Monday, December 14, 2015

Suspected Tree Farm Reveals Houla Massacre Deception

December 14, 2015

I think the first concrete debunk we made with the Houla Massacre was this exposé of shoddy journalism in service of regime change by the BBC. It was first published in shorter form at the CIWCL site, June  19, 2012, here re-written a bit and updated to reflect the years of research in between
Shortly after the Syrian government made official their refutation of responsibility for the “Houla massacre,” the ever-diligent BBC unearthed "Satellite image clues” to refute them with a "suspected artillery site." Once reported by the Beeb, this claim was bound to be echoed forever by the credulous. But the first time it was said by a supposed expert, it was a bunch of crap.

First, there were the clear activist reports of prolonged shelling, generally thought to mean heavy artillery only the army was thought to possess. It was after this chased away rebel defenders that the Alawite "Shabiha" militia moved in and massacred entire families. But ... The UN’s Commission of Inquiry (CoI), in its “oral update” report of June 26 noted “much of the damage appeared to be caused by mortars, including large caliber mortars, heavy machine guns or light artillery.” The first two rebels had at the time, and the last one only possibly, but it's attached with an "or." So well-armed rebels could easily explain all the damage at least as well as army shelling could. 

Further, the damage afterwards is not random like distant shelling would be, but rather precise damage to security posts and the homes of pro-government and Shia convert families, and a deliberate massacre of civilians somehow rendered defenseless.

But the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner presented images suggesting masses of artillery had moved in the area, leaving “tell-tale tracks.” “All the images were taken on the morning of Saturday 26 May, within hours of the massacre ending,” he reported. One is to presume that’s relevant, and shows things that hadn’t been there on May 24, and were put there by the events of the massacre day. 

They called on military analyst Forbes McKenzie, a former military intelligence officer. He pointed out, in the forested area labeled “H,” what he “believes are the caterpillar tracks left by a mobile artillery battery that fired on the civilian houses.” McKenzie told the BBC: “This would be standard Soviet bloc tactics, firing from woods and then withdrawing.” 

It took about one minute looking and five thinking to put that claim to rest. Google Maps public imagery (at the time of writin, June 2012) shows the same tracks already there at a different, earlier time. According to Goole Earth, the imagery was taken on February 22, 2012, three months before the attack. I'm not sure why Mr. McKenzie failed to catch this.

It is possible these are artillery tracks, where cannons are routinely driven all around the forest here, almost up to each and every one of the trees. Evidence that happened on May 25 in particular, and that these cannon fired on Taldou that day? Zero. 

We can’t even say these are cat tracks. They seem rather to be worn dirt roads, but in an unusual pattern - organically dense like veins. What they seem to be, in fact, are access roads in a tree farm, used to plant, tend and harvest each of their little sunlight factories when the time is ready.

If we could be sure heavy weapons were used, from this vicinity (as the Beeb noted, it's near an army checkpoint), this location is as good a guess as any. But the only spot specifically blamed as the main shelling origin - and much closer to the area in question - is the "Water company" base at the crest on the southeast edge of town (position G in the BBC graphic at right).

But of course nothing in the damage proves who did it, while motive and some witnesses point to rebels, and our video research has by know shown beyond much doubt they overpowered the town's security posts just before the massacre. Only the Water co. base withstood the assault. The other four bases were overrun, the evidence suggests. Here's our better and more relevant map showing massacre sites in relation to these posts. The white ones in the north are the two the UN's investigators agree were overrun by rebels. Wi disagree on 2 of the other 3.

Rebels took over Taldou on May 25, 2012, and the government still hasn't gotten it back. But they held onto the water co. post at the edge of town, maybe just to hwlp prevent a move south on the Alawite villages there. (Above, the Beeb shows two "reported Shabiha militia positions" there, where rebels say the killers came from. But there's still no evidence for Alawite Shabiha coming in from the south or anywhere, and some evidence for fresh terrorist mercenaries moving from the Turkish border area to just north of Houla, between May 22 and 24, already slaughtering children along the way)

But we can finally see (at right) tank or artillery tracks at the right spot visible by March 9, 2013 (next new images to be published by GeoEye/Google Earth). There were no such tracks visible in the Beeb's day-after images.

As for the BBC's site H: It's right on a main road, but has some tree cover. It is miles from town, so range issues come into play. It would suggest big guns, little good use against a terrorist takeover. But maybe the regime did pound the town with heavy cannons that day as well, the kind that leave tracks, and they were based here. But again, UN's investigators also felt the damage looked like "heavy mortars, heavy machine guns or light artillery," with nothing about heavy artillery - and they were trying to implicate the government.

And again, these are preexisting dirt roads in a tree farm, so you can't tell if artillery had driven on it. These tracks could have hosted a dirt bike rally there that day, or done nothing. The BBC's expert's decision was pure imagination, wishful thinking from the blame-Assad crowd.

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