Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 15, 2017

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

The Grayzone Project at Alternet is a primary source of Assadist propaganda, the latest instance of which is a 5,226 word article by Gareth Porter titled “Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria”. It denies that the Syrian dictatorship unleashed a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th and instead puts the blame on an accidental release of phosphine gas when a warehouse containing aluminum phosphide was bombed. As has been claimed by a number of Assadist propagandists, it was the bombing of a phosphate based pesticide rather than sarin gas that caused over a hundred deaths.

I addressed this claim in a July 8, 2017 article titled “Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine” that attempted to ground the discussion in the abc’s of chemistry even though I am obviously not a chemist. Under the section that dealt with phosphine, I referred to Porter’s initial foray into this matter:

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Porter returns to the phosphine explanation but from a different angle this time. He writes:

Eyewitness accounts of the airstrike, the revelations in Seymour Hersh’s article in Die Welt and other information about the building hit by a Syrian bomb, the geographic pattern of the casualties, the known characteristics of aluminum phosphide and the symptoms of the victims all indicate a very different explanation: A Syrian high explosive bomb hit supplies of aluminum phosphide stored in a building in the northeast area of Khan Sheikhoun, releasing a cloud of deadly phosphine gas, which caused the deaths and injuries.

Can bombing aluminum phosphide release phosphine gas? Only if there were different laws of chemistry that were only recognized by Porter and his feckless editor at the Grayzone Project, one Max Blumenthal. Maybe it would be best to describe Porter’s article as an exercise in alchemy.

As it happens, aluminum phosphide is a deadly poison that has resulted in significant accidental deaths in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. But this is typically how it occurs. Since as a pesticide, it comes in the form of what looks like rice pellets, it is often swallowed by toddlers or by adults intent on suicide. You can understand why this would make India a prime candidate for aluminum phosphide deaths since farmers who have access to the pesticide are also prime candidates for suicide. The International Journal of Medical Research and Review pointed out in a recent article:

Acute self infliction of poisoning is very common among young in developing countries. The epidemiology of poisoning changes time to time and varies region to region. In south India, organophosphorus compound poisoning has been more common as compared to Aluminium phosphide poisoning in north India. All over India males are more commonly reported to poison themselves. Poisoning in farmers has been reported more commonly than in any other profession. Madhya Pradesh is situated in central part of India, where agriculture is the predominant source of income.

The actual chemical basis for the poisoning, however, is the creation of phosphine gas when the pesticide reacts to water in the human body since it is only this combination, which chemists call hydrolysis, that can produce the gas. This is what you will find in the Wikipedia entry on aluminium phosphide poisoning:

The toxicity of aluminium phosphide is attributed to the liberation of phosphine gas, a cytotoxic compound that causes free radical mediated injury, inhibits vital cellular enzymes and is directly corrosive to tissues. The following reaction releases phosphine when AlP reacts with water in the body:

AlP + 3 H2O → Al(OH)3 + PH3, and

AlP + 3 HCl → AlCl3 + PH3 (stomach)

So if you drop a bomb on barrels of aluminum phosphide, that does not produce phosphine gas. All it will produce is pulverized pellets. For a citizen of Khan Sheikhoun to have been poisoned by phosphine, it would have required them to scoop up some of the powder and ingest it. This hardly seems likely. Nor does it seem to matter to people like Blumenthal and Porter that the warehouse in question has never been identified by Syria or Russia.

To illustrate the difference between bombing aluminum phosphide and the chemical process needed to unleash phosphine, I would refer you to a December 29, 2015 article in Marine Insight, a trade publication:

A container vessel loaded some containers of Aluminium Phosphide (IMDG Class 4.3, UN No. 1397) from an Asian port. The consignment used plastic bags as inner packaging and steel drums as outer packaging. The drums were then secured on wooden pallets and these were finally stacked inside a standard marine freight container.

During the voyage, the crew heard a number of small ‘explosions’ inside one of these containers, after which some smoke escaped past the rubber seals of the door. On seeing the smoke, the crew assumed that the cargo inside was burning and sprayed water on the outside of the container exterior in order to cool it.

Although the cargo had been correctly declared at the time of shipment, the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) was not provided to the carrier or to the vessel. The crew was unaware of the fact that contact between water and Aluminium Phosphide produces phosphine, an extremely flammable and toxic gas.

I have no idea how much money Alternet pays Max Blumenthal to turn out this easily refuted propaganda but they are not getting their money’s worth. Maybe they should reassign him to cover the alchemy beat. It would make a lot more sense than this bullshit.


  1. I don’t see any indication that the water has to be in the human body, and that ingestion is therefore required. The two formulas shown both yield phosphine. Simple exposure to water would do it. (I am, in fact, a chemist.)

    Comment by Stuart Newman — September 15, 2017 @ 4:15 pm

  2. So where was the water in Khan Sheikhoun? It wasn’t raining that day.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 15, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

  3. Two points: firstly, phosphine poisoning does not resemble organophosphate (i.e.: sarin) poisoning in either its time course, symptoms, or biological markers. Secondly, impure phosphine (as would be generated by callously dropping a bomb or dumping water onto aluminum phosphide) is not just “highly flammable,” it is pyrophoric–it ignites spontaneously on contact with air. Is Mr. Porter suggesting these people all inhaled a fireball? This phosphine theory is another piss-poor pseudo-explanation by increasingly desperate “journalists” to absolve Assad. It only takes a modicum of background reading to know this stuff. Sadly, some people have a deeper love for Assad than they do for facts, research, or finding the truth.

    Comment by DDTea — September 15, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

  4. Gareth Porter has put forward a “wall of words” (5226, it seems) to make a simple point—inaccurately, it turns out—about the chemistry involved in the attack on Apr. 4, meanwhile denying it was a sarin gas which killed over a 100 people. Whenever I encounter a “wall of words” I assume that something is being hidden and the “wall” is just a defensive posture.

    Comment by uh...clem — September 15, 2017 @ 4:52 pm

  5. Along the lines of what Clem says, I’d add that, as usual these Assad supporters want to fixate on small minutia so as to detract from the larger picture. They want to make it look like Trump is intent on ‘regime change’, when in fact the U.S. and Russia and Iran are all cooperating very assiduously to keep Assad’s regime in power.

    These Assad supporters keep saying, “Trump used this incident to bomb Syria.” First off, the U.S. launched some missiles against an airport tarmac; they targeted some piece of asphalt, in other words. Further, they gave prior warning to the Russians (and by proxy, the Syrians) that they were about to do so. (Is that how they’d bombed Hanoi or the entire country of Cambodia?) The damage done to the airport was so freaking minute that the airport was functional the next day, if not hours after the attack. This was a classic case of “Tsk, Tsk,” given a naughty child by the kid’s loving parents.

    Finally, Hirsh, that Postol guy, and now Porter are all providing bizarre scenarios that are even at variance with the Russian and Syrian explanations. I wander why they don’t just stick to the official Russian-Syrian line, which is actually more plausible. Are they trying to cover their own asses, implying they are not propagandists for a mass murderer? What a bunch of disgusting clowns.

    Comment by Reza — September 16, 2017 @ 12:04 am

  6. Correction: It’s ‘Hersh’ not ‘Hirsh’.

    Comment by Reza — September 16, 2017 @ 12:08 am

  7. This is embarrassing, Louis–to you, not Gareth Porter. Besides baselessly smearing him as an “Assad supporter“ and repeating neocon smears about Pol Pot 40 years ago, you’ve obviously spent all of about a half hour on Google to come up with this expert opinion. Obviously not a chemist indeed. Not a journalist, either.

    Comment by Matt Rubenstein — September 16, 2017 @ 6:33 am

  8. In 2015 Gareth Porter wrote in the Washington Spectator’ , seeking to explain U.S attitudes to Iran, : “A period of cold war was perhaps inevitable after the national orgy of anger at the Islamic Republic for holding U.S. diplomats hostage for 15 months at the end of the Carter administration. But it has now lasted three decades, and has seemingly been unaffected by the fact that U.S. and Iranian interests have clearly coincided since the mid-1990s in regard to the most serious threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East: al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists.

    The real reason the Bush White House had abandoned the opening to Iran was that the CIA and the Pentagon desperately needed to replace the Soviet threat as justification for continuing Cold War levels of appropriations.”

    For Porter it seems if you are part of an armed group based in a Shia district of Beirut you are good, and if you are based somewhere marginal in Saudi Arabia, then you are bad. And he is a supporter of ‘U.S interests’ , but believes they are not lining up right in the Middle East.

    So he sees everything that happens though this window on Teheran. He is a monomaniac. A simpleton in a sceptics mask. His world view absolutely can not allow him to believe any report that counters narratives useful for his poor misunderstood moderate pragmatic Teheran religious politicians. His is not a morally ambiguous universe.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — September 16, 2017 @ 11:17 am

  9. And , also,

    This is from Joshua Landis, the Assad regime friendly analyst . “By refusing to deal with Syria, the US guaranteed that [Bashar] Assad would not police mujaheddin going in and out of [Iraq] and would work to undermine the US in Iraq.”

    Assad regime facilitated AQI. Porter needs to read some Machiavelli.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — September 16, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

  10. Obviously not a chemist indeed.

    No, but you don’t have to be a chemist to know that, for example, it was jet fuel rather than controlled demolitions that brought down the WTC. Plus, Porter has a track record as an Assadist propagandist, especially when it comes to absolving the dictator of sarin gas attacks. Here he is doing the same number in 2013: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/18559-how-intelligence-was-twisted-to-support-an-attack-on-syria

    Comment by louisproyect — September 16, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

  11. Sad. Gareth Porter was a great Vietnam scholar. But as Porter said in his mea culpa about his Pol Pot aplogia, when you’ve discovered the Great Satan lies about one thing, you start thinking they lie about everything else. Even this article is a bit disappointing. I remeber reading Porter’s piece about the bombing of the aid convoy, and it was some of the best researched Assadism I’ve ecome accross. When you go down the road of autistic anti-imperialism, you have nowhere to go but down.

    Comment by max — September 16, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

  12. This didn’t happen either?


    SOME FOUR YEARS ago, a family in the small city of Layton, located in northern Utah, wanted to get rid of the lawn-destroying voles living in their yard. They called a local pest control company. And the applicator – as the resulting criminal investigation revealed – took a total warfare approach, seeding the lawn with more than a pound of pellets containing the fumigant aluminum phosphide.

    Within a few days, their two youngest daughters – one four years old, one just over a year in age – were dead. The tidy little home seemed suddenly so dangerous that the National Guard was called in to do the toxicity readings. They found – perhaps not surprisingly – dismaying levels of phosphine gas which had been released by the pellets as they interacted with moisture in the air.

    Phosphine gas is notoriously lethal (enough so that it was featured recently in a murderous episode of Breaking Bad). The pure gas is colorless and odorless so it carries no warning sign. It’s a fast, systematic, and corrosive killer; it “denatures” and breaksdown a range of enzymes and proteins inside the body, including the ones responsible for moving oxygen through the body, and severely damages the heart. And, as a follow up investigation noted, has no known antidote.

    Within a few months after the Utah deaths, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened the restrictions on the use of aluminum phosphide. The longstanding buffer zone of 15 feet from a residential building was expanded to a far more cautious distance of 100 feet. Only professional operators could buy the compound and they had to follow careful procedures to use it (in Canada, it takes six months to be certified in its use).

    Comment by Antifa — September 17, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

  13. Didn’t you read the article you just posted? It says, “Within a few days, their two youngest daughters – one four years old, one just over a year in age – were dead.” Does this apply to Khan Sheikhoun? According to Porter, the phosphine gas was generated immediately by the bombing of aluminum phosphide, not within days. Even if it was, it would have created a huge fireball since phosphine is extremely flammable, especially when heated. Since the warehouse had just been blown up, the surrounding atmosphere was ripe for spontaneous combustion. None of this makes any sense but for those “antifa” who have a hard-on for Assad, any bullshit is acceptable apparently.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

  14. The reports of the event include the presence of “mud.” What makes Proyect so sure there was no water in the vicinity? Also, the description of phosphine as inevitably combusting (“huge fireball”) is incorrect. The identification of sarin is similarly circumstantial. None of this decisively indicates who was responsible. While LP may or may not be right about that, heaping ridicule and contempt on the possibility that the gas may have been phosphine, and on anyone who suggests it, is useless in establishing anything.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — September 17, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

  15. Stuart, I am going strictly on what Porter wrote. I hope you read his article. He says that a bomb dropped on a warehouse pulverized aluminum phosphide, which was immediately converted to phosphine (presumably because it was no longer contained in a metal shell). If that is the case, it would have combusted immediately since a burning building generates extreme heat, even more so than in a very hot place like Syria. Furthermore, if it was the case that the exposed aluminum phosphide had settled to the ground rather than turned into phosphine while it was flying out of the warehouse, it would have taken hours and perhaps days to absorb atmospheric moisture sufficient to produce phosphine.

    Let me put it this way. If people like Eliot Higgins were writing the kind of crap that Theodore Postol, Scott Ritter and Gareth Porter were writing, they’d be laughed out of town. It is only because people like you have become so seduced by this “anti-imperialist” bullshit that they get a free ride in places like The Nation, Alternet, et al.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 6:16 pm

  16. Now I’m “people like you,” another contempt-worthy demographic. Your only evidence that I am an unreflective “anti-imperialist” is my criticism in 2011 of your position on the desirability of the U.S. helping get rid of Gadhafi, which I likened to that of C. Hitchens. For that, you threatened to come down to NYU and punch me out if I said it to your face. Luckily that’s not where I work, so I felt fairly safe.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — September 17, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

  17. Stuart, all that is well and good but since you are a chemist, it would be more productive to stick to the chemical properties of aluminum phosphide.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

  18. Louis, you are completely pontificating out of your ass about this. You have no idea about what happens in an explosion involving aluminum phosphide (nor do I, but I’m not posting tedious screeds about it).

    Google “aluminum phosphide explosion: You will find a flood of articles about the dangers of gas formation and poisoning. E.g.:

    “Four fumigant handler cases involved phosphine fires or explosions. A small explosion occurred when trays of partially spent aluminum phosphide tablets were enclosed in a plastic bag following fumigation of a Bakersfield seed business. The handler (83-1351) carrying the trays was not injured in the explosion, but afterwards developed dizziness and shortness of breath, and was hospitalized briefly for observation.”



    “Phosphine is a well established insecticide suitable for the fumigation of bulk cargoes such as grain. Phosphine is also poisonous to humans at relatively low concentrations and can form flammable gas:air mixtures. Phosphine can be conveniently generated on and in cargo in the holds by the reaction of atmospheric moisture with aluminium or magnesium phosphide formulations placed in the holds by specialist fumigation contractors. Aluminium and magnesium phosphide are manufactured in several different formulations for a variety of fumigation applications and aluminium phosphide is the more common of the two. The powdered formulation is usually compressed into hard round or flat tablets. Aluminium phosphide powder is also prepared in permeable bags or sachets….

    The fumigation products are supplied in hermetically sealed tubes, cans or flasks to prevent contact with moisture from the atmosphere….”


    Yeah, it’s apparently flammable. Does this mean ALL of it would burn up and disappear from the atmosphere in ANY explosion? It’s truly laughable that you pretend to have the competence to even begin to guess at an answer to that question.

    Comment by Matt — September 17, 2017 @ 7:03 pm

  19. Matt, let me repeat what I just now wrote. When phosphine burns up, it is no longer a poison. It is an ex-poison. It has what chemists called oxidized. If a cloud of phosphine had floated aloft from the pulverized aluminum phosphide, it would have created a firestorm. In addition to consulting Wikipedia, you might also consult Youtube:

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

  20. I should add that our other resident chemical weapons expert, “DDTea,” has basically argued that there is no such thing as phosphine gas poisoning, since it’s “pyrophoric” and so can only be inhaled by dragons. (Wikipedia, on the other hand: “Phosphine gas is denser than air and hence may collect in low-lying areas. It can form explosive mixtures with air and also self-ignite. Phosphine can be absorbed into the body by inhalation.” Oops.)

    THIS is the level of “technical” critique that Eliot Higgins says Gareth Porter doesn’t meet, and so he won’t debate him publically online. Jesus.

    Comment by Matt — September 17, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

  21. Btw, Matt. How does a concert pianist end up as an Assadist apologist? I guess I’ve seen everything now.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

  22. Matt, you say that DDTea argued that there is no such thing as phosphine gas poisoning. Really? What do you make of this, then? “phosphine poisoning does not resemble organophosphate (i.e.: sarin) poisoning in either its time course, symptoms, or biological markers.” How is it that all you fan boys of Assad do so bad when it comes to reading comprehension? I guess a steady diet of Global Research and Moon of Alabama tends to rot out the brain.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 7:40 pm

  23. Louis, you are truly a master of incoherence. What pray tell is this 46 second video of a liquid burning in a beacon supposed to tell us about what happened to a warehouse hit by a bomb? As I understand it, when this shit gets scattered in the wind, the result can be a toxic gas because of moisture in the air–yes, even in “dry” Syrian air. That’s perfectly consonant with all the reports of accidents I and others here have posted. Unless one of you belling-cats really knows what you’re talking about, I’m done with this discussion.

    Comment by Matt — September 17, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

  24. Do you have any idea what my opinions about Assad are? Do you know that it’s possible to tell the truth about the Katyn Massacre without being a “fan boy of Hitler”? On some issues, I actually like your politics. Otherwise you’re a sclerotic crank who doesn’t argue honestly, as far as I can tell.

    Oops, I said I was done. Well, now I am.

    Comment by Matt — September 17, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

  25. Matt, you don’t seem to understand that atmospheric moisture does not turn aluminum phosphide to phosphine immediately. It takes from 36 to 204 hours as this excerpt from a technical paper would indicate, and that’s with maximum humidity. That is borne out in the article that “antifa” posted above. It took days for the aluminum phosphide pellets to be turned into the phosphine gas that took the lives of some children:


    The rates of evolution of phosphine from aluminium phosphide tablets and sachets (produced in China, Shenyang Pesticide Factory) were determined in the laboratory in an air stream under controlled temperatures and humidities. Results showed that the maximum rate of evolution of phosphine was linearly related to the absolute humidity of the air. With absolute humidity moisture contents of air from 4.7 g/m3 to 35.5 g/m3 decomposition times ranged from 36 to 204 hours. The decomposition rate of the tablets was slightly faster than the sachets.

    You can read the entire article here: http://spiru.cgahr.ksu.edu/proj/iwcspp/pdf2/6/201.pdf

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 7:54 pm

  26. Do you have any idea what my opinions about Assad are?

    No, but I can guess. Anybody who says that charges against Gareth Porter as an Assadist are “baseless” is pretty clear about where he stands.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

  27. The times you refer to are for complete decomposition of aluminum phosphide. The decomposition rate is maximal in the first few hours at all temperatures and humidities assayed, and slow down significantly after that. Why should complete decomposition be the hallmark of significant release of phosphine? It’s not. The absolute amount released depends on how much aluminum phosphide is there at the start, and begins immediately on exposure to moisture.

    Comment by Stuart Newman — September 17, 2017 @ 8:07 pm

  28. Stuart, it took a number of days for the aluminum phosphide to convert to phosphine gas, according to the article antifa posted. In fact, the commercial pesticides that farmers used are mixed with other chemicals that slow down the decomposition process or else anybody distributing pellets in a granary would die within minutes. The worst case scenario is using a hose on aluminum phosphide as happened to a family in Texas. But if you scatter some of the stuff on your desk, I am quite sure that you wouldn’t be dead from poisoning as quickly as those people in Khan Shaikhoun died. I would refer you to the eyewitness accounts but I am sure that your mind has been made up about all this. As often is the case, politics trumps science. Just look at the pathetic example of Theodore Postol.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 8:19 pm

  29. This time it didn’t take days to kill


    Comment by Antifa — September 17, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

  30. Antifa, you have to invest more time and thought into these questions. As I said above, “In fact, the commercial pesticides that farmers used are mixed with other chemicals that slow down the decomposition process or else anybody distributing pellets in a granary would die within minutes. The worst case scenario is using a hose on aluminum phosphide as happened to a family in Texas.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 17, 2017 @ 11:26 pm

  31. So when you said above, and I quote, ‘The actual chemical basis for the poisoning, however, is the creation of phosphine gas when the pesticide reacts to water in the human body since it is only this combination, which chemists call hydrolysis, that can produce the gas. ‘ You were wrong. It does not have to take place in the body.

    And when you said it would take a number of days to kill, you were wrong again.

    What is your evidence that it wasn’t raining on that day?

    Comment by Antifa — September 18, 2017 @ 12:02 am

  32. Antifa, you are some fucking stupid idiot. I said that phosphine comes from the combination of water and aluminum phosphide. Rats are killed after it mixes with the water in their innards–the intention of the corporations that sell it–and children die when a father accidentally trains a hose on it. If you continue being stupid, I will have to ban you. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. I can’t abide, however, with people wasting bandwidth.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 18, 2017 @ 1:29 am

  33. Oh Louis, Louis. Why do you think that you can go from google to expert in 15 minutes? Really, you and other amateur sleuths here keep saying things based on hasty google confirmation searches (“Wait! I’ve got to find a link that says I’m right!”), but you just don’t have the background for it. I myself can’t judge the technical viability of Gareth’s hypothesis, but I can judge the incompetence of your “debunking”. So you say that “When phosphine burns up, it is no longer a poison. It is an ex-poison. It has what chemists called oxidized. If a cloud of phosphine had floated aloft from the pulverized aluminum phosphide, it would have created a firestorm.” Well that sounds like a pretty expert judgment, unless the person you’re arguing also has Google, and then he can find this:

    Click to access Phosphine_properties_incident_management_toxicology.pdf

    “Gas, extremely flammable and spontaneously flammable in air

    Reacts violently with air, oxygen, halogens and other oxidants causing fire and is an
    explosion hazard

    Decomposes on heating or burning, releasing toxic phosphorus oxides fumes

    In the event of a fire involving phosphine, use fine water spray and liquid-tight
    chemical protective clothing and breathing apparatus…”

    Hmm, doesn’t seem like it’s an “ex-poison” now, does it?

    Re moisture in the air. Could it be that a bomb that completely demolishes a residential building also causes water to be blown into the mix–say, sewage and drainage pipes? You think that’s metaphysically impossible?

    Re Assadism. I could stoop to the level of calling you a neo-con imperialist lackey, but that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. I think of Assad as more or less like Stalin, and the jihadis tearing up the country as Hitler. Neither is good, but one is, for the time being, the lesser of two very bad evils. He’s a war criminal, and if you ask Gareth Porter (instead of, yes, baselss insinuation), I think he’ll say the same thing. But I seriously doubt I can convince you to stop slinging the “Assadist” epithet around. I mean, if you think Joshua Landis is pro-Assad, you’re just delusional.

    I know I said I wasn’t going to comment any more, but there it is.

    Comment by Matt — September 18, 2017 @ 10:33 am

  34. Matt, there was zero evidence of a fireball in Khan Sheikhoun or jugs of water smooshing with pulverized aluminum phosphide but there was ample evidence of a chemical bomb attack. I understand that people like you and Gareth Porter are more inclined to take the word of Putin and Assad but there’s not much I can do about that. Most people on the left in 1938 thought that Trotsky was a Nazi spy after all.

    In terms of metaphysical impossibility, it would have also been possible for the bombing of organophosphates to have produced casualties as Seymour Hersh alleges in his ridiculous Die Welt article, even though he mistakenly attributes them to fertilizer rather than pesticides like aluminum phosphide. I suppose you can even say that the jihadis were stockpiling poison gas that was released by a bomb impact, as Russia did. All of these scenarios are “plausible” to people like you but are not supported by any evidence.

    Which brings me to your “jihadis tearing up the country as Hitler”. It would take me far too much time and far too many words to explain how similar it is to Christopher Hitchens’s febrile references to Islamofascism so I will simply conclude by allowing Landis to speak for himself: “Mr. Assad is a member of the Alawite minority, a Shiite offshoot that fought a bloody battle against Sunni extremists in the 1980’s. For Mr. Assad to help the United States, he must have sufficient backing from Washington to put greater restrictions and pressure on the Sunni majority.”

    That he certainly did. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/17/opinion/dont-push-syria-away.html)

    Comment by louisproyect — September 18, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

  35. Louis, you can ban me if you want, after all its your blog, but I’ve tried to be polite and avoid abuse. I’ve just tried to point out a couple of errors on your part.

    If you look at videos with the White Helmets you’ll see they use hosepipes on many occasions.

    Here in a report of the Khan Sheikhoun incident


    a journalist describes their response as “In that situation, the treatment tends to be to try and strip people off, to get the chemicals away from their bodies, to hose them down as quickly as possible.” If aluminum phosphide was present, what do you think the effect off this hosing would be?

    Comment by Antifa — September 18, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

  36. I have no idea what point you are trying to make about people being hosed down. Are you trying to say that they had aluminum phosphate dust on their bodies that got converted to phosphine? Surely, the White Helmets would have died themselves while doing this. I understand that people like you regard Arabs as subhuman but this is really far-fetched.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 18, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

  37. Maybe I’m beating a dead horse, but I think it’s worthwhile to archive criticisms of these Assadist journalists.

    In his article, Gareth Porter writes, “But that test can be fooled. As even a cursory internet search will demonstrate, isopropyl methylphosphonate (IMPA) is sold commercially by major chemical companies.” And attaches a link to Sigma Aldrich as an example. But here’s the rub: IMPA is scheduled and accordingly regulated per the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is listed under Schedule 2 Part B-Precursor Chemicals of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) under the category name: Chemicals, except for those listed in Schedule 1 of Chemicals Weapons Convention, containing a phosphorus atom to which is bonded one methyl, ethyl or propyl (normal or iso) group but not further carbon atoms. https://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/annexes/annex-on-chemicals/schedule-2/ It is not a common chemical and it has no reagent value. As far as I can tell, it is only sold as a reference material for labs studying nerve agents.

    Notwithstanding the regulatory aspects of ordering IMPA, the timing would be problematic as well. Folks outside of North America or Europe often wait *months* for chemicals to arrive after placing an order. HTS/Nusra/AQ could not possibly hatch a plan to make a mass phosphine poisoning incident resemble a Sarin poisoning incident by planting IMPA in hospital patients in such a short time.

    And stating the obvious: Gareth Porter is simply stating this “could have” happened but presents no evidence to suggest it *did* happen. Yet the assumption that this metabolite-planting did happen is critical to the viability of his assertions. It’s a messy fix to patch the obvious, gaping hole in his narrative: whether or not phosphine poisoning resembles organophosphate poisoning (and it doesn’t), it sure as hell does *not* produce isopropyl methylphosphonic acid as a metabolite.

    Comment by DDTea — September 22, 2017 @ 6:08 am

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