Post started July 17
Last edited December 17
At A Closer Look On Syria, we've opted for the term "alleged witnesses" to describe people on both sides of the Houla Massacre narrative schism - Houla: Alleged Witnesses. Here, we will gather some thoughts on reliability, pro and con, for both sets, and cite some examples.
(July 18 note: "We will" meaning we have/will, and I will organize some reflection of that here soon - to start, two samples in a category to show how we can critique witnesses from both sides)
Problematic Witnesses - Rebel Guilt Narrative:
1) "Arifah": Meaning 'a knowledgeable woman," this is the reference name ACLOS gave to the female half of the leading two witnesses presented by SANA et al. in early June. She claims much knowledge, but seemingly gathered it in a variety of ways; some visual observation but mostly listening to a radio scanner and second-hand information, including a litany of past rebel abuses many would question (we would suggest none of it's that far-fetched, but let's just not get distracted)
The UN's investigators concluded these two leading witnesses were the only ones in existence supporting a rebel attack. Between them, they almost totally ignore the "rebel defector" (as we dubbed him) with his detailed inside knowledge as a participant in the Battle for the Houla Massacre. They focused their criticism on "Arifah," partly with valid points.
2) "Ahmed": There is one witness for the rebel guilt narrative who classes as a "miracle survivor," although not the usual "I hid behind a door" "they thought I was dead" type. He says he's an Abdulrazaq family member accused of coverting to Shi'ism, but had worked with local rebels before. So, he says, rebels he knew willingly spared him and his whole family (and then smuggled them out, let them just walk away amid the attack, had them stay put through it, or what, is all left unclear). All-in-all, "Ahmed," as he was called, has a problematic account. It raises a number of questions and doesn't answer them, and gives few details. It's far from ruled out, but neither does it seem sound enough to hang much weight on.
(source: Syria: German Author Todenhöfer met with Eyewitness from al-Houla Jurgen Todennhöfer, originally published in the German magazine Bild as Mein Treffen mit Assad, 9 July, 2012)
3) Others: most of the dozen or so interviewees just get one line comments, most of them showing no deeper insight than a general rebel attack they only each saw a part of. They complain that it left police and soldiers dead, houses and the hospital burnt, people displaced, and so on. Only the two leading witnesses, the Defector and Arifah, give much useful detail, one of those with some substantial and identifiable problems, the other without.
Problematic Witnesses - Shabiha Guilt Narrative:
Any rebel-absolvers reading this who were just tempted to write off "Ahmed" as an obvious liar with an implausible survival story, take careful note here: he's the only one like that on that side. Conversely, opposition activists put forth at least 34-37 alleged miracle survivors, with at least 18 on record as witnesses who speak of or for the other half (explained here). If the "Shabiha" killed 106 and failed with 34, that's 140 at least intended, for a fail rate of no less than 24%. These generally unharmed people relate a cartoonish assault by idiot-brute villains who cut deals for no one, try to kill everyone, and fail a lot. Three different women claim they survived by hiding behind a door. One says she ran when one Shabih shot another by accident. Some hid in the barn, some played dead, passed out, etc.
Some claim to be shot and might be. Some of the many people shown might be real survivors, shot and now in rebel custody, telling the rebel story - maybe because it's true, maybe for other reasons. They all consistently blame Shabiha and claim total innocence for local rebels and themselves. Like all Syrians, they suggest, the victims were peaceful rebel sympathizers who detest Bashar Al-Assad. They fail to mention in any form the rebel-initiated Battle for the Houla Massacre that came right before the massacre. No rebels were around then, only afterwards to save the survivors, praise God. So they say.
Just to highlight a few of particular unreliability (and with many runners-up):
1) "Ali Al-Sayed"
Little "Ali Adel Al-Sayed, age 11 (visually about 9) says he played dead. In one version he says he did that by putting his hand over his face - it was bloody from being shot. But it was healed up within a few days, leaving only a faint scratch he shows as proof on that video. Compelling? Yes, apparently. He's adorable, and was nearly murdered by Assad. You just don't go questioning someone like that, and so few did.
We started with him in June, 2012, and I had a detailed article up by July 3. In his multiple accounts, he gives three different names for his father, with the unused names swapped in alternately for his older brother and his uncle(s). He ... wow, he just has too much wrongness to relate here.
The original article was expanded for the 2013 report, including the important correlation thatb he claims to represent the contested family allegedly related to the new parliament secretary Abdelmutti Al-Mashlab. Ali, the inconsistent malleable child witness, paints Aref Al-Sayed's family as distantly related, not a plausible motive, with no real political leaning except some flirtation with protests. But he cannot consistently remember the names of his elder male relatives or when and how they were killed (shot outside first, shot last after hiding through the massacre - behind a door - or killed later after they were taken away alive).
This is the adorable star witness. His stories don't make much sense, but he recognized the Alawite accents and knows the International Community is supposed to be protecting them. Shame on all of, ays little Ali.
See also 2014 version of 2013 revision published on-site, here: "Fight for us" and other things Ali said
2) Ayman/Hassan/Abu Firas Abdulrazaq:
3) Malik Bakour:
Defected soldier Malik Baqur (Bakour) gives one account (Der Speigel, video) where he was at the “protest” in the center of Taldou when he “received a message from the troops along Sadd [Saad] Street telling us that a group was coming from the next village” (that being Fullah, but they knew some were also from Alkabo (Alawi) and Algur (Shia) beyond). Who these well-informed “troops” are is unexplained and interesting. Then Malik says he walked down Saad, arriving at a spot “300 meters from the massacre area” in time to see the Alawite Shabiha marching all the way back to Fullah at 6:30, with a truck he recognized from a checkpoint there. He does not claim that they left behind a list of participants, but Malik's story is almost that perfectly preposterous.
But he also says (Spiegel, text) that he was already at the home of his cousin on Saad Street, doing nothing in particular until the invasion and massacre (defected major Jihad Raslan told Spiegel he was at his own home doing nothing, 300 meters from the crime scene, and hooked up with Malik to inspect hoimes right after). This latter story, lining up with Jihad's, suggests there was no fight – or even protest - for them to be out in, which seems to be untrue. Also, one or both of Malik's stories – both of them confusingly published by Der Spiegel – must be untrue.
(Source: "Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre" By Christoph Reuter and Abd al-Kadher Adhun, Der Spiegel, July 23, 2012(for text part), video interviews for the video interview)
4) Rasha and Rasha:
remaining content, any others, forthcoming.