Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 17, 2017

Going Postol: how an MIT professor ended up in Bashar al-Assad’s camp

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:40 pm

Theodore Postol

As I predicted in an April 5th article, Paul Antonopoulos’s “false flag” account of the Khan Sheikhoun sarin gas incident would serve as the shock troop assault on truth that would open up a breach for more reputable figures.

For example, blogging at the NY Review of Books, David Bromwich, a Yale professor with more awards than Glenlivet scotch, chastised the Western press for not considering the possibility that ISIS might have been the culprit since according to Reuters reporter Andrew Deutsch the group has been “using chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.” If you take the trouble to read Deutch’s article, you will see that ISIS has indeed been using chemical weapons, including chlorine gas, but not sarin. In fact, if you Google “ISIS used sarin”, you will not find a single article making such a claim—not even from RT.com or Sputnik. Try the same thing with “al-Nusra used sarin” and you’ll come up with the same results. Even Infowars referred to “the less than incontrovertible proof the al-Nusra used sarin gas in Syria.”

None of that seems to matter to those like Antonopoulos who suggest that jihadis had been stockpiling sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun. How do such devils who are willing to fly jets into the WTC manage to avoid using sarin gas except on their own supporters? Don’t expect answers from Paul Antonopoulos or David Bromwich.

Unlike David Bromwich, whose day job is analyzing sonnets, the 71-year old Theodore Postol is a specialist in weaponry, having both experience in the Pentagon and various universities writing scholarly articles, including some that helped to put a kibosh on Reagan’s Star Wars program.  Like Seymour Hersh and many other people carrying Assad’s water today, he has an illustrious past. That being said, he has no background writing about chemical weapons.

On April 14th, an article by Postol appeared on Truthdig, a publication generally not associated with making the case for Assad’s innocence. Naturally, it appeared as well on a host of conspiracist websites like Veterans Today and Global Research but it is cause for alarm when it ends up on Truthdig as well. This was the third offering by Postol on Khan Sheikhoun (the prior two are linked in his Truthdig article) and makes a big issue about the first responders not wearing protective clothing. Since sarin gas loses its toxicity rapidly and since the earliest responders were stricken after touching the victims, there’s not much else worth mentioning on this except that Antonopoulos and many other “false flag” propagandists have made the same point. And more alarmingly, you can interpret Postol’s article as pointing to the whole incident being staged like a movie, which is in line with everything that people like Max Blumenthal have been writing about the White Helmets.

If you turn to the first article in the series, you will note that it is written from the same angle as Postol’s articles from three years ago after the sarin gas attack on East Ghouta in August 2013. Then, as now, he tried to get Assad off the hook. Essentially, Postol hones in on the physical evidence of a crater in Khan Sheikhoun and concludes that whatever made it had to be “placed” on the ground rather than dropped from an Su-22 jet as most analysts conclude. This was the same tack he took on the East Ghouta sarin gas attack except that in that incident his central argument was that Assad’s artillery was out-of-range from East Ghouta and therefore could not be responsible for the attack that cost the lives of more than a thousand Syrian noncombatants.

Since it would help to test Postol’s latest hypotheses by reviewing his past efforts, I will start with the debate that took place between Postol and Hersh on one side and Elliot Higgins and Dan Kaszeta on the other. Much of the debate entails some rather arcane discussion of weaponry engineering and chemistry, so I will do my best to simplify matters in the interest of sustaining your attention. It is necessary to interrogate the political agenda of an MIT scientist whose pretensions to neutrality are as believable as climate change denialists. If it is important to be familiar with the science of climate change at least on a layperson’s level, it is just as important to be up to speed on the claims made about sarin gas by Assad’s supporters.

In 2013 and 2014, Postol was partnered with a weapons technology consultant named Richard Lloyd who was employed by Tesla Laboratories, Inc., a consulting company that had no connection to Elon Musk. Their names first surfaced in a study in early September written just weeks after the East Ghouta attack that had the incriminating photo just below even if it was posed as a question.

On January 14, 2014, they argued in a new report that Assad was in the clear since his troops were more than 2km (1.24 miles) from East Ghouta, putting the area beyond the range of his rocket launchers. They relied on American-government issued maps that supposedly supported their conclusions and claimed that the spent missiles found on the ground in East Ghouta could been “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”. Could sarin gas be manufactured just as easily?

Since this was a question they apparently preferred to sidestep, it was left to Seymour Hersh to answer it for them in an LRB article titled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” that fingered Turkey as the supplier of sarin gas to al-Nusra. Had it ever been used? Hersh said yes, specifically on March 19, 2013 in the town of Khan Al-Assal that led to the death of 19 civilians and 1 Baathist soldier.

There’s a couple of problems with his reporting as is so often the case when it comes to Syria. To start with, the FSA was named as the perpetrator of the attack, not al-Nusra. Furthermore, Åke Sellström, the chief investigator of the UN/OPCW mission stated that it “was difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized sarin gas, and added that Assad had repeatedly denied that the rebels had gotten their hands on any of his chemical weapons. In the entire six years of the war in Syria, this is the only incident in which rebels have even been accused of using sarin gas against the Baathist military. If they had access to such weaponry, why haven’t they used it routinely?

According to Hersh, this was in their power since the sarin gas used in Khan Al-Assal was nothing but “kitchen sarin” made “very easily with a couple of inert chemicals”. He came up with this in a Democracy Now interview, allowing listeners to visualize it as if it was something that could be whipped up by a Food Network chef with a Cuisinart food processor and a microwave. While it was not as potent as the sarin gas cooked up by Assad’s professionals, it was toxic enough to kill 20 people in Khan Al-Assal—that is if you believe in “kitchen sarin”.

Elliot Higgins dealt with the 2km question in a number of articles, including a Business Insider item dated January 14, 2015. Using videos from Russia’s ANNA news service, he established that the Syrian military was within 2km on the day of the East Ghouta attack. To my knowledge, Postol has never responded to Higgins’s findings on the distance question. In terms of the sarin-laced missiles being “manufactured by anyone who has access to a machine shop with modest capabilities”, this could only mean that rebels went through the trouble to create facsimiles of the Volcano rockets whose remains were strewn across the streets of East Ghouta on the day of the attack.

They were identical to those that had been used in Adra just weeks before the East Ghouta attack but without the chemical warhead. To take Postol and Lloyd’s lawyerly defense of Assad seriously, you’d have to believe the following:

  1. The images found on ANNA were falsified (original copies of the video have been archived).
  2. Rebels took the trouble to manufacture rockets that were exact duplicates of those that Assad used routinely.
  3. Rebels staked out positions in the no-man’s land between East Ghouta and Damascus in order to fire sarin gas rockets at their family members, risking being seen by eyewitnesses in such a “false flag” operation and in sheer indifference to the loss of loved ones. (As they said during the Vietnam War, Orientals don’t cherish life the way we Westerners do.)
  4. Having such weapons in their armory, they have never used them up until August 2013 when they decided to kill over a thousand of their supporters just to provoke Obama into going to war.

On the question of “kitchen sarin”, we can thank weapons expert Dan Kaszeta for some clarity on this. In addition to Higgins’s analysis of Volcano rocket remnants at East Ghouta, he examined the physical evidence of hexamine, a substance that covered the earth after the sarin gas attack. In a report dated December 13, 2013, Kaszeta described the importance of hexamine in weaponizing sarin gas.

Binary Sarin weapon systems combine methylphosphonic difluoride, also known as DF, with isopropyl alcohol to form Sarin. The resulting mixture has a lot of residual acid in it, in the form of hydrogen fluoride (HF), which is highly destructive, possibly to the point of ruining the weapon system. The US Army’s cold war era Sarin  program used isopropylamine to reduce this excess HF. Several chemists and engineers knowledgeable in the matter have confirmed to me that hexamine is useful as a Sarin additive for the same reason. One hexamine molecule can bind to as many as four HF molecules. This would explain the declared Syrian stockpile of 80 tons of hexamine. Interestingly, the same stockpile contains 40 tons of isopropylamine as well.

I consider the presence of hexamine both in the field samples and in the official stockpile of the Syrian government to be very damning evidence of government culpability in the Ghouta attacks. 7 weeks of research on this subject reveal no public domain evidence of hexamine being used in this way in other Sarin programs. The likelihood of both a Syrian government research and development program AND a non-state actor both coming up with the same innovation seems negligible to me. It seems improbable that some other actor wanting to plant evidence would know to freely spread hexamine around the target areas.

The use of hexamine in this fashion is described as an “acid scavenger” by experts.

After preparing this report, Kaszeta was contacted out of the blue by Theodore Postol about hexamine. He wrote that he could find no reference to it in the technical literature having such a function, naming 9 articles. Kaszeta referred him to one article but more importantly reminded him that hexamine was found in the same location as the degraded by-products of sarin in East Ghouta. Additionally, the OPCW head Åke Sellström stated that it was included in the Syrian government’s formula by its own admission. Plus, why would Assad have surrendered 80 tons of the stuff after a deal had been worked out between Putin and Obama?

After several more exchanges, Postol informed Kaszeta that he has a heavy hitter on his side:

On the separate matter of the solubility of hexamine in isopropanol, we have finally gotten a solid scientific source. This technical information was provided to us with full scientific references by Syrian Sister, an organic chemist who we conferred with when we were unable to get this basic information from you.

As some of you may know, the Syrian Sister is one Maram Susli who is a long-time and notorious supporter of Bashar al-Assad. Her interviews with David Duke and Alex Jones have been too much even for a strong Assad supporter named Sukant Chandan, who she assailed for his leftist views obviously influenced by Maoism and Black nationalism.

Left wing individuals like Sukant Chandan who has lived his whole life as an immigrant in Europe would feel a lot better if I identified as “Arab” rather than the privileged “whites”. But where i come from it was the Arabs that were the slavers and the imperialists (apologies to my Arab friends but its history). They’re the ones who raided and took over our cities hundreds of years ago. They are the ones that enslaved the blacks of horn africa after taking over their cities and forcing the Arab language down on them. They are the ones who invaded Morocco and took white blonde Berber women of the sharmoot tribe as sex slaves.

Any surprise that this woman would feel at home doing interviews with David Duke? I think not. She even did one just a few days ago. Now none of this indicates that she is not qualified to offer opinions on hexamine. It seems that it was the late Richard Lloyd who first reached out to her on Twitter.

Why Lloyd looked her up is anybody’s guess but it was obvious that by May 2014, he had begun to move decisively into the Assadist camp based on his retweeting a Gareth Porter article with his usual excuses for the dictatorship. Once you start sniffing around websites featuring Gareth Porter, you are bound to run into Maram Susli before long.

Before long, Postol was turned on to PartisanGirl (as she is also known) and began “watching her” on Twitter, as he put it in an interview with conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite Ryan Dawson.

Kaszeta complained to Postol about him cc’ing Susli without his permission and reminded him that “that having discussions about nerve agent technology with unidentified Syrian nationals can cause me serious legal issues, particularly legal/regulatory matters and my various NDAs [nondisclosure agreements].”

The email exchanges between Kaszeta and Postol end at this point on Postol’s insistence even though Kaszeta promised him a thorough explanation of the use of hexamine in sarin gas production. I suspect that it would have been similar to the article he wrote on August 5, 2014 titled “Amines and Sarin – Hexamine, Isopropylamine, and the Rest…” that would be impossible for me to summarize since it is so technical. Suffice it to say that Postol found it convenient to ignore, just as he found Elliot Higgins’s articles on the geolocation of Assad’s military. Apparently the MIT professor enjoys picking fights even though he prefers to walk away from them when he is losing.

In addition, it would be useful to read what Jean Pascal Zanders had to say about hexamine. As  the Project Leader of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from October 1996 until August 2003 and Director of the Geneva-based BioWeapons Prevention Project (BWPP) between April 2003 and May 2008, his credentials would appear to be impeccable. In an August 2014 blog article, he stated:

However, recent discussions with officials from some Western states who are involved in the analysis of Syria’s declarations indicate two other roles of hexamine, namely as catalyst and stabiliser. The catalyst function is probably closely tied to the acid scrubber role. In an e-mail exchange today, Ralf Trapp, a chemist and consultant to the OPCW, confirmed that hexamine increases the yield of the chemical reaction by pulling the equilibrium between the precursors and reaction product (sarin) in favour of the latter. As a result, the sarin concentration receives a significant boost, possibly up to 60%. This degree of purity is considerably higher than the yields achieved by Iraq in the 1980s.

As a stabiliser, hexamine probably allowed the Syrians to store freshly produced sarin for days, if not several weeks. This understanding is more compatible with views before the civil war that Syria’s CW served strategic deterrence. Munitions declared to the OPCW last autumn also seem to validate those views. Initiating the final reaction shortly before use, as was the case in Iraq, would have undermined this doctrinal role.

One also must wonder why Postol turned to Susli for advice on hexamine when MIT has a world-class chemistry department filled with experts, who we must assume know more about such matters than someone whose knowledge of Ebola is—in a word— laughable:

Turning now to Postol’s three articles on the Khan Sheikhoun incident, they hinge on the impossibility of the remains of a 122 mm pipe found in a crater being fired from the sky. It had to be “placed” on the ground. His proof of it being the handiwork of somebody on the ground is a bit confusing:

The explosive acted on the pipe as a blunt crushing mallet. It drove the pipe into the ground while at the same time creating the crater. Since the pipe was filled with sarin, which is an incompressible fluid, as the pipe was flattened the sarin acted on the walls and ends of the pipe causing a crack along the length of the pipe and also the failure of the cap on the back end. This mechanism of dispersal is essentially the same as hitting a toothpaste tube with a large mallet, which then results in the tube failing and the toothpaste being blown in many directions depending on the exact way the toothpaste skin ruptures.

If this is in fact the mechanism used to disperse the sarin, this indicates that the sarin tube was placed on the ground by individuals on the ground and not dropped from an airplane.

Maybe it is just me but I have trouble visualizing what Postol is describing. Was this 122 mm pipe like a big pipe bomb to which a fuse was attached? Did jihadi rebels who supposedly control the town light the fuse in full view of the villagers like at a July 4th picnic? What about the fact that the village was attacked by Su-22 jet bombers within minutes of people falling to the ground unable to breathe? Just a coincidence? Also, how does an weapons expert MIT professor, even if emeritus, manage to write so much about sarin gas attacks in Syria without ever writing a single word about the feasibility of any rebel groups manufacturing, storing and weaponizing it?

Damned if I know.

 

50 Comments »

  1. It’s really a very simple and basic logic that can disprove the scenario presented by Postol. One part of it is pointed out in this report; namely, Why is it that these wily rebels have produced and stockpiled these weaponized sarin delivery systems ONLY to bomb their own communities? Their own families, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins, or their own neighbors. THIS, in the context of a clearly sectarian scenario, in which your own community, family and neighbors are all you got. Edward Said is happy he’s dead and doesn’t have to write in response to the numerous and multi-layered discursive violations of such ‘logic’.

    The second part is this: If the rebels have SO many resources and capabilities, more akin to Bond movie villains, that they can produce and manipulate situations SO magnificently out of proportion to their actual worldly footings, then how on earth are they so incapable of acquiring much easier to get surface-to-air weaponry, and take out the butcher’s air force?

    The amount of Hollywood scenario writing that goes into the explanations provided by Postol types is beyond my patience to dissect and refute. But the contortions are a dead give-away: these characters have to go through so many twists to get us stuck on minutia, a well-known diversion. Focus the attention of the reader/observer/followers on the minutia so that the audience forgets that the forest even exists.

    Postol’s logic is basic diversion/deflection, done for a mass-murdering dictator, who will go down in history as one of the nastiest our region has ever known; him and his enablers. And our region has seen a lot of nasty mass murderers: Alexander the Great, through to the Mongols, all the way to the present invaders from the U.S., Russia and their assorted local clients.

    Comment by Reza — April 18, 2017 @ 1:41 am

  2. Good recapping of the hexamine tempest in a tea pot. I wasn’t sure if this issue would come up again. In his exchange with Dan Kaszeta, Ted Postol carped on this notion that because hexamine is insoluble in isopropanol, it couldn’t have been used in the binary reaction to form sarin.

    This is not entirely correct. While hexamine is insoluble even in boiling isopropanol (which has been verified experimentally), that says nothing about its solubility in the binary mixture of DF and IPA. Furthermore, if it is in fact insoluble, that may be advantagious. It may serve as a heterogeneous base. The resulting HF complex will precipitate from the final sarin mixture, allowing easy filtration: a convenient, cheap, and fast purification method on process scale.

    Heterogeneously catalyzed organic reactions are very well known and this should not have been a point of concern to any competent chemistry adviser to Postol. In fact, the more remarkable contention would be that hexamine *cannot* act as a base in this reaction: that is literally arguing against chemical thermodynamics. And kinetically, acid/base reactions are some of the fastest reactions in organic chemistry.

    It’s also noteworthy that hexamine is remarkably easy to produce in bulk by a simple condensation of ammonia (which, as the most important fertilizer, will always be available to states) and formaldehyde. It’s also non-volatile. This may lead to it being favored by Syria over more volatile, specialty amines like isopropylamine.

    Comment by DDTea — April 18, 2017 @ 10:28 am

  3. not mentioned here is that NO investigation has confirmed that sarin was the chemical used. there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that suggests it could be something else, eg. testimony that victims “smelled the gas.” sarin is odorless. etc etc.

    simply put, proyect is keen to assert his own agenda as equally as the assadists. a real activist scholar weighs real evidence. hold judgement until an investigation is carried out. unless youre scared postol is right, and an investigation might corroborate his findings, stemming an intervention.

    Comment by Zak — April 18, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

  4. I’m bemused by Postol’s idea about the pictured missile having been laid on the ground and then squashed by an explosive charge. It just sounds fishy to me. One wonders how he managed not to find evidence of superthermite in those pictures.

    Isn’t there somebody somewhere who knows what actually happens to missiles of the alleged type when they hit the ground? I’m not the betting type, but I’d almost be willing to bet that the damage shown in the pictures is entirely consistent with “normal” deployment of Volcano rockets with the alleged Sarin warhead. (However I don’t actually know, which is why I’m asking.)

    Per Wikipedia, Postol came to fame when he, you should excuse it, exploded the official lies about the effectiveness of the Patriot missile system during the first Gulf War. He has continued over the years to attack and debunk propaganda about the effectiveness of antiballistic missile systems in general–in particular, exposing systematic distortions and fraud in research reports of such systems’ effectiveness. We owe him credit for that.

    There is, however, a good deal of daylight between studying the effectiveness of antiballistic missile systems by finding gaps in doctored research reports and direct experience with the kind of missiles allegedly used in the Sarin attacks. Horrible as it is, there is a certain operational expertise to be had in that area, and nothing we know so far about Postol’s background suggests that he possesses anything resembling this. I wonder whether he has ever even witnessed an air-to-ground missile launch or inspected the spent missiles afterward.

    In any case, Postol’s reliance for his chemical “analysis” of Sarin production rests on the testimony of an unfrocked chemistry graduate student whom he characterizes as “an organic chemist”–i.e. “the Syrian Girl,” in all her numerous avatars and incarnations. This strongly suggests a mind in decline.

    I hate to say that, because Postol’s age, 71 (I believe), is not so advanced for a member of the privileged classes these days–as witness the continued inventiveness, at age 94, of John Goodenough.

    Maybe it would be kinder to believe that, like so many he himself has exposed in the past, Postol is merely lying in the interests of what he sees as justice.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 18, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

  5. PS–my naive idea is that if a missile were fired at the right oblique angle it might skip like a stone, the initial impact flattening its tube as shown in the picture. If this is physically possible, no external “hammer” would be needed. I wonder if this makes any sense.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 18, 2017 @ 2:50 pm

  6. In fact, while sarin gas is odorless, its decay while killing its victims does generate pungent odors mostly related to the stuff it is mixed with.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

  7. PPS–I see photos of Volcano rockets being fired from the ground on You Tube, so I guess they aren’t air-to-ground. Nevertheless, I don’t see any evidence of Postol having operational experience there either.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 18, 2017 @ 4:26 pm

  8. “the OPCW headÅke Sellström” LOL
    Great article.

    Comment by (((Evan Siegel))) (@TheMathDoctor) — April 18, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

  9. To Reza:”Edward Said is happy he’s dead and doesn’t have to write in response to the numerous and multi-layered discursive violations of such ‘logic’. ”
    The same Edward Said who blamed Saddam Hussein’s Anfal gas bombing on the Iranians?
    Wonder what side this charlatan would’ve taken in this argument. He’s never been bound by grand narratives like logic in the past.

    Comment by (((Evan Siegel))) (@TheMathDoctor) — April 18, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

  10. @Evan Siegel: I don’t remember Edward Said blaming the Anfal gas bombing on the Iranians, but I do remember him leaving the PLO in protest when Saddam invaded Kuwait and the PLO was making excuses for Saddam’s invasion.

    Comment by Reza — April 18, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

  11. In the (dreaded) LRB, March 7, 1991 it seems Said wrote ; ‘The claim that Iraq gassed its own citizens has often been repeated. At best, this is uncertain. There is at least one War College report, done while Iraq was a US ally, which claims that the gassings of the Kurds in Halabja was done by Iran. Few people mention such reports in the media today, although references to them turn up occasionally in the alternative press. Now ‘gassing his own citizens’ has become a fact about Saddam, elevated into one of the proofs that the US should destroy him, as if by doing so it wouldn’t also destroy Iraq, kill thousands of people, sacrifice thousands of American lives (mostly the poor and disadvantaged) and create a host of new problems.’

    I think the salient point he makes is that it never seems to be a principled response that ‘Powers’ make to Ba’thist mass murder, these things are moved against, if at all, when it is expedient for a Great Power to act against them.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 18, 2017 @ 6:21 pm

  12. The fact that Edward Said, in the LRB piece from 1991, disputed that Saddam gassed the Kurds in 1988, for me, goes to show that nobody has perfect knowledge and perfect politics. Even the great ones make mistakes. I’m not one to believe anybody is 100% correct 100% of the time.

    But, the mistake Edward Said was making in that one episode is the same mistake the ‘anti-imperialist’ left makes on a daily basis without ever correcting itself: reverse whatever the U.S. government or mass media say, and call that ‘leftist analysis’.

    Edward Said was not covering for Saddam; he was arguing against the logic of making Saddam the excuse to destroy Iraq. What he wrote was in the context of the U.S. invasion of the region. And again, he did leave PLO in protest to that organization making excuses for Saddam in his invasion of Kuwait. So, he was not making excuses for Saddam. The likes of Postol and the Assadist ‘left’, however, are covering for a mass murderer, and they have done so for six years, and very consistently. No critical thinkers these fellows.

    Comment by Reza — April 18, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

  13. Correction: Edward Said was not a member of PLO. He was a non-affiliated member of Palestine National Council, and he left the PNC due to his disagreement over Oslo peace agreement, which he thought would be harmful to the Palestinian struggle for independence. And he was right.

    He DID call “Saddam Hussein ”an appalling and dreadful despot,” and he made similar statements about the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/26/arts/edward-w-said-literary-critic-advocate-for-palestinian-independence-dies-67.html)

    Comment by Reza — April 18, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

  14. Luke O’Brien, @MilWritersGuild, has looked at Postol’s ground blast claim and found that wanting too, and also, that he found, ‘the Sarin persistency claims were the most jarring to me. It’s not like the volatility numbers for Sarin aren’t in the public domain.’

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 18, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

  15. @Reza The quote is well-known. “The claim that Iraq gassed its own citizens has often been repeated. At best, this is uncertain. There is at least one War College report, done while Iraq was a US ally claims that the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja was done by Iran. Few people mention such reports in the media today.” London Review of Books, 7 March 1991, p.7 Of course, there was only one such report and it was immediately discredited, and has been consigned to the shadow world of conspiracy theorists.

    Said, who had functioned as an apologist for the Islamic Republic, voiced his support to the coalition led by the People’s Mojahedin after this position became politically untenable. I don’t recall him having anything to say about Iraq’s attack on Iran or Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in that horror. Indeed, he continued attacking many critics who wanted to raise the issue of repression and corruption in the Arab world in general. He finally joined several other prominent figures in walking off the Palestine National Council after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Arafat’s call for “an Arab solution” instead of a Western imperialist one got the PLO punished severely for backing a loser. I don’t know what motivated Said and his allies in making the choice they made; it seems that they recognized that this position was going to lead the Palestinians in the Persian Gulf countries to disaster. Based on his record, it is hard to see it as much of a principled position.

    There is much more to be said about this and I don’t want to thread-jack this discussion. I’ve said my piece and I’ll let Reza have the last word if Louis permits him. I only want to close by saying how depressing it is to see a generation of scholars following Said into the pseudo-intellectual swamp of Foucault, Bhabha, Spivak, and Butler doublespeak. For a solid critique of Said’s Orientalism, see https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Knowledge-Orientalism-Its-Discontents/dp/1590200179/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492707696&sr=8-1&keywords=dangerous+knowledge+orientalism+and+its+discontents.

    Comment by Evan Siegel — April 20, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

  16. OK, I see @Reza found the quote I mentioned. And, yes, he made the usual “yes, Saddam is a dictator” type comments; but this is common for the misguided leftists whom we both agree are despicable. It’s just throat clearing, leading up to the real topic at hand. Nowhere does he attempt a systematic critique of the republics of fear, leaving the field open to pro-imperialist writers like Makki, Ajami, and Naipaul.

    Said’s whole cast of villains were the imperialists. This includes academic and literary life. Arabs who write critically of their cultures are dismissed as “alienated” and dismissed out of hand. Scholars who have devoted their lives to gathering, publishing, and translating the treasures of the intellectual life in the Muslim world are accused of being part of some shadowy ill-defined imperialist project.

    People like us, Reza, who have rebelled against this one dimensional moral idiocy of the champions of this false “anti-imperialism” should keep Said. He’s one of theirs.

    OK, ’nuff said.

    Comment by Evan Siegel — April 20, 2017 @ 5:39 pm

  17. Evan, I don’t really have much to say in response. Like I said before, I don’t believe in 100% pure prophets. I particularly don’t like Foucault, even as I may find his ideas about ‘normalcy’ and ‘punishment’ interesting to read about.

    But Foucault’s support for the theocracy in Iran was a clear sign that he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to politics of societies he knew very little about. If anything, THAT is orientalism for me: it poses itself as sympathetic toward that particular ‘Islamic’ formation, but his view substituted the state for the people and it ended up supporting an obscurantism that he himself would never have lived under. As a gay person, in Iran he would have been hanged in public from a large construction crane.

    Thank you for the book recommendation, Dangerous Knowledge. I will be happy to educate myself more on this topic.

    Comment by Reza — April 20, 2017 @ 11:19 pm

  18. How reassuring to know the truth. Prior to any independent investigation. We all know that will not happen, so let’s accept as fact clear and undeniable evidence provided by….the human rights activists who, when the spirit moves them, cut off the heads of 12 year old boys. Did I say white helmets? Funded by? Started by? Heroes all!
    The Washington Post and the New York Times and Louis Proyect have people on the ground there, so we can know the truth. Louis, could you share some biographical details of your local informants? I must confess, I’m still unsure of their commitment to women’s rights, among other things.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 21, 2017 @ 6:32 am

  19. I forgot to ask, is an absence of google results really evidence? I did not know that! The things you learn. Also, was there any particular reason you said Mr. Postol is 71 years old? I note you did not mention Mr. Higgins age, nor his earlier profession. Why is that?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 21, 2017 @ 6:51 am

  20. I mentioned Postol’s age obviously because I view his ties to Maram Susli as so bizarre and so self-indicting that it reflects the sort of indiscretions we associate with someone in their second childhood.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 21, 2017 @ 12:18 pm

  21. There’s a glaring issue in this post, in paragraph 11, regarding the use of Sarin by the rebels. Author claims that rebels were only alleged to have used it once in 6 years. Contrary to that, UN mission documents several instances in 2013 alone where victims were the government soldiers and civilians in government-controlled neighbourhoods, and where biomedical samples provided by SAR and DNA-matched by UN during their own sampling tested positive for Sarin or its metabolites. https://unoda-web.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/report.pdf

    Comment by theUg — April 21, 2017 @ 1:53 pm

  22. Mr. TheUg, are you referring to the Khan Al Asal incident? The report you linked to states: “The United Nations Mission collected credible information that corroborates the allegations that chemical weapons were used in Khan Al Asal on 19 March 2013 against soldiers and civilians. However, the release of chemical weapons at the alleged site could not be independently verified in the absence of primary information on delivery systems and of environmental and biomedical samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody.” Do you have some other incident in mind?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 21, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

  23. ‘In February 2014, a UNHRC Commission of Inquiry released a statement concluding that sarin had been used on multiple occasions in Syria, and that the Khan al-Assal attacks bore similar hallmarks to Ghouta. However, the United Nations did not identify any perpetrators.

    Russia, as in Ghouta several months later, claimed the attack was carried out by the opposition using Basha’ir-3 rocket-propelled unguided missiles, parroting claims made by Syrian state news agency SANA immediately after the attacks.

    In an interview with former UK CBRN Forces Commander Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, Eliot Higgins and de Bretton-Gordon concluded that the scenario of a DIY rocket being used by opposition forces as per Russian claims was “highly improbable,” simply due to the delivery methods of sarin and the level of sophistication involved in deploying the agent. Still, the incident remains unresolved on an international level.
    (From Bellingcat).

    Similar hallmarks to Ghouta. So, you know.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 21, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

  24. Amazing. Each sentence pure nonsense. I copy the article as an example to show how to inverse facts. I could write a book to explain, but Ithink its is not worth to do. Only people here who would not understand anything (or inverse any word).

    Comment by Hans-Peter Zepf — April 21, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

  25. Just out of curiosity, Hans-Peter. Are you a Stalinist type supporter of Assad like Andre Vltchek or more of a neo-Nazi type like David Duke?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 21, 2017 @ 10:52 pm

  26. I cannot speak for Hans-Peter, but I myself have a difficult decision. Those are the only two choices, you say?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 22, 2017 @ 3:52 am

  27. There should be no chain of custody problems when the off-white helmets are in charge of the samples. How could there be any problem with that?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 22, 2017 @ 6:10 am

  28. Hans Peter is probably a die linke Putin admirer. A person like Oliver Stone maybe who , as Reza said above, confuses knee jerk anti western sentiment with ‘leftist’ analysis. Melenchon too in France I heard is one of these Stalinistic types, anti-German, pro Putin. As with this Stalinists of old this requires a lot of lying and not seeing certain things.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 22, 2017 @ 10:53 am

  29. @Doug Are stupid sophomoric sub-literary squibs like ‘off-white helmets’ , and sledgehammer sarcasms like ‘heroes all’, are they your response to tragedies and to the overwhelming mass of evidence of Russias and Assad regimes actions in Syria? You are a hideous, entirely fatuous, idiot. Why do you read Louis Proyects writings when you aren’t capable of rational thought?

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 22, 2017 @ 11:28 am

  30. Matthew, don’t blame Doug for being a submoron. Once you feed at the Assadist trough (Information Clearing House, DissidentVoice, Global Research, et al), you become mentally impaired–like toddlers eating lead-laced plaster.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 22, 2017 @ 11:30 am

  31. Well if he reads Global Research I guess I should understand the kind of detritus he writes here. Just seen on Eliot Higgins twitter that Yassin al-Haj Salehs ‘The Impossible Revolution’ is to be published in paperback in a couple of months. Perhaps if Doug could tear himself away from Global Research he might find time to read that instead.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 22, 2017 @ 11:49 am

  32. I haven’t much bothered with Global Research for quite a while. To me they just…smell wrong. I would welcome your plural explanations as to why that is so.
    Matthew, I will put “The Impossible Revolution” on my to read list. Thank you.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 23, 2017 @ 4:52 am

  33. p.s. Matthew, is it or will it be available online?

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 23, 2017 @ 5:00 am

  34. I have another question; is it your opinion that the current Assad is responsible for all the violence and bloodshed going on in Syria, and that all the groups fighting the government are trying to replace it with a structure more egalitarian? That is simply not how it appears to me. I remember Information Clearing House, I don’t remember Dissident Voice.
    I have something of a soft spot for Assad. I never saw him cutting the head off a 12 year old. For me that is a plus. Maybe you can overlook that Matthew, I haven’t reached your level yet.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 23, 2017 @ 5:29 am

  35. Well Doug if your imagination is only captured by the selected images fed to you by your preferred propaganda outlets then certainly you haven’t reached my level. I don’t suppose your imagination has lingered much on the burnt up bodies and faces after Russian and regime airstrikes. And yet, ‘There is clear evidence of ongoing use of incendiary weapons in Syria. Attacks using these weapons in Syria have escalated since Russia began its joint operation with government forces at the end of September 2015. For at least a few weeks in mid-2016, incendiary weapons were used almost every day in attacks on opposition-held areas.’ As for the rest I would strongly argue that Assad regime and Russia and Irans mass murderous response to the demonstrations that began the revolution have played precisely and deliberately into AQs narrative. Assad regime notably released jihadis in the early months of 2011. But read Saleh’s book it will no doubt be informative about the things you ask.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 23, 2017 @ 11:18 am

  36. Unlike your good self, Matthew, I do not profess to be certain of the truth. I do not know enough to be certain about a great deal of what is happening in Syria. I do tend to think that the current government is better than any likely alternative. I could be wrong about that, some of what I’ve seen of the Kurds gives me hope.
    I have no reason to doubt your (unsourced) quote about the use of incendiaries. Do you assume them to be used against innocent and unarmed protesters? I await your evidence of their improper use. I do not entirely discount evidence from Islamist and jihadi sources, but I do consider them somewhat suspect.
    What causes me to wonder is your support for groups supported by the CIA, the Saudis (and the GCC), the Council on Foreign Relations, Erdogan and a whole slew of what appear to be their puppets. What might be called the establishment. Fill your boots.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 24, 2017 @ 2:16 am

  37. Matthew, you say that you would “strongly argue that (the) Assad regime and Russia and Irans (sic) mass murderous response to the demonstrations have played precisely and deliberately into AQs narrative.” Are you saying that Russia and Iran were “mass murdering” in Syria in 2011? That would be news to me. I’d be grateful if you could direct me to those reports.
    You also mention the release of jihadis in the early months of 2011. Do you know if they were released simply to wreak havoc or might there have been any negotiations made prior. To be honest I do not have a clear recollection about this, so if you do I’d be grateful.
    You seem to think I’m a stupid person, (and you might be right) so could you explain in simple language exactly how the “murderous response…played…into AQs narrative?
    Thank you.

    Comment by Doug Colwell — April 24, 2017 @ 3:13 am

  38. You think ‘that the current government is better than any likely alternative’. So you support and have supported from the start a regime that always had an Assad or we burn the country policy? There is nothing and nobody in Syria more worth your support than a mass murdering, mass torturing, despot? Yes I do think you are stupid. The quote about incendiary weapons is from Human Rights Watch. They are used in civilian areas. Assad regime made peaceful demonstrations impossible and ordered civilians to be shot and murdered and emprisoned and tortured on mass from the very start. Hezbollah, an arm of Iranian foreign policy intervened, Russian ‘advisors’ and IRGC ‘advisors’ were there from the start and the mass murder and torture has continued. I believe the Syrian Secret Police and Airforce Intelligence etc. were trained by the KGB from way back.

    As for other questions, and indeed all questions about the Syrian revolution , Louis Proyect’s blog is full of material on the questions you ask. For example much of the support for the rebels has been of a qualifying and compromising kind, – why after six years have the rebels not been able to defend civilian areas from aerial bombardment and massacre? And they have enemies both sides, so for example as the FSA fight IS they are simultaneously attacked by the regime and Russia. Rebel held areas, not IS areas, are the focus of Russian and regime attacks. Statistics show that the vast, vast, majority of civilian deaths, are caused by the regime, that the vast majority of the millions of refugees , flee the regime. Your support for it does you no credit. An argument that it is because of a concern lest the Syrian people find worse – I think that is easy to say for you. I shan’t write any more here, I urge you to read Proyect’s past blog posts on Syria if you are sincere about wanting to understand his pro-Revolution perspective, you seem unaware of them.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 24, 2017 @ 11:28 am

  39. @DDTea

    “not mentioned here is that NO investigation has confirmed that sarin was the chemical used. there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that suggests it could be something else, eg. testimony that victims “smelled the gas.” sarin is odorless. etc etc.”

    Heh. No.

    https://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-director-general-shares-incontrovertible-laboratory-results-concluding-exposure-to-sarin/

    Comment by Makhno — April 25, 2017 @ 10:39 am

  40. Sorry, that comment should have been @Zak, rather than @DDT, as the latter’s post was informative and useful, whereas the former’s was just the usual Querfronti Putinist misdirection.

    Comment by Makhno — April 25, 2017 @ 10:47 am

  41. […] look at the people you imagine have ‘debunked’ criticism of the mainstream narrative. Your link to Louis Proyect’s attack on Postol, for instance, betrays what I would regard as a woeful want of judgement. In an update to your […]

    Pingback by George Monbiot, about Syria… | Tim Hayward — April 28, 2017 @ 9:11 am

  42. What is theduran.com Tim Hayward? Is that where you read that the perfidious western powers scuttled Russias pleas for independent investigations? Peace loving, honest old Russia, so beloved by you ‘anti-warmongers’. I read, on Reuters,

    ‘ [for] the eighth time during Syria’s six-year-old civil war that Moscow [-] used its veto power on the Security Council to shield Assad’s government.

    In the latest veto, Russia blocked a draft resolution backed by the United States, France and Britain to denounce the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun and tell Assad’s government to provide access for investigators and information such as flight plans.’

    You are another ‘leftist’ so obsessed with attacking ‘warmongering governments’ at home that you don’t care what Syrian citizens say is happening. What real evidence is there for war crimes you ask. After Ghouta, Daraya, Aleppo, numerous attacks on hospitals etc. The evidence around Ghouta is massive. You are against ‘warmongering governments’ if they are in London. If they are in Moscow or Teheran you have no problem. You write b/s to push their rubbish. Meanwhile Postol, whom you argue should be accorded great respect here , in his latest folly, has confused the Saraqib 2013 chemical attack with the latest sarin attack. He is so eager to shill for Putin he can’t read dates even.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — April 28, 2017 @ 4:59 pm

  43. Elliot Higgins demolishes Postol. https://twitter.com/EliotHiggins/status/857945761681731584

    Comment by Evan Siegel — April 28, 2017 @ 8:22 pm

  44. And WashingtonsBlog is a relentlessly pro-Putin, pro-Assad organ, filled with crackpots like Eric Zeusse. And… 9/11 conspiracy theories. https://www.google.com/search?q=Washingtonsblog+9%2F11&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

    Nice job, professor. You finally found your dotage niche.

    Comment by Evan Siegel — April 28, 2017 @ 8:32 pm

  45. […] He had previously exonerated the Assad regime of responsibility for the 2013 attacks on Ghouta (https://louisproyect.org/2017/04/17/going-postol-how-an-mit-professor-ended-up-in-bashar-al-assads-c…). But CW experts consider that he is entirely mistaken and has failed to pay attention to all the […]

    Pingback by Post #166: Chemical Warfare in Syria: The Question of Responsibility (Part 2) – In the Human Interest – Mel Gurtov — May 2, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

  46. Does anybody prove there was any Sarin at all? Or Just taking personal fights instead of fact finding? She blames her, he blames him? Who proved any CW at all? If any CW why and how some are not affected and waking without protective gear? and why they are treated after few hours? and who is ur witness? Don’t just believe just what suites ur likes.Use logic people.. Let cat fight end. Go to thread and educate urself..

    Comment by Rajarajan — May 3, 2017 @ 7:20 am

  47. Rajarajan, thank you for reminding us of how mentally deficient the Assadist community is. You should try eating sardines. They are supposedly good brain food. It eating them doesn’t work, try shoving them up your ass.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 3, 2017 @ 11:52 am

  48. […] rely on the claims of one man without expertise in chemical weapons, Theodore Postol, who has quite a history when it comes to these issues. His hypothesis seems to me to stretch the bounds of credulity. This […]

    Pingback by Disavowal | — May 6, 2017 @ 1:13 am

  49. […] Going Postol: how an MIT professor ended up in Bashar al-Assad’s camp by Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist.   Rebuttal to Postol’s argument. […]

    Pingback by Official story of sarin attack debunked | Phil Ebersole's Blog — May 18, 2017 @ 12:43 am

  50. […] even more deadly one of 2013.  For a refutation of Postol, see the commentary by Louis Proyect,  https://louisproyect.org/2017/04/17/going-postol-how-an-mit-professor-ended-up-in-bashar-al-assads-c…   Proyect’s refutation is not totally conclusive but he correctly points out that there have […]

    Pingback by Letter exchange re article on chemical weapons - Works in Progress — June 4, 2017 @ 11:33 pm


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