Truth lies gasping in Douma.

Martha Gellhorn. Chester Wilmot. Clare Hollingworth. All war correspondents admired for their independence and tenacity. When Gellhorn wasn’t selected to cover the Normandy landings in 1944, she got herself smuggled on to a beach on D-Day. Wilmot sacrificed his press accreditation in Papua in 1942 by refusing to keep silent about what he regarded as incompetence in the Australian forces’ generalship.

Then there’s Robert Fisk.

Robert who? You may well ask, given the complete lack of attention he’s afforded by the rest of today’s, mainly chair-bound, UK media. Fisk was one of the first journalists from a ‘western’ outlet to get on to the ground in Douma on Tuesday.

He looked for evidence of the alleged chemical weapon attack that the UK, US and France, used as the pretext for that rusty oxymoron, a ‘humanitarian missile strike’. Fisk went to the hospital where the video of children being sprayed with water was filmed. The scene was real, he was told by a doctor, but the people were actually being treated for hypoxia caused by inhaling dust and smoke created by a conventional bomb strike.

The panic and water spraying shown began when the person with the camera shouted ‘Gas!’ Then the camera person just left. Soon afterwards the ‘chemical attack’ video went online along with apparently-posed and re-posed photos of dead people at the alleged site of the ‘chemical’ attack.

Fisk talked to many people ‘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’. He didn’t find any of the 500 people said by the World Health Organisation to have been treated in Douma for chemical weapon after-effects.

In short, Fisk did what a war correspondent should do. He went and saw for himself. Walked the streets. Talked to people. Checked out the scene of the ‘atrocity’.

He reported what he saw and what he was told by those who lived through the fighting in Douma between Syrian forces and the US and Saudi-backed Islamist rebels.

He found no evidence of the alleged chemical weapons attack, which the leaders of the UK, US and France – the FUKUS coalition – claimed to have been totally convinced about by their intelligence services and social media.

For reporting these things, Fisk is labelled by many fellow British journalists as an ‘apologist for Assad’ – that 21st century repackaging of the 1930s traducement, ‘appeaser.’ Journalists who would burst into tears of rage if you called them a useful idiot who served our own WMD dossier-concocting establishment are happy to call Fisk a useful idiot who serves Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies.

QuadRanting owes Robert Fisk an apology. Fifteen years ago, when QuadRanting was still fully immersed in the hologram, he switched from the Independent to another newspaper because he disliked Fisk’s polemical presentation of stories like his December 2003 report on the aftermath of what appeared to be a Coalition missile strike on a Baghdad marketplace crowded with civilians

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it could have been one of ‘our’ missiles, or that I didn’t know that such incidents are a commonplace or war, or (especially) that I believed Tony Blair and his dodgy dossier designed to deal us into a war he must have known would kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

It was because Fisk was telling the truth – that is the facts, truthfully with not just the blood and bandages but a palpable sense of the wrongness of what he’d witnessed. And at the time, to coin a phrase, I couldn’t handle the truth.

When Fisk filed his report from the market place at Shu’ale, he was holding a shard of metal from the missile: maybe weighing only a few ounces but nevertheless much, much more solid than the ‘evidence’ on which Mrs May based her personal decision to send in the Tornadoes this weekend.

We’ve rarely needed more than now to give ourselves time for sober reflection and to painstakingly strip away the noise to arrive at common interpretations of the signals before rushing to judgement and the missile launchers.

In the absence of state actors we can trust, and in the presence of a completely cognitively-captured mass media, we need the Robert Fisks and Patrick Cockburns of this world more than ever. Mr Fisk, I’m sorry for 2003.

Chemistry set-up

The war hawks’ lack of imagination is depressing. When they want a war, they hit the public with a hyped-up, evidence-lite or evidence-free, chemical atrocity and take it from there.

There’s no hard evidence whatsoever that Monday’s alleged incident in Douma, Syria, was actually a chemical attack. If it was, there’s no hard evidence who did it.

Even the normally-docile BBC is having to lead its stories with the word ‘suspected’ in front of ‘chemical attack’ although the body of its stories quickly moves on in language that implies the footage is genuine and Assad’s regime did indeed carry it out. Similarly, when giving talking heads a platform to demand ‘strong action’, none of the BBC’s interviewers I’ve heard bother to correct statements implying the allegations are proven.

Likewise, the official stories (they keep changing) on the Salisbury attack simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. In particular, if it was a nerve agent of the degree of lethality claimed by the government, how come all three alleged victims survived contact? The government’s own scientists say the stuff can’t be traced to Russia – or anyone else. In the end, the government’s endlessly-repeated assertion that Russia was the ‘only plausible’ perpetrator turned out to be based on waffle, insinuation and weasel wordings so finely-tuned that Boris Johnson repeatedly fell off the tightrope into flat-out lying.

At first it seemed that Salisbury was merely being used as a pretext to rescue Theresa May from her own party and give the government a hedgehog ramp out of the mess it had got into with Europe over Brexit.

Now Salisbury also looks like a precursor to escalating Britain’s involvement in Syria. Step one: wind up the UK public about Russia and chemical warfare over the Skripals. Step two: another mysteriously-timed ‘chemical attack’ falls neatly into the lap of the White Helmets in Douma. This ‘demands’ immediate military action by the US and its allies to prevent more chemical atrocities by the side allied to Russia. Except there’s no conclusive proof of chemical atrocities. Not this week. Not in January. And not last April.

And no mention of the ongoing tragedy of war deaths, refugee flight and civil collapse across Syraquilbyastan thanks to the West’s trillions of dollars-worth of involvement ranging from military advisors, to bombing missions, to arming ‘moderate rebels’ to full-scale coalition invasions.

No-one with one functioning brain cell and an internet connection seriously believes the official line on these these ‘chemical attacks’ on civilians, which are so mysteriously-timed to suit the Western war-hawks’ agenda. Yet the Western mainstream media, with a very few honourable exceptions parrots the government line as per the BBC, referenced above. An honourable exception:

After the Iraqi WMDs ‘dodgy dossier’, the faked-up warnings of impending genocide in Libya and the repeat doses of unsubstantiated chemical attack horror in Syria, there’s a significant slice of the public whose tolerance for escalation is weak to non-existent. Not just the radical left peacenik side of the balance but right across the spectrum to loyal conservatives who’re deeply suspicious of Russia or indeed all ‘foreigners’ but who equally despise the establishment and its tame media because of its constant lies.

Here’s a quote from a 2016 post by Ugo Bardi at Cassandra’s Legacy, which he republished today, for obvious reasons.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privileges of the rich.

I believe that the UK government does not think it needs the public’s express consent for another Middle Eastern military adventure. It doesn’t need to oppress us with a giant military machine (yet). It considers that, with a cognitively-captured mass media with which to cow MPs, it can get away with almost anything it wants.

But selling us misadventures on the basis of lies, for which the price will be counted in body bags and retaliatory attacks, corrodes democracy and freedom.

Whichever air bases they decide to bring home the Syrian war dead through, tacking ‘Royal’ on to the nearest town’s name won’t make up for the massive hole the UK government seems determined to blow in its legitimacy at home and abroad by going along with the hawks’ latest chemistry set-up.

(Edited 19 April 2018 to add link to Seymour Hersch’s piece in Die Welt on the US administration’s response to what its intelligence services knew were false claims about a chemical weapon attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, on 4 April 2017)

So, not plausible after all

As predicted by QuadRanting among many others, the wheels are inexorably coming off the Novichok/Skripal story despite a full-house effort by the UK’s permanent government, including the state media (BBC) and ‘non’-state media (ex-Fleet Street).

Well, mostly.

The day of Mrs May’s ‘triumph’ at the March EU summit, where she got backing for the line against Russia from trusting and/or credulous leaders, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg delivered a splendidly-nuanced summary of the UK’s position on the Brexitcast podcast, ending with the words ‘plausible … plausible, plausible, plausible’.

She was referring to the UK government’s tenuous argument that Russia is the only plausible source of the ‘military grade’ nerve agent allegedly deployed in Salisbury, even though there was not then – and is not now – any scientific evidence to support the claim. My reading of ‘plausible … plausible, plausible, plausible’ aligns with Spike Milligan’s contention that any word will raise a laugh if it’s repeated often enough. In the Brexitcast context, ‘plausible’ was funny ha ha, and thus funny unbelievable.

As we know, some nations told Britain they’d support us only if we produced conclusive evidence, rather than hearsay and circumstance. Others reluctantly fell in in line and weakened their position with Russia by expelling Russian diplomats. The usual suspects lined up alongside Britain in the belief that the UK government would somehow avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls that were plainly-visible potential in the official narrative.

But it didn’t. God knows what pressure the scientists at Porton Down endured to lie about the provenance of the Novichok. If they’d given in, it would have destroyed their professional credibility because if you ask any competent organic chemist (not that the UK government or its tame media did), they’d tell you that the formulae for these agents are widely-known and they can be produced anywhere with little difficulty by someone with the necessary knowledge. In other words, there’s no such thing as a ‘weapons grade’ Novichok.

Of course, the Russians might have simply been fiendishly clever: deploying an effectively untraceable substance and thereby adding another layer of doubt to any attempt to pin the blame on them (that is, if it was them and, if it was Russian, whether it was an official operation). Or they may have been super-supremely fiendish and laid a trap tailor-made for the UK’s propaganda machine to blunder into.

Either way, when Porton Down publicly stated what it had told the Foreign Office nearly three weeks before, that there is nothing to suggest that the nerve agent is Russian, May and Johnson were out on a limb. Doubtless the phone was ringing off the hook at the FCO with calls from foreign governments that might justly be paraphrased as “You stupid twats, we trusted you and look where you’ve got us”.

The day the ‘not Russian’ statement appeared, the Skripal story disappeared from top ¾ of the BBC news page, while the rest of the news media launched into a moral panic/outrage over a pensioner charged with murdering a burglar. I think we know enough about the police and criminal justice system to know that in normal times the burglar situation would have been handled very carefully and very slooooowly. But when a public distraction is called for …

QuadRanting still believes that the Skripal case will never be publicly resolved. We’ll never conclusively know who did whatever it was – an FSB handbook for applying poison to doorknobs? Do us a favour — because the UK will do everything it can to prevent the Russians or anyone else investigating it properly.

In Propaganda Britain 2018, it’s enough that 90% of the public now believe that Russia Did It, that Russia Wants to Harm Us Because We’re Wonderful and They’re Ghastly, and Thank God for a Strong Leader. Germany 1932 all over again.

What would the men who believed they were fighting for freedom on the Western Front a hundred years ago make of it?