Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 5, 2020

Fisking Douma

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:39 pm

Robert Fisk

All of Robert Fisk’s bad habits come into play in a recent Independent op-ed piece titled “The Syrian conflict is awash with propaganda – chemical warfare bodies should not be caught up in it” that is part of the aggressive propaganda campaign trying to absolve Bashar al-Assad from the chlorine gas attack in Douma last year. Along with Fisk, two other British journalists have been making a huge stink over alleged OPCW cover-ups. One is Jonathan Steele, who works for the liberal Guardian newspaper and the other is Christopher Hitchens’s brother Peter, who works for the rightwing Mail on Sunday. Their articles on Douma rely heavily on two OPCW whistle-blowers, Ian Henderson and “Alex”, who spoke at a conference sponsored by Courage Foundation, which is closely tied to Wikileaks. Since Julian Assange has been a long-time supporter of Assad, it is no surprise that his allies are doing everything possible to prove that jihadis organized a “false flag” in Douma in order to give the USA an excuse to bomb Syria.

Fisk starts off with an anecdote about a conversation he had with a NATO officer after giving a talk on the Middle East to European military officials in the Spring of 2019. After his talk, one of the officers cornered and then told him, “The OPCW are not going to admit all they know. They’ve already censored their own documents.” This kind of insider-knowledge should be familiar to anybody who has read Seymour Hersh for the past 8 years, until he became damaged goods to the LRB or any other reputable periodical. Just refer to some spook or General on the QT and you’ll wow your readers even if what they tell you cannot be verified. Unlike Hersh, Fisk couldn’t even get his informant to provide the usual “false flag” story. He writes, “I could not extract any more from him. He smiled and walked away, leaving me to guess what he was talking about.”

Luckily for Fisk, the NATO officer phoned him a few months later and said that he was not talking about the Henderson report. But, you might ask, what then was he talking about. Well, who knows since his informer then “immediately terminated” their conversation?

Apparently, it was Alex who once and for all established that the OPCW was in cahoots with the CIA in trying to make the unblemished Bashar al-Assad look like a war criminal. (Perhaps Fisk wasn’t aware that Douma had been attacked with chlorine gas three times already in 2018. He evidently saw no need to report about it since so few people died. So what if they were sick enough to be hospitalized? That’s what you deserve for living in a city that stubbornly resisted the dictatorship.)

The most damaging item in Fisk’s article turns once again to the chlorine tanks that were found in the upper floors of the apartment building where more than 40 dwellers were found dead on the lower floors:

Alex also said that a British diplomat who was OPCW’s chef de cabinet invited several members of the drafting team to his office, where they found three US officials who told them that the Syrian regime had conducted a gas attack and that two cylinders found in one building contained 170 kilograms of chlorine. The inspectors, Alex remarked, regarded this as unacceptable pressure and a violation of the OPCW’s principles of “independence and impartiality”.

I have no idea how informing the OPCW that two chlorine gas cylinders had been found amounted to “unacceptable pressure.” They had been widely acknowledged by the OPCW leadership on one side and the whistle-blowers on the other. They only differed on where they came from. The leadership said they came from a helicopter and the whistle-blowers said that jihadis carried these five-hundred pound tanks from some undisclosed location into the building and then up six stories in full view of the Douma population. You’d think that if this was the case, the dictatorship would have found someone from Douma to verify that a false flag did take place. Keep in mind that Assadists are making the case that these devilish jihadis released the gas in order to provide the necessary victims that Donald Trump needed to justify bombing some buildings in Damascus. Of course, if Trump was truly trying to punish Assad, he wouldn’t have cut off all aid to the rebels long before the Douma attack.

Ironically, the Independent article contained a video that had nothing to do with Fisk’s false flag bullshit. It was captioned “Syria war: At least 16 killed in ‘beyond sadistic’ missile attack on camp for displaced people” and depicted a slaughter in Idlib. For all we know, some of the dead might have come there from Douma. The day after the chlorine gas attack, those who were still living boarded buses and went to Idlib, a Gaza-like hellhole that was home to all the poor people who Assad wanted to quarantine from his religiously tolerant, state-socialist paradise.

Civilians gather next to a fragment of a ground-to-ground missile fired by Syrian regime forces (AFP via Getty Images)

The Independent covered the displaced people tragedy on November 21, 2019. Headlined with the same caption found beneath the video clip in Fisk’s article, it was the sort of reporting that the cynical and degraded reporter is no longer capable of:

The Syrian regime bombarded a camp hosting displaced people and a maternity hospital in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people, the vast majority of whom were women and children.

Dozens were injured and at least eight children and two women were thought to have been among those killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Large parts of the camp were burnt and several fire brigades were called to the scene, with rescuers warning on Thursday that the death toll was expected to rise as more people succumbed to severe burn injuries.

The regime fired at least two ground-to-ground missiles, which caused “significant damage to the camp as well as the burning of tents of displaced people”, SOHR reported.

Fisk is no longer capable of such reporting because he became embedded in the dictatorship’s army in the same way that people like Judith Miller became embedded back in 2002. What a disgrace.

8 Comments »

  1. Deal with the Wikileaks documents, not straw man bullshit.

    Comment by georges — January 5, 2020 @ 11:06 pm

  2. I have already dealt with the whistleblowers here:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/11/22/douma-chlorine-gas-and-occams-razor/

    Comment by louisproyect — January 5, 2020 @ 11:19 pm

  3. “Luckily for Fisk, the NATO officer phoned him a few months later and said that he was not talking about the Henderson report. But, you might ask, what then was he talking about. Well, who knows since his informer then “immediately terminated our conversation.”

    Actually Fisk makes it quite clear what he was talking about:

    “The most recent information….suggests that the OPCW suppressed or failed to publish, or simply preferred to ignore, the conclusions of up to 20 other members of its staff who became so upset at what they regarded as the misleading conclusions of the final report that they officially sought to have it changed in order to represent the truth….. Alex said he did not want to undermine the OPCW but stated that “most of the Douma team” felt the two reports on the incident (the OPCW had also published an interim report in 2018) were “scientifically impoverished, procedurally irregular and possibly fraudulent”. Alex said he sought, in vain, to have a subsequent OPCW conference to address these concerns and “demonstrate transparency, impartiality and independence”…..Findings comparing chlorine gas normally present in the atmosphere with evidence from the Douma site were, according to Alex, kept by the head of the Douma mission and not passed to the inspector who was drafting the interim report. Alex said that he subsequently discovered that the chlorinated organic chemicals in Douma were “no higher than you would expect in any household environment”, a point which he says was omitted from both OPCW reports. Alex told his Brussels audience that these omissions were “deliberate and irregular”.”

    Then there is the document sent by Wikileaks to The Independent from a meeting of “OPCW toxicologists and pharmacists” on 6 June 2018 which says that “the experts were conclusive in their statements that there is no correlation between symptoms [of the victims] and chlorine exposure” and that in their view “the onset of excessive frothing, as a result of pulmonary edema observed in photos and reported by witnesses would not occur in the short time period between the reported occurrence of the alleged incident and the time the videos were recorded”.

    Comment by Fred Davis — January 5, 2020 @ 11:27 pm

  4. Unlike here-today-gone-tomorrow “journalists” Fisk is a correspondent in the true sense of the term – making his home in the area he reports from. This does not make him “embedded” at all – it means he knows the language, the people and the environment he reports from. “Fisking” is a term of abuse invented by right wing trolls.

    Comment by Frank Mclintock — January 5, 2020 @ 11:55 pm

  5. Fred Davis, can’t you write your own bullshit rather than copy and pasting it? Why are all you Assadist motherfuckers so addicted to repeating what I’ve read a thousand times and expecting me to reply to it?

    Comment by louisproyect — January 6, 2020 @ 12:54 am

  6. Unlike here-today-gone-tomorrow “journalists” Fisk is a correspondent in the true sense of the term – making his home in the area he reports from.

    Yeah, but in Syria it is always with his Baathist handlers making sure that he won’t speak to anybody who challenges his bullshit.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 6, 2020 @ 12:55 am

  7. I am glad you have had the patience to read Fisk these days and offer a critique of his statement.

    As somebody who buys the print version of the Indy, the ‘I’, I cannot be arsed to even flip through it.

    Comment by Andrew Coates — January 6, 2020 @ 11:26 am

  8. @ “Fred Davis.” The “NATO officer” referred to in the passage Louis quotes from Fisk does not appear to be the same person as “Alex,” who is meant to be an OPCW whistleblower. Fisk did in fact write that both the first conversation with this “NATO officer” and the subsequent alleged telephone call were prematurely terminated. What Fisk says about “Alex” later on, if this is so, must necessarily be immaterial to this particular circumstance; hence “what he was talking about” would not clarified by this for the “he” in question, the mysterious “NATO officer.”

    It speaks volumes of the conspiracist mindset that “Fred Davis” cannot distinguish between different sources and different alleged facts in an argument. Of such is the kingdom of Nine Eleven and all related nonsense.

    What Louis said is perfectly sensible in context and what “Davis” says in refutation–of this particular point–is a childish non sequitur. Since when are intelligent people expected to put up with such nonsense?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 6, 2020 @ 4:51 pm


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