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.
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.