Archive | September, 2013

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.


DEBUNKED: the UN says syrian rebels are responsible for sarin gas attack

2 Sep

This post is the 2nd of our series where we will try to debunk lies and propaganda found on the Internet and the media in recent days. Many are coming from pro-Assad, extreme right and conspirationist networks and they found their ways into honest or naive anti-war activists. We are paying a severe price of Bush’s and Blair lies about Irak and pro-Assad propaganda is using that to infiltrate media and social networks with false rumors and half truth arguments. We will try to debunk them the best we can.

The case :

The UN says that the rebels are responsible for sarin gas attack.

The Lie :

No UN body or commission ever came to that conclusion. The propaganda is using an interview Carla del Ponte, member of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (which is not the special UN body sent to investigate chemical attacks) made last may.

Del Ponte’s comments are used without date so as to induce that del Ponte is commenting last august chemical attack that happened in damascus suburbs, Ghouta. The idea is that no one is going to read the article (and check the date) but the title and the link will go viral under the title « UN says rebels are responsible for chemical attack ». In the end, it will lead people to believe rebels are responsible for Al Ghouta chemical attack that happened in august.

Anyone who reads the date or the article can see this allegation relies on the comments Del Ponte had last may.

Here is an article that went viral on social networks. It is serious article but it was usually posted without the date so if you do not follow the link and read the article you may end up thinking it is a recent news about al Ghouta chemical attack.

Here is another article written on august 27 but also entirely relying on the comments del Ponte had last may. Again if no one reads it, it appears as if del Ponte’s comments were made last week.

Eventually, for French readers, here is a op-ed from Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (who ran for presidential elections) who also relies on del Ponte’s comments. Dupont-Aignant is a moderate center right political leader

The conclusions of the UN investigators that were officialised last may by Carla del Ponte revealed that Syrian opposition did use chemical weapons on Khan al-Aassal.

The Truth :

Del Ponte made a personal comment during an interview to RSI on may 6 2013. (here the story on BBC)

She said “According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”

Although she is a member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (which is not specifically investigating Chemical Weapons) her comments were not an official conclusion. The official reaction to Del Ponte comments from the commission can be found here

The statement reads :

Geneva, 6 May 2013 — The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict. As a result, the Commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic did issue a report with its findings and conclusions. The report can be found here (in pdf) 

The official conclusion (supported by del Ponte) is :

« There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified. »

The report also says, on the matter of chemical weapons, that

Conclusive findings – particularly in the absence of a large-scale attack – may be reached only after testing samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged attack. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Panel of Experts, led by Professor Sellström and assembled under the Secretary General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, is granted full access to Syria.

This official recommendation, issued by the very commission where del Ponte is a member, was made on june 4 2013, two and a half month before Assad agrees to let Sellström into Syria.

DEBUNKED: John Kerry using a 2003 Iraq picture to promote intervention in Syria

1 Sep

This post will be the first of a new series where we will try to debunk lies and propaganda found on the Internet and the media in recent days. Many are coming from pro-Assad, extreme right and conspirationist networks and they found their ways into honest or naive anti-war activists. We are paying a severe price of Bush’s and Blair lies about Irak and pro-Assad propaganda is using that to infiltrate media and social networks with false rumors and half truth arguments. We wil try to debunk them the best we can.

The Case:

This picture went viral on social networks copy-pasted with the following text :

Marco di Lauro 2003 Iraq photograph


So, Secretary of State John Kerry referenced this photograph when making his speech today, trying to drive home how awful the Syrian chemical attack was as he tried to convince us why we should go to war. One problem. The picture isn’t even from Syria. It’s from Iraq in 2003. The photographer, Marco di Lauro, said he nearly “fell off his chair” when he saw it was being used to promote a war in Syria. It’s getting pretty disturbing to see how far our politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are willing to go to drum up support for a war nobody wants.

The Lie :

John Kerry never mentioned this photograph or used it or showed it in his speech. Here are the transcripts of his speech. The only approaching comment could be this one :

We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood. Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side, sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad’s gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate.

This does not specifically refers to this photograph and could refer to any picture that has circulated on the social networks.

You can also watch the speech on Youtube and see he does not show the video.

The truth :

This picture was used by the BBC to illustrate a story about Al Houla massacre in 2012 with the title “Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows”. On this occasion, the Telegraph ran a story and interviewed Marco di Lauro who said he « nearly fell of his chair » when he saw his picture on the BBC website. Di Lauro comments were made in may 2012, about 16 month before John Kerry speech.

Here is the Telegraph article

The BBC acknowledged the mistake and apologised for it in May 2012, here is the Social Media Editor’s blogpost