DEBUNKED: Syrian rebels admit to AP reporter they mishandled the chemical weapons given by Saudi Arabia

3 Sep

EDIT (on 21/09/2013) : We recieved from Dale Gavlak the following statement:

Mint Press News incorrectly used my byline for an article it published on August 29, 2013 alleging chemical weapons usage by Syrian rebels referenced in your story. Despite my repeated requests, made directly and through legal counsel, they have not been willing to issue a retraction stating that I was not the author. Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author of the Mint Press News piece. To date, Mint Press News has refused to act professionally or honestly in regards to disclosing the actual authorship and sources for this story.

I did not travel to Syria, have any discussions with Syrian rebels, or do any other reporting on which the article is based. The article is not based on my personal observations and should not be given credence based on my journalistic reputation. Also, it is false and misleading to attribute comments made in the story as if they were my own statements.

I would appreciate your removing all references to me from your story.

Dale Gavlak

We asked Dale to give us more information about the story behind this article and why MintPress used Gavlak’s name. Here is the article as it was firstly published on september 3 2013

The Case :

Rebels admit to AP reporter they used chemical weapon. These weapons where given to them by Saudi Intelligence Chief Bandar bin Sultan. Rebels did not knew how to use them and they mishandled them, this is what happened in Ghouta.
Here is the original MintPress article

The Lie :

First the obvious lie : Dale Gavlak is not AP correspondant. Gavlak has been on a few stories (here is the list : these are much less controversial) but in this case, Gavlak works for Mintpress, a young info website close to Occupy Wall Street movement.

Gavlak has, via twitter, tried to specified that the article was not an AP Story. But of course, it was the AP initials that interested conspirationists and pro-Assad websites : Infowars called AP and asked them if Dale Gavlak had worked for them. AP said yes and now Infowars can say it is confirmed Dale Gavlak works for AP.

Gavlak also works for the Time of Israel. Although it is not a crime, Gavlak is a « time of Israel » reporter as much as an AP reporter but somehow, that part of Gavlak’s CV does not appear on infowars or other conspirationists and anti-imperiaists websites.

The second obvious lie is the disclaimer in the very end of the article that reads :

Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.

At the very least, this one should be the first paragraph of the article. It is also impossible in the article to know which information has not been verified and which one is confirmed.

Mintpress has, after a day of controversy over its article, added another disclaimer, in the beginning of the article:

Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents. Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News.

This second disclaimer makes the article weaker than the original version. The heart of the story (rebels claiming to mishandle chemical weapons) has not been brought by Gavlak (with the trusted AP credentials) but by Yahya Ababneh who was no one before this big scoop.

Weak testimonies and sources :

The info itself relies on a few very weak testimonies, here is the full list :

- Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
– Ghouta townspeople said
– A female fighter named ‘K.’
– A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’
– More than a dozen rebels interviewed (who reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.)
– Rebels interviewed

In the article, it is specified that interviews were conducted « with people in Damascus and Ghouta ». Please know you can not access Damascus without a visa from the regime. Someone claiming to have interviewed people from « Damascus and Ghouta » has a good chance to have been in contact with propaganda agents from the regime, probably going in Ghouta in a guided tour, « randomly » meeting « rebels » who would rush into journalists to explain how they are paid by Saudi and how they work for Al Quaeda. In any case, it is not specified how Yahya accessed Ghouta : from Damascus with a regime visa or from a rebel zone, hiding among them for several month ? The « interview with people in Damascus » hints toward the first solution.

Apart from the testimonies, the article relies on other articles to strengthen the idea of a Saudi involvement.

First, an article from business insiders written by Geoffrey Ingersoll. Please note that Ingersoll is a Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran and writes things like “The UK Was Totally Justified Detaining Greenwald’s Partner
Ingersoll article for its part relies on a daily telegraph article which relies entirely on an As Safir article (Lebanese 8 march – pro-Assad – newspaper). As Safir details a secret meeting between Putin and Bin Sultan (Saudi Intelligence Chief). On this occasion, Bin Sultan would have threaten Putin of Chechen terrorist attacks if Russia refuses to comply to Saudi demands on Syria.

As Safir is usually not a bad newspaper but here, they appear to be too good (here is the article): they are somehow able to get the exact quotes from a top secret meeting between Bandar Bin Sultan, chief of Saudi Intelligence and Russian President Wladimir Putin. The info in itself, Bandar Bin Sultan manipulating Chechen terrorists is surprising. It is the first time such a claim appears. More likely, and more well documented : the Russian secret services are infiltrating and manipulating Chechen terrorists since 30 years now.

Still, quoting Ingersoll, Gavlak puts in the article the exact quotes of a top secret meeting between the two most secretive person on the planet, obtained by a pro-Assad Lebanese newspaper and confirming a Saudi plot to manipulate Chechen terrorists in Russia…

The second piece Mintpress article is using is a WSJ piece about Bandar Bin Sultan (here is the WSJ article). The WSJ piece counts for almost 20% of the Mintpress article (1537 signs out of 7533) However, Dale Gavlak and Yahya forgot one quote from the WSJ article

The Saudi plan is to steadily strengthen carefully selected groups of rebel fighters not in the radical Islamist camp, with the goal of someday seeing them in control in Damascus

This quote is important because it completely destroys all the argument in mintpress article saying Saudi gave Chemical Weapons to Al Quaeda.

Already debunked :

For the rest of Dale Gavlak article, Brown Moses (who runs an extremely well documented blog about weapons used in Syria) already tried to debunk the info. He asks 4 experts to examine the claims made by mintpress. Here are the conclusions he found. To sum up :
Saudis (who does not have any known CW program) would not be stupid enough to get caught with chemical weapon trying to give them to rebels
If they were stupid enough to do it they would at least have trained the rebels properly to use them.
Even if all the above were true the scale of the attack is too large to have been carried out by rebels.

There is another hint in the article that leads toward a Syrian Mukhabarat propaganda. Syrian Mukhabarat are obsessed with prince Bandar Bin Sultan. In the end of March 2011, Syrian regime newspapers ran out a story about the « Bin Sultan plan to destabilise Syria and create Chaos inside the country ». The title itself is a bit too much but regime newpapers simply copy pasted the « plan » which looks so perfectly detailed that it becomes impossible to believe. (Here is the Bin Sultan plan)

In the Mintpress article, references to Bin Sultan are overwhelming. 15 times his name is mentioned. The case could be credible if it had stayed on a geopolitical level, simply saying « Saudi Arabia » as vague geopolitical enemy who plots against Syria. But the Bin Sultan obsession goes too far to be credible. One of the last sentence of the article is

Rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.

Gavlak is supposed to have been co-writer to the article. Gavlak is also deeply obsessed with Al Quaeda (here is an article from Gavlak where Al Quaeda is linked to everything that happens in the Middle-East). Anyone claiming to have the slightest knowledge of the middle east would know no Al Quaeda militant would ever refer to the chief of saudi intelligence as « Al Habib ».

Eventually, the article concludes on a weakness, quoting Peter Osborne from the Daily Telegraph.
Osborne argument relies on Del Ponte « conclusions » that the rebels were responsible for last may chemical attack. We debunked this story on a previous post and Gavlak AP should have done the very same.

The Truth :

The « info » went viral on conspirationists and pro-Assad websites and also on antiwar websites which are the reading target of mintpress.
Mintpress is a small website with a good focus on Middle East. After posting this article their website went down because of too much traffic.

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13 Responses to “DEBUNKED: Syrian rebels admit to AP reporter they mishandled the chemical weapons given by Saudi Arabia”

  1. Mark Bowana September 5, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    What a scathing bunch of worthlessness.

    There are plenty of rational questions about the Mintpress article.
    I read it and want more information. I found your article claiming
    to debunk it expecting to get some insight or facts.

    However, instead you just jump right into logical fallacies and your own pet theories rather than addressing any facts provided by the article. Your so-called “debunking” is nothing more than a semi-educated rant.

    You used so much false information and logical fallacies your “debunk” is worthless.

    1. You falsely claimed to “debunk” the Mintpress story by stating the story
    is about “Rebels admit to AP reporter they used chemical weapon (sic).”

    But nowhere in the original story is there anything resembling that claim. You made it up.

    2. Your “debunking” is pure logical fallacies (Association Fallacy which you use several times) based on your personal theories – not evidence. Your rebuttal is uncontaminated with any evidence to diminish anything in the original story.

    Did you check a single detail provide by the article? No. All you did was arm waving.

    3. Your dislike for the article is based on lack of credibility of the primary writer because they haven’t written anything important enough for you previously. Yet you fail to point out a single factual flaw with the article or with any of either reporter’s previous stories.

    Did you call “Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad” to see if he disagreed with the quote attributed to him? No. You did nothing resembling journalism.

    4. You state “First the obvious lie : Dale Gavlak is not AP correspondant (sic).”

    What? He’s not an AP correspondent on this story, but the article never claims he was. Dale Gavlak was a correspondent on this story to Mintpress.

    5. You use the word “Lie” wrongly at least twice.
    Using a disclaimer is not a “lie.” You need to look up the definition of “lie” before you embarrass yourself to any other teachers who may be grading you.

    6. You claim testimonies are weak? Maybe – but you don’t say why. Just because you don’t know those people or that they aren’t elected officials doesn’t mean they are wrong (or lying).

    7. Your experts (infallible of course) say that the article is flawed because certain people would not be so stupid to do what they allegedly did.

    Did I miss the change of political-physics to a reality where people are all smart and make wise (non-stupid) decisions?

    Obviously not because I am guilty of stupidity for reading your entire
    semi-educated rant to the end.

    Even though these points only touch on your article’s worthlessness,
    that’s enough for now.
    You might consider taking down your empty and false “debunking” article”
    before you embarrass yourself to any other future teachers and publishers.

    In the meantime, your College Advisor for your “full thesis on the Arab Revolution” should carefully read this fallacy-filled Blog post before awarding you any degree.

    PS Your spelling is atrocious. Get a dictionary.

    • Randy September 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      Hey, Mark. If you don’t even know that Gavnak is female and not male then perhaps you should try foundational research and not ‘Arm Waving’

      Just saying.

      • Kettle Black September 10, 2013 at 10:04 am #

        Hey, Randy, nobody cares if she is female or male, this does not factually affect anything she might have said or any point in the debate above.

        However, if you’re so intent on trolling about minor details, maybe you should consider learning the correct spelling of her name, which is Gavlak, not Gavnak. Just saying.

      • Randy September 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

        I did not start the criticism. The person who made the ‘arm waiving’ criticism calling another poster out as if he/she were an expert did. I simply found it funny that that person was pointing fingers missed such an obvious thing that I picked up just scrolling through. I am certainly no expert. I had never even heard of her before. It’s chance that I remembered her name as closely as I did. My over riding point was that the post I was calling out was more hypocritical than helpful.

  2. Kache September 8, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    According to the Gavnak story bin Sultan gave weapons to the al Nusra faction. That is as close as you can get to impossible.

    Al Nusra is nothing more than the Syrian remnants of Al Qaeda In Irag who escaped the Anbar Awakening as it hunted down and killed Al Qaeda In Irag members. Months before General Petraeus and the Surge troops even arrived in Iraq, bin Sultan was distributing money ($100 million) and weapons to the Anbar chieftains to build the Sons Of Iraq, the military arm of the Anbar Awakening that hunted Al Qaeda In Irag down.

    The very thought that 6 years later bin Sultan would be arming those same people is preposterous considering that Saudi Arabia ceased all aid to the Free Syrian Army because it’s arms were ending up in al Nusra hands. Instead, Saudi Arabia is indeed financing, arming and training the faction in the south which has actually fought battles with al Nusra. Furthermore, it is preposterous that al Nusra rebels would refer to bin Sultan as “the lover” considering that he was behind the killing of their comrades in Iraq.

    Gavnak’s article ranks right up there with the Worker’s Daily claiming Stalin started WWII just so he could get some good German beer. Great story, except all known historical facts contradict it.

  3. shusei sugawara September 9, 2013 at 3:06 am #

    so? then what’s is the truth you think what’s happened there?
    who gave or chemical weapons to who? who use it? and what’s source you got the information from and how you verified it is truth?
    I only could verify you don’t like these reporters. but I want to know is what’s really going on about this chemical thing.

    • Kache September 9, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Actually I generally admire Dale Gavnak personally and most of the reporting that she does. AP has published some very insightful articles she’s done on the refugee camps in Jordan that reflect a courageous and skilled reporter. Gavnak admits that she was relying on another undisclosed reporter and was unable to verify the report. Gavnak’s failing here was in not looking over her shoulder to verify. Even a Google search of Bin Sultan would have revealed that the blood feud between him and the people at the top of al Nusra is one of the fiercest and bloodiest in the Middle East. If Gavnak has perchance read my comment and taken it as a personal affront, I apologize for that.

      Today Germany signed on to Obama’s plans for a strike. Merkle had demurred at the G20 conference on the suspicion that the rebels had indeed set off a chemical warhead by accident. But today German intelligence argued convincingly that the area affected was too large and the amount of gas to great for that to have been the source.

      But, German intelligence also said they had communications intercepts from that day of commanders requesting permission to use chemical weapons and Bashar personally denying their repeated requests. Following those requests were other intercepts of commanders ordering troops to “suit up” with gas masks in preparation to launch chemical artillery warheads. How can all that be true?

      What we are seeing, in my opinion, is a feud in the Assad family between sister Bushra and youngest brother Maher, with hapless Bashar stuck in the middle. Bushra was Hafez’s closest confidant for 16 years and was the apex stone at the top of the Syrian intelligence pyramid for those years. Her husband was head of military intelligence. Maher commands the 4th Armored Division and the Republican Guards. Last year Bushra’s husband accused Maher of targeting civilians in Deraa. Maher poisoned her husband (in the past Maher had once shot him in the stomach and had imprisoned him 3 times). Bushra and her mother fled to UAE this time last year. Soon after, the UAE and Saudi Arabia ended all support for rebels except the southern rebels, and added arming and training to the financial support. Bushra was behind that. AP, Reuters and others have reported throughout the summer that Bashar has been negotiating directly with the southern rebels (in other words with his sister). Maher realized he was going to get thrown under the bus by both of them and desperate to end those negotiations authorized the chemical attack against those towns which are actually under southern rebel control.

  4. Taco Bieseman September 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    You’re not debunking anything!
    You are spelling out which reporters work for which newspapers. Fine, but so what?
    You’re falling over the fact that the interviewees don’t want to give their full name. Of course they don’t, would you?!
    At least the journalist speaks Arabic, what is more than most Western journalist in Syria can say.
    I don’t see how this article is any less credible than the ones from the US sponsored media.

  5. Jim Mitchell September 9, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Who finances Free Cow?
    Is Free Cow ever been, or is now connected to ANY government or it’s Agencies?
    Is any member of Free Cow a former or current employee of associate of any
    itelligence agency?

    • grandpa joe March 11, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      young whipper snapper

  6. Sprinkler Repair Larkspur CO March 21, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    I am not sure where you’re getting your info, but good
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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Free Cow has gone to the trouble of debunking “Syrian rebels admit to AP reporter they mishand…, while I’ve merely suggested that the one claim that ‘the rebels done it’ seemed supported by two plants: 1) the claim that some kind of toxic chemicals handling accident took place and 2) a video, and a lot of stills from it, allegedly involving a rebel launch crew plus rocket technology plus a matched launching platform on wheels (that too — one claim: two elaborate stories — I mentioned to the Facebook buddy). […]

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