Syria: new chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta

Estimates of the dead vary from 70 to 150 after the latest and worst chemical attack on the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. The number is likely to rise, as rescue workers are still reporting new casualties following the gassing at the town of Douma, the last in the enclave that remains in rebel hands. The White Helmets volunteer civil defense group said on Twitter: "More families were found suffocated in their houses and shelters in #Douma. The number of victıms is increasing dramatically, and the ambulance teams and the @SyriaCivilDefe volunteers continue their search and rescue operations." The apparent strike by a "barrel bomb" filled with either sarin or chlorine gas targeted a building where displaced families were sheltering from the ongoing air-raids on Douma.

"Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating," Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets, told Al Jazeera as news of the attack broke early April 8. "White Helmet volunteers are trying to help the people but all that we can do is evacuate them to another area by foot because most of the vehicles and centers went out of service."

The Ghouta Media Center, a body of the civil resistance, said on Twitter  that more than 75 people had "suffocated," while a further 1,000 people had suffered the effects of the attack. The victims are overwhelmingly civilians, and many are said to be children

The attack has also been confirmed by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), and the Syrian American Medical Society.

The Assad regime said through its official news agency SANA said the reports are a "fabriaction" invented by the Jaish al-Islam rebels who remain in control in Douma. (More at The Independent, BBC News,  Reuters)

There have been more than 400 regime and Russian air-strikes hit Douma over the past 48 hours, the Outer Damascus Civil Defense said. "Douma's remaining doctors and emergency personnel are “almost totally paralyzed before the massive numbers of injured”, said doctor Muhammad a-Shami. (EA Worldview)

On Twitter, Donald Trump has pledged a US military response to the Douma attack.

Bogus 'anti-war' responses to Ghouta chemical attack

You can already hear them coming. Expect to see on Facebook and the "anti-war" (sic) blogosphere in the coming days the following propaganda tactics:

1. "False flag." Even the increasingly problematic Noam Chomsky is parroting this malarky. Every time there is a chemical attack in Syria, it is speculated, on no evidence, that the rebels did it as a provocation—even as the attacks come amid massive Assad-Putin bombardment of the same locales. Funny how the rebels have so much poisonous gas yet they only ever seem to use it against themselves. Has there been one single report of a gas attack on regime-held territory throughout the course of the war? This is contemptible denialist bullshit of the lowest order.

What's particularly ironic is that those who spew this jive think they are such cognescenti, seeing through the lies of the dreaded "mainstream media." In fact, mainstream outlets like Newsweek increasingly float such theories, most recently in the writings of a self-promoting ex-spook named Ian Wilkie. Meanwhile, his transparent lies are called out by truly alternative media such as EA Worldview, which closely and seriously monitors the Syrian war, and independent investigative websites like Eliot Higgins' Bellingcat.

Serial pro-Assad propagandist James Carden has also engaged in such baseless theorizing in The Nation—a publication which has now repeatedly served as a vehicle for the Assad regime's lying propaganda. (Carden may protest that he is not "pro-Assad," but when you rally to the defense of the regime every time it carries out some ghastly atrocity, we would love to know in what sense this does not constitute support.)

2. "Not our problem." This response is an exercise in America-first imperial narcissism which makes every question about "us."  There are obvious problems with any extension of US military power in Syria or anywhere else, which we presumably do not have to elaborate on here. But if you have greater outrage for whatever military action Trump takes in response to this attack than you do for the attack itself, there is something seriously wrong with your moral compass.

It was just a year ago, when "anti-war" types took to the streets of New York to protest Trump's air-strikes in response to the chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, that I was quoted on Eyewitness News calling out their hypocrisy. Even if you think we have no responsibility to protest any atrocity not directly carried out by the US or its client states such as Israel (itself a problematic position), note that in the weeks prior to Trump's air-strikes in response to Khan Shaykhun, some 600 (overwhelmingly civilians) had been killed in the US bombardment of ISIS-held Raqqa and Mosul—eliciting no street protests whatsoever. But an Assad regime airbase gets bombed and a few warpanes destroyed, and then they all take to the streets. Whatever else this may be, it is certainly not a consistent "anti-war" position! Sadly, we are probably looking at a replay of such morally depraved "anti-war" (sic) protests in the coming days.

3. "But what about Gaza?" Amnesty International calls this tactic "Whataboutery," and notes that Bashar Assad uses it himself when cornered by interviewers about his campaigns of mass murder. When you talk about Syria, you have to talk about Syria, and not immediately change the subject. Those who use Gaza as a distraction from Ghouta are exploiting dead Palestinians. Why is the response to the latest ghastly news from Gaza never "What about Ghouta?" (Except, of course, from reactionary Zionists who we're all supposed to hate.)

4. "The CIA stirred up trouble, so Assad isn't to blame." File this one under "blame the victim." For starters, it is based on a lie. The Syrian revolution was sparked by an incident in which school-children were tortured after painting anti-regime slogans on a wall in Deraa in March 2011. And now, seven years later, Assad is getting a pass for gassing children. Even if the Syrian Revolution was entirely CIA astroturf (which is total ahistorical baloney), it would in no sense justify mass murder and chemical attacks.

5. "The rebels are all al-Qaeda." Again, that is (first of all) not true (the make-up of the rebel factions at Ghouta is clear for those who care to look), and (more to the point) irrelevant even if it were true. Justifying war crimes and acts of genocide as necessary to counterinsurgency against a demonized enemy is the logic of Guernica and My Lai. Nice company you are in, "anti-war" (sic) fools.

It's an indication of just how far through the looking glass we are that Seymour Hersh, who broke the My Lai story in 1968, has now become an open supporter of the genocidal Assad regime.

Once again, there is nothing worse than pro-war "anti-war" jive.

Conspiracy vultures descend on Ghouta

Well, the first entry is in. That didn't take long. The vile Vanessa Beeley in the (perenially wakcy21st Century Wire declares the Ghouta chemical attack a "fraud."

More bogus 'anti-war' responses to Ghouta chemical attack

6. "Do you want a nuclear war?" This is some high irony. The "anti-war" (sic) left has basically been saying for five years that the Syrians should submit to genocide as the price of world peace. It's really been working out great, hasn't it? All the "anti-war" fools who abetted Assad's genocide over the past five years by denying it or making excuses for it are utterly complicit in having brought the world to the brink. They helped make use of WMD acceptable. They helped place us on the slippery slope to Armageddon that they now sanctimoniously warn against.

7. "I'll bet you believed there were WMD in Iraq too." Talk about fighting the last war! To say this days after a deadly chemical attack (once again) betrays an unthinking analogy to Iraq, overlooking obvious, overwhelming context. This is akin to denying that Saddam had WMD after the Halabja chemical attack in 1988, when he bloody well did—not in 2003, when he had long since been disarmed and Dubya was looking for an excuse to go to war. Assad has had a blank check to carry out acts of genocide for years now. That analogy is bogus to the core.

Alas, we're even hearing this crap on the deplorable Amy Goodman's ironically named Democracy Now, in which co-host Juan Gonzalez joins with the left's perennial Mideast expert Phyllis Bennis to spin this as Iraq redux, recalling "the horrific stories about the invasion force of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait marching into a hospital and killing babies." This is of course a reference to "Nurse Nayirah," whose bogus testimony about non-existent Iraqi war crimes in Kuwait helped lubricate Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Except that Nayirah testified before Congress months after the Kuwait invasion, and was groomed by the Kuwaiti regime's public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. So what does this have to do with fresh reports from aid workers from several organizations on the ground in Douma (Syrian-American Medical Society, White Helmets, Syria Civil Defence), with harrowing video evidence, and not even enough time for any PR grooming? Oh that's right, nothing.

Bennis skirted the edges of denialism after the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack. She seems to be getting worse. (Note, by the way, that Nurse Nayirah was invoked by some paranoid bloggers to plug the notion that the shooting of Malala Yousafzai was a hoax.)

8. "Assad is innocent until proven guilty." This is more high irony. The same people who will refuse to believe what the facts all indicate until there is an exhaustive investigation are the last ones to protest when Russia uses its Security Council veto to block an investgation. Apparently, they prefer the comfort of their ignorance.

Putin's useful idiots on the Internet are also avidly reposting clips from Russian state media (RT, Sputnik, TASS) to the effect that the Red Crescent found no evidence of poisonous gas having been used at Douma. Look past the headlines (heaven forbid), and the claims come from two individual workers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and the quotes make it ambiguous whether they are refering to the current attack or previous ones. These are completely misleading headlines, and those who share them without even bothering to read them (let alone vet them) are spreading bullshit. Go to the actual website of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and there is not a word about any of this. Their most recent update from Eastern Ghouta is dated Feb. 23.

BBC also quotes Moscow's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov saying: "Our military specialists have visited this place, along with representatives of the Syrian Red Crescent... and they did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians." OK, could we please get a quote from the Red Crescent on this? They can presumably speak for themselves, rather than through the Russian foreign minister. Thank you.

This innocent-until-proven-guilty line is kind of a soft-sell on the "false flag" tack, but possibly even loopier when you really scratch it, since it implies the attack didn't even happen. Maybe all those traumatized children in the videos are "crisis actors"?

9. "You sound like John Bolton." OK, we are to judge facts on the basis of their convenience to imperial propaganda (or our own)? Talk about "post-truth." And you denialists, by the way, sound like Fox News. Their predictable Tucker Carlson was last night spewing identical shit: "All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children. But do they really know that? Of course, they don’t really know that, they’re making it up. They have no real idea what happened. Actually, both sides in the Syrian Civil War possess chemical weapons. How would it benefit Assad, from using chlorine gas last weekend?"

As Mediaite notes, Carlson then brought on the grievous Glenn Greenwald (who is turning into a regular on Fox News) to spin bankrupt Iraq analogies.

So don't lecture me about strange bedfellows, Assad-suckers.