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The London Review of Books would not publish acclaimed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest article on the Khan Shaykhun "chemical attack" and it was instead picked up by German newspaper Die Welt (image screenshot welt.de)

A new exposé by acclaimed U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh throws into more doubt U.S. claims that Syria's Assad regime gassed its own people. James O’Neill reports.

ON 4 APRIL 2017, the Syrian Air Force attacked a building in the terrorist held town of Khan Shaykhun. Using a Russian supplied GPS guided 500lb bomb, the building was destroyed, killing a number of ISIS leaders who were holding a meeting there at the time.

As a result of the explosion and fire that followed the bomb blast, a toxic wave affected the surrounding area, killing at least 60 people, including several children.

The Western media were immediately supplied with video footage and photographs from the scene, some claim from sources linked to terrorists. The allegation was immediately made that the Assad Government had used chemical weapons and. in particular, sarin gas, “against his own people”. Identical claims had been made following the alleged chemical weapons attack in Ghouta in August 2013. The general refrain was also familiar from similar allegations made against Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi before their countries were invaded and destroyed.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory strike against the Shayrat Air Base where the plane used in the bombing at Khan Shaykhun had originated. Despite there being no firm evidence to support the allegations of sarin gas use and with a complete disregard for international law, Trump ordered the firing of 59 cruise missiles at the base, of which only about half reached their target.

Since the Khan Shaykhun event, a number of analyses have been done, including a number of reports by noted chemical weapons expert MIT’s Professor Theodore Postol

These reports destroyed the USA Government’s allegations, nonetheless faithfully reported and repeated ad nauseum by the mainstream media, that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in general and sarin gas in particular, against its own people or anyone else.  It will come as no surprise that Postol’s reports have been completely ignored by the mainstream media.

The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has now published a new report on the Khan Shaykhun incident. Hersh’s career spans more than five decades, and includes such notable exposes as the My Lai massacres in Vietnam and the torture regime run by the Americans at Abu Graib prison in Iraq.

Hersh was for a long time published by the New Yorker magazine. His exposés of U.S. wrongdoing became too uncomfortable for them and he was forced to seek a publication outlet outside America. The prestigious London Review of Books (LRB) published a number of Hersh’s articles, including on the alleged killing of Osama bin Laden, the alleged Syrian government’s sarin attack in Ghouta in 2013, and the so-called “rat line” of Libyan weapons and terrorist personnel from Libya to Syria and elsewhere after the overthrow of Gaddafi.

But the LRB would not publish Hersh’s latest article on Khan Shaykhun and it was instead published in the Sunday edition (25/6/17) of the major German newspaper Di Welt.

In his latest article, Hersh confirms a number of key points:

  1. The Americans allegedly knew in advance of the Khan Shaykhun attack, partly because of the "deconfliction agreement" between Russia and the U.S., and partly to give the Americans time to ensure that one of their intelligence assets that had penetrated ISIS, would not attend the meeting and thereby be killed.
     
  2. That the Americans had absolutely no evidence that the Syrians either used a chemical weapon at Khan Shaykhun or had any stored at their air base at al-Shayrat.
     
  3. That it was impossible for sarin to have been used at either location, because its properties are such that handling it without the proper protective gear would lead to instant death. The videos shown in the Western media with the persons on the scene having nothing more than face masks would be laughable if the media had bothered to do their job properly.
     
  4. Trump''s intelligence advisers had told him that there was no evidence that the Syrians possessed, or had used, any form of chemical weapons, but he went ahead anyway with the cruise missile attack. Trump’s lack of knowledge of intelligence issues and even lesser interest in acquiring any such knowledge is one of the more alarming features of Hersh’s report.
     
  5. The most likely cause of the toxic fumes and resultant deaths in the vicinity of the bombed building was the release of fumes from the chemicals stored in the building’s basement by ISIS.

There is much else in Hersh’s report and readers are advised to go to the now numerous websites where it is available — including, in English, the above quoted Die Welt site. Do not expect to read or hear about Hersh’s report, which heavily relies upon inside sources, in the Australian media. They, like much of the Western media, appear to have imposed a blanket silence upon a narrative that is clearly at odds with the preferred official version that Syria, Russia and Iran are the cause of all the ills of the region.

We are now told – and the mainstream media is happy to repeat – that the White House has evidence that “the Syrian government is preparing a chemical attack to kill innocent children.” 

White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in a statement released on 27 June 2017 said that ''the activities were similar to preparations taken before an April 2017 attack'' (Khan Shaykhun) and warned that ''if Mr Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons he and his military will pay a heavy price''.

This claim, which apparently came as a surprise to both the Department of Defence and the State Department, was, as is now usually the case, entirely free of any supporting evidence. It cannot be a coincidence that these claims are made within days of the publication of Hersh’s report. The use of the word “another” in the White House statement clearly demonstrates that the U.S. government, and its allies in Syria, including the UK and Australia, are impervious to any evidence that might deflect them from their overriding goal of the destruction of the Syrian state.

Other evidence to support that interpretation may be seen in the recent American and Israeli air attacks on Syrian Government positions, the aim of which was to support the ISIS forces fighting the Syrian Army. Such overt support reflects the fact that the Syrian Government forces and their allies are now winning the battle against ISIS.

The White House statement may be preparing the ground for another allegedly staged chemical attack (as allegedly Ghouta was in 2013) to justify an upsurge in American and Coalition military attacks. The Americans have even tried to establish a no-fly zone in southeastern Syria at the confluence of the Syria, Jordan and Iraq borders, thereby controlling the Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran logistics route.

That the policies being pursued by the Americans and their coalition allies in Syria, including Australia, will inevitably lead to a confrontation with the Russians appears not to have been factored into what can only be described as an insane policy.

The Australian public deserves to be fully informed about the dangers our present policies invite. One of the most disturbing aspects of these latest developments is that one cannot rely on the mainstream media to enable us to be so informed.  To repeat ad nauseum, as they do, the lies, half-truths and misinformation and suppress evidence provided by people such as Postol and Hersh is nothing short of disgraceful.

James O'Neill is a former academic and has practiced as a barrister since 1984. He writes on geopolitical issues, with a special emphasis on international law and human rights. He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au.

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