Twitter bots are bad…unless they’re pushing the ‘right’ narrative?

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In what should be a source of embarrassment to the British government and the journalists who parroted it, a number of prominent Twitter users have recently been accused of being automated Russian bots rather than real humans.

Two of these government-identified “bots” are the accounts @Ian56789 and @Partisangirl — and they are in fact definitely not bots, but real live people. In the case of @Partisangirl, whose real name is Maram Susli, any three-year old could have figured out that she is a real person simply by viewing the multiple videos and interviews she has posted online in recent years.

But Guardian journalist Heather Stewart didn’t do that. Instead she unquestioningly reported the ‘news’ that Susli is a bot.

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Challenged on Twitter, all Stewart could say in her defense was that it was the government’s analysis, not her own. Given that the government’s ‘analysis’ is very clearly completely wrong, one would think that Stewart might want to correct her story to reflect that fact, but she has not bothered to do so.

READ MORE: ‘I’ve seen the censorship’: Syrian blogger tells RT how she was labeled a ‘Russian bot’ (VIDEO)

The other user accused of being a bot by the British government, @Ian56789, whose real name is Ian Shilling, has given an interview to Sky News, which also makes abundantly clear that he is a human, not a Russian bot. Stewart has not updated her story to include that information either — and both Susli and Shilling are still identified only as “bots” in her story.

Attacks on @Partisangirl are not new. For years, she has fought off allegations from prominent Western analysts that she is not real, or that if she is, she has had plastic surgery. In 2014, Susli tried to prove she had not had cosmetic surgery by posting a photograph of herself as a child. Responding to the photo of the very young Susli, senior editor at the Daily Beast and CNN analyst Michael Weiss said it looked like her parents raised her as a “streetwalker”.

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In 2013, Phillip Smyth, who is a ‘Soref Fellow’ at the Washington Institute —   a D.C.-based think tank which focuses on foreign policy analysis — attacked Susli for her looks, twice accusing her of having plastic surgery. In one tweet, Smyth said the “plastic surgery guy” who “fixed her up” didn’t do a good jo b. Ironically, some time after Smyth posted an article about how men who abuse women online are “literally losers”.

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This wouldn’t be the first time Western news outlets and analysts have falsely accused Twitter users of being bots in the employ of the Russian government, either. Last year, the crowdfunded website Byline published “analysis” suggesting that the account @didgery77332nd, which used the nickname “Smoo” was a “foreign-based troll pushing Russian messaging.”

That Russian “troll” turned out to be a security guard from Glasgow. “Smoo has been my nickname since I was six years old. It’s not difficult to track me down. People might not agree with my opinions, but that doesn’t make me a Russian troll,” he told The Scotsman newspaper.

Another Twitter user in the firing line for her “pro-Russia” views is @sahouraxo which uses the name Sarah Abdallah. It is true that little is known about Abdallah outside of her very popular Twitter account, but that does not necessarily mean she is a bot. Although without more information to go on, it’s impossible to say she is who she says she is, either. The BBC has questioned Abdallah’s authenticity and highlighted her as one of the most influential Twitter accounts on the Syrian war.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian Brian Whitaker has recently attempted to expose Abdallah and her possible “connections” to Hezbollah. But perhaps he is just trying to make up for past mistakes.

In 2011, Whitaker was quick to promote the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ blog.

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The blog was ostensibly run by a Syrian girl named Amina Arraf who documented her struggles as a gay person in Syria. At one point, ‘Amina’ was even kidnaped by Syrian security forces, worrying gay rights activists everywhere. Whitaker and many others were tricked into believing Amina was a real person. In reality, it turned out that she was an entirely fakepersona and ‘her’ blog was run by a 40 year-old straight man from Edinburgh named Tom MacMaster.

When McMaster was found out, the Guardian wrote that the hoax “exposes the power and the unreliability of the internet” — and yet seven years later, the mainstream media spends more of its time attacking real bloggers than it does trying to expose the real “unreliability” of the internet.

For instance, mainstream outlets are happy to parrot blogger Eliot Higgins who publishes ‘analysis’ on chemical weapons attacks in Syria from the comfort of his home in England. Higgins produces “evidence” of war crimes from his couch and is held up as a hero by Western pundits and activists.

Similarly, activists from the pro-regime change White Helmets ‘rescue organization’ are always just around the corner when they need to film the aftermath of a chemical attack and lobby for regime change in front of Western audiences. The group, which is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary and proclaims itself to be “neutral” and impartial, has been exposed by investigative journalists for its links to Jabhat al-Nusra — Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.

Members of the White Helmets have been filmed assisting in public executions, helping militants discard the bodies of Syrian soldiers in dumpsters, posing while standing on top of piles of dead bodies and waving Jabhat al-Nusra’s flag while brandishing weapons.

But Susli, an Australia-based Syrian girl with a large Twitter following is the real threat?

US still paying White Helmets despite $200mn-aid freeze for Syria recovery, State Dept confirms

As the US is reviewing funding aimed at helping war-ravaged Syria rebuild, it’s not neglecting the White Helmets – a controversial militant-linked group instrumental to the media campaign against Assad and Russia.

At a Thursday press briefing, journalists asked US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert for an update on the late-March freeze of $200 million earmarked for the recovery of Syria – and if that means Washington will be withholding payments to the White Helmets.

Nauert opened her response with a gushing comment about the organization. “We recognize and appreciate and are very grateful for all the work that the White Helmets continues to do on behalf of the people of their country and on behalf of the US Government and all the coalition forces. They’re doing incredible work in rescuing in some cases, and in other cases it’s recovery efforts. They’re an incredible group of individuals,” she said.

Moreover, she said she “just exchanged emails with them the other day.” Finally cornered into giving a direct answer, she said “As far as I’m aware, all of the work still continues. Peoples’ bills are still being paid.”

The White Helmets (officially called the Syria Civil Defense), a supposedly impartial humanitarian NGO, make no secret of who pays those bills, listing the governments of the UK, Germany, and the US among others on their website. Time and again their reports from the scenes of supposed crimes against civilians by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad – who Washington has wanted toppled for years – have been used to justify accusations against Assad and his ally Russia. This includes the latest alleged chemical incident in Douma near Damascus, which led to a series of missile strikes by the US, UK, and France.

These allegations have now been contradicted by multiple sources, including witnesses from the scene, and even people featured in the White Helmets’ video of the “aftermath” of the “attack.”

The White Helmets rely heavily on positive publicity. They have been featured in two documentaries, one of which won an Oscar in the heavily politicized 2017 ceremony.

A recent attempt at gaining publicity and support for their cause, however, fizzled spectacularly. English singer Roger Waters, a founder of Pink Floyd, stopped his Barcelona gig for a minute last week to mention that a representative of the White Helmets wanted to come up on stage and make a statement. However, Waters had a few words of his own to say.

“The White Helmets is a fake organization that exists only to create propaganda for jihadists and terrorists,” he said.

It later turned out that in 2016, the NGO emailed Waters, trying to entice him into a dinner honoring the White Helmets, paid for by a Saudi billionaire. And just days before last week’s concert, a journalist describing himself as “a militant with the Syrian White Helmets” asked Waters for stage time to “send a message to the children of Syria.”

Waters replied to neither email, instead choosing to make his beliefs heard publicly.

“If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would be encouraged to encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria,” he said.

Which is exactly what happened a few hours later.

How to become ‘an Assad apologist’? Just question MSM rhetoric & welcome to the club

 

A child receives oxygen in Douma on April 7, 2018. © Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets / Global Look Press

Despite there being no clear evidence that the Syrian president launched a chemical attack, anyone who questions the common narrative is described as an “Assad apologist.” Still, some are speaking out against the echo chamber.

Syrians frantically hosing each other down and toddlers with oxygen masks – videos which claim to portray Douma’s alleged chemical attack horrify and shock.

Upon the news breaking, originally from the White Helmets – a group that operates partly in areas under the control of Syria’s opposition militants – French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that they had evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons in the militant-held city of Douma.

US President Donald Trump was eager to announce on Twitter that “smart” bombs would soon rain down on Syrian forces. UK PM Theresa May chipped in with a “significant body of information, including intelligence [that indicated] the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack” before joining the allies in a strike in the early hours of Saturday morning, without taking the issue to parliament.

Some are now querying the allies’ line of logic. Are the videos legitimate? Why would Assad, who was about to retake Douma, bomb his own people? And where is the proof from reliable, third-party sources?

Tucker Carlson

In a no-holds-barred monologue on his Fox News program, US journalist Tucker Carlson was quick to slam “genius” politicians, media, intelligence services, and think-tanks that confidently blame Assad for the alleged attack, despite not actually knowing what happened on the ground.

“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,” he said, while reiterating that both sides of the Syrian conflict have access to chemical weapons.

Cenk Uygur

The Young Turks journalist ran a segment in which he acknowledged that he agreed with Carlson about Syria.

“It pains me to say this, but I think Tucker Carlson’s exactly right,” he said after playing the Fox News journalist’s clip, noting that it is rare for him to agree with anchors on the network.

Uygur also replayed a clip of his own, in which he said the mainstream media appear to have been pushing Trump towards war with Syria. “The mainstream media poses as if they are neutral, objective,” but that their perspective is almost always “war is great.”

“So neocons, warmongers, defense contractors, and yes – mainstream media. Thank you very much,” Uygur said on his April 9 broadcast.

Jeffrey Sachs

The economist, UN special adviser, and Colombia University professor told MSNBC’s Morning Joe program that the current situation in Syria is a “US mistake that started seven years ago.”

Those seven years have been a “disaster,” he said, recalling a covert CIA operation called ‘Operation: Timber Sycamore.’ The US “started a war to overthrow a regime.”

“This is what I would call the ‘Permanent State.’ This is the CIA, this is the Pentagon wanting to keep Iran and Russia out of Syria, but we have no way to do that. And so we have made a proxy war in Syria.

“And so, what I would plead to President Trump is: Get out, like your instinct told you… Get out. We’ve done enough damage in seven years,” he said.

Lord West

Retired First Sea Lord, Lord West of Spithead told the BBC he doesn’t understand the narrative that posits Assad as responsible for the attack. “President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war,” he said. “And he was about to take over and occupy Douma.

“He’d had a long, hard slog capturing that part of the city. Just before he goes in and takes it all over, he decides to go and have a chemical attack. It just doesn’t ring true.”

West, who had a seat on the National Security Strategy Committee – wondered what “benefit is there for [Assad’s] military.” He added: “We know in the past some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals and there would be huge benefit in them labeling an attack as coming from Assad.”

Robert Fisk

Multi-award winning journalist Robert Fisk is at the coal face on the ground in Douma, speaking to civilians, doctors, and nurses right there in the Eastern Ghouta city… none of whom, he says, can remember a chemical attack. They did, however, note that a panic was created in the underground hospital by members of the White Helmets while patients were being treated for hypoxia – Oxygen deficiency that was caused by a dust storm.

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred meters from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened,” a Syrian doctor, who was not an eyewitness to the attack, told Fisk. “There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived.

“People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet,’ shouted ‘Gas!’ and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

Peter Hitchens

Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens has taken to his blog to express his doubts over the Syrian chemical attack. Hitchens points out that publicly available evidence – as in, not the mysterious, unspecified proof from Macron – has no sources or way to verify its accuracy.

“How in that case did they reach their confident conclusion that the Syrians did it?” Hitchens queried. “Unnamed witnesses are cited along with films allegedly recorded at the time on which aircraft sounds have been heard. Since so much weight is given to this evidence, it is frustrating that we are not, in this version, given any details of the sources or of the verification methods used.”

Republishing a previous blog from earlier in April, Hitchens went on to say that: “In my view, a pretty arduous and definitive demonstration that the previous accusation of poison-gas use by Assad’s forces had never been proven, though it had been made to look as if it had been. It is also, though I say it myself, fascinating in many ways, if you are interested in evidence at all.”

Peter Ford

Former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, appeared on Fox News, slamming trigger-happy President Trump and his advisers. “It’s not certain by any means that it was a chemical attack,” Ford said. “There are reports from Western journalists who were in Douma yesterday that they could find no folks that could confirm that there had been a chemical attack.

“They went to the hospital where those videos were filmed and spoke to doctors – named doctors, so this can be checked – who said there was no chemical attack. What there was an ordinary bomb attack which had people streaming into the hospital with smoke inhalation problems.

“The White Helmets – the jihadist medical auxiliaries – started shouting ‘Gas,’ caused panic, and everyone went into gas mode, started with the hoses and the inhalers. Meanwhile, it was all being carefully videoed and put out by rich Arab country propagandists. There’s the distinct possibility that we’ve been deluded,” the former ambassador added.

Ford proceeded to lash out at the Trump administration for taking information from the White Helmets at face value. “I think the president’s advisers have served him extremely badly,” Ford said. “They’ve not been asking the hard questions like who are these White Helmets? Was the president told that these are the people involved with beheadings?”

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Emails reveal White Helmets tried to lobby ex-Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters

Emails have emerged revealing how the controversial Syrian activist group the White Helmets tried to lobby Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters with Saudi money. The revelations have been published on Max Blumenthal’s project.

In an email from October 2016, Roger Waters is invited to a fundraiser organized by Saudi billionaire Hani Farsi to honor the work of the White helmets. In it, he is also encouraged to watch a documentary about the group.

And it didn’t stop there – just days before his recent concert in Barcelona, Waters was contacted by a French journalist working for the White Helmets. The reporter asked Waters for a few moments on stage to deliver a message to the children of Syria.

White Helmets Emails to Roger Waters by RT America on Scribd

https://www.scribd.com/book/376793801/white-helmets-emails-to-roger-waters

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Rogers did not respond to either email, according to journalist Max Blumenthal, who obtained the messages. Instead of giving the stage to the White Helmets during his Barcelona concert, Waters denounced the organization.

“The White Helmets is a fake organization that exists only to create propaganda for jihadists and terrorists. That’s my belief. We have opposing beliefs,” he said. “If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would be encouraged to encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions for us as human beings,” he added.

Blumenthal told RT that the White Helmets “are operating on the ground alongside Al-Qaeda and their allies, and these are just documented facts. For the first time, a mainstream figure on an international stage on the eve of war has validated what we’ve been reporting and he did so in Barcelona to loud cheers from the audience that was opposed to a war waged against international law, without the approval of the parliaments of the governments that launched the war.

“And the White Helmets were the only source that these governments were relying on to justify their attacks. This was an enormously rousing speech by Roger Waters that has legitimized the journalism that we’ve been so mercilessly attacked for publishing and it’s forced those who attacked us and accused of being conspiracists to actually look at what we’ve reported. And they really have nothing to say back to us, they can’t simply dismiss it as a Kremlin conspiracy anymore, when Roger Waters is saying this.”

Speaking to Blumenthal’s Grayzone Project, Waters urged celebrities who had already endorsed the White Helmets to reconsider their support for the group. “I don’t blame them for having bought in to it. On the face of it, it felt plausible that the White Helmets were just good people doing good things. But now we know they’re trying to encourage the West to drops bombs and missiles illegally in Syria.”

Waters told Blumenthal that he had concluded that the Syria Campaign was “a malign organization funded by people who hope to gain from the ouster of Bashar Assad – because once he’s gone, it will be open season for the stealing of the assets of a failed state.”

The White Helmets was the first group to report on the alleged chemical attack in Douma. Although it’s been widely praised in the West for its rescue work, its members have repeatedly been accused of having links to extremist groups.

Blumenthal said the emails vindicated journalists such as himself, who have questioned the White Helmets’ image as a humanitarian ‘civil defense’ organization. “For years, journalists including myself have been reporting on the danger of the White Helmets, how this Western-funded organization, funded by Western and Gulf governments, has basically been an instrument of encouraging regime change,” Blumenthal told RT. “It’s not just a group of average volunteer rescue workers, it’s an international influence organization whose representatives show up in Congress to lobby for no-fly zones and sanctions on Syria, as well as parliaments across Europe.”

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Staged suffering? Interview with boy in Douma video raises more doubts over ‘chem attack’

https://www.rt.com/news/424563-douma-boy-chemical-video/video/5ad8590efc7e935b0c8b4570

https://www.rt.com/news/424563-douma-boy-chemical-video/

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The boy portrayed as a ‘victim’ in a video of the alleged chemical attack in Douma has told a Russian TV crew that he was asked to go to hospital, where people “grabbed” him and started “pouring water” over his head.

Panic, fear, screaming adults and frightened children featured in the purported footage of the aftermath following the alleged chemical attack in the Eastern Ghouta city. The video has been circulated by mainstream media since April 7 after being posted by the so-called Douma Revolution group.

The group is one of the organizations, along with the notorious rebel-linked White Helmets, that has claimed government troops were the culprits behind the reported chemical attack.

One of the main ‘characters’ in the footage is a soaked boy, who is seen being sprayed with water by people who claim to be ‘rescue workers.’ It’s not clear whether they are doctors from the hospital, human rights activists, or White Helmets members. The latter usually make such videos and send them to news agencies, including Reuters.

Russian broadcaster VGTRK said it found the boy in the video, who appeared to be 11-year-old Hassan Diab. His story differed from the one presented by the activists and later propagated by the mainstream media. He was in the basement with his mother, who said they ran out of food, when they heard some noise outside.

READ MORE: Douma ‘gas attack’ aftermath footage shows opposition groups moving victims’ bodies (GRAPHIC VIDEOS)

“Somebody was shouting that we had to go to the hospital, so we went there. When I came in, some people grabbed me and started pouring water over my head,” he told Evgeny Poddubny, a war correspondent from Russian broadcaster VGTRK. Hassan confirmed that he was the boy in the video, and was very scared when the whole situation unfolded. He is now fine and shows no symptoms of having experienced a chemical attack two weeks ago.

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He was eventually found by his father, who said he didn’t hear about any chemical attack that day. “I went to the hospital, walked upstairs, and found my wife and children. I asked them what had happened, and they said people outside were shouting about some smell, and told them to go to the hospital. At the hospital, they gave dates and cookies to the kids,” he said.

One of the medical workers, who was reportedly on shift at the time, said he was surprised by the sudden influx. “Some people came here and washed people. They said: ‘Chemical attack. Chemical attack.’ We didn’t see any chemical attack symptoms,” he added. He did, however, say that there were many people with respiratory problems as a result of dust from recent bombings in the city.

Social media posts and the White Helmets’ report were enough for the US, UK and France to launch a series of strikes on Syria on April 14. The announcement of the strikes came hours before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team was scheduled to arrive in Douma to determine whether chemical weapons had been used there.

READ MORE: Moscow has ‘irrefutable’ evidence chem attack in Syria’s Douma was staged – Russia’s envoy to OPCW

“The boy agreed to play this role for food. Then the video was circulated across the globe and became the ‘evidence’ which served as an excuse for the US, the UK and French airstrikes [against Syria],” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

Moscow is planning to show the video about Hassan at the next meeting of the UN Security Council, Russia’s UN envoy Vassily Nebenzia told Rossiya 1 on Thursday.

Editorial note: The headline and introduction to this story have been changed to better reflect the statements of the boy interviewed by the Russian TV crew.

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OPCW confirms UN team came under fire in Douma, mission delayed by security concerns

The United Nation vehicles carrying the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors is seen in Damascus, Syria April 18, 2018. © Ali Hashisho / Reuters

The OPCW fact-finding mission to Douma has been delayed from entering the town after a UN security team came under “small arms fire.” Contrary to a US claim, the watchdog made no mention of delays caused by Russia or Syria.

A group from the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) tasked with surveying Douma visited two locations in the Eastern Ghouta town on April 17 before deciding to withdraw, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement on Wednesday.

At the first site, the reconnaissance team was met by a “large crowd,”and “the advice provided by the UNDSS was that the team should withdraw,” a statement released by the OPCW said. At the second site, the team “came under small arms fire and an explosive was detonated.” One Syrian security officer was injured in a resulting firefight, according to a statement by the Russian military. It is not clear who was behind the ambush. After the incident, the security team decided to return to Damascus.

“This incident again highlights the highly volatile environment in which the FFM [fact-finding mission] is having to work and the security risks our staff are facing,” the OPCW’s Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in the statement.

The UNDSS team will return to Douma as “soon as practically possible,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary general, said on Wednesday.

Washington had previously accused Damascus and Moscow of blocking the fact-finding team from reaching Douma. However, the statement released by the OPCW made no mention of any interference by the Russian or Syrian governments. In fact, the OPCW said it was working closely with Russian Military Police to review the security situation in Douma.

READ MORE: Moscow slams western media ‘disinformation campaign’ about OPCW experts being denied entry to Douma

This isn’t the first security-related setback for the fact-finding team. The team’s arrival in Damascus was postponed on Saturday after the US, France and Britain launched more than 100 cruise missiles at targets inside Syria.

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Western media cover tracks of Trump, May and Macron’s war crime in Syria

Town of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus. © AFP

By Finian Cunningham

With astounding double-think, the US and Britain accuse Russia of “tampering” with the alleged chemical-weapon attack site in Syria’s Douma – just days after the US, UK and France barraged the county with over 100 missiles.

If anyone is guilty of tampering with the alleged crime scene, it is the NATO trio who rushed to bomb Syria just as inspectors belonging to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria – invited there by the Syrian and Russian governments.

The frenzied Western media campaign to find Syria and Russia guilty of a war crime involving alleged chemical weapons is further highlighted by the reporting this week by award-winning British journalist Robert Fisk.

Fisk, who has been covering Middle East war zones for nearly 40 years, went to Douma city to file his report for The Independent. Credit goes to The Independent for publishing Fisk’s investigative work.

In the aftermath of the weekend’s airstrikes, what he found from interviewing local people and medics is arresting, if not shocking. From Fisk’s witness-gathering report, there was no gas attack carried out on April 7 – in stark contradiction to what the US, British and French governments have been declaring in hysterical tones for the past two weeks.

Those declarations culminated in the US-led bombing of Syria at the weekend. What’s more, the US, British and French leaders are reserving the right to carry out further strikes on Syria – if “the regime repeats its chemical-weapons attacks on civilians.”

What Robert Fisk reports from inside Douma corroborates what the Syrian government and its Russian ally have been saying consistently since the alleged incident on April 7. The incident, they say, was staged by the so-called “first responder” group known as the White Helmets, who work hand-in-glove with notorious terrorist outfits like Jaysh al-Islam and Al-Nusra Front. The White Helmets are also on the pay roll of the American CIA, as well as British and French intelligence agencies.

Similar to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s earlier claim, Fisk reports that on April 7, a panic scene was engendered in Douma’s hospital by White Helmets activists who shouted that “chemical weapons” were being deployed. These activists began dousing people with water hoses and conveniently had video cameras on hand to capture the chaotic scenes acted out by unwitting civilians. A doctor in the hospital confirmed this to Fisk.

As for the supposed dozens of dead that Western governments and media blamed on “animal Assad” and Russian complicity, there is no evidence of the alleged victims. Video footage of dead people in a war zone is hardly proof.

This means that US President Trump and his British and French counterparts, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron, just launched a criminal aggression on Syria in grave violation of international law and the country’s sovereignty. This is exactly what many independent observers were decrying at the time of the missile barrage, warning that the presumed evidence for a chemical attack was far from substantiated.

Indeed, the suspicion is that Trump, May and Macron knew that their evidential ground for attacking Syria was impossibly thin, and that is why they rushed to bomb the country. It was a decision hastened by the arrival of the OPCW inspectors heading to Douma. The inspectors are due to start their investigative work on Wednesday – delayed apparently by security concerns.

In all probability, the Douma incident was a propaganda stunt orchestrated by Western-backed anti-government militants and their White Helmets media agents, precisely in order to provoke an external military attack on Syria by the US, Britain and France.

Several things stand out about Robert Fisk’s latest reporting. This is exactly the kind of critical journalism that other Western media outlets should have been engaged in following the alleged chemical weapon attack on April 7. Credit goes to Fisk and The Independent. But it is a shameful case of “too little, too late.”

Also, it is notable how Fisk’s reportage is being roundly ignored – at least so far – by other mainstream Western media outlets. That’s an impressive feat of self-censorship at a crucial time when the US, British and French governments should be open to accusations of committing a war crime on Syria over their latest blitzkrieg.

This is especially so, given their warnings of more to come, over “further” chemical-weapons use. The urgent concern is that these governments are giving themselves a license to act on more false flags. They should be held rigorously to account for their claims.

This disregard for international law is made possible because of the appalling willingness of Western mainstream media to regurgitate self-serving claims made by terrorist-affiliated groups in Syria and their propaganda outlets.

American, British and French mainstream media have given saturated coverage to the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society, and the dodgy one-man-band operation in Coventry known as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. CNN, the BBC and France 24 cite these groups as if they are “authoritative” and impartial, when in fact they are all part of the regime-change campaign in Syria sponsored by the US and its British and French allies.

It is telling, too, how Robert Fisk is being assailed as a “Syrian, Russian stooge” on social media. The one Western mainstream journalist who has had the integrity to delve into Syria’s Douma to uncover a very different critical perspective – one that disproves the claims peddled by the US, British and French leaders and other mainstream media – is being vilified for principled journalism.

Western corporate media are a grotesque mockery of public information and critical, independent accounting of government power.

Apart from Robert Fisk, the few other Western journalists to have ventured into Syria to report on what is really happening are independent, “alternative” sources like Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley and Patrick Henningsen. They have exposed the “Oscar-winning” White Helmets group, which is actually complicit in staging atrocities against civilians living under a reign of terror imposed by their terrorist affiliates. It is understood the White Helmets activists behind the Douma provocation on April 7 have since fled the city along with the terrorist gangs under the cover of an evacuation deal with the liberating Syrian and Russian forces, who are now in control of most of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs near Damascus.

Western media journalists, if they were really committed to principles of accuracy and critical investigation, should be poring over the rubble in Douma, interviewing local people and finding out what really happened. But they are not.

That is why, one suspects, they are not there. That is why the US and Britain are now accusing Russia of “tampering” with the site in Douma – because there is no evidence of a chemical-weapons attack, as Robert Fisk reports.

That means the US, British and French governments just committed a brazen war crime.

This would also explain why Western mainstream media have now quickly moved their focus to allegations of “Russian cyberattacks” on American and British infrastructure. This is a classic case of “keeping ahead of the story.” Western governments and their dutiful media do not have a “story” – at least not the one they claim – in Syria, so the imperative is to change to another subject as quickly as possible.

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