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WHO on Douma

Jordan Peterson, a fellow Torontonian who is obviously not shy about challenging authority, recently cited the World Health Organization (WHO) on Douma chemical attacks as follows:

WHO says: “Bombs were dropped at two locations in Douma. Within hours, more than 500 people were exhibiting symptoms consistent with suffocation by poison gas.”

On such a controversial issue, it is entirely understandable why Peterson (or any other concerned person) would look to WHO for an unbiased and authoritative opinion.

However, in this case, reliance was unjustified. WHO did not have any personnel in Douma and did not carry out any due diligence or verification prior to issuing its statement. (Its published statement was very caveated, but the caveats were ignored in nearly all media reports on the WHO statement.)  WHO did not disclose its sources, but they appear to be primarily two medical NGOs, Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), which are active in parts of Syria controlled by Al Qaeda and allied jihadists e.g. Jaish al-Islam then in control of Douma. However, neither of these NGOs appears to have actually had employees present in Douma on April 7.

In this article, I’ll closely examine the actual sources for the UOSSM, SAMS, VDC and WHO statements, finding that the claims in their statements are typically third- or even fourth-hand, often inconsistent, often derived only from Jaish al-Islam social media. Worst of all, the chemical symptoms attributed to patients by supposedly authoritative organizations do not appear to originate from local medical staff, but from jihadist media activists who were merely reciting stereotyped lists.  These were then passed in several stages to western media, in a modern social media version of Pass The Telephone.

 

 

Original Videos and Photos

Douma was heavily bombed through April 7, resulting in massive fires. Many victims of bombing, smoke inhalation and suffocation were reported through the day. From time to time, Jaish al-Islam social media activists alleged use of chemicals during the day, as they did frequently.

The situation was transformed by the publication of photos of dead bodies in a contorted pile, published just before 11 pm Damascus time (19:53Z) by Jaish al-Islam social media (Douma Revolution, Yaser al-Doumani, Fadi Abdullah, mofak_1994).  Photos and videos of patients at the emergency ward of the Douma main hospital were published just before midnight Damascus time (21:00Z), also by Jaish al-Islam activist social media. The photos and videos were disseminated on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, together with harsh commentary on the number of dead and sickened.

UOSSM official Zaher Sahloul (tweets here) and SAMS official Mohamed Khatoub, both located outside of Syria, participated actively in social media throughout April 7 and 8, both personally and through their institutions, playing an important role in disseminating Jaish al-Islam photos, videos and allegations to western media and the US government.  Sahloul, for example, re-tweeted original Jaish al-Islam victim photos within half an hour of their uploading and re-tweeted the first Jaish al-Islam victim video within 10 minutes of its uploading, copying it to international media ( @cnni @BBCWorld @FoxNews @FRANCE24) and sympathetic US government (@nikkihaley @statedeptspox [Heather Nauert] @IvankaTrump).

UOSSM Statement, April 7 21:25Z

Less than half an hour after the first hospital photos and videos, less than half an hour after the first victim video and less than 1.5 hours after the first victim photos, at 21:25Z on April 7 (just after midnight Damascus), UOSSM issued a statement from Washington (announced by tweet).  The statement included a video link to a copy of the initial Douma Revolution victim video (which had been uploaded to Youtube at 20:49Z, less than half an hour earlier).

The relevant section of the statement was as follows (subsequent paragraphs were rhetoric and did not provide any new facts):

A massive chemical weapon attack was just reported in Douma, Eastern Ghouta today. Early reports indicate 25 people have been killed and over 500 civilians have been injured with the numbers set to rise. Many of the victims were children. The attack coincides with numerous attacks on medical facilities in Douma today rendering the largest hospital out of service and a Red Crescent medical facility heavily damaged.  The damage inflicted was amplified by the large number of internally displaced people, forced to crowd tightly together in shelters. There are an estimated 170,000 people remaining in Douma served by a small number of doctors and medical staff.
 …
** Communication and medical verification in Douma is extremely limited due to the siege.
While this statement included the claim that “numerous” health facilities had been attacked during the day of April 7, but not the additional embellishment that they had been attacked using “highly toxic chemicals”.  It included the specific claim that the “largest hospital” in Douma (the facility shown in the hospital videos) had been rendered “out of service” and that a Red Crescent “medical facility” had been “heavily damaged”. These particular claims are ones that could be objectively verified.
The figure of “500” used in the WHO statement also occurs in this statement: “over 500 civilians injured” (WHO:  500 “exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals”). The UOSSM statement reported 25 deaths (WHO: a total of “more than 70”, of which “43 related” to chemical symptoms).
UOSSM did not provide any sources for their claims.  There is no evidence of any attempt by UOSSM to independently verify any of these claims, all of which appear to be entirely based on Jaish al-Islam social media.
VDC

The Violations Documentation Center published a web article on April 8, purporting to describe the chemical attack. They reported 45 deaths from two chemical incidents: 25 from incident 2 at Saada Bakery and 20 from incident 3 at Martyrs’ Square.

Their article began with a report that the Red Crescent ambulance service was “rendered out of service” through bombing early in the afternoon of April 7. It did not attribute the damage to a chemical attack, an embellishment that appears to have originated with the WHO.

Saturday, April 7, 2018 at approximately 12pm (0900Z): A Red Crescent center in Douma is targeted with two guided missiles and several barrel bombs. The center is immediately rendered out of service and ambulances are destroyed. The only remaining service for transporting the wounded in Douma is the civil defence. Syrian warplanes continue to drop barrel bombs that disrupt the travel of civil defense vehicles and rescue teams who are transporting the wounded due to lack of ambulance services. Majed Kamel (pseudonym), a member of the Red Crescent in Douma, told the VDC:

“At around 12pm on Saturday, April 7, the Red Crescent center in Douma was targeted with two missiles via an air raid. The center went out of service completely and the ambulances were destroyed. These were the last ambulances available in Douma. We began to rely on the civil defence’s vehicles to rescue the wounded.”

The next attack in their report was a supposed chemical attack targeting the Saada Bakery in the late afternoon, as a result of which VDC reported approximately 25 casualties, though they were unable to locate the “chlorine rocket”:

Saturday, April 7, 2018 at approximately 4pm [1300Z]: The Syrian air force targets Saada Bakery on Omar Ibn Al-Khattab street in with an airstrike suspected to have contained poisonous gas. Said Rajeh (pseudonym), a member of the civil defence civil defense crews, told the VDC:

“At the start of the chemical attacks, the smell of chlorine reached the center of the city of Douma. We could not determine the area where the chlorine rocket had fallen. Dead bodies were on the streets, the wounded were bleeding badly, and the medical crews were not sufficient for the large amount of cases.”

“We later discovered the bodies of people who had suffocated from toxic gases. They were in closed spaces, sheltering from the barrel bombs, which may have caused their quick death as no one heard their screams. Some of them were apparently trying to reach an open space because we found their bodies on the stairs.”

Social media from Douma, even Jaish al-Islam social media, document heavy conventional bombing, severe fires through the afternoon and numerous fatalities, some (perhaps many) of which would be due to suffocation in the fires.

The last paragraph of VDC’s account of April 7 almost certainly refers to the discovery of dead bodies that was lavishly documented in videos and photos uploaded by Jaish al-Islam social media at approximately 11 pm (2000Z), approximately 7 hours after the alleged attack on Saada Bakery.

However, there are some important inconsistencies between VDC and the video/photo evidence. Contrary to the bodies being found in basements (as claimed by WHO) or “closed spaces” (VDC), where they were believed to have been trapped by toxic gases, the bodies in the videos and photos were all found above ground: the largest number in a first floor apartment only a few steps from the street, with four bodies actually located in the open street outside the building. Two bodies were indeed found in a stairwell leading down to the open street. Their inability to reach the street (as well as the others) is hard to explained given the relatively low and slow toxicity of chlorine.  One victim, after reaching the open street, unaccountably placed himself on a stretcher and covered himself with a blanket.

In addition, the location of the discovered dead bodies is inconsistent with an attack in the area of Saada Bakery.   In the top panel, I’ve shown an excerpt from the VDC location map: Saada Bakery is at the center of the area 2. (Area 3 in this location map shows a 7:30 pm incident which will be described below the figure). In the bottom panel, I’ve shown the same area as depicted in Wikimapia, marking areas 2 and 3 with a yellow circle. The location of the massacre house (which was firmly located  subsequent to the VDC report) is shown as a solid red dot. It is located 560 meters to the east of Saada Bakery. This is much too far for any causal connection between the attack in the Saada Bakery area and the dead bodies in the massacre house, which cannot be attributed to the Saada Bakery attack.

The third incident described by VDC was an attack on Martyrs’ Square near the mosque on the south-east corner of the major intersection at 7:30 pm (16:30Z). Whereas the 4 pm incident was supposedly connected to the dead bodies in the victim videos, the 7:30 pm incident was supposedly connected to the hospital videos and photos uploaded around midnight, about 4 1/2 hours later.

VDC’s report was based on two sources: an anonymous doctor and Dr Mohamed Khatoub, a SAMS official located in Turkey. The anonymous doctor described events as follows:

Saturday, April 7, 2018at approximately 7:30pm [16:30Z]The Syrian air force targets Martyrs’ Square near the Numan Mosque in Douma with an airstrike suspected to have contained poisonous gas. Dr. Jamal Rafie (pseudonym), told the VDC that the symptoms that he saw on patients “do not resemble chlorine attack symptoms. Chlorine alone cannot induce such symptoms because while it does cause suffocation, it does not affect the nerves. There were symptoms indicative of organic phosphorus compounds in the sarin gas category. But the smell of chlorine was also present in the place.”

Although chlorine and nerve agents (e.g. sarin) present quite different symptoms, the doctor appears to have wanted to please advocates of either: a gas that smelled like chlorine, but acted like sarin.

VDC reported Katoub’s evidence as follows:

Dr. Mohammed Kuttoub from the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) told the VDC that his colleagues in Eastern Ghouta saw symptoms on people that include: “pinpoint pupils, slow heartbeat, slow breathing, heavy foaming from the mouth and nose, and the burning of the cornea in some cases.”

Since Katoub was in Turkey, his evidence was (at a minimum) second-hand. His evidence also referred to living patients at the hospital and medical centers (slow heartbeat, slow breathing) rather than to the dead victims in the videos.

In other words, VDC’s information on symptoms was a combination of third-hand information via a SAMS official and inconsistent second-hand information from an anonymous doctor.

Joint SAMS-White Helmets Statement, April 8 07:57Z

Early in the morning of April 8 ( 07:57Z), the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and White Helmets issued a joint statement (announced and linked by a SAMS tweet here). It began by acknowledging that Douma had been “subjected to heavy shelling” that had resulted in “dozens” of deaths and “hundreds” of injured. It asserted that the shelling had resulted in destruction of the “majority” of emergency service centers and many ambulances:

Washington, D.C.- Following a brief ceasefire that only lasted for a couple of days, the city of Douma, East Ghouta, was again subjected to heavy shelling that resulted in dozens of casualties and hundreds of injuries. The attacks included the systematic targeting of medical centers and civil defense teams, resulting in the  the destruction of the majority of the civil defense centers and a large number of ambulances and rescue vehicles, heavily paralyzing the medical capacity of the city.

It then stated that “more than 500 cases” “with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent” had been “brought to local medical centers”, including a description of their supposed symptoms. Its statement was accompanied by two photos (shown below), both of which, though bearing a SAMS watermark, actually originated with Jaish al-Islam social media (top here; bottom here). They described patients as follows:

On Saturday, April 7th, at 7:45 PM local time, amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighborhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases -the majority of whom are women and children- were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent. Patients have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor. During clinical examination, medical staff observed bradycardia, wheezing and coarse bronchial sounds.

One of the injured was declared dead on arrival. Other patients were treated with humidified oxygen and bronchodilators, after which their condition improved.In several cases involving more severe exposure to the chemical agents, medical staff put patients on a ventilator, including four children. Six casualties were reported at the center, one of whom was a woman who had convulsions and pinpoint pupils.

The first sentence is almost exactly equivalent to the later WHO statement, which reported “an estimated 500 patients presented to health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals“. The symptoms listed in the SAMS-White Helmet statement substantially correspond with Katoub’s statement to VDC.  The symptoms listed by WHO (“severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems”) appear to be derived from this information.

The SAMS-White Helmets statement continued:

SAMS has documented 43 casualties with similar clinical symptoms of excessive oral foaming, cyanosis, and corneal burns. Civil Defense volunteers were unable to evacuate the bodies due to the intensity of the odor and the lack of protective equipment. The reported symptoms indicate that the victims suffocated from the exposure to toxic chemicals, most likely an organophosphate element.

Following the chemical attack, the target site and the surrounding area of the hospital receiving the injured were attacked with barrel bombs, which hindered the ability of the ambulances to reach the victims.

This figure of “43” is almost certainly the source of WHO’s “43 … deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”, as this specific number of deaths doesn’t (to my knowledge) appear elsewhere in social media.  None of the various videographers, photographers or their companions wore protective equipment for their photo and video sessions in the evening of April 7, other than one White Helmet ostentatiously dressing up in a gas mask for a single photo. Four of the bodies were located on the street outside the building (though this was not known until details in the April 7 videos were matched against street scenes taken the following day.)While foaming is evident in many bodies, the quality of this evidence is diminished by the fact that, for at least two bodies, foam is not present in the earliest video, only in later videos.

April 8-9, UOSSM
During the night of April 8-9, UOSSM gave a revised estimate of 70 deaths to BBC (here, linked from tweet):
The Union of Medical Relief Organizations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, told the BBC the Damascus Rural Specialty Hospital had confirmed 70 deaths.
The same BBC article reported the same number from White Helmets (noting that they had deleted an earlier claim of 150 deaths):
“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets. An earlier, now deleted tweet, put the number dead at more than 150.
Later in the day of Apr 9, UOSSM issued a supplementary statement, reducing their estimate to 42 deaths, more or less matching the figure of 43 deaths issued by SAMS the previous day.

42 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds affected by the chemical attack on Douma in eastern Ghouta on Saturday April 7. Many of the victims were women and children and experienced symptoms consistent with inhaling toxic gas.

*Earlier, UOSSM reported 70 confirmed dead, but due to conflicting reports, and difficulty gathering data we are confident that at least 42 are confirmed dead, those numbers are expected to rise. Some of the symptoms victims experienced include: cyanosis, foaming of the mouth, cornea irritation, and the strong odor of a chlorine like substance.

In this revised statement, UOSSM used the phrase “symptoms consistent with inhaling toxic gas”, paraphrasing the SAMS statement. Their list of symptoms similarly paraphrased items 2-5 in the SAMS list (“central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor”).  UOSSM’s claims do not appear to be primary, but entirely derived from other sources.
On April 16, Tawfik Chamaa, Secretary of UOSSM, was interviewed on French television.

WHO, April 11

First, I’ll review the widely cited World Health Organization statement issued on April 11, both to (1) trace the sources of its claims; and (2) discuss information on their validity (or not).  The relevant paragraphs are excerpted below.  (The WHO statement contained several additional paragraphs abhorring the attack, but without additional facts or evidence supporting or expanding beyond the sparse paragraphs quoted below.)

WHO concerned about suspected chemical attacks in Syria

Statement
11 April 2018

WHO is deeply alarmed by reports of the suspected use of toxic chemicals in Douma city, East Ghouta.

According to reports from Health Cluster partners, during the shelling of Douma on Saturday, an estimated 500 patients presented to health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals. In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed.

More than 70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals. Two health facilities were also reportedly affected by these attacks.

Several issues on the provenance of these claims, which go to how much confidence can be placed in them:

  • first and importantly, WHO did not themselves conduct any independent due diligence or verification on any of its claims in respect to the number or symptoms of patients attending health facilities, but relied entirely on “reports from Health Cluster partners”. Who were these “Health Cluster partners” and how reliable were they?
  • similarly, they did not have first hand knowledge of the number of deaths of “people sheltering in basements”, or the number of those deaths attributable to “highly toxic chemicals”. They qualify both assertions with the word “reportedly”, but did not provide any sources.
  • thirdly, WHO did not have first hand knowledge that “two health facilities” were attacked with “highly toxic chemicals”. This claim is almost certainly untrue and refutable even on the video record. What was the origin of the WHO claims?

There is no doubt that Douma was subject to intensive bombing on April 7 or that this bombing caused massive fires or that people suffocated from the fires, many of whom died.  The issue is whether any of the deaths or suffocation were caused by chlorine or nerve agents.

One can surmise that the “Health Cluster partners” were UOSSM, Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) and White Helmets, all of which are closely allied with jihadist organizations in Syria. In addition, neither UOSSM nor SAMS appears to have had any official employees in Douma on April 7. As a result, statements by UOSSM and SAMS appear to derive entirely or almost entirely from White Helmets and/or Jaish al-Islam social media. Each of their statements needs to be analysed both as to (1) whether they justify/support WHO assertions; (2) whether they are based on first hand information; (3) whether they are consistent with other evidence.

Discussion
Peterson’s quotation did not actually come from WHO itself, but from an article in the National Post, in which reporter Terry Glavine purported to summarize claims originating with  WHO, UOSSM and VDC.

Believe Robert Fisk and your conscience will not trouble you, and you won’t have to believe the World Health Organization, the Syria Violations Documentation Centre or the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations [UOSSM]. This is what they say: Bombs were dropped at two locations in Douma. Within hours, more than 500 people were exhibiting symptoms consistent with suffocation by poison gas. At least 42 people died.

But did WHO (or the others) really say that?

 

Jaish al-Islam is the jihadist faction which controlled Douma for the past seven years. Zahran Alloush, their founder and inspirational leader, was virulently Wahhabist, calling for ethnic cleansing and extermination of Rafidi (Shia) and Alawites and a return to sharia law.  About four years ago, Jaish al-Islam was reported to have captured about 4000 Shia from the village of Adra and used them as slaves in construction of a vast system of underground tunnels. The rescue of these prisoners was a priority of the Syrian government. Knowing this, Jaish al-Islam notoriously paraded captive women in cages to discourage government air attacks. When the long-sought prisoner exchange recently took place, it turned out that only a few hundred prisoners had

UOSSM, like SAMS, is an NGO which supports medical services in areas of Syria controlled by Al Qaeda and other Salafists (but not in government-controlled areas fighting Al Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban-equivalents).  UOSSM’s chairman, Dr. Ghanem Tayara, is a general practitioner in Birmingham, England.

Discussion
While evidence from numerous Douma medical staff has been totally discounted in western media, VDC’s supposed evidence is much slighter in comparison.

In recent interviews, numerous Douma medical staff stated unequivocally that the hospital had NOT been subjected to a chemical attack and that none of their patients on April 7 had demonstrated symptoms of a chemical attack. They unanimously described the events in the photos and videos as having been staged by White Helmets, who had brought videographers and photographers to the emergency ward with them. They said that the White Helmets had, seemingly on cue, yelled out that there was a chemical attack and began washing protocols. Then, after obtaining their videos, they departed as quickly as they arrived.

There is nothing in the hospital videos that contradicts this description. The events in the videos cover a very short period of time and involve a limited number of people. White Helmets are everywhere – mostly not doing very much. None of the doctors or nurses (or the numerous White Helmets or pre-arranged videographers and photographers) take any precautions against nerve agents (or chlorine) and none suffered any damage.

Nor do any of these symptoms described by Dr Khatoub exist in the widely disseminated photo and video evidence. None of the hospital photos or videos show the slightest evidence of “pinpoint pupils” characteristic of nerve agents or “heavy foaming from the mouth and nose” or “burning of the cornea”. On the contrary, the children all appear perfectly healthy, other than the discomfort of being splashed with cold water by adult men, with their big earnest eyes being the exact opposite of Katoub’s “pinpoint pupils”.

 3 people, people sitting 1 person, sitting

 

Two questions:

  • which claims

Their statement does not contain any claims which were not previously asserted in Jaish al-Islam social media:

  • the figure of “500 casualties” was claimed by Jaish al-Islam activist Yaser al-Doumani more than four hours earlier at 16:57Z (well before the hospital and victim videos).
  • the claim that the “the largest hospital [was] out of service” was untrue – as shown by videos from the emergency ward from that hospital that were so widely disseminated.  The claim that https://twitter.com/MhdKatoub/status/982599511058124800 12:42Z Assad warplanes attacked 2 hospitals and Syrian Red Crescent center in #Douma in the past 24 hours.
  • https://twitter.com/UOSSMUS/status/982687424173273088  same as WH photo. RT SahloulUOSSM sources on the ground say 6 people killed and 700 suffocation cases from a reported chemical attack on Douma, Ghouta; Largest area hospital destroyed

 

with the conspicuous exception of pinpoint pupils (miosis), perhaps the most characteristic symptom of nerve agents, while adding cyanosis (bluish discoloration), another characteristic of nerve agents. Neither list included two important characteristics of nerve agent impact: loss of bowel control or convulsions (neither of which was in the videos).  The SAMS-White Helmet statement also wanted to give fodder to both chlorine and sarin advocates, as it (inconsistently) offered nerve agent type symptoms with a chlorine-like odor.

 

Khatoub to VDC SAMS-WH Statement
slow breathing respiratory distress
central cyanosis (bluish)
pinpoint pupils
slow heartbeat bradycardia
heavy foaming from the mouth and nose excessive oral foaming
 burning of the cornea corneal burns
emission of chlorine-like odor

The WHO statement was less specific but connected to these lists. It stated that the “500” patients had experienced “disruption to central nervous systems”; “respiratory failure”

severe irritation of mucous membranes,  and  of those exposed

  • respiratory distress (SAMS)  =>  respiratory failure (WHO)
  • central cyanosis  =>

Figures of “500 casualties” were widespread in Jaish al-Islam social media on April 7, but the WHO claim is more specific: that these “500” “patients” attended “health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals [with] signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed.” These claims are obviously contradictory to statements from Douma medical staff who, in various venues, have denied that any patients on April 7 exhibited symptoms of a chemical attack, instead saying that symptoms of their patients were those of ordinary war (including smoke inhalation from fires.) None of the White Helmet hospital videos show evidence of patients with “severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed”. On the contrary, miosis (characteristic of nerve agents) was distinctly absent from patients in the hospital videos, all of eyes were bright, alert and attractive.

None of the victim videos showed bodies from people “sheltering in basements”. On the contrary, all the bodies in the massacre house were on the first floor, second floor, open stairwell or even on the street outside (one already on a stretcher). None were located in a basement. It is by no means certain that the people died in the precise location where their bodies were displayed in the first videos and photos. Indeed, even between videos, bodies were moved into more photogenic locations.  They stated that “43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”, but did not state which symptoms they had in mind”. Many dead bodies displayed profuse foaming from their mouths.  However, in at least a few cases, bodies, which lacked foam in the earliest video, displayed plentiful foam in later videos. Such post-mortem foaming is “consistent with” foam being manually applied to already dead bodies.

Further, there is zero evidence for the specific claim that two health facilities were “affected” by “attacks” by “highly toxic chemicals”.  Douma doctors and medical staff flatly repudiated the claim that their facilities had been subject to a chemical attack – pointing not least to their own survival without protective equipment.

 

 

 

 

The same Jaish al-Islam videographers and social media accounts were also responsible for taking and initial distribution of the videos and photos of approximately 40 dead bodies in a single small apartment building, which were disseminated more or less concurrently with the hospital videos. The combination of the hospital videos with the apartment videos made the overall impression even more forceful.

Remarkably, the very same Jaish al-Islam social media also introduced the figures of 500 (or alternatively 1000) casualties (“wounded”,”injured”) from the chemical attack. In the rest of this article, I’ll show how these figures, more or less fabricated by Fadi Abdullah, Yaser al-Doumani and/or their associates, were disseminated to the west by, each embellishing the original jihadist fabrications, and by the World Health Organization, which unwisely embroiled itself in this incident without making any attempt at verification. Then, as we all know, this social media version of “Pass the Telephone” was used in US, UK and French intelligence assessments to justify bombing Syrian government forces, which were actively fighting the jihadist groups that the US government is supposedly fighting.

 

, but relied on  Each statement was qualified as “reportedly” or “suspected”.  As it stands, there are serious issues with each assertion:

  • Douma medical staff have universally  denied that they received any patients exhibiting symptoms of a chemical attack. Because WHO did not verify the allegations, their assertion of an “estimated 500 patients” is only as strong as their sources. Unfortunately,
  • 35 (maybe ~40) bodies were discovered in a single small apartment building, but NONE of the dead bodies were discovered “sheltering in basements”.  Where did this misinformation arise? WHO did not identify the symptoms that it had in mind as being “consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”. I’ll discuss the related evidence from UOSSM and SAMS-White Helmets.
  • WHO did not say which “two health facilities” were “affected” by the alleged chemical attack. The medical staff at Douma medical center specifically denied any chemical attack on their hospital. The opposing allegations again depend on UOSSM and SAMS-White Helmets.

 

For someone trying to form a good faith opinion on what happened in Douma, the issue is not trying to decide between the seemingly authoritative World Health Organization statement and contradictory statements by actual Douma medical staff, who may or may not be subject to coercion or influence, but between the statements by actual Douma medical staff and unverified claims by jihadist-sympathizing NGOs or, worse, White Helmets themselves.

However, when examined in detail, the notorious hospital videos are themselves strong evidence in favor of the doctors’ narrative. The original hospital videos total only a few minutes in length and all pertain to a single incident (characters being easily traceable from one video to the next). None of the patients in the video display the pinprick pupils characteristic of nerve agent attacks; none are coughing up blood; none display convulsions. Underneath the commotion, everyone is surprisingly healthy looking.   Viewed in the perspective of doctors’ evidence, the videos are entirely consistent with the incident being a jihadi flash mob, just as described by the doctors.

The videos were taken by two Jaish al-Islam videographers (Fadi Abdullah of Douma Revolution and Yaser al-Doumani), apparently working together. They (and related photos) were first released on jihadist social media (Facebook, Twitter and Youtube) for Douma Revolution and Yaser al-Doumani.

 

[1] https://twitter.com/RevolutionSyria/status/982592455852904448

 

About a week ago, I had become intrigued at where the figure of 500 (or sometimes 1000) casualties had originated. Having closely examined jihadist and NGO social media, the figure first occurs, not in hospital reports, but with the very same Jaish al-Islam propaganda arms which first published the hospital and victim videos. The figures were propagated by officials of two virulently anti-Syrian pseudo-NGOs: Syrian American Medical Society(SAMS) and UOSSM, backed respectively by the US and French governments. None of the officials involved in the propagation were even present in Douma. They not merely disseminated Jaish al-Islam assertions, but further embellished them. The World Health Organization exacerbated the misinformation in an editorial denunciation of the alleged chemical attack. Its editorial included caveats, which were immediately ignored as the figures entered into mainstream media and then government policy.

Subsequent to the Douma incident, medical staff from the Douma hospital (and even one of the children in the hospital videos) have publicly stated that there was no chemical attack on the hospital and that none of the children at the hospital had symptoms of a chemical attack. (This is not to say that the hospitals were not busy with patients, as Douma was heavily bombed during April 7, leading to massive fires with victims suffering from both smoke inhalation and suffocation.)  The evidence from Douma doctors has been mostly disregarded in western media on the grounds that they have been coerced or intimidated by Russia and/or the Syrian government.

 

Source: 
Climate Audit

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