A Point-by-Point Examination of the Document Titled "The 'Hoax' That Wasn't"
December 28, 2006
(for pictures accompanying the article)
On December 19, 2006, the international advocacy organization Human Rights Watch issued a detailed, intensively researched report unequivocally affirming the factuality of an intentional Israeli attack on Red Cross ambulances at Qana on July 23. The report (titled "The 'Hoax' That Wasn't") by Human Rights Watch was created specifically to counter the claims made in my original essay titled "The Red Cross Ambulance Incident."
This commentary is a response to Human Rights Watch's new allegations.
If you are not already familiar with the claims and counter-claims concerning the July 23, 2006 "Red Cross Ambulance Incident" at Qana, Lebanon, then this article will likely make little sense to you. If you have not yet done so, first invest the time to read my original report that started this discussion:
The Red Cross Ambulance Incident, at zombietime.com.
Next, read the entirety of Human Rights Watch's rebuttal of that essay:
The "Hoax" That Wasn't: The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack, by Human Rights Watch.
The story, in a very small nutshell, is this:
Various media outlets claimed that on July 23, 2006, Israel intentionally bombed two Red Cross ambulances in the village of Qana in Lebanon, piercing one of the vehicles right in the center of the red cross on its roof. I wrote an essay disputing the media's version of events, eventually concluding -- after examining all known evidence of the incident -- that there most likely had never been an attack at all. This essay received a great deal of notoriety, which prompted several media outlets to attempt to re-confirm the incident; in updates to my essay, I rebutted those new reports as well. After several months, Human Rights Watch has now issued what it deems to be a definitive re-affirmation that the July 23 incident actually occurred. This essay is a response to that new report.
My conclusion -- at which I did not arrive lightly -- is that Human Rights Watch, despite an elaborate investigation, failed to make a convincing case that the ambulances were indeed intentionally attacked by Israel.
But don't just take my word for it: read the analysis below and draw your own conclusions.
ON THE ISSUE OF FAIRNESS
Above, you will find a link to the report by Human Rights Watch (hereafter HRW), so that you can read and assess it fully. I give that link despite the fact that HRW's report directly attacks me and my arguments, because for me not to present their side of the discussion would be unfair. But in its entire 24-page report, HRW never once gives a link to the very essay that they're attempting to rebut -- my original article. It's as if they are trying to make sure that none of their readers sees the full evidence. Why is that? HRW (and media outlets as well) should take the high road and present all the evidence from both sides of the argument (as I have done) so that readers can make fully informed judgments on their own. By hiding opposing viewpoints in this case, HRW may only be fueling the impression held by many that HRW -- despite all its good works in other arenas -- has grown biased against Israel.
Also, just to be clear: zombietime is a one-person website. I work alone, in my spare time, and receive no funding or support from any group, individual, or government. I have no connections of any kind to Israel. HRW, on the other hand, is a huge international organization with hundreds of employees and an annual budget of over $30 million. They devoted an immense amount of time, energy, money and manpower to this investigation. I do not have the resources, free time or political stature to go to Lebanon to inspect the scene on-site myself. All I can do is forensically analyze the evidence presented by others. This puts me at a disadvantage, which HRW points out repeatedly, dismissing my analysis as "armchair conjectures." If you, the reader, agree with this characterization, then you may as well stop reading now.
My continued questioning of the "official" version of the ambulance incident is not a result of my stubbornness, or of me digging in my heels. I'm merely trying to pursue the story by analyzing the evidence in front of me. As HRW has presented new evidence, I feel it merits a discussion. If that evidence had proven beyond any doubt that the attack had indeed happened, then I would not hesitate to concede the point and acknowledge the reality of the attack. Instead, I was surprised by the weakness and unevenness of HRW's seemingly exhaustive investigation, and in the interest of accuracy I felt several of their arguments needed dissection. Similarly, if Israel were to admit that they indeed had attacked the ambulances on purpose, then of course I would throw in the towel. But as of this writing, they haven't (despite some overstated recent headlines which are discussed at the end of this analysis).
THE CORE OF THE REPORT: WHAT HIT THE AMBULANCES
The foundation of HRW's entire 24-page report is the portion concerning the actual purported attack itself and how it happened. The excerpts below contain the key passages:
As Chalan was closing the back door of ambulance 777, a missile most likely fired from an Israeli drone (not from an Israeli airplane or helicopter, as earlier reported) struck the rear of the roof of ambulance 777... .Thus, in order to explain the physical evidence, HRW proposes the theory that one of three types of Israeli weapons caused the damage seen in the photographs:
- A Spike anti-armor missile; or
- A DIME (dense inert metal explosive) missile; or
- An as-yet unidentified mystery missile of unknown type.
Even a cursory examination shows that none of these options matches the evidence, and that HRW was misinformed as to the nature of the Spike and DIME missiles that they say must have caused the damage. Nor could any type of mystery missile explain the forensic evidence, as discussed below.
Let's look at all three of HRW's possible claims one by one.
When reading the following sections, always keep in mind the nature of the damage to the two Red Cross ambulances: no burning, no scorching, clean circular holes punched through metal, intact unsinged fabric, no surviving pieces of shrapnel, and so on; and that the people who are supposed to have been inches away from the impact-points of these missiles showed no burn injuries at all.
The Spike is a relatively small but very powerful anti-armor missile developed by the Israeli military to destroy enemy tanks. In a footnote, HRW gives this link to the GlobalSecurity.org's page about Spikes, which is fairly informative but which has no photographs of the missile itself or the damage it causes. Since such images are widely available, one can only assume that this was an intentional "oversight" on HRW's part. This picture above, taken from Israeli-Weapons.com, shows what a real Spike missile looks like.
This diagram from the EuroSpike site reveals that Spikes have not just one warhead, but two warheads, both of which detonate upon impact. (The odds of both warheads malfunctioning are practically nil.)
This is what happens when a Spike missile hits a tank. This photo was also taken from an Israeli-Weapons.com page that features several other Spike images. As you can see, Spike missiles contain high-powered explosives that detonate and erupt into a massive ball of flame when they strike their targets.
This page at the EuroSpike site features several videos showing Spikes in action. The three videos shown below were all taken from this page.
This video, available here on YouTube and here in its original high resolution format (14mb QuickTime movie) shows the launch, trajectory, impact and detonation of a Spike missile. Notice how the explosion at the end of the video (visible in the screenshot on the right, and in the previous photo above) is very powerful, with intense heat and flames. Yet as the evidence clearly shows, and by HRW's own admission, there was no fire and no significant explosion in or around the ambulances. In fact, HRW developed the Spike missile theory for the very purpose of explaining away the absence of any explosion evidence. Apparently HRW misunderstood the nature of Spike missiles, which are designed to destroy armored tanks, and which would obliterate a regular vehicle.
This screenshot is taken from the very end of this video showing the flight and impact of a Spike on a tank in a test-firing range. This image was snapped from quite a distance away, but the picture reveals that the resultant explosion engulfed the entire tank. If the ambulances had indeed been hit by Spike missiles, this video pretty much shows exactly what the attack would have been like -- yet the massive fireball and concussive impact of the missile proves that a Spike attack could not possibly account for the clean puncture holes and unburned interiors of the ambulances.
This screenshot comes from this 4.2mb QuickTime video montage of Spikes being launched in various test scenarios. Very briefly near the beginning is this short scene of a target apparently being destroyed by a Spike missile. It matches the size and strength of the explosions in the other videos, and adds further confirmation that Spikes are far too powerful to have caused the minimal damage to the ambulances.
The very final few frames of this 13mb Spike demonstration video also show what one can only assume is an explosion caused by a Spike missile (as the whole point of the video is to show the Spike's capabilities). Again, any non-armored vehicle would be obliterated by such an explosion.
The only possible conclusion that one can reach from all this evidence is that HRW's theory -- that a Spike missile caused the damage seen on the Red Cross ambulances -- is incorrect.
One minor last point (not that the Spike theory needs any further debunking): HRW insists that the weapon that struck the ambulance could not have come from a helicopter but rather must have come from a drone, yet as this photo shows, Spikes are fired from helicopters -- yet there is no evidence that Spikes have ever been launched from drones.
HRW alternatively proposes that Israel must have attacked the ambulances with DIME missiles, a controversial experimental type of weapon reportedly being developed by the United States and Israel.
DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive) missiles are designed to destroy a relatively small area compared to that of conventional munitions. To achieve this, the warhead incorporates tungsten powder (as opposed to the more explosive aluminum powder) which, according to reports, creates a contained but intensely hot and powerful blast area. The warhead is held in a disposable carbon fiber casing that disintegrates into harmless filaments upon detonation. Despite the name, DIMEs are not "inert" as a whole; the moniker comes from the use of a type of metal filler (tungsten) that does not chemically accelerate the blast.
The weapon became a minor cause celebre in the summer of 2006 when a film crew for the Italian news network RAI accused Israel of using DIMEs on Palestinians during incursions into Gaza. Whether or not those accusations are true, descriptions of the supposed effects of a DIME blast reveal that it could not be the cause of the ambulance damage. From the RAI article above:
The weapon, according to the military magazine "Defence Tech", is called DIME which means "Dense Inert Metal Explosive". It is a carbon shell that when it goes off breaks into small splinters. At the same time, there is the explosion of a charge which shoots a blade of tungsten dust charged with energy which burns and destroys everything in the radius of four meters with a really precise slant.
This graphic -- produced by the Sydney Morning Herald and reproduced on the virulently anti-Israel site "Palestine Free Voice" -- confirms that a DIME blast incinerates everything within a 4-meter diameter area (four meters is approximately 13 feet).
Israel has denied using DIMEs in battle:
"With regard to allegations of the use of Dime weaponry, the IDF denies the possession or use of such weapons," the military said in a statement.The media has contributed to a baseless hysteria concerning DIME missiles, portraying them as some sort of nefarious Israeli super-weapon specifically crafted to torment people. In fact, the exact opposite is true: the whole motivation behind DIMEs was to design a "humane" weapon (to the extent that any weapon can be humane) that only affects the intended target, and minimizes collateral damage by eliminating shrapnel and creating a smaller but more intense blast area. If Israel was using DIME weapons, they ought to be praised for trying to protect civilians in a battle zone.
All of this is a moot point, however, because DIMEs could not possibly have caused the damage seen in the Red Cross ambulances.
This is one of the few known pictures of a DIME missile detonating. (The image comes from here, as part of this page, and can also be found here, as part of this page.) The 4-meter (13-foot) diameter blast is plainly evident, as is the intense heat it produces. Now, viewing this picture, consider again the lightly damaged and unburned interiors of each of the Red Cross ambulances, as well as the other vehicles HRW says were hit by DIMEs. Could such an explosion have happened inside those vehicles? Obviously not. The fabric and upholstery inside all the damaged vehicles is fresh and not burned in the slightest, and could not have survived the white-hot conflagration produced by a DIME missile.
Here is another picture of a DIME detonation (found here, as part of this page). Though the scale of the explosion is not as apparent in this image, the wave of super-heated tungsten particles is clearly visible. As described in the various articles about DIMEs, this tungsten micro-shrapnel incinerates and seriously damages anything within the 4-meter diameter of the blast, with the worst damage being closest to the point of explosion. Yet, as mentioned repeatedly, no such damage is visible on the insides of the ambulances. Fabric and other soft materials just inches from the purported missile's trajectory are not damaged at all. And the photographs of the roofs of the ambulances show that they were not hit from above by millions of tiny particles, but rather were dented inward by large objects. As DIMEs don't create any normal-sized shrapnel, A DIME explosion above the vehicles would not explain why the roofs are pockmarked with fairly large holes.
On a related note, this anti-Israel page about DIMEs features these photographs of what they purport are DIMEs in flight just before hitting their targets. However, they are not DIMEs at all: they are "small diameter bombs," and the photos were taken from this page about small diameter bombs (SDBs). Despite their name, SDBs are in fact very powerful munitions, and couldn't themselves possibly be the cause of the limited damage to the ambulances.
These screenshots are taken from a video showing a test-firing of an SDB. (You can see the video here, or here, or here.) In the left-hand photo the SDB is about to hit its target; and on the right is has just detonated. As you can see, the explosion is intense, and far exceeds the damage done to the ambulances. (As for the picture of the jet under the bridge at the upper left, you can also see a video of what happens once the bomb hits here and here; the jet is completely destroyed.) Hence, "small diameter bombs" are ruled out as possibilities as well.
One more point which we'll explore further in the next section: HRW produced photos of a clean circular grapefruit-sized hole in the floor of one ambulance and in the pavement at the purported site of the attack. HRW claims these holes were likely created by DIME missiles; but as the descriptions above spell out very clearly, the entirety of the DIME missile disintegrates upon detonation, as even its carbon casing is rendered into microfibers. Hence, there is no part of a DIME that could have caused the holes shown in HRW's photos.
HRW may have been misled by the word "inert" in the DIME missile's title, thinking that it indicated an entirely inert hunk of metal that could have passed through the ambulance non-explosively. They were, however, mistaken, as DIMEs are highly explosive.
Lastly: DIMEs were created in response to media criticism of munitions that caused too much collateral damage, and were specifically designed to hit a highly particular military target without harming any surrounding civilians. What then would be the purpose of firing such a weapon at a random ambulance full of civilians in a deserted town square? If Israel was killing innocent people just for the irrational bloodthirsty joy of causing death, why use an experimental weapon designed to limit casualties? Why not just use a normal missile? It makes no sense, even within the biased viewpoint that Israel is killing innocents intentionally.
In conclusion, DIMEs could not possibly have been the cause of the damage to the ambulances. What then did do it?
After proposing the Spike and the DIME as the probable weapons used in the attack, HRW hedges its bets by stating that the attack might have been carried out by some kind of experimental Israeli mystery missile:
Human Rights Watch cannot conclusively state which missiles were used in the attack on the ambulances, because our researchers did not find diagnostic shrapnel or missile parts at the scene, and because of the experimental nature of some missiles used by the IDF.... Regardless of the weapon used, the IDF certainly has the capability to attack vehicles with limited impact missiles designed to cause low collateral damage....The missile traveled from the roof of ambulance 777 through the gurney on which Ahmed Fawaz was strapped, severing his leg, and then through the floor of the ambulance deep into the pavement of the road.But this brings up an interesting question: considering what is purported to have happened, exactly what kind of projectile could have been the cause?
These are details of three photos supplied as evidence by HRW, showing the damage done by these putative missiles to the ambulance and the ground. One of the missiles passed through the center of the ventilation cover (on the left), punching a clean hole in it. The other missile passed through the floor of the other ambulance (second photo, showing the hole at the bottom), leaving the carpet unburned. And then both missiles ended their trajectories by entering the pavement (last photo), leaving perfectly circular holes in their wake.
What kind of projectiles could have caused this result? The answer: projectiles that don't explode. But which necessarily must have been aimed with extreme precision, since one purportedly struck the exact center of the red cross on the ambulance's roof.
The only type of projectile weapon that doesn't explode is a kinetic energy penetrator. In other words, an inactive, non-explosive piece of metal launched at a target with great velocity to cause damage using the projectile's inherent kinetic energy. Nothing else would explain how a "missile" could have passed through the entire ambulance and embedded itself into the ground without ever exploding, or creating shrapnel, or burning anything, or making a hole larger than a few inches across.
The most basic type of kinetic energy weapon is a cannonball, which is simply a metal sphere. A bullet, once it is has been fired, is also a kinetic energy weapon. But we can safely assume that Israel is not using cannonballs these days, nor could a single bullet have made such a hole in the pavement. Instead, we are looking for some kind of weapon that comes straight down from directly above, to match what would have to have been the perfect downward trajectory of the purported projectile.
One possibility would be inert bombs -- solid chunks of metal dropped from an aircraft. Pictured here, for example, are Lazy Dog darts (found here, as part of this page), a type of small non-explosive bomb (called a "dart" in military parlance) used by the US during the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. A slightly larger version of this type of dart might conceivably have caused the damage to the ambulances.
But there are three major problems with this theory. Firstly, and most importantly, darts such as these cannot be aimed precisely, nor in fact be aimed at all, as they are designed to be dropped at random in large numbers on enemy positions. Lazy Dog and similar darts have no guidance systems. Since one of the ambulances was purportedly struck in the exact center of the cross, one can only conclude that whatever struck it was aimed with extreme precision. Hence, it could not have been a "dumb bomb" such as this. Secondly, these types of bombs were banned by international treaty in the 1960s, and have not been manufactured since then. And lastly, there is no evidence, nor has anyone claimed, that Israel has developed such a weapon. In this era of high-tech weaponry, why would Israel be making a weapon that is essentially no more sophisticated than dropping rocks on your enemy?
There are, however, a few kinds of kinetic energy penetrators in the modern arsenal. The first and most common are anti-armor KEPs, such as the one shown here shedding its casing mid-flight. But these are almost always fired from ground level by tanks or artillery at great speed horizontally, to strike other armored targets on the battlefield. Because of their speed, they travel directly parallel to the ground, and do not arc downward, as would be necessary to explain the trajectory of the ambulance damage. Conceivably, similar projectiles could be fired from the largest cannons on a AC-130 gunship, and thereby be pointed at least somewhat downward (though not directly downward as would be necessary). However, Israel does not possess any AC-130 gunships; KEPs have no in-flight guidance systems to effect hyper-accurate targeting; and HRW insists that the missile was fired from a drone. So this possibly seems to evaporate as well.
So what could this "mystery missile" possibly be? HRW was unable to identify it, and after extensive research I was not able to identify any possible candidates either. LOSAT kinetic energy missiles are far too powerful and would have obliterated the ambulances.
Another serious flaw in any of these "mystery missile" scenarios -- in fact a serious problem with the entire purported attack as HRW proposes -- is that the roofs of the ambulances are scarred and pierced with a wide variety of holes, which could only have come, under HRW's theory, from the shrapnel of an exploding missile. Yet HRW produced several photos of a vent, a gurney, the floor and the pavement all pierced by a single intact projectile. If that is the case, then what caused all the roof damage -- and where is all the shrapnel that must have created it? By HRW's own admission they found no shrapnel of any kind either in the vehicles or at the scene. Something's obviously awry here -- the roof damage precludes the "single projectile hole" theory that is at the heart of the HRW scenario. Either a missile exploded, or it didn't explode. Can't have it both ways.
There are no known extant munitions that could have caused the damage seen on the ambulances. Until HRW or someone else can name a type of projectile that matches the evidence, then this remains the most intractible problem with the entire ambulance attack story. The forensic evidence does not support the theory that each ambulance was struck by a single missile.
THE HOLES IN THE ROOF AND THE FLOOR
This picture included in HRW's report has the following caption:
"The roof of ambulance 777, showing the entry and exit points of the missile. The location of the exit point of the missile corresponds with the missile impact location on the gurney mattress on which Ahmed Fawaz was located (see picture below)."
While HRW seems to think this photo helps to confirm their case, a careful examination of the scene's details only raises more difficult questions:
Why did the missile create a large hole in the roof yet only a tiny hole in the floor? Did it get smaller once inside the vehicle? It could not have decreased in velocity much, as the missile supposedly subsequently punched a deep hole in the solid pavement under the floor.
Why is the rug around the edges of the hole in the floor unburned -- even the part that hangs over into the hole? Missile impacts create intense heat.
Why are there irregular smaller holes in the roof that seem to have been caused by shrapnel or axe blows coming from above? Did the missile penetrate the roof, gurney, floor and pavement intact, as HRW seems to be claiming, or did it explode and fragment above the roof, as the irregular holes would seem to indicate? As stated above, it can't both explode and not explode.
Why is the hole in this roof (#777) so much larger and more irregular than the clean, small circular hole in the roof ventilation cover of ambulance #782 (the one that was hit in the center of the cross), if the missiles that struck each ambulance were identical?
The picture was taken too long after July 23 for the rust to be of any significance, but why is the red paint at the lower right peeling up? Presuming the ambulance was in good condition before the incident (and all pictures of functional Lebanese Red Cross ambulances show them to be in excellent condition), and that the photos were taken in mid-September as HRW reports, then the roof has only sat unattended for less than two months. Does the average car start to have its paint peel off after sitting outside for two months? Or could the ambulance have been sitting unattended for a longer period of time?
THE HOLES IN THE PAVEMENT
Several people who have seen the HRW report have already written to me concerning the peculiar appearance of the holes in the pavement.
These two images, provided by HRW in their report, show what are purported to be holes created by the "missiles" that caused the ambulance damage.
One correspondent wrote in to say,
Are they seriously claiming those holes in the road come from a missile strike? It's ridiculous. When missiles hit the ground, they create a large crater, not a pristine little hole. Where did all the missing material go? The soil, asphalt, rocks etc that formerly occupied the empty space of that hole didn't just disappear. They couldn't have been ejected because the hole is too narrow. If something had actually pierced the ground like that, the ground matter would have been squeezed sidways in all directions, creating a raised area around the hole. The asphalt should have buckled. But its totally flat in the picture. Also, there's no evidence of heat or burning, which should be around the edges. If anything, that picture proves that it couldn't have been a missile.Another wrote,
I know a drilled hole when I see one. Someone took a cement drill with a dull blade and made those holes after the fact. Gimme a break.And another:
There is no lifting or heaving of any sort at the site of the hole. Wouldn't an entering projectile, explosive or not, with enough force to puncture the tarmac expend enough energy underground to warp the pavement or at least raise the perimeter even slightly? (Drive a nail into plaster or drywall and see the surface raise up evenly around the nail). It's a road - that is, a road bed, with gravel and fill underneath, not empty air -not just a thin veneer of asphalt that can be punched through.Several correspondents also pointed out that, if the holes were made as claimed, then the missiles must still remain buried at the bottom of the holes, to this day. Why haven't they been dug out to provide incontrovertible proof of the attack?
THE BLEEDING EAR
In my original report, I discussed the injuries to the the driver, Qasim Chalan, and how he seemed to be wearing bandages to protect injuries to his head that were not apparent at all once the bandages were removed. HRW responded to that point with this statement:
While the gravest injuries the crew suffered were to their ear drums, they also sustained minor shrapnel injuries to the face, as verified by hospital records. Qasim Chalan, the ambulance driver pictured, suffered the most severe bleeding from his ears because he was standing right next to ambulance 777 when it was struck. The bandages were used to stem this internal bleeding (and a minor cut on his chin). The ear drum injuries were internal, and the minor cut of Chalan's chin could have healed within a week.By "internal bleeding," one assumes that HRW means bleeding that originated deep within the ear, with the blood emerging to the outside. (Otherwise, there would be no reason to wear an exterior bandage to contain "internal bleeding" that was entirely internal.)
Yet look at the following pictures, which were presented in my original report:
This is Qasim Chalan (on the left) as he first rushed into the hospital immediately after the alleged attack. Look closely at his right ear (the one that was later bandaged and which was supposed to have been bleeding). Do you see any blood, fresh or dried, anywhere in or around the ear? I don't either.
This scene was taken the next day, and is a screen capture from a video that shows Chalan's head at an angle from which it is possible to see under the bandage over his ear. Again, is any blood visible, fresh or dried? No.
And the final question: if blood was coming out of his ear canal, why wasn't a wad of cotton or some other absorbent material placed into his ear, in the manner of an earplug? No such plug is visible in the second photo.
Of course, neither of these photos proves that Chalan was not bleeding from his ear, but as the only evidence available, they do cast serious doubt on HRW's version of events.
In my original analysis, a great deal of attention was paid to the rust that was visible on the ambulance roofs just one week after the purported attack. HRW dismisses all of this analysis with one short paragraph:
The claim that the damage to the ambulances must have occurred long before July 23 because of the appearance of rust on the ambulance in photographs taken a week after the attack is baseless. Coastal Lebanon is not a "dry climate...in the summer," as alleged, but is extremely humid -- as anyone present in Lebanon during the war can recount. The saline humidity of Lebanon's coast causes rapid rusting, especially on damaged metals such as shrapnel-torn roofs.However, HRW's dismissal addresses none of the issues raised. If you refer again to the extensive three different sections on rust in my original report, I discuss in great detail the humidity of Lebanon, "dew point temperatures," precipitation, "flash rust," and so on, and after assessing a great deal of evidence arrived at a definite conclusion that most of the rust was much older than July 23, indicating that the damage to the ambulance roof happened at an earlier date. HRW's report addresses not a single one of these points, and simply re-states a "fact" (that the extensive dark rust appeared as a result of extreme humidity in just a few days) that has already been thoroughly debunked. Instead of rehashing all the rust evidence again, I refer readers to the three links given at the top of this paragraph, which show that the rust evidence remains extremely problematic for those who claim that the ambulances were damaged on July 23.
MY PRE-EMPTIVE REBUTTAL OF HRW'S REPORT
In my original essay I predicted various possible counter-arguments and gave pre-emptive answers to them. Interestingly, I foresaw exactly what HRW would claim in the future, and gave my answers four months ahead of time. Since I can't improve on what I wrote all the way back in August (before HRW even began its investigation), I'll just reprint it here verbatim:
Non-explosive missilesANOTHER VIGOROUS CHALLENGE TO THE HRW REPORT
G. Tikotzinsky, of the Al Hamatzav blog, has published an extremely incisive two-part refutation of the HRW report that merits close consideration, as it not only succinctly examines many of the same points raised in this essay, but points out several other flaws in HRW's report not discussed here. As G. Tikotzinsky writes,
Unfortunately, the current HRW document does nothing to dispel the doubts about the incident and HRW's initial reports. Instead, HRW has produced 25 pages of non-evidence and foggy speculation. ... In fact, the report is so rife with inconsistencies that it gives rise to more questions than originally existed. It is a pity that the HRW team in Lebanon went through so much trouble, only to produce such an incomplete report.Click on these two links to read the two parts of the Al Hamatzav analysis:
Al Hamatzav blog: "HRW's Report on the Ambulances - More of the Same" (Part I)
Al Hamatzav blog: "The HRW Report - Part II"
This photo from HRW purports to show the entry and exit holes of the "missile" that struck ambulance #777. If we are to accept this as true, then the trajectory of the missile must have been almost directly straight down. It's not easy to determine exactly the angle of the strike, but it's obvious to the naked eye that the lower hole in the floor is approximately directly underneath the upper hole in the roof, within a few degrees. The second HRW photo above shows the same ambulance from a distance, and in that photo the upper and lower holes are both visible in relation to each other; again, the lower hole is pretty much directly under the upper hole.
Why is this significant? Because it is extremely unusual for a projectile to fall directly straight down on a target. As this commenter said on the Atlas Shrugs blog:
No aircraft, helicopter, or drone fires a missile from directly above a target. All targets for missiles are acquired and the missiles launched when the launching platform is in basically level flight. Therefore, the missiles strike the target from the side, not the top down. Only bombs have a trajectory that would cause a stike on the top rather than side of the vehicle. The HRW report fails a "smell test" on so many levels as to be ludicrous on its face. Basically it boils down to physical evidence that doesn't support the conclusions, and statements that don't match the capabilities and methods of employment of any known weapons systems.But even bombs would not fall straight down if launched from a drone (as HRW alleges) or airplane or helicopter in motion; because dropped objects continue to travel forward as fast as the platform from which they were dropped, only a bomb dropped from something like a stationary blimp or a hovering helicopter would fall straight down, as the mysterious projectile alleged by HRW must have done.
The four rough sketches below were sent in by reader Keith H. to illustrate why it's practically impossible for a projectile that has been dropped or launched from any modern aircraft to strike something on the ground directly downward:
Here's the note that Keith H. sent with the sketches:
Unless the attacking aircraft was stationary overhead, the missile would still have a forward trajectory. A dropped object would have the same forward velocity of the aircraft when it began its downward descent. If the aircraft or drone was moving at 150 miles per hour and was relatively close to the ground, the object would be traveling forward at about the same speed when it hit the ambulance and the ground.Theoretically, it is possible for a sophisticated guided missile to be launched from a distance, take an arched trajectory upward and then come nearly straight down on the target. However, such missiles always have an explosive warhead. To rig up an inert cannonball-style projectile with a hyper-precise guidance system would be pointless.
Thus, the photos supplied by HRW showing the "exit hole" directly underneath the "entry hole" in ambulance #777 only serves to undermine the believability of their theory.
BIASED METHODOLOGY, CREDULITY AND PRESUMPTIVE LANGUAGE
Throughout their investigation, HRW seems to have awarded maximum credibility to anyone whose testimony supported HRW's thesis, and made no effort to pursue or acknowledge anything to the contrary. Israel has repeatedly said that during the Lebanon conflict it did not target and has never targeted ambulances carrying civilians, and has expressed complete ignorance of this supposed incident. Yet those claims are dismissed by HRW -- in fact, not even mentioned. And did HRW make any attempt to find people who might contradict the ambulance drivers' version of what happened? Did they ask residents of Qana if they saw anyone drilling holes in the street? Did they inspect other damaged vehicles in the area to see what type of rust they develop in one week's time? And so on? We don't know, but it's doubtful.
A great deal of the apparent persuasiveness of HRW's report comes from their use of presumptive language. Throughout their account, they use presumptive declarative statements to support their case. For example, at one point the report contains the sentence, "Both ambulances clearly show missile entry points on the roof". Wait a minute. Is that true? Both ambulances clearly show holes in the roof, but that's all we know. By presumptively but baselessly declaring the holes to be "missile entry points," HRW is committing a form of the "begging the question" logical fallacy in which one reaches a conclusion by presupposing the premise that leads to that conclusion. According to HRW, we know that missiles must have struck the ambulances because there are "missile entry points" in the roofs. Similar fallacies are found throughout the report.
Such credulity even affects the photographic evidence. Take these two photographs, for example, which seem at first to be among the most compelling bits of evidence produced by HRW:
According to HRW, these photographs show the remnants of the vent from the center of the red cross of ambulance #782, and the gurney from ambulance #777. If that is the case, then these photographs possibly present important evidence. But how do we really know where these ambulance parts came from? Nowhere in HRW's report does it say. All we have are HRW's presumptive assurances that they are the correct vent cover and gurney. How can they be so sure? Did someone dredge the parts up out of a junkyard and declare them to be from the ambulances at Qana? Who said this? Where? How can HRW be sure that the person was telling the truth? Again, we are forced to trust what HRW says, and they presumably trusted what some third party said. Is this a strong basis for an investigative report? No. Why didn't HRW give us more details about the origins of these artifacts? Possibly because the origins are murky?
ANTI-ISRAEL BIAS AT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
The nonprofit group NGO Monitor has just issued a significant investigation documenting the anti-Israel bias of both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in their reporting on the Hezbollah-Israeli War in Lebanon. The report clearly shows how HRW relies on and believes any testimony by Lebanese opposed to Israel, while not investigating these witnesses' possible connections to Hezbollah or potentially partisan political motivations.
As mentioned above, the Wikipedia entry for HRW lists many of the charges of serious anti-Israel bias against the group, while Discover the Network also charts the institutional anti-Zionism that has emerged within HRW.
HRW does not name any of the authors of its report, but Peter Boukaert, the photographer for almost all of the pictures in the HRW report, stars in the anti-Israel film "Occupation 101," alongside people like Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, and other anti-Zionists. We might reasonably conclude from this that Boukaert has an anti-Israel political viewpoint. And since he is the just about the only HRW staffer mentioned by name in the report, the only evidence we have of the investigators' bias is that of one against Israel.
SYMBOLIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ATTACK SITE IN QANA RAISES SUSPICIONS
A new detail was revealed for the first time in the HRW report: that the purported attack happened directly in front of the "Qana Memorial." This in itself is very bizarre and raises many suspicions about the authenticity of the entire incident.
This photo from the HRW report has this caption:
"The location of the two missile impact craters outside the Qana memorial (visible in the background)."
What is the Qana Memorial?
In 1996 during an earlier conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Israeli shelling (accidentally or on purpose, depending on whom you ask) killed approximately 100 civilians in a U.N. compound. While the details of that incident are themselves highly disputed, the "Qana Massacre," as it has come to be called, plays a large role in the national psyche of Lebanese Muslims, it being portrayed as a significant incident of martyrdom. The event is considered so significant that the Lebanese government even issued commemorative medals about it. A sign displayed at the site describes the incident as "The New Holocaust." The Qana Massacre is frequently cited as the epitome of Israeli villainy, in which they shelled civilians for no reason other than cruelty. A monument that was built on the site is now known as the "Qana Memorial."
It was directly in front of this highly symbolic memorial, almost exactly ten years after the original "Qana Massacre," that this new ambulance incident is supposed to have occurred. Coincidence? Possibly, but this too-perfect synchronicity of time and place may raise more doubts in some people's minds.
As I noted in my original essay, "Could it be that -- just maybe -- the ambulance drivers of Tyre decided to re-create a duplicate Israeli ambulance attack to mark the anniversary of the first one, in the exact same spot (Qana) where it had happened ten years earlier?"
THE ISRAELI NON-ADMISSION
As mentioned earlier in this essay and in my original essay, Israel has never admitted targeting or hitting the ambulances. In fact, it has frequently repeated the statement that it never targets ambulances on principle -- as would be expected.
But a recent headline in The Australian misled readers into thinking that Israel had confessed to targeting the ambulances: "Israel admits it may have hit ambulance." But a cursory reading of the article itself reveals that the headline was deceptive:
"We (IDF) certainly do not target ambulances but in a combat zone, we cannot always co-ordinate their safety," Captain Benjamin Rutland said. "It (the ambulance) could have been struck by our mortar or artillery.In other words, the IDF spokesman was saying that they do not know what happened to the ambulances or if anything happened at all; that they did not aim at them; but that in the absence of any knowledge about the supposed incident, he cannot rule out the possibility that the ambulances might have been hit by accident. Also, the fact that he refers to a single "ambulance" means that he knows little about the incident.
This "admission" only further confirms that Israel did not aim at the cross on the top of a Red Cross ambulance for the purpose of killing innocent civilians. And that's what the dispute over the Qana ambulance incident is all about: Did Israel intentionally hit the ambulances (as the media and HRW has claimed), or did they not?
(I should also point out the extreme unlikelihood of a misguided mortar round accidentally hitting the center of the cross at random; but I suppose anything is possible.)
Most of the remainder of HRW's evidence is verbal testimony from various people associated with the incident. While first-person testimony does have some evidentiary value, its trustworthiness is very difficult to assess. Throughout the HRW report, there are official-looking footnotes; but when one looks at the footnotes, most of the time they say "Human Rights Watch interview with so-and-so, Tyre, September 15," or something similar. In other words, their footnotes refer back to the people who are making the claim in the first place. This type of cyclical "proof" deflects all potential criticism, and becomes a tautology: "It is so, because we say it is so."
As a result, it becomes impossible for anyone to dispute or disprove many of the claims made, because they are self-referential -- there is no independent evidence against which to check them. Each reader must decide for him- or herself how much credibility to place on the claims of those who say they were associated with the incident.
Even so, this one aspect of HRW's investigation is admittedly the strongest part of their case: The more people who claim something happened, the more believable the claim becomes. When the ambulance story first appeared, it seemed as if there was just a small handful of ambulance personnel who were making the claims, with one in particular (Qasim Chalan) who seemed to be the source of almost all the information. This was potentially suspect, as one or a few people could easily conspire to concoct a tale. But the more people that testify to a particular fact, the more believable that fact becomes, even absent any physical evidence. HRW cites several different people who all supply at least some part of the story: ambulance drivers, hospital workers, passengers, and so on. If this incident did not happen as described (or if indeed there was never any incident at all), then at least a few of them have to be lying. But since I was not there at the interviews, I have no basis to accuse anyone in particular of dishonesty. Again, the self-confirming and self-contained testimony defies criticism.
But, as the analysis presented above (and the analysis in my original essay) shows, whenever there is any physical evidence to examine, it almost always contradicts the verbal claims made by those involved.
Another important point to consider when assessing the testimony:
There were no actual eyewitnesses to an "attack." No one saw any Israeli drone hovering overhead. No one saw or heard missiles descending or hitting the ambulances. No one has found any remnants of any ordnance or any shrapnel. No Israeli pilot or soldier has stepped forward to say "I pulled the trigger." Nothing. Even if you accept the premise that there was an "incident" of some kind involving ambulances at Qana on July 23, all anyone claims is that two loud explosions of some kind happened in or near the ambulances, that some kind of blast injured people in the vicinity, that a man lost part of his leg, and that there were various sizes and types of holes in the vehicles afterward. Even those who accept the reality of the incident do not know for sure what caused any of that to occur.
THE STRONG POINTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH'S REPORT
I'm not so bullheaded that I don't recognize the strong points of HRW's report. Despite serious problems with the forensic evidence and several other issues, certain aspects of HRW's report may indeed be persuasive to some readers. Because many of these strong points consist of stand-alone testimony from various individuals that therefore is immune from disputation, in the interest of full disclosure I'll provide here a run-down of all of HRW's points not discussed elsewhere on this page. In each instance, I will state HRW's version unchallenged, and only insert explanatory comments (in italics) where needed.
· Photos of two people who were injured in the ambulance.
· The Red Cross office in Tibnine has documents showing the injured family was treated at the local hospital before being transferred to an ambulance.
· The man who lost his leg did so in the other ambulance (#777), not #782, which is the one I and others analyzed earlier, so the absence of blood in #782 has no significance.
· HRW admits that they had earlier reported an untruth when they previously said the attack had come from an Israeli airplane.
· The missiles were fired from an Israeli drone (unmanned aerial vehicle).
· A different vehicle elsewhere in Lebanon was also struck by identical missiles fired from an Israeli drone, and that vehicle exhibited damage similar to that of the ambulances -- proving that the Qana attack was not a unique incident.
· A photograph from above of the hole in the roof of ambulance #777 and the hole in the vehicle's floor directly below.
· Testimony from various people in the ambulance that they hid in a nearby basement, along with a photo and reportage from HRW that they found discarded medical detritus still in the same basement two months later.
· Testimony from various people that the incident was reported to Red Cross higher-ups immediately afterward, along with reportage from HRW that they themselves saw the log books and notations.
· Since Hezbollah's military wing is known in Arabic as the "Islamic Resistance," my earlier speculation that a Red Cross employee's reference to a Hezbollah member as a "resistance fighter" indicates his political bias is baseless, since everybody in Lebanon refers to Hezbollah as "the resistance," regardless of their political affiliation.
· Media reports about the incident were "sloppy," "exaggerated" and led to "confusion," but did not justify my speculations that the incident was a hoax.
· "The missile traveled from the roof of ambulance 777 through the gurney on which Ahmed Fawaz was strapped, severing his leg, and then through the floor of the ambulance deep into the pavement of the road."
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH VS. ALL THE OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS; NEW STANDARDS FOR JOURNALISM
One thing everyone can agree on: Human Rights Watch is to be commended for revisting the scene and attempting to verify some of the evidence, however successful they were in doing so. Their resulting report has had an interesting if unintended side effect: it contradicts many of the details reported by the world's leading media outlets. If one is to accept the HRW report at face value, then one is forced to concede how egregiously erroneous, incomplete and deceptive most previous media reports were. Refer to the summary of media reports at the beginning of my original ambulance essay to see how the Associated Press, Time Magazine, the Guardian, the Boston Globe, ITV News and many others got the facts of the case wrong.
Based on those error-filled and conflicting reports, a reasonable person would conclude that the attack never happened. HRW, by insisting that its version is the only true version, has helped to clarify the situation -- even if I feel that they did not convincingly prove their case. The silver lining of this entire dispute, no matter what side you come down on, is that it points to the emergence of a new standard of journalism; in order to retain any credibility, the media must provide substantial evidence and/or proof when making controversial claims. Until now, the media has relied on its own reputation, on decades of accrued organizational prestige and trustworthiness, to bolster any unverifiable statements they made -- as revealed in the old adage, "If it's in the newspaper, it must be true." But the media has in recent years begun to lose its credibility; in order to regain readers' trust, they need to carefully document and verify any news stories that are potentially disputable or are politically sensitive.
After assessing all the evidence -- including HRW's new evidence -- I'm still not convinced that there was even an attack at all. Yes, I realize that if the whole story is a hoax, then more than a few people must be lying or fabricating details, which is also problematic -- yet the forensic evidence in no way matches the sequence of events that HRW insists happened.
But even if there was some kind of violent incident involving the ambulances that produced casualties, there is no solid evidence whatsoever that it was an Israeli weapon that struck the ambulances. Yes, I realize that if it wasn't Israel, then there's no evidence that the destruction was caused by anyone else either. But there were no witnesses who saw Israeli craft; no shrapnel of an Israeli munition was ever found; nothing.
And even if you believe that the ambulances were struck by munitions, and that those munitions were Israeli, there's still no proof that the attack was intentional. For all anyone knows, the ambulances could have been hit by accident in the middle of a war zone; or that the vehicles were presumed to be carrying Hezbollah fighters, and were not recognized as ambulances until it was too late to call back whatever munition was fired.
And if, in the final analysis, you the reader think that Israel truly did hit the ambulances on purpose, then please accept that the erroneous and misleading accounts by contradictory news reports (prior to HRW's latest investigation) led a great many reasonable people -- including me -- to the honest and inescapable conclusion that the story seemed dubious at best.
Human Rights Watch concludes its report with this statement:
"Human Rights Watch trusts that, now that the truth has been demonstrated, these armchair deniers will devote their energy to pressing Israel to determine why this attack occurred, who was responsible, whether disciplinary or punitive measures are in order, and what steps can be taken to ensure that similar attacks are not repeated in the future."I agree, but with one minor amendment: we don't press Israel about this incident, but Hezbollah, the Red Cross, and anyone else who might possibly shed light. Because, despite HRW's presumptive declaration of certitude, the truth has not yet "been demonstrated." And at this stage, it may never be.
I'm not blinded by ideology: if new and convincing evidence emerges that Israel intentionally attacked the ambulances at Qana, then I will change my opinion and accept that the attack happened. But so far, I see no such conclusive evidence. For me at least, Human Rights Watch's new report failed to make its case.
Also, comments from medical experts wondering why the man with the missing leg didn't bleed to death during his ordeal can be found at the end of this Michelle Malkin post.
If you have more evidence about the ambulance incident discussed on this page, above and beyond what is presented here, or if you have comments or corrections, send an email to zombietime here.
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