Russia Today Promotes Nun’s Chemical Attack “Fraud” Claim

A game-changing headline from Russia Today:

Footage of chemical attack in Syria is fraud

The supposed evidence:

Mother Agnes, a catholic nun, who has been living in Syria for 20 years and has been reporting actively on what has been going on in the war-ravaged country, says she carefully studied the video featuring allegedly victims of the chemical weapons attack in the Syrian village of Guta in August and now questions its authenticity.

In her interview with RT, Mother Agnes doubts so much footage could have been taken in so little time, and asks where parents of the supposedly dead children are. She promises to send her report to the UN.

In normal journalistic practice, the words “is fraud” in the headline would be in quotation marks, to indicate that it refers to a claim being made by someone rather than an established fact – but of course, Russia Today, as mouthpiece for the Putin regime, is hardly a normal news source.

Mother Agnès-Mariam de la-Croix has featured on this blog previously, after she pronounced that rebels had been responsible for the Houla massacre. In a cosy interview with a 9/11 Truther named Thierry Meyssan in 2012, she described Assad as a “reformist”, and she appears to have links to his security services. However, her new claim about the chemical weapons attack on Guta does not rely on any claim to special access or inside information – she has merely watched the same publicly-avilable footage as the rest of us and drawn a conclusion that she finds congenial:

I have carefully studied the footage, and I will present a written analysis on it a bit later…The key evidence is that Reuters made these files public at 6.05 in the morning. The chemical attack is said to have been launched between 3 and 5 o’clock in the morning in Guta. How is it even possible to collect a dozen different pieces of footage, get more than 200 kids and 300 young people together in one place, give them first aid and interview them on camera, and all that in less than three hours?… I am not saying that no chemical agent was used in the area – it certainly was. But I insist that the footage that is now being peddled as evidence had been fabricated in advance. I have studied it meticulously, and I will submit my report to the UN Human Rights Commission based in Geneva.

Of course, while Mother Agnès-Mariam may be a regime stooge, middle-east Christian support for Assad goes far deeper, and is to some extent driven by a reasonable fear of Islamic extremists among the rebels.

At the start of last week, Palestinian Christians held a sit-in at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at which supporters chanted “Only God, Syria, and Bashir”; the crowd was addressed by Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, a Palestinian who is not on good terms with the Greek hierarchy, but who is often quoted in the media as representing the church. Hanna is at times an articulate defender of Palestinian rights, although he also embraces conspiracy-theories; he recently described the Free Syrian Army as (indirect quote) “pawns who serve Israel”. Hanna is also a close associate of Israel Shamir, the Swedish anti-semite best-known as being the link-man between Julian Assange and the Belarussian security services.

In the USA, the plight of Syrian Christians was recently cited by Rand Paul as a reason against US intervention in the conflict, although Julia Ioffe at the New Republic is sceptical that the issue was raised in good faith:

Pointing out that Assad protects Christians even as he gasses Sunni Muslim children may not be what Paul was intending to imply, but it sure looks that way when his most ardent supporters are writing editorials titled “Letting Allah Sort Out Islamic Civil War in Syria,” itself a borrowed line from nuanced foreign policy thinker Sarah Palin. Or “Christians Under the Crescent.”

Ironically, this is similar to the way that Palestinian Christians have sometimes been used by supporters of Israel, with unhappy results.

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There are also other conspiracy theories doing the rounds about Ghouta; in particular, Rush Limbaugh has been promoting a claim by Yossef Bodansky that the chemical weapons used in the attack were provided to rebels by US intelligence. According to Bodansky:

On Aug. 13-14, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and U.S. Intelligence… took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors. Very senior opposition commanders who had arrived from Istanbul briefed the regional commanders of an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development” which would, in turn, lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.

Bodansky cites unnamed “participants”, although he gives no explanation as to how he came by his information. Enthusiasts (such as Glenn Beck’s End-Times prophet Joel Richardson) have instead cited Bodansky’s credentials – he’s a political scientist, and formerly served as Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the US House of Representatives (1988 to 2004). Mother Jones, by contrast, describes him as “an Assad sympathizer who has previously suggested that the 1995 Oklahoma bombing was orchestrated by Iran and that Saddam’s WMDs all ended up in Syria”; he also famously suggested that Bosnian Muslims engaged in “self-killing” during the Yugoslavia conflict in order to demonize the Serbs.

The claim that “the US did it” has also been helped by a bogus report carried by the Daily Mail back in January (by Louise Boyle) that led to a six-figure libel payout; the Press Gazette noted the paper’s apology:

An article on 29 January reported allegations on the internet that the US Government had backed a plot to launch a chemicals weapons attack in Syria and blame it on the Assad regime.

The reports made reference to an email said to have been from David Goulding, the Business Development Director of Britam Defence, to company founder, Philip Doughty. The email had been published on the internet after Britam’s computer system was illegally hacked in Singapore. It referred to a proposal that Britam would deliver chemical weapons to Syria for enormous financial reward and suggested that the directors were willing to consider the illegal proposal. We now accept that email was fabricated and acknowledge there is no truth in any suggestion that Britam or its directors were willing to consider taking part in such a plot, which may have led to an atrocity. We apologise to each of them and have agreed to pay substantial damages.

The Mail article’s sources were Alex Jones’s Infowars.com and “Cyber Wars News”, which one would have thought might have set off alarm bells. Alas, the report was then picked up by Asian News International (ANI) and in this form remains available. As with RT, there was a fatal lack of distance between claims being made and facts being reported by the agency itself:

The Obama administration gave green signal to a chemical weapons attack plan in Syria that could be blamed on President Bashar al Assad’s regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country, leaked documents have shown.

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