The contra-narrative about Assad’s alleged gas attack is gaining traction as the evidence comes in. It increasingly seems probable that some folks suffocated or were overcome with smoke inhalation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) when buildings, tunnels and underground bunkers collapsed into clouds of dust during the final battle for Douma last Saturday.
Then the desperate remnant of the jihadist Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) holed up there piled the bodies in a basement, spread shaving cream on their lips and proceeded to videotape furiously. Thereafter, they charged into a nearby hospital (which was treating hypoxia victims) with their video cameras in hand, yelling "chemical attack" while water-hosing one and all, thereby setting off the pandemonium seen on social media around the world.
We haven’t gotten to Douma yet to check out this contra-narrative, but an intrepid young reporter named Pearson Sharp did. Along with his camera crew, he visited the site of the attack, the hospital and the nearby rebel weapons dump – and interviewed dozens of people in the immediate vicinity.
According to Sharp, none of them witnessed the alleged gas attack or believed it happened, and several personnel at the Douma hospital corroborated the phony water-dousing melee. Indeed, the head surgeon insisted to him that no one had died at the hospital from chemical agents.
And he also saw and videoed room after room stacked with rockets, mortars and other military gear and filmed the debris and dilapidated remnants of buildings in the town.
No doubt about it. Douma is the victim of a vicious civil war fought for keeps by both sides. It’s the kind of place where folks get terrorized, bombed, shot, suffocated, shrapneled and blown to smithereens.
This kind of urban warfare is its own horror show, chemical agents or no. And most surely, there is no way to accurately determine who did what from a 6,000 mile away vantage point in Washington.
That’s especially the case with Douma because it appears that much of its bedraggled population had been literally driven underground into tunnels, basements and behind makeshift earthworks to shelter from the fighting and bombing.
There, they were the captives of the brutal, armed jihadists of Jaysh al-Islam, and it was in this subterranean setting that the room full of bodies and the frenzied hospital scenes transmitted over social media actually transpired. That is, the whole event was completely invisible to Washington’s vast, high-powered eyes in the sky.
Then again, you are apparently a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist if you doubt the official narrative – conjured in offices along the Potomac – in the slightest. That’s even if you actually walk the debris-ridden tunnels of Douma, as did young Mr. Pearson Sharp.
Within hours of his report (linked below), the liberal mainstream media was already attacking it as the work of a rightwing conspiracy nut.
But here’s the thing. Pearson Sharp is one of the anchors on the OAN cable news network (One America News Network).
That’s notable above all else because the OAN is the Donald’s next bestest cable network after Fox. It was launched a few years ago by a right-wing San Diego entrepreneur and now boasts 30 million subscribers to Fox’s 90 million.
So it’s Fox News Jr. in terms of viewer reach, but when it comes to boosting all things Trump, it appears to leave even Sean Hannity in the dust. Or as the Denver Post snarkily noted:
One America News is an obscure TV channel struggling to emerge from the cellar of the cable ratings, but it is nonetheless one of President Donald Trump’s favorite media outlets. It’s not hard to see why: On One America newscasts, the Trump administration is a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.
OAN, based in San Diego, made its first splash in the opening weeks of the Trump campaign, when the channel became the first to carry Trump’s campaign speeches live and in full – a decision followed quickly by the owner’s directive that other candidates’ rallies not be given the same treatment, according to internal emails.
Since then, OAN has become a reliably sympathetic voice of the administration’s goals and actions. Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has a deal to appear regularly on the channel.
So imagine the Donald’s surprise when he saw this?
Then again, we were more than a bit surprised when the new sanctions ballyhooed on the Sunday talk shows by the Donald’s UN embarassador Nikkei Haley, suddenly got cancelled – apparently on the orders of POTUS himself.
And then came the cable crawlers this AM referencing the "Syria exit plan" being developed by the White House.
Did the Donald get a private tweet from Bashar al-Assad promising never to do it again? After all, here is what the Donald proclaimed with some heated insistence during his address to the nation last Friday evening:
We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents….(but) we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home – and great warriors they are.
Well, you could say that was fast – at least as to the second clause.
But, of course, the real fast part in this whole contretemps was the snap judgment that launched 105 missiles at a nation which has never threatened or harmed America. Within days it will be clear that the ventriloquists of the Deep State put words in the Donald’s mouth that were surely unverified, obviously rash, and probably untrue:
Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians, this time in the town of Douma near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons used by that very terrible regime.
The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.
…..In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. Assad’s recent attack and today’s response are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise.
Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.
Self-evidently, a visiting Martian might have an altogether different interpretation of which nation had ventured down the "dark path" and which one was a "force for stability and peace". And that would especially be the case with just a few more reports like the new missive from veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk of the Independent (UK).
Unlike young Mr. Pearson Sharp, Fisk has been a war correspondent in the Middle East for four decades and has won endless awards for reporting from the front lines. But his chops were earned when he became one of the few reporters in history to conduct face-to-face interviews with Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions during the 1990s.
Fisk’s dispatch filed Monday night speaks for itself and merits quoting at length because it not only skewers Washington’s narrative about Assad’s gas attack, but also provides vivid context: Whatever happened last Saturday erupted in the fog of war and could not possibly have been instantly assessed objectively or correctly by officials 6,000 miles away, who admit to having no "assets" on the ground in Damascus.
Stated differently, Fisk’s dispatch is a case study in real time on how the War Party in Washington, London and Israel have become so arrogant, presumptuous and corrupted by military power that they resort to the Big Lie as a matter of course.
As Fisk reveals, Washington had an Assad-as-monster and Russia and Iran as accomplices narrative, and it apparently only took a giant dust cloud to trigger a new burst of aggression against the Syrian state:
This is the story of a town called Douma, a ravaged, stinking place of smashed apartment blocks – and of an underground clinic whose images of suffering allowed three of the Western world’s most powerful nations to bomb Syria last week. There’s even a friendly doctor in a green coat who, when I track him down in the very same clinic, cheerfully tells me that the ‘gas’ videotape which horrified the world – despite all the doubters – is perfectly genuine.
War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.
The above goes to the event, but Fisk’s report also provides a rich contextual narrative that was not even hinted at by the war-talkers and ex-generals who have dominated coverage on the three cable channels. To wit, the Islamist terrorists who were holed-up in Douma – like in East Aleppo before it – had turned these neighborhoods into a living hell and ruled by terror and death squads:
There are the many people I talked amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups. These particular jihadis survived under a blizzard of shellfire by living in other’s people’s homes and in vast, wide tunnels with underground roads carved through the living rock by prisoners with pick-axes on three levels beneath the town. I walked through three of them yesterday, vast corridors of living rock which still contained Russian – yes, Russian – rockets and burned-out cars.
So the story of Douma is thus not just a story of gas – or no gas, as the case may be. It’s about thousands of people who did not opt for evacuation from Douma on buses that left last week, alongside the gunmen with whom they had to live like troglodytes for months in order to survive. I walked across this town quite freely yesterday without soldier, policeman or minder to haunt my footsteps, just two Syrian friends, a camera and a notebook. I sometimes had to clamber across 20-foot-high ramparts, up and down almost sheer walls of earth. Happy to see foreigners among them, happier still that the siege is finally over, they are mostly smiling; those whose faces you can see, of course, because a surprising number of Douma’s women wear full-length black hijab.
In the course of his wandering around the rubble of Douma, Fisk encountered Dr Rahaibani, who operates the clinic made famous across the entire twitter-verse last weekend.
Perhaps it would have been well for someone among the legions of Deep State operatives advising Trump to have put in a call to Rahaibani. We are quite certain he would have taken the call, and perhaps by his testimony could have slowed the stampede to war:
It was a short walk to Dr Rahaibani. From the door of his subterranean clinic – “Point 200,” it is called, in the weird geology of this partly-underground city – is a corridor leading downhill where he showed me his lowly hospital and the few beds where a small girl was crying as nurses treated a cut above her eye.
“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. 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.”
There you have it. Very much a case of mistaken identify in the fog of war – it was a dust cloud, not a gas attack.
And that was not the only surprise Fisk found in Douma. It seems that the White Helmets – the putative Paul Reveres of the social media/internet who sounded the worldwide alarm – were nowhere to be seen, either.
In fact, every single one of them – including the videographers of the water-dousing event in Dr. Rahaibani’s clinic – had clamored abroad the government busses on Sunday and were off to the safety of the last rebel stronghold in Idlib province.
The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story…..
Of course we must hear their side of the story, but it will not happen here: a woman told us that every member of the White Helmets in Douma abandoned their main headquarters and chose to take the government-organised and Russian-protected buses to the rebel province of Idlib with the armed groups when the final truce was agreed.
In fact, hardly a day after the Douma event that truce had been agreed to and 3,000 Jaysh al-Islam fighters, their families and their White Helmet allies had vacated the scene and gone fishing in the friendlier climes of Idlib.
So what was left behind was no witnesses, no victims, no bodies, no chlorine and virtually no one with a bad word to say about the "monster" Assad of the Deep State’s righteous wrath.
As Fisk further noted, it was as if the entire crime scene had been airlifted to northwest Syria and those left behind were only relieved that the miserable siege of their neighborhoods by the Islamist terrorists had finally been lifted:
Again, my earnest questions about gas were met with what seemed genuine perplexity.
How could it be that Douma refugees who had reached camps in Turkey were already describing a gas attack which no-one in Douma today seemed to recall? It did occur to me, once I was walking for more than a mile through these wretched prisoner-groined tunnels, that the citizens of Douma lived so isolated from each other for so long that ‘news’ in our sense of the word simply had no meaning to them. Syria doesn’t cut it as Jeffersonian democracy – as I cynically like to tell my Arab colleagues – and it is indeed a ruthless dictatorship, but that couldn’t cow these people, happy to see foreigners among them, from reacting with a few words of truth. So what were they telling me?
They talked about the Islamists under whom they had lived. They talked about how the armed groups had stolen civilian homes to avoid the Syrian government and Russian bombing. The Jaish el-Islam had burned their offices before they left, but the massive buildings inside the security zones they created had almost all been sandwiched to the ground by air strikes. A Syrian colonel I came across behind one of these buildings asked if I wanted to see how deep the tunnels were. I stopped after well over a mile when he cryptically observed that “this tunnel might reach as far as Britain”. Ah yes, Mrs May, I remembered, whose air strikes had been so intimately connected to this place of tunnels and dust. And gas?
Not only that, but something further was apparently found in the vacated quarters of Jaysh al-Islam. According to the Russians, their military’s chemical protection unit also found a weapons lab in Douma:
The discovered substances, such as thiodiglycol and diethanolamine, are necessary for the production of sulfur and nitrogen mustard gas. In addition, a cylinder with chlorine, similar to that used by militants for setting up the wide-spread fake story, was found in the warehouse. It can be concluded that this laboratory was used by illegal armed groups for the production of poisonous substances,” Rodionov said, as quoted by the Zvezda TV channel.
Perhaps this latter bit is all Russian propaganda, but the question still recurs: How is it that Washington rushed to unleash it bombers and cruise missiles on this miserable, broken country in a foggy circumstance where a 40-year war correspondent couldn’t find a trace of the alleged attack?
The answer is disturbing but goes to the heart of the Deep State’s evil and the alacrity with which it coopted the Donald. To wit, it is filled with sickos and bullies who have spent a life-time occupying the the Empire’s high offices, far-flung outposts and cushy sinecures.
In some cases, the consequences are extreme as in the demented pro-war rantings of Senator Graham and Senator McCain. In a world not cowered and corrupted by Washington’s hegemonic pretensions, those two would be considered incipient – or even actual – war criminals and be treated with accordingly.
But as we shall develop in my next article, there is a whole infrastructure of policy apparatchiks, think tankers and beltway operatives who have now spent upwards of three decades absorbing and extending the "sole superpower"narrative that sprung into being when Soviet Union disappeared in a flash and China lurched onto the Red Capitalist route to save itself from disaster.
These people are so imbued with the sense that Washington is the seat of Empire that they are fully capable of fashioning the Big Lie out of mere dust, as our Douma Deposed expose so starkly reveals.
Two operators typical of this breed took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to egg the Donald on – urging him to extend Friday’s one-off bombing raids to an all-out assault on Assad and then on to Tehran.
Said former U.S. ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker and Brookings Institute senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon:
"Next time the U.S. could up the ante, going after military command and control, political leadership, and perhaps even Assad himself. The U.S. could also pledge to take out much of his air force. Targets within Iran should not be off limits."
Undoubtedly, they mean assassinating the Ayatollah Khamenei by the latter phrase, and it should not be shocking because that’s what Empires do when faced by resistance in the provinces.
Indeed, as if in ancient Rome, Ryan Crocker is a seasoned pro-counsel. He served as Ambassador to Lebanon (1990-1993), Kuwait (1994-1997), Syria (1998-2001), Pakistan (2004-2007), Iraq (2007-2009) and Afghanistan (2011-2012).
You really can’t think of a greater string of Washington policy failures than is implicit in this line-up. Yet Crocker is not disgraced, as he should be, but is accorded the op ed pages of the Wall Street Journal to peddle his ill-disguised war-mongering.
And his think tank colleague, rabid neo-conner, Michael O’Hanlon, has a no less blemished record of advocating for every mis-begotten war that Washington has pursued in recent times, including the assurance before Dubya plunged into the Iraq catastrophe that there would be "a rapid and decisive" American victory.
In a word, the Deep State is not just an institutional infrastructure; it’s a disease of the mind and conscience.
And it’s why Washington is bombing a far off land in retaliation for the dust clouds of Douma.
David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.