the sarin gas was used, to see whether indeed it was caused by an airstrike or caused by somebody on the ground who was doing a dirty trick to try and discredit the Syrian government.
This is indeed a very new tact because, as we see above, the official Russian/Assad version is that they released the sarin when they bombed the warehouse that was storing it. Amy Goodman quickly reminded him that this explanation has already been disproved:
AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian examined the warehouse and silos directly next to where the missile had landed. And Shaheen says they, quote, "found nothing but an abandoned space covered in dust and half-destroyed silos reeking of leftover grain and animal manure." He went on to write, quote, "Residents said the silos had been damaged in air raids six months ago, and had stood unused since then." Your response?
The warehouse was an important food source for this rebellious community. No doubt that is why it was bombed. It was left empty because the people know that if they tried to use it, it would just be bombed again.

Amy could have added that the missile crater was in the street, not in the warehouse. There was no recent strike on the empty warehouse. In any case, Steele had to concede the point, which would mean that the story being told by the Assad regime and the Russians is false, even if this new theory is plausible. This is a point nobody bothered to raise on Democracy Now because they are hoping to slip the new lie in over the disproved lie without anybody noticing:
JONATHAN STEELE: Well, that’s true. I mean, that report is accurate. But the crucial evidence is: Where did the sarin gas come from? 
That quickly he concedes that Damascus and Moscow have been lying about the murder of 80+ civilians with sarin. However, he is ready to advance a whole new theory in defense of Assad, and remember, this is a man who thinks a question is evidence:
And Professor Theodore Postol of MIT has just come out with a report trying to discredit the White House statement of the day before, a four-page White House statement. And Postol argues that the 122-millimeter rocket tube that is lying on the ground, that has been shown to reporters and others who’ve come to the site, was not broken open by impact with the ground, but by something that crashed onto it from above. That suggests it has to have been broken by somebody standing on the ground, putting explosives onto it from above, rather than being something that was dropped from an aircraft from on high.
We know from his past work, as well as from this statement that Postol has a very biased view. He is out to discredit the White House statement which repeats what the Syrians under attack said happened. The Democracy Now crowd would rather leave the Syrians out of this, so they only address the claims of Western sources.

Democracy Now co-host Nermeen Shaikh asked Cohen to weigh in:
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Stephen Cohen, I’d like to ask you: If, in fact, as Russia and the Assad regime claim, they had nothing to do with this chemical weapons attack, what do they believe—who do they believe is responsible?
But they didn't claim they had nothing to do with it, Shaikh. They said they bombed a warehouse containing CW in a civilian area on purpose. That was their story. Cohen seemed to have forgotten that too:
STEPHEN COHEN: Well, we come back to where we began. That’s what they asked Tillerson. They showed him their intelligence, which corresponds to what Jonathan says. And, by the way, Jonathan Steele is one of the preeminent journalistic authorities on Russia and knows a lot about the Middle East. I take very seriously what he told you.
So Cohen strokes Steele, and backs up his story, claiming the Russian showed Tillerson the evidence, and just like that ---- they've replaced the lie about the bomb in the terrorist warehouse full of chemical weapons with a new one about how the terrorist released the sarin in the street.

They are helping the child killers, and they do it all with a straight face.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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