My recent article on Brandon Shollenberger’s objections to Steve McIntyre’s position on non-climate matters led to a large number of comments, culminating in an on-going discussion between Ben Pile, Alan Kendall, Richard Drake and me which includes angry exchanges but a lot of agreement.
There is a strong probability that the climate story will be pushed into the background by more conventional geo-political concerns over the next few months or years, including war hysteria, and all the accompanying symptoms of irrationality, including race- culture- and religion-based hatred, and maybe war itself.
At least it will make a change from the climate wars. Instead of discussing how many millions of deaths may result from some hypothetical model-based temperature rise, we’ll have real live deaths, resulting from a real war, supported by real politicians, academics and media persons, all members of the élite of the most educated, civilised society ever. Those who oppose, or even question the need for such a war have already been branded as denialists and conspiracy theorists by the media’s favourite warmongers. The tools fashioned by Lewandowsky and his media acolytes in the climate combat are being sharpened to be used against a quite different target.
Steve McIntyre has an extraordinarily thorough post up at Climate Audit on the photos and videos out of Douma, Syria. I’ve been following the story as best I can on a number of sites, some of them from the Middle East, some by ex-members of the US Army or intelligence services, some of them pro-Russian, some virulently anti-Zionist, others anti-war and almost all anti-mainstream media.
Alongside (but apart from) the story about the photos and videos which Steve has analysed so thoroughly, there’s the story of the media commentary, much of which is of a kind all too familiar to climate sceptics. I started with an analysis of the media treatment of the Douma poison gas story to be found at Media Lens here and here.
Their first article begins:
UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared…
Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a ‘denier’, ‘pro-Saddam’, ‘pro-Gaddafi, ‘pro-Assad’. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: ‘Apologist… Apologist… Apologist’.
The article links to an article by Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, who says:
Besides, how much evidence do we need?… To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad’s guilt is clear. The notion of inaction, of standing by and watching as Assad kills and kills and kills, racking up a death toll in Syria of 500,000 and turning millions into refugees – that prospect too should sicken us. And yet that’s what we’ve done. For seven slow years, Assad has been allowed to play butcher, uninterrupted in his work as he cuts down the people of his own country, with barely a hand raised to stop him.
The idea that Assad is responsible for the deaths, not only of those killed in the course of his own brutal but legitimate defence of his regime, but also of those killed by his opponents, (often ISIS and Al-Qaeda-linked groups financed by the West) not to mention those killed in our bombardments, is announced as an evident truth. It has its equivalent in the climate wars in the claim that deaths from causes linked in some way to temperature (e.g. from malaria) can be attributed to climate change, when, in a rational world, resources wasted on futile attempts to regulate climate change would be redirected to fighting malaria. Far from “barely a hand being raised” against Assad, we have spent billions financing his opponents in a successful attempt to butcher even more Syrians than he would have done on his own.
For the parent of a murdered Syrian child, the current western focus on the exact method of murder must feel strange. As if Assad was well within his rights to slaughter innocents using regular bombs, and his only offence was to use chlorine or sarin, inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch.
Freedland’s more clearminded colleague Simon Jenkins has pointed out that the reason we see pictures of babies supposedly murdered by Assad’s poison gas and not photos of babies torn to bits by British bombs is precisely because they are not “unbearable to watch.” The linked photo of a baby having an asthma inhaler shoved in its mouth is only unbearable if you think you know what it means. But Freedland doesn’t know, and he’s not interested in making you think.
Terrorists Teach Children How to Fake a Chemical Attack
The terrorist organisation that labels themselves as “democratic” and “secular” aka the FREE SYRIAN ARMY have taught children how to stage a chemical attack as more Anti-Assad propaganda to legitimise their “cause”. This occurred in Rebel Held Kafr Batna the same location as the “2013 Chemical Attack”. The parents and kids were told it was done for comedic and fun purposes…
Only 2642 people have seen this video, according to Youtube. Watch it, if you don’t mind being immediately identified as a terrorist suspect by our democratic security
servers services. It’s only unbearable to watch if you think hard about what it means. Which explains why I haven’t seen it on our mainstream media, which are designed to filter out anything which might encourage us to think hard.
The Medialens article continues with an analysis of a series of tweets by George Monbiot.
Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian’s George Monbiot said:
‘The chemical weapons attacks and other atrocities of the Assad government are war crimes, plain and simple. But an attack by US forces will do nothing to improve the plight of Syria’s people. Military intervention there, by any nation, compounds the disaster.’
He was asked about Douma: ‘Don’t you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn’t think Assad did it.’
Monbiot replied: ‘Then he’s a fool.’
Kirk asks: ‘And we should trust media after Iraq 2003 and latest Skripal case?’
But Monbiot doesn’t reply.
Amanda Martin says: ‘Not the response I was hoping for’
But Monbiot doesn’t reply.
Mr Ivan Johnson says: ‘George, can anyone explain properly why Assad would choose this time to use chemical weapons? What on earth sense does it make?’
But Monbiot doesn’t reply.
James Gerrard says: ‘What I’d like to see is some evidence.’
George Monbiot replies: ‘If you haven’t seen it, you’re not looking.’
James Gerrard says: ‘Where is it?’
George Monbiot replies: ‘Start with the OPCW’
James Gerrard says: I assume you are talking about mondays press release? Unless you have heard further from OPCW?’
Binomo Shpakova says: ‘The report states that ‘chemical weapons have been used’ but it DOESN’T state ‘who’ used them!’
Then Monbiot said:“Er, I was talking about all Assad’s chemical attacks.”
[Sorry, I can’t find it now. Good Gaia why does anyone use TWITTER, this multi billion dollar mass of avian poo run by people who openly treat its users as birdbrained manufacturers of profitable guano?]
I climbed back on my perch and kept pecking around pointlessly here and bumped into George again, who was burbling about the proprietor of the Daily Mail seventy years ago being a Nazi. Then some crazed lunatic called Leo Hickman pointed out that in 1910 the Daily Mail was in favour of renewable energy. Let me out of here.
Back to the Media Lens article, which links to an article by Olivia Solon, the Guardian’s senior technology reporter in San Francisco, no less, which begins:
The Russia-backed campaign to link the volunteer rescuers with al-Qaida exposes how conspiracy theories take root: ‘It’s like a factory’
The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation. The Guardian has uncovered how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).
The phrase “conspiracy theorists” links to an article by George Monbiot about the Khan Shaykhun poisoned gas attack a year ago. Monbiot points out, perfectly reasonably, that The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found evidence for Sarin gas, and that the Guardian’s own on the spot report discredited theories that the gas attack might have been provoked by rebels or caused by accidental bombardment of gas stocks. Monbiot makes out a convincing case for the attack being the work of Syrian government forces, debunking John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, and Seymour Hersh on the way for putting trust in the work of retired professor Theodore Postol of MIT, who in turn relies on Syrian blogger Mimi Al-Laham aka Partisan Girl. According to Monbiot she is a loyalist of the Assad government who has appeared on podcasts hosted by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Monbiot concludes his article:
Scepticism of all official claims is essential, especially when they involve weapons of mass destruction, and especially when they are used as a pretext for military action… But I also believe there is a difference between scepticism and denial. While in the fog of war, there will always be some doubt, as the OPCW’s report acknowledges, there is no evidence to support the competing theories of what happened at Khan Shaykhun…
Politics in the US and elsewhere is now dominated by wild conspiracy theories and paranoia – the narrative platform from which fascism arises. This… presents an urgent threat to democracy. If the scourges of establishment propaganda promote, even unwittingly, groundless stories developed by the “alt right”, we are in deeper trouble…
Monbiot uses two separate lines of argument here; the first (valid) is based on the conclusions of the OPCW and an eyewitness report from the scene; the second (invalid) is that John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, and Seymour Hersh are unwittingly promoting groundless stories developed by the “alt right”, and that they cannot be believed because they quote someone who quotes someone who once appeared on a podcast with the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Curiously, this is exactly the same method of argument that he used years ago to counter the climate scepticism of Alexander Cockburn, brother of the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, and founder of the leftwing site Counterpunch. (Cockburn died in 2012 and Counterpunch’s current articles on climate change are pure far-green lunatic fringe doomerism.) Counterpunch’s political articles are also tending towards the official centre left occupied by the Guardian and the other mainstream media which Counterpunch was formed to oppose, sometimes using the same tactics as Monbiot: appeal to authority, suspicion of eyewitness reports from respectable journalists with solid leftwing credentials because of the company they keep; and accusations of conspiracy theorising. This article by Sonali Kolhatkar takes Robert Fisk to task for recounting what he saw and heard, rather than toeing the official line:
Many are citing Robert Fisk’s reporting this week from Syria on a doctor who was not a witness to the attack and yet claimed that the dozens of Syrians who died were asphyxiated by dust rather than poisoned by chemicals. Fisk made no attempt to explain the many reports of a chemical smell and of white foam at the mouths of victims. His report directly contradicts that of Associated Press and Guardian newspaper journalists who managed to corroborate with multiple sources including survivors that there had been a chemical attack from the sky. Earlier investigations by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times also concluded that the claims by survivors of the attack were accurate. Are we to believe that The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, AP and The Guardian are all part of some grand conspiracy to push the U.S. to bomb targets important to Assad?
The four newspaper articles linked in the paragraph above use different sources and are posted from different countries on different dates. The Guardian and New York Times’ journalists were reporting from Beirut and Istanbul, while Associated Press and Al-Jazeera‘s journalists quote eyewitnesses in Douma. From the Associated Press report:
The Associated Press, during a government-organized visit Monday to Douma, spoke to survivors and witnesses who described being hit by gas. Several said a strange smell started spreading and people screamed, “It’s chlorine! It’s chlorine!”
The AP visited a two-room underground shelter where Khaled Mahmoud Nuseir said 47 people were killed, including his pregnant wife and two daughters, 18-month-old Qamar and 2 1/2-year-old Nour. A strange smell lingered, nine days after the attack.
Nuseir, 25, said he ran from the shelter to a nearby clinic and fainted. After he was revived, he returned to the shelter and found his wife and daughters dead, with foam coming from their mouths.
He and two other residents accused the rebel Army of Islam of carrying out the attack. As they spoke, government troops were not far away but out of earshot. Nuseir said a gas cylinder was found leaking the poison gas, adding that he didn’t think it was dropped from the air because it still looked intact.
Separately, the AP spoke to a medic who was among those who later were evacuated to northern Syria. Ahmed Abed al-Nafaa said helicopters were flying before the attack and when he reached the site, people were screaming “chlorine.” He said he tried to enter the shelter but was overcome by a strong smell of chlorine and his comrades pulled him out.
“I lost consciousness. I couldn’t breathe any more; it was like my lungs were shutting down … I woke up about 30 minutes later and they had undressed me and were washing my body with water,” Abu Jaafar told Al Jazeera on Sunday. “They were trying to make me vomit as my mouth was emitting a yellow substance… While people were in the shelters, some on the roof managed to see the gas bombs as they dropped from the planes,” Abu Jaafar said, describing what he said was green gas emanating from the canisters falling from the sky.
Local activist Alaa Abu Yasser was also among those who tried to help evacuate people.
“I went to a building where about 35 people had died as a result of this attack; the scenes I saw were unbearable, it’s like nothing I have ever seen even in the movies,” he told Al Jazeera, describing the aftermath of the attack. “As I approached the building, a father was crying hysterically as he dragged his feet towards us carrying his two children … he was hugging them, smelling and kissing them after they suffocated to death,” Abu Yasser added… “When we arrived to the roof of the building I was helping at, I saw the lifeless bodies of a mother in her 50s, with two of her adult daughters and a child with their arms around each other, all foaming at the mouth,” said Abu Yasser.
The New York Times report posted from Beirut on April 11th, claims to be based on a dozen eyewitness accounts, apparently gathered by telephone, and including one from a member of the White Helmets, with graphic details of the effects of the gas, including muscle spasms, coughing up blood, and burned corneas.
The Guardian’s report, ten days after the attack, and posted from Beirut and Istanbul, merely quotes doctors from aid agencies present in Douma claiming that witnesses and victims are being intimidated and threatened by the Syrian authorities to prevent them from giving true accounts of the attack.
The four articles linked to in the Counterpunch article, which are said to ‘directly contradict’ Robert Fisk, who interviewed inhabitants some days later and found no evidence of a gas attack, contain just three eyewitness reports gathered on the spot. (The AP has a fourth interview with a medic who had been evacuated together with the Jaish el-Islam fighters.) The accounts are horrifying and sound convincing, but they are contradictory, since the AP informant denies that the gas was dropped from the air and accuses Jaish el-Islam of the attack; while Al-Jazeera’s first informant claims that people on the roof saw the canisters falling with green gas emanating from them.
Curiously, the very graphic nature of the eyewitness accounts, with their descriptions of total panic and confusion and horrible symptoms (muscle spasms, coughing blood and vomit, burned corneas) makes the videos seem even less convincing. Whoever filmed them was obviously thinking of their propaganda value, otherwise why not drop the camera and either help the victims, or just flee? Yet they look so orderly, nothing like the many amateur films we’ve seen of the aftermath of terrorist attacks, with people running in all directions, including the camera operator, and the dead and wounded scattered haphazardly.
Obviously no certain conclusions can be drawn from the multiple lines of evidence available to date as to what happened at Douma. I certainly don’t know, any more than I know the correct figure for equilibrium climate sensitivity, though simple logic suggests that either our governments or the Russians and Syrians are engaged in a deliberate campaign of lying. However, a conclusion can be drawn about the media coverage. Accusations of conspiracy theorising are the first resort of the mind that cannot bear doubt or uncertainty. There seem to be many minds like that, and when they all think alike, they can be incredibly dangerous.