Saturday, July 19, 2014

Houla Massacre Myths

(post created July 19, to be filled in)
last edits Jan, 12, 2015

Minor/Early-Settled Myths
(see also ACLOS: proven false claims)
These distortions were highlighted by critics during the short span there were lots of people talking about it. They're generally too common, obvious, or unimportant to interest me much past initial discovery.

- The victims were mainly killed by the Army shelling:
The alleged Army shelling was clearly emphasized in all early reports, and some of the earliest do imply that alone caused the death toll, initially reported smaller but growing as bodies were pulled from "beneath rubble". For example, one report as late as the 28th said it was now 90 people who were killed in "the shelling." This may be mere instinct when that claim was common following such events - and they always specify artillery only the military has, never mortars, RPGs, improvised rockets - things they have. So there's been an emphasis on this aspect to clarify the blame, but rebels said from the beginning, at first muddled but soon clearer, that there were also horrific in-home massacres - by "Shabiha" - after the shelling.

- BBC Iraq image: Another popular point of criticism was an early image the BBC ran that made the massacre look simply enormous - it showed hundreds of wrapped bodies that, as readers quickly discovered, died in Iraq years earlier and had the photo already used for that. It was an undeniable error of some sort, quickly acknowledged by the BBC and retracted (see here for their explanation). There may be more theorizing about true reasons, etc. but it didn't seem worth digging for.

- Army artillery tracks were seen from space:
The BBC, again but less known, cited a supposed expert who found likely artillery tracks in May 26 satellite images. This was the first point I tackled, and easily destroyed: Suspected Tree Farm Reveals Houla Massacre Deception. On checking past imagery, I could prove these sinister "tracks" far south of town predated the massacre by at least three months, and seem to be planting roads in a tree farm. Later 2013 images in Google Earth show they've remained unused and faded away since - and in their place, the kind of tracks he meant appeared at the place (the "Water Company") one would have seen them on the 26th if they existed. But they apparently did not exist then.

Crucial Myths
(mostly forthcoming)

- Army shelling preceding the massacre is proven: As Syrian authorities and others noted, here and elsewhere, of the bodies shown, none of them is jumbled, broken and dusty like victims pulled from "beneath rubble" would be, though a very few look like people hit with RPGs in the open). There's no video proof of shelling that isn't at least as consistent with the evidenced rebel offensive. But there are various signs and thinking that have been cited to convince millions - even Russia's diplomats - that the Army shelled Taldou that day. This deserves its own post (f/c)

- The Shelling Was Because "Houla" is a "rebel-held town":
This was a strong theme of the Houla Massacre article at Wikipedia until I stepped in recently to clarify some things. "Two otion-held towns" is not Taldou. The vague impression of general Houla control coupled with vague reports of shelling and a massacre in "Houla," often called a singular "town," is misleading. As I said, it "makes it sound like only anti-rebel people would attack an all-rebel town, or all-rebel towns in that area." In fact, as the main article now clarifies,
"the UN's June report noted "Government forces are present in Al-Houla" with "fortified checkpoints" they show on an attached map. This shows only the south end of Taldou, between rebel-held Houla and the Alawi and Shia villages. All the reported massacre sites, also labeled on that map, are in this immediate area of Taldou. [26]"

Rebels took over security posts there, on that very day, and set them smoldering. There were five, and the UN acknowledge two of them as overrun by rebels in some kind of offensive. Two others are contested. One of the contested posts is 120 meters north of one massacre site. Another is exactly across the street from another massacre site, and positioned to defend the remainder, the UN decided, as long as it wasn't, say, overrun and torched by sunset. They didn't think it was, but the video record suggests otherwise.

In this context, some stupid quotes, all from a single horrendous Al-Jazeera report:
* "Hadi al-Abdallah, speaking from Homs, said Houla is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, which means government troops cannot enter the town. Instead, they are launching shells from a distance in a bid to defeat the rebels."
* "...government forces tried to break into the town, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said."
* "A team of UN observers visited the Homs area to assess the situation on Saturday. Some activists complained, however, that they just visited the village of Taldou, at the edge of Houla, rather than entering the town."

Fact: someone shelled a part of Houla, just with mortars, RPGs, and heavy guns on "ratmobiles," as far as we can tell. It was the one area in Houla that ''rebel troops'' could not enter,  the government-controlled southern half of Taldou. Everything relevant was there, all the damage, the massacre sites, and even the mass grave in the northern, rebel-held half (and the monitors went there, twice, and heard plenty of lies and also a hushed-up "other story") The same logic behind Al-Jazeera's sources, better informed, would dictate that rebels pounded the center and south of town from their nearby positions in Houla, including north Taldou, to defeat those holding it. Then, logically, they must have entered like they usually could not, and conducted the massacre against the people the soldiers had just been protecting. If all we had to go on was the fact that Taldou was government-held, this would be a lazy leap to blame the rebels. But we also have the video record that shows them taking out the posts they would need to for this to be the reality.

- Rebels Withdrew Before the Massacres:
As explained above, they could only withdraw from the affected area if they first entered it, which would require a military offensive to knock out security posts. Then, as the video proves, they had to come back in a short time and again access the place to recover the bodies they were then seen with. In fact, it's most logical to presume they forced their entry before the massacre, stayed during it, and then got the bodies because they just killed them. 

- The Mobile Post was Never Overrun:(f/c)
- The Hospital Remained Functional:(f/c)
- "The crime scene remained in Government-controlled territory the entire time":(f/c)
- Children's Throats Were Slit: (f/c)
- The Way Children Were Killed Does NOT Suggest Islamists:(f/c)
- There was no Conversion for the Abdulrazaq Family: (f/c)

- Alawites were Killed in the Houla Massacre:
The famous June report by journalist Rainer Hermann in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) passed on that (as translated) the victims “were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla” or government loyalist Sunnis. As noted with glee by critics, the Alawite part is technically an error. Hermann was told that "members of the Alawi family Shomaliya." were among the dead, but there's no such family. Activists also say there were no Alawites in Houla, but that appears unproven - it seems fairly close to or possibly zero, but not close enough or sure enough to rule it out. Rather, a lack of correct positive evidence leaves it not even really trying to be ruled in any longer.

- Rebels Did Not Massacre Alawite Civilians That Day:
Following on the last point, if no Alawite family was killed in Houla, all would seem well on that front. Except there is a whole true version few have bothered looking for. Rather, it seems at least ten civilians from two families in the Alawite village of al-Shumariyeh (not the family Shomaliya) were allegedly killed in a separate attack of May 25 (perhaps later that night or early on the 26th). On the south shore of Lake Homs, the Shumariyeh Massacre is too far away to be done by the same people, and was reportedly run by rebels out of al-Qusayr. But the two massacres might have been coordinated to send a signal about as implied in the FAZ piece – to terrorize Sunnis who convert, Sunnis who support the “Alawite regime,” and Alawi.

- "the loyalties of the victims" point to Shabiha: (f/c)
- Witnesses can be Trusted: (f/c)
- Okay, I mean IF they blame Shabiha: (f/c)

- It makes sense to let Shabiha massacre families in a campaign of genocide against the country's Sunni Majority: WTF?

- There is a "lack of credible information supporting other possibilities": This statement by the CoI has been shown wrong by the new report. Strong video evidence of a rebel offensive the offeders deny is more credible by far than rebel-supplied alleged witnesses who blame the same people rebels do, and clash with the video record just like they do.

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