Refuting the Coda Story’s narrative on Swedish Doctors for Human Rights

By Adam Larson

This op-ed article originally appeared 8 Feb 2020 in  Lybiancivilwar.

Let me state clearly at the outset that the lame hit-piece article I’ll be ripping apart is roughly TWO YEARS OLD. I am not trying to deceive anyone about the article’s currency, to distract from anything else, or whatever.It was simply brought to my attention recently by being cited in another smear piece by Chris D. York at Huffington post UK. The target of the 2017 article was Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), a sidelined but important alternative NGO, and their associate online magazine The Indicter. SWEDHR chair Dr, Marcello Ferrada de Noli has just replied to the article in the context of its recent use, which was to describe the Indicter as making “discredited claims about the White Helmets,” to show how the separate WGSPM (of which I’m a member) “relies heavily” on such dubious sources. That was meant to suggest we (WGSPM) must be wrong, which attack was apparently in revenge for our being proven right in a massive way over recent months.

Anyway, here I’ll share my own review of the same 2-year-old article that shares many similarities with York’s many such articles, and with hundreds of other cookie-cutter attack pieces by paid-and-praised mercenary journalists.

Russia Used a Two-Year-Old Video and an ‘Alternative’ Swedish Group to Discredit Reports of Syria Gas Attack
Who are the Swedish doctors that Russian media is using to drum up support for war in Syria? Text by Katia Patin 2 May, 2017

Source, self-explained: “Coda Story puts a team of journalists on one crisis at a time and stays with it, providing unique depth, continuity and understanding to events that shape our world.” – “We do not accept donations that raise the possibility, or appearance, of a conflict of interest” – they’re financially supported by foundations, reader contributions. Partners include Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, European Endowment for Democracy, various mainstream journalism foundations, Wired, and ones I don’t know. (not my field, really).

But the article is what matters here – my only example so far of how well Codastory helps shape our understanding of the good and bad forces swirling all around us. I’ll break the article’s thrust down to three parts and consider each:
– Russia used deception to cast doubt of the 4 April, 2017 alleged sarin attack in Khan Sheikhoun
– an ‘Alternative’ Swedish Group they “used” in this effort is irrelevant, maybe fake
– their cited analysis – of a video from a 2015 incicent – is flawed, and constitutes some of the disinformation cited by Russian sources, or at least does NOT reflect badly on the White Helmets (nor on their Al-Qaeda-affiliated partners in Sarmin Coordinating Committee, not that they get mention it)
– the Russian plot to use that bad analysis involved trying to fool people into believing the video from 2015 actually showed the faking of the Khan Sheikhoun attack

Russia Used a Two-Year-Old Video! Ha!
Patin wrote:

Russian officials and state-media went into overdrive after the April 4 chemical attack in northern Syria and the U.S. military response, circulating contradictory theories about the attack, the most cited version being that the attack never happened and was staged. The video from the makeshift emergency room was used as key evidence that the attack was in fact fake news.

All of the Russian reports omitted a crucial fact: the video was two years old.

Such universal omission (across how many sources? Just “all”?) sounds coordinated, not likely to “all” happen by accident. That sounds like a stupid plan, besides dishonest. They thought it would work to claim this was recent, when they would be referring to analysis that itself predates the attack? How well could that work?

Patin did NOT cite, quote, or link to a single example. We’re just to trust her reading on this leading point. But skimming myself for both English and Russian-language, auto-translated, I found perhaps enough examples to test her reading. Is this a sloppy, stupid, coordinated lie, or just sloppy? You decide.
falsifikatsii-gazovoi-ataki-v-sar 8 april 2017
Swedish doctors accuse White Helmets of killing children for falsifying gas attack in (Syria) … after the alleged gas attack” THE attack, as read 4 days after Khan Sheikhoun, does sound like it refers to that incident. But the same article also says “As part of the investigation, Swedish doctors analyzed the last two Videos of the White Helmets, published on March 17, 2017.” (analysis published then – before the Khan Sheikhoun incident even happened.)

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova doesn’t specify when it is or try to claim it’s from the recent attack in this video presentation from a bit later on.

Sputnik April 10
According to the independent organization Swedish Doctors for Human Rights, the video shot by White Helmets group purporting to show a chemical attack in the Idlib province of Syria in March 2015 is clearly a fake.

Tass April 15
“a video of the White Helmets allegedly taken after the attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province” is what SWEDHR analyzed. There’s that lie finally. But Dr. De Noli is allowed to blow the cover in his interview – the bits they included, not the parts they cut – referring to an “attack in Sarmine in 2015,” though it reads like a different event from the one with the analyzed videos.

So the state-run TASS news agency did falsely claim the Sarmin video was from the recent attack. In fact, this is more explicitly misleading than what Patin described: a failure to clarify the date. Here it says outright it’s fom 4 days ago. But that one example I found wasn’t linked, maybe because it discusses primarily Dr. De Noli and SWEDHR coming under attack (some Wikipedia users making politicized edits to their entry claiming Russian propaganda, etc.) That might not be the right thing to link directly to in the middle of an attack piece done in the same shady spirit.

So that “overdrive” wasn’t terribly uniform, now was it? This is the lead, but it’s a non-story. The right headline would lead with “some news stories in Russia conflate two incidents.” But that’s not very newsworthy, so it would fall out of the headline and perhaps out of the article altogether. That would make for a weaker argument that relies more heavily on the other points we’ll now consider.

SWEDHR Relevance Questioned

Amnesty International in Sweden, Human Rights Watch in Sweden, the Swedish Society of Medicine and the Swedish Medical Association all say they never heard of SWEDHR, which describes itself as an “alternative NGO.”

This suggests SWEDHR could be just made up, is not actually an NGO, or at least had just never crossed paths with the mainline groups as they went about their highly relevant work. But it could also be untrue: As SWEDHR chair Dr. Marcello Ferrada DeNoli just pointed out, Amnesty Sweden had at least heard of them enough to refute, in March, 2016, a point they had raised (Former paid agent of Swedish Security Police dictated Amnesty Sweden’s stance against Assange). The point wasn’t disproven, just denied as “nonsense,” though it seems well illustrated. And that was said after hearing about and reviewing the claim, from a group they (or someone speaking for them, perhaps in ignorance) would later deny having heard of.

And irrelevance can be made in other ways. As mentioned above, there were efforts at the same time (Spring, 2017) to remove or vandalize the SWEDHR page on Wikipedia, with incorrect points added, like the description as “a Russian propaganda site” (SWEDHR analysis and rebuttal of this attack) Dr. de Noli later had his entry threatened for removal over his supposed lack of “noteworthiness” – which some opponents of his views had … noted. Both Wikipedia silencing efforts failed, but only with struggle, and the entries are left marred with heavy addition of incorrect claims against them. Had that succeeded, people could ask if Dr. de Noli and SWEDHR are so relevant, why don’t they even have Wikipedia entries?

Video Findings Confirmed
This gets to how “Russia uses” SWEDHR. There should be no problem with Russians or anyone speaking truth, but the big problem these days, supposedly, is they lie all the time to cast doubt on chemical attacks and such. No one denies the findings of SWEDHR are their own and essentially Swedish, and there was no outright claim the Russians compelled them to reach their conclusions. But Patin suggests SWEDHR’s video analysis, so widely reported on in the Russian media, is nonetheless more of that disinformation they use. The supposed timeline deception aspect didn’t pan out, but more important is the content of their video analysis – IS it incorrect or even misleading, as she suggests?

Source material – 2 articles in quick succession at The Indicter:

White Helmets Video: Swedish Doctors for Human Rights Denounce Medical Malpractice and Macabre ‘Misuse’ of Children for Propaganda Aims
by The Indicter – March 6, 2017

White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children
by The Indicter – March 17, 2017

These are fairly detailed articles, with judgments issued by a few consulted medical doctors in Sweden and at least one (external) opinion submitted from a UK doctor. Here’s my own summary, considering also points I had gathered for my own earlier analysis at this blog and, with others, at A Closer Look On Syria.

None of the three children seen dead or dying shows signs of chlorine exposure as alleged (absolutely no redness of the cornea). The two girls appear to be dead, but their baby brother is alive, though apparently comatose – not a regular effect of chlorine gas. He’s barely even trying to breath; just one yawn-like gasp is seen, which was taken as indicating an overdose with an opiate or other CNS depressant drug. There’s no sign of treatment for that provided and he stays comatose until he’s dead (whenever that happens – unclear). His airways are also filled with foam, leaking from his mouth and nose. This is probably simple vomit, worked into a foam by some vigorous breathing he was doing earlier.

The Indicter articles don’t try for a complete overview of all details; they mainly just pass on the notes each doctor had provided on their own. For example, the lack of airway clearance isn’t specifically mentioned (the medics should suction the foam from the boy’s airways so he can breathe, but never do.)

But the emphasis was well-placed on a possible adrenaline injection that’s done terribly wrong and would likely be fatal, not life-saving. A relatively enormous syringe was used, inserted at two or more different angles, and twirled around in the boy’s chest. Damningly, its contents are never injected – the dubious doctor in a Taqiyah cap removed the syringe and puts it away with the plunger just where it was to start. All he did was stab the boy in the chest. A proper adrenaline shot, the SWEDHR doctors explain, happens amid ongoing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, which is not done before or after. That also requires breathing to work very well, which wasn’t happening for a few reasons.

My own note: the plunger might actually move back a bit, and the fluid might be reddish. Did he avoid any accidental adrenaline injection by pulling it back, sucking in some blood?

No cardio, no pulmonary, no resuscitation. That’s several things done wrong, all to the effect of having all three babies dead, allowing “Assad” to blamed for killing three more babies. That being a known propaganda plus, besides possible unknown motives, it is possible they (the Needleman at least) did it this way on purpose. That’s a disturbing scene and an alarming possibility, and to be fair, Katia Patin didn’t just laugh it away:

“The White Helmets video was shown to five doctors by Coda, including a US-based pediatric specialist who has worked in Afghanistan, Sudan, Lebanon and Israel; a pediatric specialist and member of the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; an intensive care specialist at Royal Berkshire Hospital, a general practitioner based in London with experience working in developing countries; and a pediatrics specialist at NYU Langone medical center.”

That’s a very Atlantic roster – not a Russian among them, nor even a Belgian or anything. That should be trustworthy. But they didn’t want to be named (or, only one of them IS named), which could raise doubts. Still, what they say is of some value.

“All of the specialists agreed that the individuals in the video did not appear to be carrying out a resuscitation attempt according to accepted guidelines and that the footage where the Syrian boy was given an injection was not a usual resuscitation method. All of them however, said it would be impossible to conclude from the brief video that the scene was staged.”

“There is nothing to indicate this is clearly a ‘faked’ procedure, it seems to be more of a desperate or a poorly executed one,” said Dr. Melissa Hersh from NYU Langone.

This actually agrees that the procedures are abnormal, and doesn’t deny that they might prove fatal. The main difference is the “spin” put on it. Dr. Hersh would presume all this malpractice was accidental, perhaps caused by nerves rattled by “Assad’s relentless bombing” or whatever people always propose. Patin would eagerly endorse that.

Other points they didn’t consider in the broader story of this family’s killing make it all extremely implausible. But that’s not in the video, and they miss enough of that to limit the value of this guess anyway. The lack of red eyes one would expect following actual chlorine exposure seems to go un-noted in both SWEDHR and Coda analyses (my own post on this common oversight and explanation why it is one). The apparently comatose state of the boy has nothing to do with the effects of chlorine, but maybe none of those people knew that. But the literature and case studies are clear on these relevant points. Stories claiming they were found in a chlorine-filled apartment almost have to be untrue by definition. That might indicate deception, or natural confusion caused by “Assad’s relentless bombing” and stuff, depending how you want to look at it.

“… not a usual resuscitation method.”

So Patin’s experts skipped most details and wind up suggesting this was all innocent, a suggestion probably amplified for the article. In contrast, SWEDHR analysis just shows and explains all the impropriety and lets the reader decide. They don’t “claim” the White Helmets or that doctor or anyone murdered these babies. Something along those lines is suggested by the factual content of the video, but they’re more careful than that. Consider, 2nd article, conclusion:
“… this child might have died during the lapse in which the ‘lifesaving’ manoeuvres showed in the White Helmets movie went on. (Which is not the same than affirming that the personnel seen in the videos caused the dead of the infant. In forensic terms, the actual cause of death, as well as the mode and the issue of intent, refer to different items than those treated in our analysis).”

The corrected gist of this news story is SWEDHR, an unfairly sidelined alternative NGO “enabled” what seems to be a few Russian media errors, by talking about the Sarmin video shortly before another doubted chemical attack occurred. What they said about the Sarmin video is fairly balanced, accurate, a bit incomplete, and in my opinion totally damning. All that along with most details was downplayed or ignored as possible by Patin and (less so) by her sources.

Clearly Patin is one of the many laboring to keep SWEDHR as irrelevant as possible. It can’t be easy to spin that real story into the thing that was published and is still cited by others in their ongoing war on the truth. Why would an aspiring journalist like Patin chose to run with an article like this? The best explanation is she was urged to, directly or otherwise; if she could show how SWEDHR are irrelevant, incorrect, and tools of Russian propaganda, her career prospect might improve. They likely did. She probably gave it her best effort, and the result is mainly the nonsense dissected above. But in case that wasn’t enough, she does add some other fluff: One video’s choice of soundtrack music was suspicious: From Russia, with Love. This suggests a secret plan to coordinate with Russia? A requirement for funding?

Professor De Noli, just now: “On the base of these further analyses and professional testimonies, we here challenge any international body, governmental institution, human-rights organization, and particularly we challenge the White Helmets organization and the Coda Story, to organize a panel/hearing on the validity and reliability of the clinical findings by SWEDHR with regard the White Helmets video of Sarmin, March 2015.”