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Ex-Weapons Inspector: Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’

On the night of June 26, the White House Press Secretary released a statement, via Twitter, that, “the United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”  The tweet went on to declare that, “the activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4 chemical weapons attack,” before warning that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

A Pentagon spokesman backed up the White House tweet, stating that U.S. intelligence had observed “activity” at a Syrian air base that indicated “active preparation for chemical weapons use” was underway.  The air base in question, Shayrat, had been implicated by the United States as the origin of aircraft and munitions used in an alleged chemical weapons attack on the village of Khan Sheikhun on April 4.  The observed activity was at an aircraft hangar that had been struck by cruise missiles fired by U.S. Navy destroyers during a retaliatory strike on April 6.

The White House statement comes on the heels of the publication of an article [1] by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a German publication, Die Welt, which questions, among many things, the validity of the intelligence underpinning the allegations leveled at Syria regarding the events of April 4 in and around Khan Sheikhun. (In the interests of full disclosure, I had assisted Mr. Hersh in fact-checking certain aspects of his article; I was not a source of any information used in his piece.)  Not surprisingly, Mr. Hersh’s article has come under attack from many circles, the most vociferous of these being a UK-based citizen activist named Eliot Higgins who, through his [2]Bellingcat blog, has been widely cited by media outlets in the U.S. and UK as a source of information implicating the Syrian government in that alleged April chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun.

Neither Hersh nor Higgins possesses definitive proof to bolster their respective positions; the latter draws upon assertions made by supposed eyewitnesses backed up with forensic testing of materials alleged to be sourced to the scene of the attack that indicate the presence of Sarin, a deadly nerve agent, while the former relies upon anonymous sources within the U.S. military and intelligence establishments who provide a counter narrative to the official U.S. government position. What is clear, however, is that both cannot be right—either the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun, or it didn’t.  There is no middle ground.

The search for truth is as old as civilization. Philosophers throughout the ages have struggled with the difficulties of rationalizing the beginning of existence, and the relationships between the one and the many. Aristotle approached this challenge through what he called the development of potentiality to actuality, which examined truth in terms of the causes that act on things. This approach is as relevant today as it was two millennia prior, and its application to the problem of ascertaining fact from fiction regarding Khan Sheikhun goes far in helping unpack the White House statements regarding Syrian chemical preparations and the Hersh-Higgins debate.

According to Aristotle, there were four causes that needed to be examined in the search for truth — material, efficient, formal and final. The material cause represents the element out of which an object is created. In terms of the present discussion, one could speak of the material cause in terms of the actual chemical weapon alleged to have been used at Khan Sheikhun. The odd thing about both the Khan Sheikhun attack and the current White House statements, however, is that no one has produced any physical evidence of there actually having been a chemical weapon, let alone what kind of weapon was allegedly employed. Like a prosecutor trying a murder case without producing the actual murder weapon, Syria’s accusers have assembled a case that is purely circumstantial — plenty of dead and dying victims, but nothing that links these victims to an actual physical object.   

Human Rights Watch (HRW), drawing upon analysis of images brought to them by the volunteer rescue organization White Helmets, of fragments allegedly recovered from the scene of the attack, has claimed that the material cause of the Khan Sheikhun event is a Soviet-made KhAB-250 chemical bomb, purpose-built to deliver Sarin nerve agent. There are several issues with the HRW assessment. First and foremost, there is no independent verification that the objects in question are what HRW claims, or that they were even physically present at Khan Sheikhun, let alone deposited there as a result of an air attack by the Syrian government.  Moreover, the KhAB-250 bomb was never exported by either the Soviet or Russian governments, thereby making the provenance of any such ordinance in the Syrian inventory highly suspect.

Sarin is a non-persistent chemical agent whose military function is to inflict casualties through direct exposure. Any ordnance intended to deliver Sarin would, like the KhAB-250, be designed to disseminate the agent in aerosol form, fine droplets that would be breathed in by the victim, or coat the victim’s skin. In combat, the aircraft delivering Sarin munitions would be expected to minimize its exposure to hostile fire, flying low to the target at high speed. In order to have any semblance of military utility, weapons delivered in this fashion would require an inherent braking mechanism, such as deployable fins or a parachute, which would retard the speed of the weapon, allowing for a more concentrated application of the nerve agent on the intended target.

Chemical ordnance is not intended for precise strikes against point targets, but rather delivery of the agent to an area. For this reason, they are not dropped singly, but rather in large numbers. (The ab-250, for instance was designed to be delivered by a TU-22 bomber dropping 24 weapons on the same target.) The weapon itself is not complex—a steel bomb casing with a small high explosive tube—the burster charge—running down its middle, equipped with a nose fuse designed to detonate on contact with the ground or at a pre-determined altitude. Once detonated, the burster charge causes the casing to break apart, disseminating fine droplets of agent over the target. The resulting explosion is very low order, a pop more than a bang—virtually none of the actual weapon would be destroyed as a result, and its component parts, readily identifiable as such, would be deposited in the immediate environs. In short, if a KhAB-250, or any other air delivered chemical bomb, had been used at Khan Sheikhun, there would be significant physical evidence of that fact, including the totality of the bomb casing, the burster tube, the tail fin assembly, and parachute. The fact that none of this exists belies the notion that an air-delivered chemical bomb was employed by the Syrian government against Khan Sheikhun.

Continuing along the lines of Aristotle’s exploration of the relationship between the potential and actual, the efficient cause represents the means by which the object is created. In the context of Khan Shiekhun, the issue (i.e., object) isn’t the physical weapon itself, but rather its manifestation on the ground in terms of cause and effect. Nothing symbolized this more than the disturbing images that emerged in the aftermath of the alleged chemical attack of civilian victims, many of them women and children. (It was these images that spurred President Trump into ordering the cruise missile attack on Shayrat air base.) These images were produced by the White Helmet organization as a byproduct of the emergency response that transpired in and around Khan Sheikhun on April 4.  It is this response, therefore, than can be said to constitute the efficient cause in any examination of potential to actuality regarding the allegations of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government there.

The White Helmets [3]came into existence in the aftermath of the unrest that erupted in Syria after the Arab Spring in 2012. They say they are neutral, but they have used their now-global platform as a humanitarian rescue unit to promote anti-regime themes and to encourage outside intervention to remove the regime of Bashar al-Assad. By White Helmet’s own admission, it is well-resourced, trained and funded by western NGOs and governments [4], including USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), which funded the group $23 million as of 2016. 

A UK-based company with strong links to the British Foreign Office, May Day Rescue, has largely managed the actual rescue aspects of the White Helmet’s work. Drawing on a budget of tens of millions of dollars donated by foreign governments, including the U.S. and UK, May Day Rescue oversees a comprehensive training program designed to bring graduates to the lowest standard—”light,” or Level One—for Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). Personnel and units trained to the “light” standard are able to conduct surface search and rescue operations—they are neither trained nor equipped to rescue entrapped victims. Teams trained to this standard are not qualified to perform operations in a hazardous environment (such as would exist in the presence of a nerve agent like Sarin).

The White Helmets have made their reputation through the dissemination of self-made videos ostensibly showing them in action inside Syria, rescuing civilians from bombed out structures, and providing life-saving emergency medical care. (It should be noted that the eponymously named Oscar-nominated documentary showing the White Helmets in action was filmed entirely by the White Helmets themselves, which raises a genuine question of journalistic ethics.) To the untrained eye, these videos are a dramatic representation of heroism in action. To the trained professional (I can offer my own experience as a Hazardous Materials Specialist with New York Task Force 2 USAR team), these videos represent de facto evidence of dangerous incompetence or, worse, fraud.

The bread and butter of the White Helmet’s self-made reputation is the rescue of a victim—usually a small child—from beneath a pile of rubble, usually heavy reinforced concrete.  First and foremost, as a “light” USAR team, the White Helmets are not trained or equipped to conduct rescues of entrapped victims. And yet the White helmet videos depict their rescue workers using excavation equipment and tools, such as pneumatic drills, to gain access to victims supposedly pinned under the weight of a collapsed building. The techniques used by the White Helmets are not only technically wrong, but dangerous to anyone who might actually be trapped—the introduction of excavators to move debris, or the haphazard drilling and hammering into concrete in the immediate vicinity of a trapped victim, would invariably lead to a shifting if the rubble pile, crushing the trapped victim to death. In my opinion, the videos are pure theater, either staged to impress an unwitting audience, or actually conducted with total disregard for the wellbeing of any real victims.

Likewise, the rescue of victims from a hazardous materials incident, especially one as dangerous as one involving a nerve agent as lethal as Sarin, is solely the purview of personnel and teams specifically equipped and trained for the task. “Light” USAR teams receive no hazardous materials training as part of their certification, and there is no evidence or even claim on the part of the White Helmets that they have undergone the kind of specialist training needed to effect a rescue in the case of an actual chemical weapons attack.

This reality comes through on the images provided by the White Helmets of their actions in and around Khan Sheikhun on April 4. From the haphazard use of personal protective equipment (either non-existent or employed in a manner that negates protection from potential exposure) to the handling of victims and so-called decontamination efforts, everything the White Helmets did was operationally wrong and would expose themselves and the victims they were ostensibly treating to even greater harm. As was the case with their “rescues” of victims in collapsed structures, I believe the rescue efforts of the White Helmets at Khan Sheikhun were a theatrical performance designed to impress the ignorant and ill-informed.

I’m not saying that nothing happened at Khan Sheikhun—obviously something did.  But the White Helmets exploited whatever occurred, over-dramatizing “rescues” and “decontamination” in staged theatrics that were captured on film and rapidly disseminated using social media in a manner designed to influence public opinion in the West.  We don’t see the actual rescue at the scene of the event—bodies pulled from their homes, lying in the streets. What we get is grand theater as bodies arrive at the field hospital, with lots of running to and fro and meaningless activity that would actually worsen the condition of the victims and contaminate the rescuers.

Through their actions, however, the White Helmets were able to breathe life into the overall narrative of a chemical weapons attack, distracting from the fact that no actual weapon existed and thus furthering the efficient cause by which the object—the non-existent chemical weapon—was created.      

Having defined the creation of the object (the non-existent chemical weapon) and the means by which it was created (the flawed theatrics of the White Helmets), we move on to the third, or formal cause, which constitutes the expression of what the object is. In the case of Khan Sheikhun, this is best expressed by the results of forensic testing of samples allegedly taken from victims of the chemical attack, and from the scene of the attack itself. The organization responsible for overseeing this forensic testing was the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW. Through its work, the OPCW has determined that the nerve agent Sarin, or a “Sarin-like substance,” was used at Khan Sheikhun, a result that would seemingly compensate for both the lack of a bomb and the amateurish theatrics of the rescuers.

The problem, however, is that the OPCW is in no position to make the claim it did. One of the essential aspects of the kind of forensic investigation carried out by organizations such as the OPCW—namely the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of a crime—is the concept of “chain of custody” of any samples that are being evaluated. This requires a seamless transition from the collection of the samples in question, the process of which must be recorded and witnessed, the sealing of the samples, the documentation of the samples, the escorted transportation of the samples to the laboratory, the confirmation and breaking of the seals under supervision, and the subsequent processing of the samples, all under supervision of the OPCW. Anything less than this means the integrity of the sample has been compromised—in short, there is no sample.

The OPCW acknowledges that its personnel did not gain access to Khan Sheikhun at any time. However, the investigating team states that it used connections with “parties with knowledge of and connections to the area in question,” to gain access to samples that were collected by “non governmental organizations (NGOs)” which also provided representatives to be interviewed, and videos and images for the investigating team to review. The NGO used by the OPCW was none other than the White Helmets.

The process of taking samples from a contaminated area takes into consideration a number of factors designed to help create as broad and accurate a picture of the scene of the incident itself as well as protect the safety of the person taking the sample as well as the integrity of the crime scene itself (i.e., reduce contamination). There is no evidence that the White Helmets have received this kind of specialized training required for the taking of such samples. Moreover, the White Helmets are not an extension of the OPCW—under no circumstances could any samples taken by White Helmet personnel and subsequently turned over to the OPCW be considered viable in terms of chain of custody. This likewise holds true for any biomedical samples evaluated by the OPCW—all such samples were either taken from victims who had been transported to Turkish hospitals, or provided by non-OPCW personnel in violation of chain of custody.

Lastly, there is Aristotle’s final cause, which represents the end for which the object is—namely, what was the ultimate purpose of the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun. To answer this question, one must remain consistent with the framework of examination of potential to actuality applied herein. In this, we find a commonality between the four causes whose linkage cannot be ignored when assessing the truth of what happened at Khan Sheikhun, namely the presence of a single entity—the White Helmets.

There are two distinct narratives at play when it comes to what happened in Khan Sheikhun. One, put forward by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and supported by the likes of Bellingcat and the White Helmets, is that the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack using a single air-delivered bomb on a civilian target. The other, put forward by the governments of Russia and Syria, and sustained by the reporting of Seymour Hersh, is that the Syrian air force used conventional bombs to strike a military target, inadvertently releasing a toxic cloud from substances stored at that facility and killing or injuring civilians in Khan Sheikhun. There can be no doubt that the very survival of the White Helmets as an organization, and the cause they support (i.e., regime change in Syria), has been furthered by the narrative they have helped craft and sell about the events of April 4 in and around Khan Sheikhun. This is the living manifestation of Aristotle’s final cause, the end for which this entire lie has been constructed.  

The lack of any meaningful fact-based information to back up the claims of the White Helmets and those who sustain them, like the U.S. government and Bellingcat, raises serious questions about the viability of the White House’s latest pronouncements on Syria and allegations that it was preparing for a second round of chemical attacks. If America has learned anything from its painful history with Iraq and the false allegations of continued possession of weapons of mass destruction on the part of the regime of Saddam Hussein, it is that to rush into military conflict in the Middle East based upon the unsustained allegations of an interested regional party (i.e., Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress) is a fool’s errand.  

It is up to the discerning public to determine which narrative about the events in Syria today they will seek to embrace—one supported by a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist who has made a career out of exposing inconvenient truths, from My Lai to Abu Ghraib and beyond, or one that collapses under Aristotle’s development of potentiality to actuality analysis, as the manufactured story line promoted by the White Helmets demonstratively does.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.  He is the author of “Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War” (Clarity Press, 2017).

48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "Ex-Weapons Inspector: Trump’s Sarin Claims Built on ‘Lie’"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 29, 2017 @ 2:17 am

Before I ramble ahead,

I would like to say. With as much encouragement and enthusiasm as possible. It is good to see you are still at it, Inspector Ritter.

God speed to you and yours.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 29, 2017 @ 2:19 am

Now for my ramble.

“The OPCW acknowledges that its personnel did not gain access to Khan Sheikhun at any time. However, the investigating team states that it used connections with “parties with knowledge of and connections to the area in question,” to gain access to samples that were collected by “non governmental organizations (NGOs)” who also provided representatives to be interviewed, and videos and images for the investigating team to review. The NGO used by the OPCW was none other than the White Helmets.”

This is not laughing matter, but good grief, Inspector Ritter, you have put on display Vaudevillian humor so eloquently, one cannot help but smile, laugh, nod and laugh some more.

I am not sure at what point the advocates of regime change in Syria get it. I for one and many others didn’t buy the first chemical theater, nor the second chemical theater, nor was the third any better a production . . .

Here by my count is the fifth. A some point in time surely someone orchestrating these productions stand up and say,

“They don’t believe us.” And give something else a go. And if they do they don’t think its any our business.

Credibility matters, and the record here on Syria and chemical weapons, sadly enough,

Syria and Putin 10 — Regime change advocates 0.

#3 Comment By Philippe Lemoine On June 29, 2017 @ 4:39 am

I’m glad that some people still care about the evidence and don’t blindly accept anything the administration is saying no matter how implausible. In case someone is interested, I wrote a very detailed [5], in which I examine the evidence about the recent chemical attack and compare the situation with what happened after the chemical attack in Ghouta in August 2013. I argue that, in that previous case, the media narrative had rapidly unravelled and that, for that reason, we should be extremely prudent about the recent attack and not jump to conclusions. It’s more than 5,000 words long and I provide a source for every single factual claim I make. I really believe it’s the most thorough discussion of the allegations against Assad with respect to his alleged use of chemical weapons out there. This post was shared widely and some people criticized it, so I will soon publish a follow-up, in which I respond to critics and present more evidence.

#4 Comment By G Harvey On June 29, 2017 @ 7:52 am

Built on a lie that came from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Neocons.

#5 Comment By Mizzou Doc On June 29, 2017 @ 8:43 am

Lying us into a stupid war. Sounds familiar.

Indeed, after Bush II and Obama, Trump might be forgiven for thinking that lying America into a Middle Eastern war is a hoary old presidential tradition. Perhaps he felt the need to lie us into a war with Syria by way of warming up for lying us into a war with Iran?

#6 Comment By Dan Stewart On June 29, 2017 @ 9:00 am

I don’t believe Syrian president Bashar Assad used CW (“CW”) at Khan Shaykhun, April 4, 2017. Nor do I believe Assad used CW at Ghouta in 2013 either. In 2013, he would’ve had to been crazy to cross Obama’s “red line’ and risk bringing the US military down on his head. This time the stakes are even higher and it’s even more obvious he didn’t do it.

Start with the fact that, oddly, the US government’s report on the Khan Shaykhun attack was issued by the White House, not the Defense Dept. or an intelligence agency, as is usually the case. Dr. Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the foremost weapons experts in the world issued a report on the alleged CW attack at Khan Shaykhun. He said the evidence of the attack in no way supports the conclusion that the chemical munitions used were delivered via an air attack, but were actually detonated on the ground. As for the White House report, calling it an “obviously amateurish false and misleading report” he said,

“[I]t is clear that the WHR is not an intelligence report. No competent intelligence professional would have made so many false claims that are totally inconsistent with the evidence.”

Besides, you don’t have to be an MIT nuclear physicist to see it simply makes no sense that Assad would use CW. He had absolutely nothing to gain, and he had literally everything to lose.

Just five days before Assad’s alleged use of CW, Secretary of State Tillerson and UN ambassador Haley (and Press Sec. Sean Spicer) announced a huge policy change: Assad no longer had to leave power as a condition of settlement in the Syrian civil war — that was Assad’s Holy Grail.

Assad (along with everyone else paying attention) knew that for him to use (or even possess) CW would not only force Trump to rescind the new US policy position (that Assad could remain in power), which was the absolute best thing Assad could have hoped for, but that using CW crossed a bright line that would surely cause the Trump to attack Syria, the worst thing that could happen to Assad.

What’s more, it would have humiliated Putin, who brokered the deal for Assad to give up Syria’s CW cache in 2013, and vouched for the fact that Syria no longer possessed CW. Assad’s use of CW risked losing Russia’s support, his ultimate political death knell. The Assad government wouldn’t last long without Russian support.

Besides, with the Russian military at its side, Syria was winning the war on every front.

So, if it wasn’t Assad who used CW, who was it? Just ask the age-old question: Cui bono? The answer to ‘who benefits?’ is obvious. The Islamic extremists who are fighting to overthrow the Assad government — and they’re sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and psychotic neocons in DC who want to enter the war in Syria, among other places (think John Bolton et al).

It makes far more sense that after the US decision allowing Assad to remain in power, the Syrian rebels became desperate and staged a false flag CW attack to change the new US policy on Assad and to bring the US into the Syrian civil war. This explanation fits every known data point and has all the participants acting in their strategic best interest — and it doesn’t require you to believe irrational and illogical things.

We know another group who definitely didn’t do it: Syrian Christians. Syrian Christians have been foursquare behind Assad from the beginning of the civil war. Why? Because what’s left of 3 million Syrian Christians know they have worshiped freely and lived safely under the Assads for almost a half century. They also know what hell awaits them if the secular Assad government falls the jihadist (an amalgam of Sunni, Wahhabi, Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood extremists) implement an Islamic regime.

Despite the media narrative, Assad is not insane and he’s not stupid either – nor is Putin. It just makes no logical sense that Assad used CW. And, when something just makes no sense, it’s usually an indication someone is lying. (Truth is always war’s first and constant casualty.)

The common refrain to all this from neocons and neoliberals is the sweeping condemnation that Assad is an evil tyrant and a butcher, and must be deposed. That raises the obvious question: Is Assad any different than our close allies (and biggest weapons customers) in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Ironically, Assad’s Syria is the most secular and Westernized government of them all.

Btw, there’s nothing remotely “America First” about nation building in Syria, or turning Syria over to a bunch of Islamic extremists, or letting the once modern nation of Syria descend into another post-apocalyptic Libya or Somalia.

Leaving Syria in the reliably secular hands of the former London optometrist, and his London-born and raised, former JP Morgan investment banker wife, is the only rational option. A secular Syria that fights terrorism within its borders and is the enemy of ISIS is the best thing for America’s true interests. This is to say, let Assad return Syria to its former self, because that’s exactly what Syria was seven years ago and that’s exactly what’s best for America today.

If the US really wants to stop the killing in Syria, end the flow of refugees into Europe, and defeat ISIS, the US should immediately stop arming and funding the Islamic jihadists trying to overthrow the Assad government and join with Russia to support Assad’s military in regaining control over all Syrian territory and borders.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 29, 2017 @ 9:20 am

Eliot Higgins again!

“Mr. Hersh’s article has come under attack from many circles, the most vociferous of these being a UK-based citizen activist named Eliot Higgins who, through his Bellingcat blog, has been widely cited by media outlets in the U.S. and UK as a source of information implicating the Syrian government in that alleged April chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun.”

Theodore Postol, professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT and author “Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21st, 2013” belled the Eliot Higgins cat this way:

“Higgins, Postol said, ‘has done a very nice job collecting information on a website. As far as his analysis, it’s so lacking any analytical foundation it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about’.”

[6]

[7]

#8 Comment By SDS On June 29, 2017 @ 10:02 am

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE TO THE NATION, AGAIN, SCOTT RITTER

#9 Comment By Phil Giraldi On June 29, 2017 @ 10:37 am

This piece should be read by every American who wants to avoid a catastrophic war in the Middle East or even nuclear war with Russia. It should be required reading in the White House and on the NSC.

#10 Comment By Skeptic On June 29, 2017 @ 11:10 am

This article, along with some similarly well-researched and honest pieces on foreign policy that have appeared here of late, establishes TAC as one of only a very small handful of serious publications still functioning in the United States. In this respect at least, it has surpassed the NYTs and The New Yorker (which in former days would have been the natural habitat of articles such as this, or those by Sy Hersh).

#11 Comment By Skeptic On June 29, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

Another question comes to mind as a natural follow-up to Ritter’s superlative article.

The evidence in favor of Syria having used Sarin weapons has always been of the thinnest sort. It doesn’t stand up to rational scrutiny. Ritter’s, or Hersh’s, or Postol’s analyses make eminently clear that no person committed to the objectivity of truth — i.e. as something existing separately from our convenience, or power, or ‘interests’ — can continue to take seriously the Nikki Haley narrative on the matter.

What does it say about our culture that it overwhelmingly prefers convenience to evidence? And not only as regards chemical attacks in Syria. When, and why, did we become post-rational?

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 29, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

Just a note: It is often suggestion that people like myself are afraid to fight. Anyone reading my comments on warfare and how we should conduct it – should we do so, no better.

But there’s has to be a case that makes sense and thus far, I remain unconvinced. It may very well be that we will have to take on Russia and China and whomever, when such time comes, if it does so be it. But the constant fomenting of war with but bare thin reads of evidence, speculation and soothesaying preemption has actually made the issues we seek to resolve, less resolvable.

We absolutely could remove Iran, Syria, Iraq admin and leadership. But I am reminded of the consequences, which have routinely spun out of control, and were never in our hands to manage effectively in the first place.

Here’s where my support for the admin wanes, regime was not on the table in the campaign, and I am disinclined to support it now as then.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 29, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

Oh and ladies hardly makes sense to thrust several more women into the street in the name of your dreams of democracy and equality, when the same could be achieved to greater effect, by time and fostering stable states.

The women under the Iraq regime were far more involved than there ever going to be for a very long time. We pushed women’s rights right into the toilet in Iraq.

Should desire to fight it out with force. There are any number of available rebel forces that would embrace the “Wonder Woman” in you eager to be set loose.

#14 Comment By Tony On June 29, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

Very informative, thank you.

#15 Comment By Jackrabbit On June 29, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

“Dead Psy-op”

[8]

Adapted from Monty-Python’s “Dead Parrot Sketch”

#16 Comment By Jackrabbit On June 29, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

Hersh’s article doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer to the question of WHY Trump ordered the missile attack.

In addition to ignoring intelligence analysts, Trump broke his ‘America First’ campaign promises and went against his prior instincts (Trump urged Obama NOT to attack Syria in 2013 via a series of tweets).

Clue 1? Weeks after the attack, Trump was feted by the Saudis.

Clue 2? Hersh quotes a military man who says: “… I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.”

Leading to difficult questions, like:

>> was Trump’s determination to bomb pre-planned?

>> why are our populist President’s – one a lefty Nobel Peace Prize winner promising “Change You Can Believe In”, the other an ‘America First’ nationalist that warned against futile and expensive ME wars – so determined to attack Syria?

#17 Comment By Paul Deignan On June 29, 2017 @ 7:06 pm

Scott Ritter?

The Scott Ritter that took money from Saddam Hussein?

And what idiot printed anything that this traitor had to write?

#18 Comment By Bridger On June 29, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

I read Sy Hersch’s article and frankly, Trump is a very dangerous and rogue man. Evidence or lack thereof did not sway him one iota regarding the alleged chemical attack. He simply makes a decision in a vacuum and rolls with it.

I voted for Trump thinking he would finally give us a humble, America first, foreign policy. Assuming the information in Hersch’s article is 100% accurate then Trump committed impeachable offenses not least of which because he used military force without Congressional and UN approval.

#19 Comment By Antoinette On June 29, 2017 @ 9:12 pm

This scenario is being repeated by Washington. Anyone with any knowledge should know that Assad didn’t use chemicals on his own people. It was Israeli and US backed so they would have an excuse to blame Assad and use chemicals on innocent civilians and Assads army.. this the same tactic they used before. They lie. Remember when Trump said how horrible it was to use chemical weapons on those poor babies? So th U S is doing the same thing. The Zionists in Washington and Natanyahu are calling these shots. If they succeed in getting Assad, wait and see what happens in Iran.

#20 Comment By Whine Merchant On June 29, 2017 @ 9:29 pm

Thank you, Mr Ritter, or should we refer to you as Cassandra?

I appreciate that some postings here provide interesting perspectives and history. Unfortunately, we also have the mandatory GOP/Right Wing ‘but what about Obama?’ wails and neo-con Israel first apologists.
I guess they are part of the reason this situation repeats itself.

#21 Comment By Clyde Schechter On June 29, 2017 @ 11:29 pm

Thank you, Mr. Ritter. And thank you, TAC, for publishing this.

I do have one question. While the overall narrative presented here seems quite plausible and well supported, it strikes me as odd that the OCWP would involve itself in a forensic analysis on samples whose provenance was questionable. Why would they do that? Don’t they have a reputation to uphold? Why would they jeopardize the credibility in future situations by doing this?

#22 Comment By Balconesfault On June 30, 2017 @ 4:44 am

@Phil Giraldi It should be required reading in the White House and on the NSC.

Is there anyone in the White House who reads more than 140 characters at a time?

#23 Comment By Ivo Olavo Castro da Silva On June 30, 2017 @ 6:58 am

I am not advocating that all rebels are saints in Syria, but to say “the US should … join with Russia to support Assad’s military in regaining control over all Syrian territory and borders” is to totally ignore what that murderer has done to its own people. Just look at the cities and neighborhoods that were in control of the rebels. They are totally destroyed. Are we supposed to believe there were not civilians there, or they were destroyed by the rebels themselves?
And about helping Putin, the former KGB agent, who occupied part of Ukraine because he wants “an area of influence” along his borders. Never mind what Ukrainians think. They have been massacred by the Soviets, had their borders moves west, and on top of that infiltrated by Russian “settlers”. That criminal only did it because he kew there was a traitor in the White House.

#24 Comment By Adam Larson On June 30, 2017 @ 9:32 am

The material reality – this is paramount. Not just words but images abound. Videos can be verified and analyzed, and provide valuable clues to what happened. That’s open-source intelligence, video analysis, geolocation, etc. It’s what Bellingcat does, almost 100% in favor of opposition claims and well-funded. It’s also what my network (Citizen’s Investigation onto War Crimes in Libya (And Syria, Ukraine, and Beyond) (sorry), A Closer Look On Syria, Monitor on Massacre Marketing) does, but with an eye to exposing lies in those opposition claims, and no one pays us.

I would strongly encourage Dr. Ritter – or anyone else who sees this comment – to do what nither Mr. Hersh nor Dr. Ted Postol has done, and take a lot at the many concrete findings we’ve produced on the Khan Sheikhoun incident (MMM post collection linked under my name, directs to work at ACLOS). In comments under the Bellingcat article is a good preview of these in combat – the wrong wind and radar track problems have completely stumped those guys. And that’s just two points among many supporting a terrorist massacre of their hostages (would be infidels and government supporters – over 100 were kidnapped nearby just a few days before the “sarin attack.”) We have unique and visuals-based findings on just how they did it, but many question marks still remain. Complicating things, our best points conflict with the pictures painted by Dr. Postol and by Hersh’s source, besides with the White House/Al-Qaeda narrative. That adds another possibility for the public to consider, but the basis of our work in deep immersion in the available evidence, especially visual, makes it a likely winner in the long run that deserves more attention (besides more refinement, peer-review, etc.)

#25 Comment By LT On June 30, 2017 @ 10:04 am

Not being an expert myself on any kind of bombings I have to rely on my memory and konwledge for human psychology.

One can sense a professional jealousy between the expert and the white helmets. Not to say he’s wrong, but every expert can prove something both ways if he’s properly motivated.

There is also always theater in warfare. The capture of Saddam Hussein and destruction of his statute were falsified. Some of the photographs from the Bosnian genocide were staged. The real accounts of war will be more tragic and underhanded than we like to believe.

#26 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 30, 2017 @ 10:16 am

““Change You Can Believe In”, the other an ‘America First’ nationalist that warned against futile and expensive ME wars – so determined to attack Syria?”

Frankly, I think they got intimidated by being new in office.

I think that is clearly the case, if you’ve never had to stand and fight, or never took on that challenge. Then it’s easier to go with the flow. No small number f people attempted o explain to Mr Trump what he was up against and what he would have to do to advance his policies. Now it is possible that he was lying all along, but I tend to think he just couldn’t stand.

Situational leaders can be ideological, but if not, they navigate as to the situation that suits their goals — war with Syria is linked to his need to do something for people in need to satisfy — whether calculating or sincere. It’s a distraction and serves the regime changers in ether case —

He has staffed himself with people, who rather someone been elected. I think that is a huge issue. Very strange staffing choices.

#27 Comment By Kenneth ehrlich On June 30, 2017 @ 12:44 pm

As a scientist, the discussion by Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter, shows the inexorable logic of the use of misinformation by our government to support a cause that could lead us into anotherforeign war or potentially a nuclear war, and at the same time build up false credential of military prowess for the Trump administration. I would hope the hardworking people at NSA, CIA and in the military would put the lie to the current rash of misinformation about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

#28 Comment By dale thorn On June 30, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

What if the regime were changed and the oil pipeline put through Syria? How much harm would that do compared to the threats we have now?

Not recommending, just sayin’ ….

#29 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 30, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

It doesn’t matter in the end what the public thinks, but it’s always nice to use propaganda to distract them, and to manufacture the appearance of democratic accountability when there really is none at all.

#30 Comment By frances On June 30, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

My I second and paraphrase EliteCommInc., I also would like to say. With as much encouragement and enthusiasm as possible. It is good to see you are still at it, Inspector Ritter!! God speed to you and yours.

And in reply to Jackrabbit at 4:16 pm.
It made no sense to me either that Trump would attack Syria especially in the mist of a dinner with Xi. I am inclined to think he didn’t order the strike, that it was done by CIA types who wanted to damage the Xi/Trump meeting and at the same time make Trump look irrational. Trump came up with the “my daughter made me do it” story to appeal to his base and to appear to be in control. Just a guess.

#31 Comment By Student On June 30, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

Excellent article, thank you.

#32 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 30, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

“We absolutely could remove Iran, Syria, Iraq admin and leadership.”

“We?” I can tell you, you have no say at all, either for or against.

#33 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 30, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

The “White Helmets” – guess that means in the propaganda movie, in case you missed it, everybody else is a Black Hat.

#34 Comment By TR On June 30, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

Great article rounded out by amazingly good comments.

#35 Comment By Jackrabbit On June 30, 2017 @ 9:21 pm

@frances

The reasons offered for Trump’s missile attack are not convincing:

Trump: “beautify babies”

Trump apologists: FORCED! by political opposition (yet he stands up to fake news?!?)

Hersh & others: Trump’s personality (he’s unfit for the office) – yet his cogent analysis and strong campaign show that he is very capable.

These things make me more curious about his ties to the Clintons. Did we elect a Clinton protege?

#36 Comment By Marko On July 1, 2017 @ 1:12 am

” Neither Hersh nor Higgins possesses definitive proof …..What is clear, however, is that both cannot be right—either the Syrian government conducted a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun, or it didn’t. There is no middle ground. ”

But there is a middle ground – one that Hersh does not address but leaves open as to the possibility. Hersh only says that Syrian bombs didn’t contain sarin. The time and location of the Syrian air attack may have been provided to the rebels as much as days in advance via the deconfliction communication channel , allowing them to set up an elaborate and contemporaneous false-flag event which included the sarin-filled pothole as well as a number of real , live (ok, mostly dead) sarin victims.

Russia suspended the deconfliction arrangement immediately after the event, suggesting they considered this possibility.

I think this was not only a possible explanation , but the most likely one , and it seems quite likely we’ll see a repeat performance soon. After all , the rebels are getting better at this with each performance.

Russia should put a permanent end to deconfliction coms , and document meticulously every move made by the Russian and Syrian air forces from now on. Buy some dash cams , or something….

#37 Comment By Rob Ross On July 1, 2017 @ 3:29 am

“The search for truth is as old as civilization” What truth is that, precisely? Some truths aren’t worth a damn, are they? Dinosaur farts were bad air biscuits, for example. But in this case the excuse for war is a huge non-truth, or just simply an outright lie. Lying is fashionable in these days of post-truth; the bigger the whopper the more impact it’s likely to have. And if you’re powerful hypocrisy can be the greatest luxury. War is just a lie made true. That should be an obvious truth

#38 Comment By Adam Larson On July 1, 2017 @ 8:07 am

The material reality – this is paramount. Not just words but images abound. Videos can be verified and analyzed, and provide valuable clues to what happened. That’s open-source intelligence, video analysis, geolocation, etc. It’s what Bellingcat does, almost 100% in favor of opposition claims and well-funded. It’s also what my network (Citizen’s Investigation onto War Crimes in Libya (And Syria, Ukraine, and Beyond) (sorry), A Closer Look On Syria, Monitor on Massacre Marketing) does, but with an eye to exposing lies in those opposition claims, and no one pays us.

I would strongly encourage Dr. Ritter – or anyone else who sees this comment – to do what nither Mr. Hersh nor Dr. Ted Postol has done, and take a lot at the many concrete findings we’ve produced on the Khan Sheikhoun incident. In comments under the Bellingcat article is a good preview of these in combat – the wrong wind and radar track problems have completely stumped those guys. And that’s just two points among many suggesting this is a false story covering up a terrorist massacre of their hostages (would be infidels and government supporters – over 100 were kidnapped nearby just a few days before the “sarin attack” said to kill 103)

#39 Comment By SPQR On July 1, 2017 @ 9:37 am

The Zionist Neo-cons at it again….

#40 Comment By Anarcissie On July 1, 2017 @ 11:37 am

See also [9] (a comment there links to this one).

#41 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 1, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

“My I second and paraphrase . . .”

Well, of course.

#42 Comment By Guy Rocky On July 1, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

“What if the regime were changed and the oil pipeline put through Syria? ”

Do you really think “they” would stop there?
A balkanized Syria and an economically weakened Russia would leave Iran more exposed (cue ISIS).
The goal seems to be SYRIA, IRAN, RUSSIA and NORTH KOREA and then onwards to that wonderful One World Government.

#43 Comment By Michael Kenny On July 3, 2017 @ 10:06 am

Is this relevant? Already just after the attack, we were told that what had happened was that the Syrians bombed a building that beleived was a rebel headquarters. The building contained chemicals, the bombing caused them to escape and the wind blew them across the counytryside. That sounds perfectly plausible to me but it doesn’t excuse the Syrians. Their intelligence services should have been aware of what was in the building and the consequences an attack would have. As we all know, if the US had committed a blunder of that magnitude, people would be screaming about “war crimes”! The argument being put forward is like saying that someone should be acquitted of murder because the prosecution initially cliamed he had shot the victim but it now turns out that he stabbed him!

#44 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 3, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

“That sounds perfectly plausible to me but it doesn’t excuse the Syrians. Their intelligence services should have been aware of what was in the building and the consequences an attack would have. ”

This is almost to painful to contemplate. I am unclear why you think the Syrians should have known or how. Your subsequent comparison makes no sense to me. You start a fight. The person you started the fight with hits you back. In hitting he crushes a small liquor bottle you had in your breast pocket. The strike is so intense, it sends shards of glass through your lungs. You subsequently die.

Issue one: you started a fight
Issue two: the target responds in self defense
Issue three: cause of death

The argument being put forward is that the target had every right to self defense. The fact that you had in your possession a bottle of liquor whether known or unknown to the defender is immaterial. You started a fight. You are the cause of your death by starting said fight. Had you not violated that individual private space in this case their body. There would have been no incident. Having no evidence that the defender knew you had a glass bottle in your, does make them culpable of murder.

I will shift here to your reference to Iraq. The US attacked a state for which no evidence existed tat Iraq was a threat. The blunder was many fold, but the initial fault was to act without evidence.

Lesson: respect the sovereignty of other’s. spaces. The wound here is self inflicted.

The greater indictment rests in the peculiar acknowledgement that allies fighters of the US in this violation of sovereignty is —

that the “rebels” were in possession of WMD.

#45 Comment By The Untased On July 3, 2017 @ 5:14 pm

@Michael Kenney “Their intelligence services should have been aware of what was in the building and the consequences an attack would have. As we all know, if the US had committed a blunder of that magnitude, people would be screaming about “war crimes”!

I doubt it. After all, we’ve been helping the Saudis starve the Yemenis, which is a classic violation of the Geneva Convention, and now we’re facilitating a Saudi-caused cholera epidemic, also in Yemen, which amounts to biological warfare, and practically no one is screaming “war crimes!”

#46 Comment By leonard maluf On July 3, 2017 @ 6:44 pm

I like the use of Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes in this article, but I would have employed it differently. The point for Aristotle is that every reality owes its existence to (i.e. requires) four, and no fewer than four causes. What is completely lacking to the use of chemical weaponry by the Syrian government in this instance is any plausible “final” cause, any plausible motive for attacking the village of Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons on April 4th of this year. Ergo, the whole event is a fantasy rather than a reality. A useful fantasy, of course, for the war party (evidently to be distinguished from the military, in this case.) Of course it could also be urged that a material cause was lacking as well (thanks to the Russians), but it is not even necessary to make that case after having excluded the final cause from the picture.

#47 Comment By goyo88 On July 4, 2017 @ 9:17 am

[10]

#48 Comment By Joe On July 7, 2017 @ 4:52 am

There was absolutely no reason for Assad to use chemical weapons to kill a bunch of civilians when he could have easily done it by conventional weapons and nobody would have cared. It is amazing that people think while Assad is winning the war he would just go and use chemical weapons for no good reason and brings a lot of unnecessary heat on himself and Russians. I thought after the “slam dunk case” of WMDs in Iraq, the media and the people have learnt a lesson. But I was wrong.