When I first set eyes on Douma Hospital a year ago today, it came as something of a surprise. As the scene of the notorious alleged chemical weapons attack only a month earlier, I was already quite familiar with its emergency ward, shown in “activist videos” around the world. Viewers of Russian and alternative media also got to see more of the same ward when their reporters visited it soon afterward in search of some verification of the claims before they led to the US-led missile strikes on Damascus of April 14th.
The emergency ward looked like so many others that we’ve seen pictured over the last seven years in those videos “that can’t be independently verified” and – for all we would know – mightn’t even be in Syria, and mightn’t even be in hospitals.
Well, maybe Douma hospital is different because you just can’t miss it – as is clear from my photo! Somehow this public hospital, serving the local community with free healthcare for many years, remained in operation throughout the occupation of Douma by the violent extremists of Jaish al Islam – who were described to James Harkin of the Intercept by local residents as “ruling with an iron fist”. More to the point, the hospital building evidently didn’t come under attack from the Syrian air-force, despite its terrorist occupiers.
Harkin visited Douma looking for evidence to support – or counter – the chemical weapons claims some months after the event, and released a comprehensive analysis of his observations with other analysts in February this year. His report, and the slickly produced video accompanying it, appeared to pre-empt the final release of the OPCW’s report from their Fact Finding Mission to Douma, conducted in late April 2018. Most significantly the authors of the Intercept’s report concluded that the video scenes taken in Douma hospital’s emergency ward were “likely staged”, but they nevertheless echoed the public conclusions of the OPCW that two chlorine cylinders had been dropped on nearby apartments and killed 35 people.
Both the Intercept’s conclusions and those of the OPCW leadership have now been shown to be not just mistaken but criminal fabrications, following information from the OPCW itself, and analysis from the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The details of the engineering assessments of experts from the OPCW who visited the site showed quite unambiguously that it was not just the hospital scenes that were “staged”, but that the Chlorine gas cylinders could not have fallen from the sky, dropped by the Syrian air force. As they described it:
“…the dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder having been delivered from an aircraft. In each case the alternative hypothesis produced the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”
The “alternative hypothesis” being that the cylinders were moved into their respective positions manually – “staged” in other words. The Working Group has drawn the many conclusions that follow from this piece of simple scientific analysis, and very serious consequences must follow for those organizations and governments who collaborated on this massive deception and the war crimes that accompanied it.
That is not the immediate focus of my article, however, which remains on the “unmissable” Douma Central Hospital that wasn’t bombed, and the elaborate campaign of disinformation and lies that has surrounded it. As Western governments and their puppet media once again fire up their “juggernaut of lies” about the Syrian and Russian governments moves to clear the remaining areas of Western Syria from Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, the talk of “bombing hospitals” is once again to the fore. This interview by the ABC’s Fran Kelly with a Dr. Samir Al Taqi from the Orient Research Centre in Dubai gives the essence of the new campaign, both in her questions and his answers. It includes the claim that “twelve hospitals have been destroyed in recent days”.
Not coincidentally, a renewed barrage of disinformation alleging ongoing serious human rights abuses by the Syrian government has been launched by Western media, led by the New York Times former Beirut correspondent Anne Barnard.
As key actors in the development of these false narratives about Syria that saturate our media, James Harkin and his associates, Eliot Higgins from Bellingcat and Eyal Weizman from Forensic Architecture now have a lot to answer for, as their seemingly impartial and honest assessment of the Douma incident is shown to be an elaborate deception, contrived both to suit the interests of the Intercept’s sponsors and to maintain the pretence that this is “investigative journalism” of the best and most trustworthy kind.
But like the deception by the OPCW leadership, who simply omitted that most important part of their investigations in Douma, Harkin has left the six storey hulk of Douma hospital out of his article, replacing it with a “makeshift underground hospital”:
Douma was a blackened shadow of its former self, many of its buildings still listing or reduced to charred metal and concrete, but a whole new city had been quietly carved out beneath it. Our first stop, a few yards from al-Shuhada Square, was at the mouth of a 3-meter-wide underground tunnel, reinforced with corrugated steel and concrete. It had been constructed by the Islamist rebels several years back, according to a soldier who walked us through it. He told us that hostages held by Jaish al-Islam had done the building. In total, it stretched for more than 5 kilometers and was broad enough to drive a truck through.
The tunnel had been set up to access a makeshift hospital emergency ward, whose spartan facilities were arranged over a single floor underground. Five meters below ground and reinforced by 13 meters of sandbagging above that, the hospital was still functioning when I arrived.
Robert Mackey, talking in the Intercept video also gives the impression that Douma had been mostly reduced to rubble, yet rows of apartment blocks over the street from the hospital are still occupied and little damaged. But the photos Harkin uses to illustrate his report show only the tunnel entrance and a view of Shahada square showing neither the hospital building nor the apartment blocks. All these elements are visible in my photo, with the Shahada sq monument on the left and the hospital entrance on the right. This doubles as one of the main entrances to the extensive tunnel system, machine excavated and reinforced with prefabricated steel sections.
Giving Harkin and his colleagues the benefit of the doubt is now out of the question, so we can only conclude that his failure to describe or illustrate the Douma hospital building was an integral part of the Intercept’s disinformation package. It was even a fundamental part, and to reveal its un-bombed presence would have blown a hole in the whole pretense of “honest journalism in the fog of war” that the Intercept assumes.
Readers of the article might then have asked, not just why the Syrian or Russian air-force didn’t bomb the hospital, controlled by the militants they were fighting, but why they hadn’t bombed it in the previous five years? Those readers have been told repeatedly that “Assad” wants to kill civilians who support the “rebels”, and destroy their hospitals and schools, so why didn’t he do it here in Douma, which has been one of the most troublesome opposition-held areas close to the capital?
Might those readers then start to wonder if they have been spun a tale by their trusted journalists and that they should listen to some contrary viewpoints?
So for anyone of them listening here, this is the story of the hospital they didn’t bomb, and it’s quite simple. Just like the M10 hospital in Aleppo, used as a center of military and surgical operations by Al Qaeda and the White Helmets, its role as a public hospital serving the local community kept it safe from attack by the Syrian Army. Contrary to everything the victims of Western media lies have been told, the Syrian army and its allies have gone to extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties in their campaigns to liberate communities from their violent extremist occupiers. You could say it was all about “winning back hearts and minds”, and the evidence of life now restored in Ghouta and Douma shows that.
Countless Syrian soldiers have lost their lives in this fight to protect those communities from the foreign-funded and armed militants and terrorist groups, and each one is no different from our own citizens who have lost their lives in similar terrorist attacks, but for one thing – they are ourterrorists.
It is a chilling, and frankly disgusting thought, that the violent psychopaths of Jaish al Islam who secured their release from the siege of Douma the day after they staged the chemical attack, are now being cheered on by Western NGO’s and media to commit more murders of Syrian soldiers and the villagers they are trying to protect in Idlib. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova noted this in last week’s briefing:
Over 30 Syrian service personnel died in Idlib last week following a series of heavy attacks by Al-Nusra militants. The terrorists also fired mortars and missiles at towns and villages near the Idlib de-escalation zone, resulting in civilian deaths. According to incoming reports, the terrorist groups there are planning an offensive on Syrian government forces’ positions in the provinces of Hama and Aleppo.
And the “hospitals” that were bombed? Do we really think that the Syrian or Russian air-forces would waste their bombs on civilians, when there are armies of Al Qaeda terrorists attacking Syrian soldiers and villages on the frontline with missiles and car bombs, and even chemical weapons and cluster bombs? Can we believe anyone who tells us that – now?