Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Houla Massacre (Syria) {Masterlist}

November 22, 2014

* Houla, May 25: the Turning Point in Syria? The original post here, first-impression commentary and earliest investigation updates to July, 2012

* "Fight for Us" and Other Things Ali Said: Houla Massacre Star Witness Re-Considered (2013 updated version) (forthcoming)

* How We Solved the Houla Massacre Case (investigation overview to the present - forthcoming)

* May 22 Bus Hijacking - Houla Massacre Link? A later find, after even the second report, circumstantial but very interesting: a massacred family connected to the hijacking of a bus full of presumably Shia pilgrims traces a line of child-slaughtering terror south, roughly from the Turkish border to the edge of the Houla Massacre's staging grounds, about two days before ...

May 22 Bus Hijacking - Houla Massacre Link?

Originally posted here, July 22, 2014
Re-posted here November 22, 2014

I'm not meaning to find things this interesting at the moment, but ...  As I just posted in graphic form here at ACLOS, there's some intriguing patterns in a reginal rash of violence on the same Friday as the Houla Massacre, and a bit of stuff right before and after. The details are discussed in the talk page there, worth copying here, but in reverse for variety.

First, a report from October, 2013:

Lebanese Al Manar TV reported the release of 9 Lebanese pilgrims after 17 months of being held captive by Qatari-backed terrorists in north of Syria.
On 22 May 2012 a group of terrorists stopped a passenger’s bus near the Turkish borders north of Syria and the passengers were held by a group of anti-Islamic Wahhabi terrorists with direct links to Turkish prime minister office and the Qatari Emir. The terrorists then released the women and children and kept 11 men captive, 2 of them managed to escape after a Syrian Arab Army operation in Azaz last year that killed one of the terrorists leaders responsible of the kidnapping.

I doubt this basic event - the taking of a busload of people including (Shi'ites, it sounds like, from Lebanon) three days before the Houla Massacre and a long ways away - will be disputed. Just where south of the border this happened isn't clear, but presumably way north of the al-Houla area. But another source might help narrow it down, and show the terrorists did not release all their women and children hostages. Nor the driver. Unless maybe there were two busses hijacked that day ...

here's the clincher story, part 1: VDC query - all Hama martyrs May 24 - 7 total. All but the top one play in here. Five represent a family:
* Natania Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Male
* Yahya Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Female
* Yakoub Oreib Al-Saleem, Child - Male
* Farouq Oreib Al-Saleem, Child-Male
* Fadwa Al-Shaddeh, Adult Female (mother) (details f/c as needed, available there, including (alive) photos).

These entries tend to say "Date of death: 2012-05-24," "Cause of Death: Kidnapping - Execution" Notes:
"The whole family, consisted of a mother and five children were kidnapped 2 days ago while they were on their way back from Sahl Al-Ghan to Hama. They were executed, and their corpses were found today in Mesyaf. They were slaughtered by knives." 
Note "Shabiha" or the regime aren't specifically blamed. The VDC, like the SOHR, accepts information from a variety of sources, so maybe no rebels even reported this, just alarmed locals. Who knows? There is apparently one child not listed - maybe not dead for all we know.

Sahl al-Ghan ... not sure how I figured out that means al-Ghab plain, aka Sahl al-Ghab. It's north and west of Hama, and part of the province - its northern panhandle I didn't know about, running north, flanking Latakia up to the Turkish border. It's a large, vague locale to return from. You might drive south to Mesyaf a bit south of its south end, then east to Hama. Or get killed anywhere prior and dumped in Mesyaf - not far from Aqrab, just 16 km direct.

This family wasn't driving their own car back from wherever as far north almost as Turkey. The other relevant victim on that list is Refaat Al-Hussein, adult male, killed also May 24 by "Kidnapping - Torture - Execution." Notes:
"He was a bus driver. He was transporting the family who was slaughtered. His corpse was found too with signs of torture."
So ... were there only the six passengers on his bus, or are these seven corpses the residue of a once-larger pool? The date of death isn't clear - found "today," apparently meaning the 24th, after being captured by some kind of bus hijackers two days earlier, is the best reading - so it should be May 22.

If the bus hijackings are the same, and both reports are accurate, we can say it was at the north end of the Al-Ghab plain not far from Turkey and the infiltration points there for foreign Islamists. And if this all lines up, these 7 or so victims of that then proceeded way south with some friends of their captors before getting dumped by the 24th just shy of the arena's edge for the coming Houla Massacre. This has its Aqrab connections  - fighters from there swooping south to help, victims from there dying either with the Abdulrazaqs in Taldou, in Aqrab, or both) - and alleged units of unknown foreigners, presumably filtered in via Turkey as usual. This Salem-Shaddeh family might've been the kind of thing a horde of fresh Ottoman mercenaries track in on their boots/sandals.

It might sound like grasping at straws except we must remember video evidence repeatedly backs the witnesses who describe a rebel attack on Taldou the 25th. They say that attack was huge, with 6-800 fighters total. That's an attractive (alleged) force, like a dry sponge is to water. Hundreds of people, probably more than were just hanging around already, would need to swoop in, probably from the north, at about this time, to fill the space that apparently was filled. So I propose it's quite likely the southward journey of that poor Syrian family and their driver is a valuable clue to understanding the Houla Massacre.

Update, August 4:
I just stumbled across the missing Oreib-al-Saleem child: listed as dying earlier, on May 22, VDC victim #16911 Shahd Oreib Al-Saleem], girl, age 4 (rounded down, it appears - see photo). Her notes are the same, kidnapped, slaughtered with knives. A Facebook page is provided: https://www.facebook.com/aribalsalim This was started on May 24 to share photos of the just-killed children. It's all in Arabic and I didn't check the content, but it seems to completely lack rebel colors and icons - and government ones. It was active at least into 2013.

From the VDC entry, her photo at left. What eyes. The name Shahed means "witness," it seems - a girl of that name had her mouth torn off a few days later in al-Houla. Again, what this episode suggests is a mappable movement of child-slaughtering terror towards the site of the Houla Massacre. And it's not from the Alawite villages just south of there, but from the distant and ominous Turkish border to the north. Someone should seal that thing off for good. I think little Shahed would agree.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fail Caesar part 2: Re-Considering The Victims

November 16-17, 2014
<-- Fail Caesar: Exposing the Anti-Syria Photo Propaganda {Masterlist}

(This incomplete post will be a large-sized one, with some additions expected in time. It might well need to be split-up into a series of posts, but I'm hoping one big, valuable page can hold it all. Already it's huge and I want to post it, and then finish the main first part in-place)
(last edits Nov. 18 (added to "fighting age men" and "starvation timeline")

Intro: Honoring Victims of Genocide?
  The narrative provided by the defector "Caesar" and echoed by so many is quite clear on who the men in his photographs are; primarily or totally prisoners in Syrian government's jails. Specifically, they tended to come from military intelligence prisons in Damascus, especially the ones run by MI branches 215 and 227, and it's quite clear the guilt for all abuses on those jailers alone. All the dead from fighting on both sides, the massacred civilians of Alawi and Christian villages and government loyalist Sunnis, executed hostages simply found by the government, all accidental or natural deaths, were sent elsewhere or at least not included in the thousands of photos "Caesar" claims he smuggled out copies of.

  And so it is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in October, 2014, displayed images of these dead Syrian men to defame their government and further encourage its overthrow as only fair. The UK Guardian - one original media outlet for the Caesar project and guardian of the story - reports the subjects were "honoured" by the display, because it can be known they were "victims of [the] Syrian regime."

  The USHMM display was titled "Genocide: the Threat Continues," and was explained as meant "to remind the world that genocide didn't end with the Holocaust." A government-led "genocide" has been invoked by "Caesar" and his support team, but which "geno" they and the USHMM speak of remains unexplained. Presumably, it's the standard: Assad the Alawite against the Sunni majority of Syria, or more narrowly those Sunnis who rebel against the state. As a group with a family element, there is a genetic dimension to the crackdown. And the museum did chose to highlight - among a reported 12 images total - one that shows a man with his genitals removed, which sort of captures part of the essence of the crime (I don't believe this one is among those I've seen on the Internet).

  It has always remained plausible, if not considered by the gatekeepers, that this story is not accurate, that the victims were actually selected by the anti-government side for being non-Sunni or for supporting the government. This would classify as genocide at least as well as it does the other way around. This has been the motive in some of Syria's most notorious mass killings - acknowledged in some cases like the August 2013 Latakia Massacres and the October 2013 Sadad massacre, while getting glossed over or denied in others like the Houla Massacre (following the Battle of Taldou) and the Al-Bayda massacre of Sunni civilians related to a government loyalist Imam.

  If this is the case to even some extent in the "Caesar" photos, then to that extent it would be fairer to say the USHMM exhibit exploits the victims - and horribly so - instead of honoring them. It would, as others have already done, use their suffering to defame and destroy the government whose only crime was being unable to protect all its citizens anymore ... on account of the outsider-supported uprising, fed by propaganda like this stretching back to day one.

  All regime prisoners, all rebel/terrorist victims, or some mix ... these are the basic possibilities for what's actually shown in these documents of misery. Here I seek not to disprove but to firmly challenge the blindly accepted first option.

General Points: What can be Seen, What can't be Known

Numbers: Caesar provided a large portion of the vaunted 55,000 total images - perhaps exactly the 26,948 delivered to the FBI. The remaining half, the Carter-Ruck report states, were "similar images" gathered from other sources that don't share the "credible" details "Caesar" provides for his. It's estimated the full 55,000 images show 11,000 victims, as each victim in a smaller pool had 4-5 images taken. So just for Caesar's half, it might be only half that, or likely more. The report is based on close examination of 835 victims from a set of 5,500 images they were given. We cannot yet verify any of these numbers, but can proceed on the presumption that this part at least is probably true.

Mixed Types of Dead: The visual facts of the photos suggest mixed types of alleged prisoners, as the sections below show. The most brutally tortured appear "nabbed" and left in original street clothes, finished off horribly but quickly compared to the others we've seen. Those appear to have been shackled somewhere for weeks and neglected totally until they had starved to death. There seem to be a few visible odd samples of other types, and a fuller review would likely clarify the spread of these differences and offer a more useful view. But from the limited view so far, it seems either the prisons in this system used very mixed methods, or the victims simply did not all come from prisons as alleged.

Fighting Age Men: The Carter-Ruck report says there was exactly one woman (clothed, no sign of injury) among the 835 victims the investigators examined closely. The "vast majority" were men who appeared to be aged 20-40, with a very few elderly men ("up to sixty years old") and "no children." But one victim below (#2 in this list) looks more like 70, and what contitutes "children" might be perhaps arbitrary; they don't mention anyone in the crucial category aged 16-20 category, some photo victims appear to be possible teenagers, and "Caesar says (NPR) "there are pictures of children, there are pictures of the elderly, and there's a picture of a woman," all seeming to be the dramatic exceptions to the rule that the report might have over-simplified a bit. (Note: the one woman sounds like in his whole archive, also appearing in the 5,500-image sample given to the investigators) It's not known if this pattern holds over the fuller catalog, but it seems likely enough to describe the victims here as men, and those being primarily of fighting age.
  The identity of punished fighting-age men in Syria would seem clear to the Western public mind: Sunni activists, rebel fighters or people the authorities thought might become that, detained and later killed in a paranoid prevention policy. Such things are a staple accusation in Syria, and not inherently illogical. But on a case-by-case basis, the accusation often fails to hold water.
  Consider the men that kept turning up in the Queiq river in Aleppo in early 2013 - 110 of them at once on January 29. The victims were locals from rebel-administered Bustan al-Qasr district, right by that stretch of river. But opposition claims were they also crossed to the government side for work, and were abducted there. Then they were killed at a military intelligence prison - a strong parallel with the accusations of Team Caesar - and floated down the river to right where they would wind up if local rebels had dumped them a few blocks from home. A lot of clues there point to rebel hostages or perhaps failed recruitment drives - men they thought could and should be rebels, held until they agreed. Those might be executed when they refused to play along, with the killings clustered for effect and to be branded a regime massacre; everyone knew the number was 110, even when they could only find 80 of them right away. These and others found before and after were used as propaganda with a clear recruitment agenda - explicitly boosting the "moderate" FSA but including a welcome to Jabhat al-Nusra - that can be seen in this Guardian video report. The second-biggest Queiq River massacre, of around 50 bodies at once, turned up in that same rebel repository on March 10, the same day that video was published, as if it was a promotional event!
  Added later, an even better and more undeniable example to help put the below in context: Douma Hostage Massacre (the one we have a page on anyway), August 2012. Douma is a northwestern suburb of Damascus, from which a reported 16 local men (later adjusted to 12, maybe still 16 in truth, only six seen for sure) were found executed on August 17. Dressed in civilian street clothes, they had their throats cut to the point of being half-decapitated, and were dumped at the National Hospital in neighboring Harasta. Rebel videos filming the grisly discovery decried the "slaughter of detainees by Assad's soldiers," where "Assad Regime kills 16 Douma youths with knives" in an "extra judicial execution" that's "evidence of crimes against Humanity Committed by Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad."
  But before they were executed, all six visible victims were seen seen in the same distinctive street clothes they were killed in, with other captives and their "Assad regime" captors. This was on a series of videos made a few days earlier and stamped with a local anti-Assad FSA brigade logo. An armed militant explains, perhaps, how they will punish these men (translation still needed). At this time the doomed are described in video titles (translated) as "elements of the Internal Security Forces Armor Brigade for the Capital," captured. These men don't look military, by their clothes or varied levels of fitness and age; they look like random local men of about fighting age is all. But the Harasta rebels claimed they "killed and captured many of the Assad army" on or before August 14, and these 12-16 prisoners were killed three days later, and then filmed by the same people and blatantly turned into (unidentified) innocents "slaughtered by Assad thugs." That's how some of the victims captured in the photos under discussion have been presented...

Morgue/Garage Locale and Loyalty: The location(s) of the photographs is not proven. "Caesar" is clear it's the place he worked, unspecified. It might be an area next to an official morgue, but it isn't one. Le Monde (via Worldcrunch) heard from Caesar project heavyweight Emadeddin Rachid (alt: Emad ad-Din al-Rashid) former deputy head of the Sharia Faculty at the University of Damascus, president of Syrian National Movement, founder of Islamist "Syrian National Current" part of the SNC, directly financing "moderate" Islamist factions. Rashid had the photos on his computer, showed them some, and said of one scene "this is the garage of the military hospital of Mezzeh. ... That's where they throw the corpses when the morgue is full. .. That is, these are just the overflow of a much larger massacre, even just in the Damascus area! This smacks of politicized exaggeration. Wall Street Journal, in their July video report, specify Hospital 601 as where US investigators believe the photos were taken. The location they show (0:10) is the same as comes up for Mezzeh in Google Maps, so that's "confirmation" - or rather someone who believed the Rashid/Caesar story.
  In the "Caesar" photos we've seen, showing around 100 victims total, the bodies appear fresh, seen probably less than a day after death, and perhaps just minutes after. Only the one (#3 below) is very decayed and perhaps another (#6) just starting to bloat. This suggests those processing the bodies are on the same side as the killers and easily transferring bodies from one branch to another. It's less likely, but plausible, that such fresh bodies were dumped by one side and found by the other in a swift manner.
  Prisoner and prison numbers seem correct and realistic enough they could be true, but it would be a trivial effort to fake these. Needed: an impressively big but believable prisoner number and a recognizable prison identifier, written on an index card and in some cases written on the body itself. This can be done by anyone, easily, anywhere. We don't even know if this mimics official procedures, let alone if it is official.

For all we can tell the site(s) could be:
* a government-connected facility with these photos being part of the system as we're assured
* a random place where bodies in official channels are slipped away by in-place defectors for these photo shoots, using erasable markers and such to avoid detection
* something more like a rebel-held garage next to a controlled building with a big basement full of hostages - where they took these photos at leisure and simply faked their own murder victims as prisoners of "the Assad regime"

Obscured Faces: Most faces we see here are obscured, except where it would hide shocking gore. This has a many possible reasons, but no clear exlanation offered by Team Caesar. CNN reported on a reason to obscure victim numbers - "those numbers are obscured in the report released to CNN to protect "Caesar's" identity and to hide the location of the military hospital where the photos were taken." Identity can only be hidden that way if it can be deduced from where he was working. But Team Caesar's Rashid has been telling people the location was Mezzeh military hospital 601, blowing that cover (see above). Further, any government with copies of the same images could compare to the originals and get the numbers there - besides already knowing just who he is and where he worked - if he ever worked there as he claims. Not even CNN offered an explanation why the victims' faces had to be obscured. This censorship might prevent recognition of a victim by a Syrian citizen with a different and provable story about that man's death. But they would claim a different reason, if they claimed one. Maybe the regime is able to "figure out" who Caesar is by recognizing the faces of the men he photographed at the work site they assigned him to, which again could be found from their own copies anyway just like the numbers, the photographer's personnel file and next of kin, etc.

 Unless ... they never had copies, because the photos were taken in a rebel facility, before the victims were buried in still undiscovered mass graves, for example.

Seven for Special Study
  In this morbid photo album, there are some interesting victims to help illustrate how the truth may be different from the Team Caesar narrative. It could be argued I selected these to poke holes in the story, ignoring others that fit it better. That would be true, but these are from among those 33 top picks selected by the team previously, filtering out tens of thousands, from among those chosen to smuggle out in the first place. These 7 cover more than 20% of the published photos, and the bulk of the rest with more victims in them are covered by the next section anyway.

  I feel like not showing the photos here, generally. But the photo numbers refer to the list of 33 known photos here at the ACLOS talk page. There each has a link so you can see it as presented by media and government sources directly involved in the Caesar project, from their servers for now.

1) A Christian (photo 25):
  This alleged Assad victim is, by his several visible crucifix tattoos, a member of one of Syria's many and often ancient Christian communities - not known for rising up en masse against the government, and not connected to the supposed genocide of Sunnis it's claimed the photos document. Islamist terrorists often abduct and kill Christians, but here, Assad's jailers are allegedly to blame. Perhaps one joined the rebels and survived that to be done in by a regime prison. Perhaps the regime is just killing whoever now.
  Luckily, he's one of the rare seen victims with numbers actually written on his body as further proof of what the card says - regime victim. Hidden in one house.gov view and not in another (WSJ video), these says he's victim #2615 from branch 227, with another number seeming to be B/4624 (with the 6 written first like a 9 - suggesting someone more familiar with the the Perso-Arabic variant system - possible clue, real or fake).
  Aside from an apparent stab in the right shoulder, it's not clear if he was simply starved to death or actually executed. The covered eyes here - in both views - could be to hide his identity, or to obscure the fact his eyes were gouged out, as Islamists often do to captive heretics, and as some photo victims had done to them. If one wants to blame the secular government fighting Islamist fanatics, it would not help to let people see crosses and eyes missing on the same body. Just the crosses alone are eyebrow-raising, if not conclusive.

2) Elderly Man, Gouged Eyes (photo 14)
  This bearded, elderly man has no clear indication of sect, but he was abducted, starved, and exposed to smoke inhalation prior to death (the nostrils of his broken nose are black - see the same with the Alawite civilians taken captive by rebels in Aqrab, December 2012, and at least one victim starved in rebel-held Yarmouk in early 2014 for a couple of examples.
  Closer to the end, it looks like his eyeballs were gouged out of their sockets, but left hanging loose. They want us to see this, but not his face in general. Islamists sometimes do that to infidels, whose corpses the government might later find, and whose family might recognize his face (maybe even with the blur). Or as alleged, the government might do this themselves to avoid the wait. He too seems to have a number written across his chest, obscured here.

3) Decayed Victim (photo 13)
  This is another alleged victim of Assad torture, perhaps believed to be some kind of extreme waterboarding (??). It's so severe the person almost looks like the victim of anything, dumped in a creek face-down, and only found a week or two later. Traffic accident on a remote highway, unpaid ransom, who knows? But allegedly, Assad jailers executed him/her, then ... maybe ... dumped the body somewhere moist and retrieved it later? Signs: badly broken jaw, one eye missing, possible hole in throat. It's hard to divorce any one of these from decay/predation and call it a certain feature of torture/execution, but any of them could be.
  This victim is the one known exception to the rule that the shown bodies tend to be fresh - the photographers and their system with "elaborate" numbers might be aligned with the killers, explaining the swift transfers. Again, this dirt-floor garage could be rebel site for all we know.

4) Punctured and Slaughtered (photo 29)
  This Syrian man in civilian street clothes (white t-shirt now torn and soaked red with fresh blood) was abducted by someone who tore up his flesh horribly and then killed him by slicing his throat wide open (partly visible on the right side). Slicing throats is often an Islamist thing, but here allegedly Assad jailers are doing it too. I'm not sure what causes this pitting of peoples' flesh, but this has been seen in some cases (the Daraya massacre at least, and the Mohammed family in Homs during the first rebel reign of terror). The best clues say the victims in both cases were rebel captives, while rebels with access to the bodies insist it was Shabihha or the army who scooped holes in these people, largely in the belly, the arms, and inner thighs. Here' it's Assad jailers allegedly doing it to this guy, and they did get the body in front of a camera quickly. They also gave him a broken left arm and hand, as mentioned a sliced throat, and possible facial trauma under the cloud of blur there.

5) Burned and Eyes Gouged Out (photo 16)
  Lightly-bearded middle-aged man with short hair, stocky build, shown naked with horrible burns in a neat band around his upper torso. These leave his chest all either red or black (charred), with two apparent holes of different size also in the mid-chest. There are odd blurs to the right on his abdomen (a wound too horrible to see? a small victim number?) and near but not at private parts (off-frame here.) Most notably, they show his right eye socket, now devoid of its eye. The rest of his face is blurred away and unrecognizable. It seems his left eye is also scooped out, but for some reason that one's censored.

6) Tortured Belly (photo 15)
  Someone abducted this obese man in street clothes (a dark sweater) and decided to slice up his fat belly, for unclear reasons aside from it being such a big target - but maybe not this big to start. This could the more common "tramline" injuries (beating with thin rod or heavy cable) but to me it looks more like infected cuts. Then he was apparently found face-down in the dirt somewhere, with some of this swelling probably being the start of bloating (maybe 2-3 days dead), brought here and documented. Method of execution unclear (head intact, neck covered). Clearly not starved to death. Maybe fed to death? (appearing in a list of seven, maybe it's the movie Se7en (pronounced "Sesevenen") influencing me here)

7) Mutilated with a Chain (photo 32)
  This bearded, middle-aged Syrian man in civilian street clothes (striped shirt) was abducted by someone who did something unusual and horrible to him. A chain is wrapped tightly around his torso, where he was perhaps hanged or dragged, leaving his rib cage distorted, swollen upwards. Probably after this, two holes were punched in each side of his chest, maybe with bullets. This is an ambiguous type of treatment is another of the especially heinous ones carried out by the "Assad regime," at whichever prison that is where they leave inmates in their street clothes, no uniforms or haircuts, never keep them long enough to starve them to death, and come up with random and extreme torture methods to keep it interesting.

The Victims Starved in Bulk
  The most potent images combine "starved" and "numerous" victims in the same image. That formula is seen three times among those 33 chosen to lead with. Le Monde's reporters who met Emad ad-Din al-Rashid saw the copies of the photo set on his computer. He pointed to one of these and noted what others have: "All these bodies, all skin and bones: It inevitably makes you think about Nazi concentration camps."

  Such photos show a calousness at odds with the image of sword-wielding Islamist hot-heads, and also a scale that naturally evokes the 1940s Holocaust of Jews and others across Europe - which in context means it probably at least had a government behind it. The scale of death - dozens at a time - and the use of warehouses, and "elaborate" numbers that "follow each other" with chilling predictability, all seem beyond insurgents' beard-choked brains. There must be a "killing machine" behind all this, it might seem, of the type only a national government could operate.

Below: one example put in context - aside from the timeline correction, this is how it was employed by the Facebook page "Stand With Caesar" on October 18.

  Whenever the rest came through, either the Branch 215 photo or a similar group shot was staged towards the end of the two-year documentation period, "at the time “Caesar” was planning to defect," according to the Carter-Ruck report (page 14). The report continues: "The excuse he gave for group photographs to his colleagues was that in case they had missed a body they could go back to the group photograph." But really, "he had someone in his section take photographs of a group of bodies to show that the place “looked like a slaughterhouse”." That is, he did it for effect, for a striking scene that would make good propaganda, for which it was recognized later.

  He in fact took at least three such shots (a different one of them shown above). The narrative here suggests the scene he describes was the first time, requiring as it did an explanation. That in turn means the later repetitions of that also came during this later pre-defection span of enhanced creativity. This might well be in August 2013, the month he stopped taking photos and played dead for a bit. Just when in the month would be really helpful to know (see below), but isn't spelled out.

  As noted above, the overall victim array seems quite mixed, challenging the uniform prison system explanation. But there is an overall majority it seems, if slight, that almost gives one face to the "Caesar" photo gallery. It's not the mutilated victims examined above, but the larger numbers of starved captives that came through in at least a few larger batches.

  The Carter-Ruck report explained in their detailed study of "a total of eight hundred and thirty five (835) deceased persons" 42% - or around 350 - "showed emaciation" to the degree they noted it. (p. 17) Presumably, they did this reasonably and a lot of guys were seriously starved by whoever held them captive, as the publicized photos already suggested. Page 28 shows findings for a smaller-yet "dip sample" of 150 individuals. 93 of these, 62%, were emaciated. We could average these and say somewhere around half of the total victims are of this broad group, with the other half being the acute torture victims and unclear other groups we haven't seen much of yet.

  The next most widespread sign in the dip sample is shin problems. 55% of the sample, some 82 individuals had ulceration there, smaller numbers (perhaps overlapping?) had scars, bandages, non-specific or ligature injuries to the shin. The group photos of starved men we've seen show at least some overlap with those starved and suffering raw, traumatized, infected ankles and shins, some looking gangrenous and black. In the larger pool, there might be a huge overlap to approximate the same group sharing these traits.

  My conclusion: whoever held the bulk of these people captive chained them up with some kind of ankle shackles as they failed to feed or care for them. Depending on the type of shackles used, either side seems capable for pulling this together in an area with buildings that they controlled for long enough. So far, we have the word of "Caesar" and of his support team, and the government-blaming numbers written down, to prove any of this is happening on the dirt of an area secured by the Syrian government.

  Otherwise, again, it could be in one of the many areas under one kind or another of rebel administration. That's a 'where' question we can't answer yet. Related to it is the question of 'when'...

Starvation Timeline
  There's a possibly important question about when these men died. Either side could starve captived to death at any time, so the question is not all-important. But there is one period is known for mass starvation with shady explanations, and it's very close to the last of "Caesar's" photos, per the vague, provided timeline. The possibility of overlap between these times of emaciation is worth probing for.

  It's reported "Caesar" took his pictures between March, 2011 and August, 2013, with the time within August not specified. Of course, on August 21 the Ghouta chemical massacre happened in the Damascus suburbs. Unknown hundreds (X-hundred) civilians in rebel-held areas reportedly died from a government Sarin attack, although detailed research shows that at least one batch of about 100 victims including children was gassed by rebels, probably with carbon monoxide, with one man at least finished off in the rebel morgue with a sliced throat. The simplest explanation for such victims is hostages already in their control, with ransoms foregone in an ambitious bid at outside military support.

  But as reported by rebels, the government attack clearly crossed US president Obama's "red line" - exactly one year after he first described it - and led to serious threats of warfare into September. This might well explain the final time "Caesar" decided to flee, hoping Cruise missiles would be coming down soon but prepared to level a backup allegation if the Ghouta news failed, as it did. It was possibly earlier in the month that he cut out, but not likely to be much after. That is, if August really was his last month, and if he actually worked there.

  Just after the alleged Sarin attack, at the end of August, young children started starving to death in one of the allegedly gassed areas, Moadamiyeh, per records of the well-connected Violations Documentation Center (VDC). The reports came with photos to prove what was most likely a problem with how rebels in charge shared the food there. There being no such thing as a human decency embargo, it was most likely intentional that certain children got cut off from food. Children especially started starving to death in small numbers right after this in other rebel-held parts of Damascus under alleged food embargo. By October, numerous civilians of all ages were regularly wasting away in the rebel-held Yarmouk Palestinian camp/district, in a crisis that peaked in January 2014 with several deaths per day reported, all blamed on the external blockade. Throughout, it seems likely rebels were putting some of their own captives on these crash diets, to keep the mindless denunciations of the government coming in.

  It's the starting edge of these dubious crises that's most likely to matter here. Moadamiyeh starving deaths started at the end of August. And in Yarmouk camp, the VDC lists one early case - an infant, back on Aug. 18. Compare that to the likely crush of starved men implicitly documented sometime in August. These do not appear at all in the VDC records, which is actually odd, as they frequently know when someone was tortured to death in a regime prison: just a few random examples of men from all across Syria, detained and taken to Damascus, esp. Branch 215, to die under torture on or before some known date:

Aleppo Central prison doctor who defected, tortured to death in Damascus, Nov. 2012 19-year-old from Daraa, died Dec 18 2012, found dumped "near Air defense battalion between Atman and Tafas" after prison torture - Bus driver from Qarah, Damascus area, died Jan. 14 2013 in a hospital after prison torture - "defected soldier" from Daraa, died Feb 25, 2013 "under torture in a prison after his arrest six days ago by regime forces and his body was thrown on Homs : Damascus road." - 17-year-old, died May 2 after release from prison, with torture. - Harasta resident died June 29, 2013 "Under torture in the prison regime" - Jan. 14 2014, plumber from Rawda, Damascus, arrested July 2013 - "defected soldier" from Daraa died Feb 20 2014 "under torture in the regime`s army prisons in Sednya prison." - From Idlib, died at Branch 215 in Damascus, May 8 2014, over a year after arrest - Latakia man imprisoned at least 2 years, released from Saidnaya prison in bad health, died not on June 25 2014: "date of death is not accurate."

  Maybe there are a lot they miss, but there are many they learn of, especially from careless evidence-dumping. But when hundreds of captive men are allegedly starved to death in these same prisons (or die non-violently at about that point?) the VDC seems to have missed all of them. Maybe some are listed as Detention-Torture like this guy who allegedly starved to death in a prison - which should be listed under "other." But that's a huge list of 3,336 people to comb through.

It seems impossible to do a search for two words anywhere in the notes (prison + malnutrition) - it's too literal, needs the exact phrase. However, All martyrs with "prison" in notes and "other" (incl. starvation) as cause of death = 52 total. Most of these are starvation and disease deaths during the rebel siege of Aleppo central prison in the winter of 2013. At the bottom of the list are two infants at the prison in Raqqah (?) who died from a regime milk embargo. But there's no sign of any of the hundreds of captive men in Damascus anywhere near the middle of 2013.

  A total lack of preview would be a bit suspicious; is it because these deaths were kept so secret, or because the VDC knew more than usual, but wanted it to appear completely "leaked" by the defector they knew was coming? (Or have I just not found the records?)

  The VDC did manage to record alleged prison conditions in the nearby Damascus suburb of Harasta, put into a report published just after "Ceasar" defected, in September 2013. Cited are five recent escapees from Air Force intelligence prison in Harasta: "The witnesses – in their testimonies ... also mentioned the deteriorated health condition in the Branch that caused serious skin diseases to all the detainees, who have been also suffering a malnutrition till they got the "Starvation disease"" But they were careful to hear nothing just yet about masses of deaths from starvation at Branch 215 and wherever else.

  In the absence of the original metadata Team Caesar managed to lose, the question remains open ... do the starved victims come in steadily like a government policy, or in a sudden spurt in, say, mid-to-late August? Wouldn't it be interesting if the regime starved so many in their own controlled prisons, and did it so secretly, at the same time rebels were apparently culling their hostages for Sarin and starvation victims in numerous areas so close by?

  In support of a Summer surge: as noted the 12-man slaughterhouse photo and any others like it were - implicitly in "Caesar's" narrative - staged somewhere in that creative span in or near August. Also, we find a possible support from the defector himself, in the Carter-Ruck report: "It was quite clear from the account given by “Caesar” that the emaciation of the bodies of those in detention was something that he regularly encountered when taking the photographs." His making this "quite clear" suggests the facts themselves don't, or even - like other parts of his story - challenge the regularity, and might instead point to the sudden surge that would be so telling in context.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Will Handing Seif al-Islam to ICC Stop the Fighting in Libya?

November 16, 2014

Amidst the general chaos in Libya, new fighting rages between different factions in Dernah, Al Qaeda central in the east of Libya. As the BBC reported on November 11, The "Islamic State" (ISIS, taken globally) is trying to gain control there, and might be up against regular Al Qaeda (both should be strong there), plus at least a third group recognized by the BBC, who say three main groups are fighting there. These have different levels of moderation, so the one BBC favors is clear: The known factions "are the Islamic Youth Shura Council, a branch of Ansar al-Sharia, and the more moderate Martyrs of Abuslim Brigade."

The third group being whoever aligned with "Islamic State," unclear. The BBC's activist source said it was a breakaway part of the Shura council. More scrutiny is probably needed before one blames this Shura council breakaway group. The moderate group here take their name from the Abu Salim prison uprising - advertised as a massacre - of al-Qaeda-linked militants and suspects detained after a CIA-MI6-sponsored assassination and overthrow attempt in 1996.

Anyway, in this millieu, BBC reports three activists were just found dead, beheaded, in Dernah. They name them as Siraj Ghatish, Mohamed Battu and Mohamed al-Mesmari. "Our correspondent says they remained low-profile, mostly passing on information via social media pages." The report notes beheadings like this are relatively rare in Libya. It probably is, compared to Iraq and Syria, pits of unknown and deepening barbarity, where Dernah had once the world's record of recruits-per-capita fighting and learning. It's been said they've been flocking back to Libya, and these beheadings seem like a bad sign - a blacker yet wind blowing into the void that was, until 2011, a solid green nation.

The same day, Human Rights Watch issued a statement (based on the preceding surge of violence in a similar vein) calling for action to solve the crisis; Islamists should stop fighting and agree to a "political settlement," and Libya should finally (force the Zintanis to?) hand over Seif Al-Islam Al-Gaddafi to be tried at the Hague.

They point to an International Criminal Court (ICC) statement to that effect as a beacon of light amidst a "deteriorating situation" and "soaring insecurity" with "grave abuses being committed by all sides," here in November 2014. The only side for HRW and the ICC, at one time over three years ago now, was the side of the "Gaddafi regime." But by now Muammar was murdered, along with several of his sons, some grandchildren, top ministers, aides and generals, loyal military forces, supportive civilians, and random "collateral damage" either tossed in a deep prison cell or stomped into their graves.

By now, that's not even one of the sides - or are they again? They're the only side then mentioned as needing fresh punishment at this point. HRW and the ICC feel that the long-jailed son of the martyred leader avoiding "international justice" is what drives the chaos that has plagued Libya ever since it stopped having a natural and functional government. This seems to be the opinion of Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, who said “Security Council members should make clear that the state of impunity in Libya needs to end,” because it's become "a main driver for the country’s current instability.”

Note: he's not serious about this, or he'd be asking Libya's tribes to mange the hand-over, not distant "security council members" with no more credibility in Libya.

I haven't been following closely enough to have the best say on this, but it sounds pretty preposterous. Last I heard, the charges against Seif were vague and baseless, concocted to justify the overthrow of his father's government and prevent a family-based transitional alternative to the popular and pragmatic Seif. These, as I recall, were mostly connected with issuing orders for the killing of innocent protesters that it seems never happened, or perhaps it was the air strikes on them that also didn't happen, the mass rape orders, the hiring of African mercenaries, or some specific massacre of mostly black civilians he was implicated in...

Maybe somewhere he wronged Al Qaeda or ISIS and they want him tried at the Hague and this really would help chill them out. It's possible? What does everyone else think? Will handing over Saif Al-Gaddafi still the tensions racking Libya and especially its east today? Or is the solution to be found elsewhere? How about installing Seif as president?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Odessa Trade Union Massacre: Stairwell Victims - Murdered and Burned Later

By Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)
November 1, 2014
last edits November 12

<-- Odessa Trade Union Massacre {Masterlist}

Warning: This is an exceptionally gruesome crime, and this semi-forensic examination of it is extremely graphic and not for the young, faint of heart, etc. By the standards of this site, for those who know, it's about average - but in Europe this time, and standards seem to differ (?). As usual, respect to the dead is paid in attention to detail, with an eye to truth and to achieving some semblance of justice, whenever that become possible. 

Note: I had to get this up slightly ahead of the 6 month mark - it's not complete, missing some links and images I'll add soon ... and as we're still considering the details (these victims mainly at this spot), I'm expecting revisions to this post in time. But this is the latest acceptable time and it's close enough to get this advanced rough draft up. These details need to be addressed, then double-checked, verified or refuted. In my opinion, proof of state-sponsored terrorism doesn't get much more obvious than this.

After the fires were put out at the Hall of Trade Unions in Odessa on the night of May 2, at least 12 bodies were visible in or right next to the central stairwell at different levels. The only of these to be widely seen are the five charred bodies, all seemingly of men, clustered together on the landing below the half-barricaded 4th floor. These were first seen in a Dumskaya video with a privileged view at what the screen-titles say is 22:00 (rounded off, possibly rounded way down, who knows, but presumably around 10:00 PM). This shows all the stairwell victims, mostly in extreme dark and revealing little detail. At that time, the five on the landing were arranged as shown in the composite view, lightened (from still images found around, apparently from this video):
For reference, let's number these poor souls left-to-right:
#1) hanging out the window, as if he died (from the gas? From the glass in his belly?) in the act of climbing out, and had his pants burned away and shoes melted
#2) head at the railing's bend, arms out to the sides, far more charred than most
#3) along the wall, face-up, almost recognizable
#4) head towards stairs, arms frozen up
#5) same but with head almost under the pile of junk "barricade"

These five and some below can be seen mid-day on the 3rd in a Euromaidan PR video of "Russian Terrorists Burnt Alive" and in the ubiquitous photos taken by a young lady calling herself Alena. These show the victims finally tagged by the police, and also arranged differently. #1 is pulled inside and laid in the corner, abd #2 rolled over halfway. #3 is about the same, and #4 and 5, of most interest here, have been dragged a little ways down the stairs. 

With the scene established, let's consider four points, A-D:

A) Gunshot Wound?
The May 3 Euromaidan video offers one brief glimpse of an important clue regarding victim #4. Seen at 0:54 - the clearest frame frozen here - is a dark circle on the right chest, indicated. The way the angled light falls across it, this seems to be concave, some kind of circular puncture wound - likely a bullet hole. About fingertip size, it seems, this might be about one centimeter/a half-inch across, or about the size of a 9 mm round?

A bit further over is something dark and convex, looking more like his nipple than this other dark spot.

This is not a conclusive finding but as the next part clarifies, something killed this guy hours before he and the others were burned in a fire on this landing. A bullet or other puncture just to the left of his right nipple could explain that.

B) Rigor Mortis Before Burning
An extremely important point that can be discerned just from the available images is that victims #4 and 5 at least were dragged here by the arms after they were dead and rigor mortis had set in.  They didn't die here as claimed.
By my limited reading, it seems rigor mortis onset is usually 2-6 hours after death, or a bit faster in warm conditions - like summer, or a severe fire. Considering the intensity of heat it might be reasonable to put it at 2 hours here. A human body usually reaches maximum stiffness after about 12 hours and relaxes slowly thereafter. By this, anyone killed at 8 PM would start stiffening around 10 PM, be most rigid around 6-8 AM, and be little different from that by mid-day.

In charred bodies, muscles contract, locking the last position and never relaxing. Both at night and the next day, the raised arms here look the same - like handles, on bodies dead for a few hours or so before that pose was charred into them permanently.

Landing victim #2 stands out from the others in being more charred, almost skeletal in spots. He (or she) was quite likely burned once in another spot before being placed with these other bodies, apparently carried face-down by two people, one holding each wrist to create this unusual "crucified" posture.

Two others not in the above image show the same signs, all within one floor below these victims, in or right by the blazing stairwell:

- third floor landing - never seen clearly, we see stiff, raised left arm, fingers burnt to the bone, with the right arm unclear and also the head unclear - it almost seems there's not enough room there for a full head, and there's no sign - no nose or anything but an off-center light object. If missing part of his head, that's a clearer sign of prior murder than #4's possible bullet-hole. But this sin't enough to be sure. He was either dragged into this position by a person who back up to the wall and pulled the body right up to it as well, or only dragged part-way and later pushed back further.

- third floor - fingers burned to the bone, face inexplicably messed up, maybe boiled outward (?), no trace of pants (except at waistline?) often considered female rape victim, aside from hairless burnt legs, I'm not so sure - all others in the stairwell seem to be male. * This body seems to have the same handles as the others, as seen on the 3rd, but the bent legs don't suggest dragging. The body's earlier position - flipped over face-down - can hardly be the one he/she was burned in. Top sides burn, faces and hands. That we see the ub-charred back of the victim's jacket on top means they've been flipped over, and the next-day view is more accurate - so the arms do look like the same raised handles, and the legs were perhaps re-positioned after dragging.

* note - gender segregation of the dead to this degree often means someone singled out the men to kill and the women for some other fate - but possibly only the men went here hoping to get out and get help for the women inside, or whatever...

I'm not an expert on the subject, but have the insight of studying the Khamis Brigade Shad Massacre, where we could see many cases of extreme burning. It does not cause arms to stick up in the air. What it does, that study showed, is contract muscles, with the most relevant feature how the stronger back muscles contract with more force than the front, and the body curls backwards. Ribs, arms, and legs, splay out in reaction to that, and the head rolls back and to one side. None of the bodies here is burned enough to clearly show that, and there's no fire-related cause for these zombie-arms.

This effect is not really seen elsewhere among the TU Hall victims. Some have arms are up like they're surrendering horizontally, or were dragged lengthwise, but the extended arms lay on the floor with the rest of the person, not locked up in the air.

Consider a victim seen of the 5th floor landing, in the Dumskaya video from 10 PM (at 1:02 in the video) and in a better side-view in this Dumskaya photo. Lightly burned on the back of the head and hands only, his cause of death is unclear. His hands are elevated slightly, suggesting he too was dragged into place. His arms would have been higher at first, but the movers saw them adjusting back down and figured after a few minutes it wouldn't look so odd. But the stiffness was still increasing, and his hands only dropped this low before filming. After full stiffness and some relaxation, his hands are flat on the floor by mid-day on the 3rd as seen in another photo (that has strange issues to cover elsewhere). That's the natural progression, with not enough burning to lock the position in place.

C) Burned After Positioning
The arm position of these five victims being locked in place by fire suggests both that they had rigor mortis, and that they'd been positioned like this prior to their main torching, and not after it. But there are other supporting clues, including these:

We can see these stairwell victims have specifically burned faces and hands, like many other victims do. Perhaps in an expansion of that, or in a separate round of burning, #4 and 5 seem to have also had fire set to the upper-middle surfaces of their bodies. We can see on their thighs and bellies where fatty tissues beneath ignited, bubbled briefly and then went out. That suggests a fire dwindling from an intense start, probably with one coat of flammable liquid applied and lit up.

All things considered, the body movers must have managed this part as well. Note how victim #5 has only the left pant leg burned away. That suggests the fuel was sort of drizzled on/between both of them by someone standing on the landing, further from #5. More fuel would be splashed on the their inner halves (#4 right, #5 left), and less on the far side of #5. Also, they splashed more in the middle of each body and less at the ends; at the open expanses, clothing burns away. leaving the crotches and seams, with lower pant legs and footwear intact, and at least #4 retaining the upper part of his long-sleeved shirt.

Victim #2, as noted above, seems significantly more charred than the others, possibly burned once even before being positioned here, doused anew, and included in this staged blaze. 

D) Burned Too Late or Killed Too Early?
When this all happened is a central question. At least one victim, and perhaps only the one, was being burned in that spot shortly before fire crews arrived, so app. 8:00-8:07 PM (estimate - "8PM" hereafter). This is seen on video: Road E-95 News at 20:40, for example, shows him from the outside, hanging headfirst out the window as flames churn behind him. (See also my analysis video that shows a possible start to this second blaze, then some footage of it really going) It might seem natural to conclude all the victims are there behind him and being burned as well, in the same fire of disputed cause that pro-government sources blame for their deaths.

But if so, to develop rigor mortis in time, they must have died around 6:00 PM, and I challenge anyone to tell me where that happened and by whom. Were the federalists already killing their own before the mob arrived? (that was about 7:10 PM, by the way) Who was dragging them around and burning away their faces at 8:05, well after after Maidan and Right Sector took over and stormed into the building? No, the dying started between 7:30 and 7:50, at the change in management following the mob's arrival.

Unless ... it's true that some of the mob's worst allies - the apparent false-flag provocateurs from downtown, Parubiy-sniper types dressed as pro-Russians who slipped through the special police-Maidan cordon at Afina Center - came here earlier than the rest. Some clues do suggest some tricked their way in, mingling with local security, up to the roof and down to the basement and urging everyone else to hide inside between them. Once in, they might start killing an early few people quietly in the shadows ... shortly after 6 PM, the timeline suggests.

"Okay, you two guys that were here before, go with these two new guys and set up a surveillance room at the north corner." A wink and a nod at the right time, and there's two dead ...

Placement and burning for the three discussed - #2, #4, #5 - should be around 9:30-10 PM at the earliest, if they died around 7:30-8. The fire response ran from arrival at 8:09PM to, as the Rada investigation's report says, all fires being declared extinguished at 8:50. So there was either a later fire that defies the official timeline, or the victims were killed earlier than the known fact can account for - something mysterious was going on there well before the main attack force arrived.

Let's consider this Odessa Channel 1 video - 9:55:50 PM by the title, meaning (broadcast time? Live? It's got edits... whose time zone? Etc.) It's full dark - possibly 8:50 (fire containment time), but likely even later. At 0:12 the camera looks slightly down from a high fire ladder or crane into those windows, with victim #1 still hanging out on the right. Firefighters with their white helmets are inside, working the landing, with others descending from there. A strangely bright and energetic fire continues high up and to the left - corresponding perhaps to the pile of debris "barricade" on the right (as seen from inside). This may be some kind of intense gas lantern - they don't seem at all concerned with it. Maybe we shouldn't be.
Note how they're bending down as if doing special work on something on the floor, like the other four bodies would be. Suggested is a no-later-than planting and apparently burning time for those - whatever that is (unsettled). We can see firefighters tried putting out the one victim as a first order of business around 8:10 PM, while actually putting out the 2nd floor blaze. They had a proper ladder soon (about 8:20?), and presumably put the 4th floor blaze down then, and claim they got all fires by 8:50.

But the clues might say there was one last fire they didn't admit and had to put out anew an hour later, in about the spot they started at almost two hours earlier. Confirmation or refutation of this fire time is an important next step.

Two possible scenarios, depending how all the details really line up:
* Only the one victim was in place at 8 PM: #1 in the window. Then the landing was doused with flammable liquids and lit up. The fire crew arrived right after this and put it out. Later, the movers had more bodies, dragged or carried the other four in, doused and torched it again shortly before the Channel 1 footage was filmed.

* These were people killed an hour or more earlier, and possibly no second fire after 8PM is needed to explain it.

Possible thinking for a late fire: the visible victim #1 already set the picture for the whole landing fire at 8PM. As long as the later blaze didn't get noticed, the clues would seem to suggest killings around 6 PM - long before they got there, publicly. "The "Russian Terrorists" were shooting each other before they started the building on fire by accident, and also before we ever got here, maybe just to make us look bad!" Sounds silly except they may have had a hundred extra bodies and some worries about that becoming known ... just in case, they could say there were some pre-killings by their own side ... and in context, that probably includes the extra hundred, already trucked away before we got there. When you're dealing with Putin, all bets are off and anything goes, right?

Other Evidence for Bodies Moved After Murder
While it can't be directly connected to any of the stairwell victims under study, there is at least one spot where we can see signs supporting people being murdered in one place and then dragged elsewhere - possibly to this spot. This is seen in the "Flagneck Tour Video," as it turns out filmed by local Right Sector supporter Alex Rychkoff. In there somewhere, in an upper floor office (seems maybe 4th floor?) we see smashed-in doors, a dead man and a dead woman (smoke inhalation, "Flagneck" says) and next to a far wall, no body but instead a heavy smear of blood. Not brains shot out, Alex is told - the blood just coagulates. Fire and smoke killed them, smashing down doors, and leaving blood coagulating beneath the one person who ... got up an walked away fine? No, that does not add up well.

The person who bled and presumably died here was clearly removed. The copious blood might be from  an obvious fatal injury not suitable to explain with "smoke inhalation" like the ones left in place. Problem is, it doesn't explain the blood either. Here, maybe 4th floor, a non-burned room with a murdered body taken out. In the stairwell just below the 4th floor and a bit further down, bodies that died or murdered somewhere else were dragged in and burned. That might add up perfectly.

Point B is central. The other two have their ambiguities. All-in-all, we have clear evidence that people were murdered and dragged around after rigor mortis set in and deliberately burned, for whatever reason.

The main mystery that raises questions for investigators of the massacre is the killing-and-fire timeline. To be that stiff before burning, victims either needed to be dead by around 6 PM, if they were burned around 8:00 (at least one was), or killed at the time of the known incursion (roughly 7:30 and after) and burned in a later fire around 9:30-10 PM, that challenges the official story.

At the moment, I'm leaning to earlier murders by allies of the attackers who had managed to get inside the building well before the main events. I suspect these quietly picked off a handful of victims (I presume they make silencers even for 9mm pistols), anyone they ran across over the afternoon as they laid the trap for the rest. Details of who was/should be in there still remain unclear to me - anyone happen to have more info on how busy vs. empty it should have been?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fail Caesar Part 1: Protecting his Identity - From Whom?

November 8, 2014
(last edits Nov. 9) 

<- Fail Caesar: Exposing the Anti-Syria Photo Propaganda {Masterlist}

Part 1: Protecting his Identity - From Whom? 
I'll start with what I wish had been the first thing to occur to me - the phony "precautions" taken to protect the defector's identity. It's said the code-name and more were to protect "Caesar" and his family from retribution. However, it can be easily shown that this fundamental reason is nonsense, that none of it would protect him or his kin if his given back story is true. Therefore, there must be some other reason so much is kept secret - from almost everyone but the Syrian government - and/or, "Caesar" is not who he claims to be at all.

The code-name is the most obvious manifestation of this supposed fear. As the January Carter-Ruck report explains, the European "investigators" hired by Qatar were the ones who thought up the need, and the strange name to fill it. "This witness who defected from Syria and who had been working for the Syrian government was given the codename “Caesar” by the inquiry team to protect the witness and members of his family." (report, p. 13 - CNN PDF link - Guardian PDF link) As a later Newsweek article put it, he "goes by a code name for fear that he or his family will be targeted..."

His most immediiate family is apparently safe - they were smuggled out just behind him, as CNN reported at the start:
"When Caesar became concerned for his safety, his contacts in the Syrian opposition to whom he had leaked the photos arranged for him and his family to be smuggled out of Syria. The lawyers have remained mum on how that was done, but the report says the process took four months, and that Caesar left the country before his family. ... It is unclear where Caesar and his family are currently living; the lawyers say only that they carried out their investigation in the Middle East."
Various sources suggest this was in the fall, after his last photos sometime in August, and before the State Department heard about them in November. As for how he covered up his sudden disappearance, Investigator and anti-Assad activist David Crane explained "Caesar" and opposition helpers faked his death and staged a funeral so, as far as Assad should know, the guy died and could be forgotten. Crane gushed to Reuters in April how “Caesar’s a hero," with an escape story that could be "a Hollywood movie someday." He explained the opposition "killed him and they told his family they killed him and they had a funeral while he’s being extracted. Then the family was exfiltrated out and reunited with Caesar.”

An October 31 New York Times report quotes a now-dispirited "Caesar" saying “I have risked my life and the life of my immediate family, and even exposed my relatives to extreme danger, in order to stop the systematic torture." By now, the first two risks are minimal, but there's still the distant family left behind. The "Assad regime" won't be able to use the name "Caesar" to track them down, so they'll be safe, we're to believe.

However, if the defector's story is true as widely presumed, his former employers will know exactly who he is anyway. The man says he's "a senior sergeant in Syria’s Army who spent 13 years working as a forensic photographer," as CNN reported Crane letting slip. He was in 2011 set to documenting executed prisoners, he says, and took thousands of photos before he suddenly died around August, 2013, and had his family vanish shortly after.

Then, someone claiming to be a body photographer of 13 years who just faked his death, and smuggled out his family, along with copies of the same photos that guy had taken, emerges quite alive in the West, lobbying for the government's overthrow.

There can hardly be any more than one, and quite possibly zero, people in Syria fitting this complex, self-proclaimed description. The government of that country is one of the few parties on the planet that will already know all about that guy, if there is one. No deduction is needed, and no hiding is possible in that scenario (the one we've been provided with). Yet Caesar's supporter's would have us believe the pool of people fitting that bill  - a pool that should be approximately one person deep - is somehow big enough to hide their hero in.

It's like this:
Okay? Now everyone, don't let a single clue slip to let them "figure out" the name under the black box here. They have the original of every ID card ever issued to the guy, for just one example.

Clearly, the fake name can offer none of the protection it claims. Either the team insisting on this precaution thought it would help (they're idiots) or they had another reason for the secrecy. It might be just to create an impression of danger (that falls apart on proper moment's reflection), or there's some other class of people they're trying to hide his identity from.

Let's consider the other elaborate and ridiculous measures claiming the same cloak-and-dagger motive. In his rare public appearances, "Caesar" only speaks in whispers to an interpreter who vocalizes for him. It's apparently feared that his voice waves, if published, will help "Assad" identify the defector. His face is never shown, nor his hair or hands, or any distinguishing features, for the same reason; any little clue might help decide which of the body photographers that faked their death in fall 2013 he is.

In the House chamber he was in that blue hoodie to hide it all. However, the allowed photographs from behind did let slip his basic size and stature, which could help assassins narrow down their target. Out of caution or sarcasm, I've censored his blue-clad form at right, along with a few other things for good measure. Interpreter, hidden - eyes that might have eyeglasses that might reflect a view of his front side, also obscured. Some bars: just for fun.

Now recall the core issue driving this shady "Caesar" project is the photos of those Syrian people brutalized by their own government. The "intricate" numbers used are supposed to prove the story "Caesar" has stapled on. But oddly, in almost all released photographs, all identifying facial features and victim ID numbers are blurred out or black-boxed. Even this is said to be for the hero's safety. CNN reported how "those numbers are obscured in the report released to CNN to protect "Caesar's" identity and to hide the location of the military hospital where the photos were taken." This can only logically mean that his identifty could be narrowed down by which bodies he pictured and where that was.

But again, there's nothing to even deduce from any clues - they would already know just who he is, and they'd know just where they had him working. Again, there may well be a different reason Team Caesar decided so much had to be hidden in these photos.

The images were not lessened to obscure the gore; our seeing that is the main point. Rather, identifying facial features and traceable case numbers (or other writing on cards and flesh) is what's lost. This could, for example, prevent some Syrian citizen from recognizing one of these published photos as showing a son, uncle, or brother. It could be bad if they provided case details to prove he was killed some other way than the "regime prison" alleged. Picture metadata could also help set the informational context, and that too was lost, in compression to fit on a thumb drives, the defector says. But do note that loss has the same effect - details that could solidify the case are hidden, leaving only the word of "Caesar" to explain what the pictures themselves do not.

The personal details of the man with that word are likewise hidden from the global public and from the powers he's been lobbying. The logic deficiency of his "precautions" should be obvious to any credible investigator, especially anyone who helped him think out and concoct the unexplained secrecy. Syria would already know, but the Western "Friends of Syria" are kept in the dark over who's really under that hood. But like they have done with the likes of "Nayirah," "Curveball," and other "credible" witnesses pushing for war, they all seem happy to blindfold themselves to the obvious idiocy and play along with what they know the master script demands anyway. We pride ourselves on catching deceptions like this, but always sometime after it's "unfortunately too late"to prevent the aggression it was designed to justify.

Especially considering those witness precedents, one theory that could explain this all: there is no defected photographer, just a trove of photos found on a government computer rebel forces stole during a raid on a Health Department facility (killed two guards, four staff members missing, for example). The photos, at least, were traded vis an intermediary to the Qatari royal family for a bunch of cash and a truckload of weapons. The man portraying "Caesar" on the project's road show portion is a prince of the royal family, recognizable and hence never seen. I have no specific evidence to support this exact storyline, but it does seem more likely to be true than it should. Doesn't it?

Fail Caesar: Exposing the Anti-Syria Photo Propaganda

November 8, 2014
last edits Nov.  21

This story of "Caesar" - the code-named defector with a supposed 50,000 photos worth of proof the "Assad regime" was genociding its Sunni political prisoners - warrants a series of posts (number of parts unsure but low) and so, as they come up:

He's widely advertised as totally winning, a hero for truth and justice, risking his life. But his life might be a work of fiction. No one can really know yet who the victims are and who killed them. But over the last ten months, I and teammates at A Closer Look On Syria have compiled some good analysis and questions on the page Torture Photos from "Caesar" and its talk page. This research is the starting basis for the material in the posts linked above. From the main page there,
the overview:
On January 21, 2014, the media grew abuzz with startling news - first broken the day before - of "industrial scale" torture, abuse, and murder of at least 11,000 Syrian prisoners by their government. Such claims were nothing new, but this time they were supported by actual photographs and some kind of study by professional investigators of such crimes. The unusually strong claims and noted parallels with Nazi death camps made waves, among other places, at the Geneva 2 peace conference which began in Montreaux the following day.

The claims were lodged originally by an alleged defector - code-named "Ceasar" - who says he was employed by the Syrian government as a morgue photographer. Over the first 29 months of the Syrian conflict, he says he collected copies of 55,000 digital images he says show about 11,000 dead victims, all of them executed prisoners of the Syrian government. Sometime in August, 2013, "Caesar" says he stopped taking new pictures, faked his own death, and escaped with his trove, as he says, "in order to stop the systematic torture." With funding from the Qatari royal family, the defector's narrative was bolstered with the hire of British law firm and a team of three war crimes prosecutors. The latter drafted a report - stamped "CONFIDENTIAL" but ultimately released on January 20th via Western Media in France, Turkey, the US, and UK. (see below) - that analyzed the photos, and passed on the back-story "Caesar" provided. The primary media reports added little to no skepticism, and political leaders have of course added none of their own as they reflexively push their well-known anti-Assad agendas.

It should be considered there are two parts to this evidence package; the actual photographs, and the alleged photographer's explanation of what they show. The 30+ images published, at least, do show systematic abuse of captive men, including signs of torture, starvation, and sometimes execution. While we cannot know how representative the few publicized photos truly are, it seems criminal abuses are being carried out in Syria, a problem that merits alarm and attention. "Caesar's" story may be true, but for all we know, many of these bodies passing through this morgue could have different true stories. For example, some of them (like the apparent Christian man in image #25 - see list here) could be of civilians hostages taken by rebel forces, executed and then dumped, and simply being documented by the government. It's only by trusting Caesar that one can be sure that's not even part of the picture.

The reasons to question or even doubt the defector's word are many, starting with the baseless claim that any code-name would protect him or his family from the Syrian government, if his employment story is true. All it really does is keep his identity secret from those he's appealing to, and suggests he may not be at all who he claims. [3] But these reasons have been ignored in a push by the powerful to indict and harm the Syrian government again, this time over distressingly ambiguous morgue photos.

"Caesar" has arguably been given more credibility than "Curveball" and "Nayirah" combined. Nonetheless, this project has proven less effective than some may have expected; throughout 2014 it continued with diminishing efforts to spur direct, perhaps military action against the Syrian government. The first release on January 20, as mentioned, complicated the peace talks starting on the 22nd. As the conflict ground on, some photos were presented to the UN Security Council in April in another fruitless effort to secure firmer action against the Syrian government. Some images plus the defector appeared before the US House of Representatives foreign policy council in late July. Then a select few images were displayed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in October. These plus frequent media exclusives and interviews with countless uncritical echoes, as a New York Times article lamented on October 31, had so far "spurred outrage, but not action." [4]

The cartoon below shows the one victim of the few shown so far that is apparently a Syrian Christian, a segment of the populace that the Sunni extremist anti-government rebels often kidnap and execute, for their religion and/or for supporting the government and resisting the rebellion. Other targeted classes, by the way, are Alawi, Shia, Kurds, and the majority of Syria's Sunnis who also support the government. They don't usually sport tattoos like this, so it's hard to tell whether or not you're looking at one, once he's been murdered in a photo that rebels wound up with in the end (if not from the start).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Odessa Trade Union Massacre, 2 May, 2014 {Masterlist}

October 28, 2014
last edits (major) Nov. 2

I don't intend many posts on this subject here, but at least two to start, plus this overview page. This appalling case and its details are being explored in much detail at the research wiki A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS) on these pages and sub-pages (Talk pages are more active and full - front pages largely waiting to be filled in)

Posts here: 
* Stairwell Victims - Murdered and Burned Later
* The Red Tape Behind Odessa Police Purge

By way of an intro, I cite Stephen F. Cohen's description from The Nation, June 30, 2014
On May 2 ... a horrific event occurred in the southern city of Odessa, awakening memories of Nazi German extermination squads in Ukraine and other Soviet republics during World War II. An organized pro-Kiev mob chased protesters into a building, set it on fire and tried to block the exits. Some forty people, perhaps more, perished in the flames or were murdered as they fled the inferno. A still unknown number of other victims were seriously injured. ... Kiev alleged that the victims had themselves accidentally started the fire, but eyewitnesses, television footage and social media videos told the true story, as they have about subsequent atrocities.
Not everyone realizes, after they surrounded the building with hate and lit up some windowsills with molotov cocktails, the "rally for a United Ukraine" then entered the building. Hundreds of people armed with clubs are seen lining up at two forced-open doors on the building's un-policed south end. From there, they were reported all over the building, roving the halls in aggressive packs. Numerous witnesses describe parts of the MO employed - the invaders smashed in locked doors and barricades to take over occupied rooms, even spraying some debilitating gas at the defenders. Once in control they would either shoot or beat to death all the men (to be quieter about it?) and take the women, in some cases apparently to rape (see witnesses). Victims' bodies show signs of gunshots and other violent death, and of being re-arranged and deliberately burned after death (detailed post here - based on ACLOS analysis).

The scene, oriented to regular north.

The two corners where hundreds of armed Euromaidan militants visibly entered the building are best called south (first, prior to 7:45) and southeast (after 7:46, both calculated from given video start times)

(note: back stairwell fires might have been a bit earlier than indicated - the first might be the blaze mentioned in a 7:45 call about fire inside on floor 2, "above the entrance")

What About the First Half where "They Started It?" 
The above makes it sound like everything happened at Kulikovo with no preceding events. And in contrast, according to Kiev and sympathetic sources, this massacre stuff doesn't matter compared to the all-important preceding events. To them, the fire and bulk of the death was all accidents and "unknowns" and stuff, and was "probably inevitable," after people dressed as anti-Maidan militants first opened fire. This escalation of the clashes with no adequate reason, killed a few people on both sides and injured many more on both sides and among the police. These "pro-Russian Fascists" and they alone "orchestrated" anything that could be called a "massacre." They and the police who failed to stop the provocation (or the resulting massacre!) bear full responsibility, the massacre absolvers claim. The Maidan-Right Sector hate machine here was just a blameless slave of the "probably inevitable" - that still didn't kill anybody.

There are extremely valid issues worth considering in the early clashes set-up, the provocateurs, and the police inaction. And we do cover this at the ACLOS Clashes page, and in the red armbands post here. But we're all sick of hearing about this one lesser half of events as if it could possibly explain away the kind of unhinged brutality that marks this act of state-sponsored political terrorism.

State and Allied Response:
Kiev's new NSDC (security) chief Andriy Parubiy was in Odessa three days before the pogrom, meeting with local deputized criminal Mykola Volkov, delivering body armor for anti-terrorism use. Volkov and many others were seen wearing this body armor as they assaulted the Trade Union hall (Mykola seen firing a pistol, replica apparently). Parubiy's deputy in Odessa, Sergei Gutsalyuk, was seen monitorin the attack and working with police as they did nothing.

The police at first only stood in formation some distance from the building, with no effort to slow the mob's invasion and ignition of the building. Later they somewhat shielded the survivors as they arrested almost every one of them - and no one from the attacking mob - for their protection and also on terrorism and related charges (or, one could say, on charges of surviving). It took the fire department nearly an hour to respond from the first flames, with operators apparently ordered to ignore emergency calls on the basis there was and could be no fire emergency (calls analysis). Someone turned off the building's water prior to the fire's outbreak. The fire response units finally sent between 8:09 and 8:16 PM were inadequate, the rescue process painfully slow (see Fire Response). It's reported that authorities refused to accept missing person reports- leaving an unknown number of (probably dead) people simply written off as mysteries that never came home that day.

The current Ukrainian government has launched six official investigations, five being insider whitewashes, one a compromised parliamentary investigation that reached a few relevant conclusions, the most important of which were edited out after everyone signed (at least one committee member withdrew her signature after seeing the edits). Kiev blames only "pro-Russian terrorists" and allies in the police and general society for sparking events, the massacre part of which was just an accident (unless, as they sometimes hint, the terrorists gassed and burned themselves on purpose!)

Somehow, this basic view carries over to at least one public "independent" investigation ("Group 2 May") and apparently another (Information Center). Governments that support Kiev, and the Western mass media, have virtually ignored the story past their initial reports of a murky fire that apparently never seemed worth figuring out.

Our Response:
It's been six bleak months for truth and justice in Odessa. Time for action. Many others are already working on this case. (For example, the May 2 Committee) I plan to start networking with them for best effect. Below I will gather some useful links and pointers for spreading the word, the best word, and the best way. Also, ideas and tips are more than welcome in the comments section.

Things we support:
* Anti-fascists massacred in Odessa to be remembered, honored
On the six-month anniversary, activists around the world will remember this crime and honor the victims with memorials, rallies, meetings and photo exhibits. 
In New York, the International Action Center has called for a protest at the U.S. military recruiting station in Times Square on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 1 p.m., to remember the murdered anti-fascists. Participants will tell Washington, Kiev and the corporate media to stop the cover-up of those responsible for the massacre.

* Events in Lugansk People's Republic, Russia, Germany, Netherlands, elsewhere plus some links to info resources, etc. at the new Facebook page Odessa Massacre: Six Months Later