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The cruise missiles fired into Syria were US B1-B Lancer heavy bombers, French Rafales and UK Tornados GR4s – as well as from frigates in the Mediterranean. These missiles – fired in the wake of the chemical attack ascribed to Syria - were among the world’s most modern. They had ranges of hundreds of miles, designed to be fired from a distance to avoid the risk of aircraft being targeted by Syria’s largely Soviet-era anti-aircraft missile systems.
In the space of around 45 minutes, perhaps $50million worth of weapons were fired. The missiles launched were among some of the most sophisticated in the countries’ arsenals and included the US military’s JASSM cruise missile, which was used in combat for the first time, according to reports. Among the sites believed to have been struck were Barzeh, near Damascus, which fills chemical shells, according to western intelligence. Other facilities near Homs suspected chemical weapons store were also reportedly struck.
Russian forces, particularly those manning the sophisticated S-400 anti-aircraft missile batteries at the naval base at Tartus, were forewarned of the strikes and tracked the incoming missiles but did not engage their systems to prevent them. That was left to the Syrian air defences, the most modern of which is the Russian-supplied, short-range Pantsir S-1 system, which has an anti-missile capability and which some reports suggest Russia may have recently upgraded for the Syrian military.
How effective the strikes in the early hours of Saturday were in targeting the chemical weapons facilities of the Assad regime is an open question, as are the claims by the Russian military that Syria took down 71 of more than 100 missiles launched. For its part, the Pentagon countered that assessment, saying no missiles were intercepted and calling the strikes “precise, overwhelming and effective”, adding that it successfully hit every target.
The claims to have intercepted such a high proportion of the missiles were made by colonel general Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s general staff, who insisted that the strikes had not caused any casualties and that the Syrian military facilities targeted had suffered only minor damage.Although Rudskoi added that Moscow had “completely overhauled” the antiquated Syrian systems, the Russian claims over the success of the Syrian air defences still appear unlikely.
In the aftermath there was Moscow’s warning that it would reconsider whether to supply Syria and others with the far more modern S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. This system put on hold by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2013 after talks with European Union leaders. While the supply of S-300s to Syria would be unlikely to trouble the US military, their widespread deployment would make it much more hazardous for Israeli jets to target Syria as they have done with relative impunity until recently, amid evidence that Russia is taking an increasingly tough line on Israel’s own strikes.
The latest raids have starkly underlined once again how – despite the huge humanitarian cost of the war in Syria – the country has become the proving ground for some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems, deployed by the US and Russia. Trump and Putin have been engaged in something of a rhetorical arms race over weapons systems and their capabilities, with Putin boasting of new hypersonic nuclear missiles and high-speed submarines before the recent Russian elections. Russia earlier this year deployed its most advanced fighter jet to Syria, the stealth-capable Su-57, which is a fifth-generation, multi-role combat jet.
What seems almost certain is that the war in Syria will grind bloodily on, becoming more complicated than ever. The death toll from those highly advertized attacks has been tiny in comparison with the wider death toll, not least that from crude and indiscriminate munitions such as the widely used barrel bombs.The biggest victims – as they have always been – will be Syria’s own citizens.
Peter Beaumont in London and Andrew Roth in Moscow for The Guardian
Spurious Credibility & Reckless Disregard
Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford had this to say about the recent chemical attack in Syria:"I don't think Assad is in the least worried that the inspectors will find out his guilt – he is probably not guilty on this occasion," he said. "We have to engage our brains as well as our emotions here, not be stampeded by those videos which are described as being unverified, but which by dint of being repeated over and over again come to acquire a spurious credibility," Ford added. "We have to ask ourselves what are the sources in this stampede to war? The correct response is obviously to get inspectors on to the alleged sites of the alleged offences. In fact, in the last few hours Russia has offered to provide escorts for inspectors from the recognized body in this field – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons."
Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray blogged "There is a reckless disregard for evidence base on the pretexts for all this. Indeed, the more the evidence is scrutinized, the dodgier it seems. Finally, there is a massive difference between mainstream media narrative around these events and a deeply skeptical public, as shown in social media and in comments sections of corporate media websites.
"The notion that Britain will take part in military action against Syria with neither investigation of the evidence nor a parliamentary vote is worrying indeed. Without Security Council authorization, any such action is illegal in any event. It is worth noting that the many commentators who attempt to portray Russia's veto of a Syria resolution as invalid, fail to note that last week, in two separate 14 against 1 votes, the USA vetoed security council resolutions condemning Israeli killings of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza."
The Teflon Toxin
Part 16 While the dangers of PFOA and PFOS are widely known, very little is known about the other chemicals in their class, PFAS.
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Healthy California Act:
Politician Jim Wood explains his position:
There is a small and very vocal group who continue to criticize and mischaracterize my position on Senate Bill 562, The Healthy California Act, which advocates for a single-payer healthcare system.
They have used a technique of boiling this very significant and complex issue into a chant that I and others in the state Assembly do not want a single-payer healthcare system. To be very simple about it, this is not true.
I have chosen to be a little more complicated about it, explaining the issue in more detail and trusting the intelligence of my constituents and readers.
So, since it's the holiday season, let's talk turkey.
The California Healthcare Foundation, a nonprofit that supports "healthcare that works for all Californians," says it very well: "The California healthcare system affects tens of millions of lives, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Any major proposed reforms to that system warrant a rigorous analysis and a shared understanding of the goals and implications of reform."
Here are some of the "facts" the advocates of S.B. 562 state that are not true: They say I don't support healthcare for all. Not true. I have said time and time again, I support universal healthcare and believe it is a right.
They use scare tactics saying that community clinics are closing and claiming that one out of four seniors have gone into bankruptcy because of healthcare. Not true, certainly not since the Affordable Care Act has been in play.
They say our Select Committee on Universal Healthcare was created to stop policy from moving forward. Not true. Our committee, which has now met for nearly 20 hours, and will likely meet another 20, has already given the issue 10 times the attention it would have gotten in a typical Assembly Health Committee hearing. Our mission is to produce, early next year, actionable recommendations that could be used to develop a comprehensive and workable healthcare system for all.
They say they have addressed the funding issue. Not true.
No funding mechanism language is in the bill at all and, although the advocates refer to a report that shows how they would fund the system, Sen. Ricardo Lara, S.B. 562's author, for whatever reason, did not incorporate that funding language in the bill. And is the public ready to pay for this system through another payroll tax as they suggest?
I want a system that works for all Californians, especially rural California. Providers have to be paid fairly so that they will move to rural areas to meet the need. We know how unsuccessful the MediCal system has been in attracting healthcare professionals by paying them pennies on the dollar. Adequate funding is needed to make sure we can provide fair pay for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and mental health professionals, as well as physicians.
They claim I am beholden to corporate interests like insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Not true.
This year alone I authored or co-authored three bills that the pharmaceutical companies put all their muscle behind to kill. Two were signed into law and will make it difficult for pharmaceutical companies to randomly increase prices and market their high-priced brand name drugs. I am not a friend of that industry.
They claim that health insurance companies spend 30 to 35 percent on overhead. Not true. State law holds health insurance companies to a 15-percent "medical-loss-ratio," which means they can only spend 15 percent on administration — the rest must go to patient care. Any healthcare system will require administration — are we sure a government program can be as efficient?
They say that we could easily roll Medicare, Veterans' care and Medicaid into a single-payer system. Not true. Federal law establishes a Medicare Trust Fund and rules for how the money can be spent. None of those rules allow for a transfer of the funds to a state for the purpose of a single-payer system. That would require a change in federal law. And what about federal law regarding ERISA plans? Another complication they often dismiss.
Waivers needed to roll Medicaid or Veterans' care into a California system, along with current federal funding, are highly unlikely. Anyone who follows how much the Trump administration dislikes California would realize how uncooperative it would be in helping us — especially providing universal healthcare — which they do not support.
S.B. 562 advocates claim that for any state that discovers a means to more economically provide healthcare than through the Affordable Care Act, subsidies cannot be withheld. And they also state that there are various other legal remedies and precedents to rebut such unilateral withholding. Not true. Even if that were true, it would only apply to the Affordable Care Act, not a California single-payer system.
They want no healthcare premiums, no co-pays, no limit to benefits, no insurance companies and often refer to it as Medicare for All. But Medicare has premiums, co-pays, cost containment and is funded by a Medicare tax people have been paying their entire employed lives. And yes, you can get a more comprehensive benefit package, sometimes without co-pays, by paying for a pretty affordable supplemental "Medi-gap" plan.
So let's start 2018 by being real and dealing with the facts — which are complex. I will not promise everyone the world, as the S.B. 562 advocates have done, just to get support at the front end and then not deliver at the back end. I will take the time we need to create a universal healthcare system that works for everyone and is affordable and sustainable for the long-term.
Jim Wood represents the North Coast in the California Assembly. He is a Democrat from Healdsburg.
Local Physician Activists respond:
Our current profit-driven health care system is closing physician practices and burning out doctors. The average American physician spends nearly nine hours a week wrangling with insurance companies and the average medical practice spends $72,000 per doctor per year just dealing with insurers. That's why a majority of Humboldt physicians support a single payer health program. North Coast state Assemblymember Jim Wood explained his rationale for stalling Senate Bill 562, The Healthy California Act. Looks like Wood is going against medical advice.
The Healthy California Act is the first step toward solving Humboldt's health care ills. It would eliminate our crazy quilt of public programs and private for-profit insurance in favor of a single public agency funding health care for all Californians. Under this plan, hospitals and medical offices would remain as they are. All that would change is who pays the bills.
Wood says he supports universal coverage but "we just need to take the time to find the right path." These days, when the average patient with private insurance pays a $4,000 deductible before insurance pays anything, having coverage is no guarantee for health care. California State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones thinks single payer is the right path. We don't need to waste more time looking for another.
Wood claims that a transition to a single payer plan would be too complicated. In reality eliminating multiple payers and profit would simplify the system. Under S.B. 562, doctors would no longer be micromanaged by private insurance or burdened by costly paperwork. Patients would be free to choose any doctor or hospital without worrying about who is in or out of network because there would be no networks. We could change jobs or locations, get married or divorced without worrying about health coverage. We'd simply present a health ID card and get health care. Medical bills, premiums, deductibles, co-pays and collection agencies would all become obsolete. Deferring medical treatment because of cost would become a thing of the past. No one would have to gamble on affordability or benefit packages because everyone would be equally covered with comprehensive, high quality benefits. The Healthy California Act is radical in its simplicity. It would return the wasted health care dollars and talents of skilled professionals to their original intended purpose: patient care, public health and medical research.
Let's look to history. In July of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare, a government funded insurance program into law. By 1966, Medicare coverage for all Americans 65 and older took effect. Was it all that complicated?
Wood says we can't afford a single payer system. A single payer program dedicated to the public's health instead of corporate profits would cost us less and give us more. A streamlined payment system would dramatically lower administrative costs. The layers of insurance bureaucracy and reams of insurance bills would be eliminated. A single buyer, negotiating on behalf of all of us, would have tremendous bargaining power to lower the price of drugs and medical equipment. Seventy percent of the California health budget is already being paid for with our taxes. A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Political Research Institute found that a California single payer system could be a funded by eliminating premiums and substituting an additional modest sales tax on non-essential items plus gross receipts taxes for businesses making over $2 million. This would create savings for households, businesses and the state.
Wood says that single payer advocates are a small vocal group implying that their views aren't shared by most of his constituents. Surveys show that the majority of Californians support single payer health care. S.B. 562 has been endorsed by the cities of Eureka, Arcata, Manila, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond, and by the counties of Marin, Santa Clara and San Francisco. It is supported by the California Nurses Association, the California Teachers Association and many other health, education and labor organizations.
A single payer system won't solve all our problems. But it is far better than the patchwork system we have now with private health insurance companies that look at health care as a commodity geared toward making a profit for shareholders. With single payer, all California residents and politicians, from people who are unemployed, to working families and all the way up to the governor would have the same health coverage and interest in maintaining a high quality, well-functioning health system.
S.B. 562 has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party but powerful interests want the bill kept off the floor of the Legislature until it shrivels and dies. Wood and the Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon say the bill lacks details. Solutions can't be worked out as long as the bill is held hostage in the Rules Committee while the select committee that Wood chairs obfuscates. Meanwhile our health system here in Humboldt is crumbling, premiums are up 33 percent and the new tax bill will lead to large cuts in Medi-Cal and Medicare, on which many local residents depend. As our representative, Jim Wood should be responding to the needs of his constituents by championing the Healthy California Act, S.B. 562. We need actions, not more studies. We don't have any time to lose.
Corinne Frugoni is a family physician- Wendy Ring is a retired Physician- Members of Physicians for a National Health Program, Residing in Arcata and Bayside.
From The Northcoast Journal
December 28 & January 11
Not exactly the Pentagon Papers, but here it is:
All 300+ pages of the document- released against the will of the Republican Leadership.
A Senate Judiciary Committee interview with Glen Simpson related to the investigation of Fusion GPS's activities related to the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele.
For a couple of years now, cannabis growers throughout the state have been taking their harvests to get lab tested. Sometimes they're simply looking to document a potently high THC content they hope will ensure their yield fetches a high price and often they're looking to prove it's clean of pesticides. The thing is, if a batch fails a test, the grower still controls its fate, whether that be sending it to a dispensary unconcerned with contaminants or into the black market.
"Right now, we just give you back your product (after a failed test)," says Mariellen Jurkovich, owner of the Humboldt Patient Resource Center, which has for years insisted on taking incoming products to be tested. "It's disheartening because we often see that same product appearing (for sale) elsewhere."
But this paradigm is about to change drastically, at least for those cultivators and manufacturers looking to exist in California's newly regulated medical and recreational cannabis industry starting next year.
Read the whole story @ Northcoast Journal
Six Protesters Acquitted of Rioting, Related Charges Stemming From Inauguration Day – THE JURY DELIBERATED FOR A WEEK!!!!
by Neil Augenstein / WTOP
WASHINGTON — Six protesters indicted for rioting in the nation’s capital on Inauguration Day were acquitted of the charges Thursday, after a month-long trial in D.C. Superior Court, according to court officials. Prosecutors have acknowledged that they had no evidence that the six defendants wielded hammers or crowbars, or threw bricks at police officers, but said that they were knowingly participating in a planned riot on Jan. 20, 2017.Defense attorneys had argued their clients should not be held responsible for the actions of others, and called the prosecution politically-motivated, and an attack on First Amendment rights to free speech and association.
The jury deliberated for a week.
Each of the defendants — Jennifer Armento, Oliver Harris, Brittne Lawson, Michelle Macchio, Christina Simmons and Alexei Wood — faced the same set of seven charges: two misdemeanor counts of engaging in rioting, and conspiracy to riot, as well as five felony destruction of property counts.
Earlier, Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz threw out each defendant’s inciting a riot charge — a felony that carries a maximum 10-year sentence.Leibovitz concluded that “no reasonable juror” could find that the prosecution proved the six defendants encouraged others to riot.The six protesters faced up to six months for the misdemeanor rioting charges and up to 10 years behind bars for each felony destruction of property charge.
The trial is the first of many, as more than 200 protesters were arrested on Inauguration Day. Next year, 188 protesters will go on trial before Judge Leibovitz, in groups of five or six.Approximately 20 people charged in connection with the riots have pleaded guilty, and prosecutors have dropped the charges in almost two dozen cases.
A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.
by George Lakey
While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.
Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”
Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbro will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.
Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.
In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died. Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)
The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population—about three million—was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.
When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.
In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.
The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; in 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers—this in a country of only 3 million!
The Labor Party, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.
The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.
Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms. The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.
By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side.
This it did. In a compromise that allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)
The 1 percent thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)
Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.
Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.
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Veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, the man who exposed the Mai Lai massacre during the Vietnam War and the US military’s abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004, is probably the most influential journalist of the modern era, with the possible exception of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the pair who exposed Watergate.
For decades, Hersh has drawn on his extensive contacts within the US security establishment to bring us the story behind the official story, to disclose facts that have often proved deeply discomfiting to those in power and exploded the self-serving, fairy-tale narratives the public were expected to passively accept as news. His stature among journalists was such that, in a sea of corporate media misinformation, he enjoyed a small island of freedom at the elite, but influential, outlet of the New Yorker.
Paradoxically, over the past decade, as social media has created a more democratic platform for information dissemination, the corporate media has grown ever more fearful of a truly independent figure like Hersh. The potential reach of his stories could now be enormously magnified by social media. As a result, he has been increasingly marginalised and his work denigrated. By denying him the credibility of a “respectable” mainstream platform, he can be dismissed for the first time in his career as a crank and charlatan. A purveyor of fake news.
Nonetheless, despite struggling to find an outlet for his recent work, he has continued to scrutinise western foreign policy, this time in relation to Syria. The official western narrative has painted a picture of a psychotic Syrian president, Bashar Assad, who is assumed to be so irrational and self-destructive he intermittently uses chemical weapons against his own people. He does so, not only for no obvious purpose but at moments when such attacks are likely to do his regime untold damage. Notably, two sarin gas attacks have supposedly occurred when Assad was making strong diplomatic or military headway, and when the Islamic extremists of Al-Qaeda and ISIS – his chief opponents – were on the back foot and in desperate need of outside intervention.
Hersh’s investigations have not only undermined evidence-free claims being promoted in the west to destabilise Assad’s goverment but threatened a wider US policy seeking to “remake the Middle East”. His work has challenged a political and corporate media consensus that portrays Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Assad’s main ally against the extremist Islamic forces fighting in Syria, as another dangerous monster the West needs to bring into line.
For all these reasons, Hersh has found himself increasingly friendless. The New Yorker refused to publish his Syria investigations. Instead, he had to cross the Atlantic to find a home at the prestigious but far less prominent London Review of Books.
Back in 2013 his contacts within the security and intelligence establishments revealed that the assumption Assad had ordered the use of sarin gas in Ghouta, outside Damascus, failed to stand up to scrutiny. Even Barack Obama’s national intelligence director, James Clapper, was forced to admit privately that Assad’s guilt was “not a slam dunk”, even as the media widely portrayed it as precisely that. Hersh’s work helped stymie efforts at the time to promote a western military attack to bring down the Syrian government.
His latest investigation questions whether Assad was responsible for another alleged gas attack – this one in April, at Khan Sheikhoun. Again a consensual western narrative was quickly constructed after social media showed dozens of Syrians dead, apparently following a bomb dropped by Syrian aircraft. For the first time in his presidency, Donald Trump received wall-to-wall praise for launching a military strike on Syria in response, even though, as Hersh documents, he had no evidence on which to base such an attack, one that gravely violated international law.
Hersh’s new investigation was paid for by the London Review of Books, which declined to publish it. This is almost disturbing as the events in question.
What is emerging is a media blackout so strong that even the London Review of Books is running scared. Instead, Hersh’s story appeared yesterday in a German publication, Welt am Sonntag. Welt is an award-winning newspaper, no less serious than the New Yorker or the LRB. But significantly Hersh is being forced to publish ever further from the centres of power whose misinformation his investigations are challenging.
Imagine how effective Woodward and Bernstein would have been in bringing down Richard Nixon had they been able to publish their Watergate investigations only in the French media. That is the situation we have reached now with Hersh’s efforts to scrutinise the west’s self-serving claims about Syria.
As for the substance of Hersh’s investigation, he finds that Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base in April “despite having been warned by the US intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.”
In fact, Hersh reveals that, contrary to the popular narrative, the Syrian strike on a jihadist meeting place in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was closely coordinated beforehand between Russian and US intelligence agencies. The US were well apprised of what would happen and tracked the events.
Hersh’s sources in the intelligence establishment point out that these close contacts occurred for two reasons. First, there is a process known as “deconfliction”, designed to avoid collisions or accidental encounters between the US, Syrian and Russian militaries, especially in the case of their supersonic jets. The Russians therefore supplied US intelligence with precise details of that day’s attack beforehand. But in this case, the close ties also occurred because the Russians wanted to warn the US to keep away a CIA asset, who had penetrated the jihadist group, from that day’s meeting.
“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” a senior adviser to the US intelligence community told Hersh. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon … would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear.”
According to US intelligence, Hersh reports, the Syrian air force was able to target the site using a large, conventional bomb supplied by the Russians. But if Assad did not use a chemical warhead, why did many people apparently die at Khan Sheikhoun from inhalation of toxic gas?
The US intelligence community, says Hersh, believes the bomb triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot in the building’s basement that included propane gas, fertilisers, insecticides as well as “rockets, weapons and ammunition, … [and] chlorine-based decontaminants for cleansing the bodies of the dead before burial”. These explosions created a toxic cloud that was trapped close to the ground by the dense early morning air.
Medecins Sans Frontieres found patients it treated “smelled of bleach, suggesting that they had been exposed to chlorine.” Sarin is odourless.
Hersh concludes that the “evidence suggested that there was more than one chemical responsible for the symptoms observed, which would not have been the case if the Syrian Air Force – as opposition activists insisted – had dropped a sarin bomb, which has no percussive or ignition power to trigger secondary explosions. The range of symptoms is, however, consistent with the release of a mixture of chemicals, including chlorine and the organophosphates used in many fertilizers, which can cause neurotoxic effects similar to those of sarin.”
Hersh’s main intelligence source makes an important contextual point you won’t hear anywhere in the corporate media:
“What doesn’t occur to most Americans is if there had been a Syrian nerve gas attack authorized by Bashar [Assad], the Russians would be 10 times as upset as anyone in the West. Russia’s strategy against ISIS, which involves getting American cooperation, would have been destroyed and Bashar would be responsible for pissing off Russia, with unknown consequences for him. Bashar would do that? When he’s on the verge of winning the war? Are you kidding me?”
When US national security officials planning Trump’s “retaliation” asked the CIA what they knew of events in Khan Sheikhoun, according to Hersh’s source, the CIA told them “there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian bombers had taken off] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.”
The source continues:
“No one knew the provenance of the photographs [of the attack’s victims]. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a [toxic] cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.”
Trump, under political pressure and highly emotional by nature, ignored the evidence. Hersh’s source says:
“The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity. It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit’.”
Although Republicans, Democrats and the entire media rallied to Trump’s side for the first time, those speaking to Hersh have apparently done so out of fear of what may happen next time.
The danger with Trump’s “retaliatory” strike, based on zero evidence of a chemical weapons attack, is that it could have killed Russian soldiers and dragged Putin into a highly dangerous confrontation with the US. Also, the intelligence community fears that the media have promoted a false narrative that suggests not only that a sarin attack took place, but paints Russia as a co-conspirator and implies that a UN team did not in fact oversee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile back in 2013-14. That would allow Assad’s opponents to claim in the future, at a convenient time, yet another unsubstantiated sarin gas attack by the Syrian government.
Hersh concludes with words from his source that should strike fear into us all:
“The issue is, what if there’s another false-flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys [Islamist groups] are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”
Hersh’s investigation contributes to a more complex and confusing picture of events in Khan Sheikhoun. In the absence of an independent investigation, there is still no decisive physical evidence to confirm what happened. That makes context and probability important factors for observers to weigh.
So let us set aside for a moment the specifics of what happened on April 4 and concentrate instead on what Hersh’s critics must concede if they are to argue that Assad used sarin gas against the people of Khan Sheikhoun.
1. That Assad is so crazed and self-destructive – or at the very least so totally incapable of controlling his senior commanders, who must themselves be crazed and self-destructive – that he has on several occasions ordered the use of chemical weapons against civilians. And he has chosen to do it at the worst possible moments for his own and his regime’s survival, and when such attacks were entirely unnecessary.
2. That Putin is equally deranged and so willing to risk an end-of-times conflagration with the US that he has on more than one occasion either sanctioned or turned a blind eye to the use of sarin by Assad’s regime. And he has done nothing to penalise Assad afterwards, when things went wrong.
3. That Hersh has decided to jettison all the investigatory skills he has amassed over many decades as a journalist to accept at face value any unsubstantiated rumours his long-established contacts in the security services have thrown his way. And he has done so without regard to the damage that will do to his reputation and his journalistic legacy.
4. That a significant number of US intelligence officials, those Hersh has known and worked with over a long period of time, have decided recently to spin an elaborate web of lies no one wants to print, either in the hope of damaging Hersh in some collective act of revenge against him, or in the hope of permanently discrediting their own intelligence services.
Hersh’s critics do not simply have to believe one of these four points. They must maintain the absolute veracity of all four of them.by Jonathan Cook
Waking Dogs Collective