The Lebanese ambulance attack and trust in citizen – and established – media
In August, a friend pointed me to the Red Cross Ambulance Incident fraud report at Zombietime. Today I read Ethan Zuckerman‘s recent post about the story.
In short, two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were reported to have been attacked by Israeli forces on July 23. The fraud report claims that this never happened, and offers the following scenario.
Two ambulances that had been somehow damaged long before the July Israel-Hezbollah conflict even began were dragged out of a salvage yard, where they had been rusting for months or years. They were taken to a parking lot and smashed up even more, inside and out. Then fresh gurneys were placed inside one of them. An intentionally amateurish video was then taken of the two vehicles, in order to show the damage. That night, as planned, some Red Cross workers feigning minor injuries rushed into a hospital in Tyre, and recounted a tale of horror: their ambulances had been attacked by Israeli missiles. The media was notified.
According to Ethan Zuckerman, the claim “was later repeated by Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer, who stated ‘it is beyond all serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax.'”
An excellent example of citizen media reporting. Or was it? Here comes the twist.
In steps Human Rights Watch, who go to Lebanon to set the facts straigth. This results in a report saying the attacks did happen.
They conclude that the ambulances were both struck by missles, one of which removed Fawaz’s leg, but that the missles were likely Dense Inert Metal Explosives fired from an Israeli drone.
Now, can we trust Human Rights Watch? They were the ones reporting about the attack in the first place. Do they just want to save face? Zuckerman writes:
HRW’s report does include a major correction – they no longer characterize the attack as coming from a manned Israeli aircraft, but now believe the attacks came from a remote-controlled drone.
Zuckerman in his analysis points to an important factor – time.
What’s disturbing to me about the situation is the timeframe. Zombietime and affiliated rightwing commentators got their story out very quickly, offering their analysis within days of the incident. HRW’s response is coming almost half a year later. This makes sense – HRW actually went to Lebanon and interviewed people who saw the incident, while Zombietime looked at press photos and offered theories. While HRW’s analysis is critical in determining what really happened on July 23rd and demanding accountability from the Israeli government, this report is hardly likely to call as much attention to the incident as it recieved when it was initially reported.
This story is just one example of a key issue in our current – and future – media world. Trust.
Everyone has an agenda. Future media consumers have to be very much aware of that.
I was quite disappointed with the new HRW report. They took no samples from the inside of the two holes they discovered where the missiles supposedly entered the pavement beneath the 2 ambulances. These are holes that were not presented as evidence before for some reason – leaving the distinct possibility they were created recently.
They showed no shrapnel from the insides of the 2 ambulances that they had access to whereas the roofs of both ambulances show hundreds of holes where shrapnel (or some sharp instrument) apparently entered the vehicle roofs.
It defies belief that a missile could cut off a man’s leg just below the crotch and leave no blood on the gurney – or that he would not die of shock within a short time from the injury. Yet he claims he was in and out of sleep / unconsciousness and/or awake for app. 1.5 hours waiting for another ambulance to come after the attack. There are just too many bizarre unexplained events here that HRW made no attempt to explain.
The point you made is good. This is not HRW’s first article as Zuckerman carelessly implies. Their first article condemned the IDF a few days of the attack. IMO this is their clumsy attempt to reclaim some of the donors they must have lost for supporting such an obvious hoax last July. They don’t even identify their “investigator(s)” or describe that person’s forensic credentials.
The provide a few new photos to support their view but even those are confusing and ambiguous in many cases. Their photo of the hole the missile supposedly made in the roof of ambulance #777 has been cropped to hide a much larger hole next to it that appears on a more distant view of the two ambulances in the lot. Both holes are much larger than the app. 4″ holes in the pavement and the gurney.
Their diagram shows the two ambulances virtually touching (left-front of #777 touching right-rear of #782) yet contemporaneous photos and a home video taken shortly after the event all show the two vehicles separated by about 6-8 feet. (HRW claims that closeness explains the inblown windshield on #777.)
Nor do they explain how a missile exploding inside #782 could blow in the windshield of #777 without doing serious damage to the interior of #782 – which shows no burn marks of any kind.
Re: DIME – These are missiles with carbon fiber housings that disintegrate on detonation to create no shrapnel and therefore no collateral damage – only a high pressure blast wave to kill within a short radius. Why then are the roofs of both vehicles full of shrapnel holes?
I’m afraid this will tarnish their reputation even more than it has been already. Any reluctance by the public to revisit the event will accrue to HRW’s benefit as any close examination of their report will reveal that it is far from a believable rebunking of the episode.
Sorry to say, Lotta, but I’ve already replied to the new HRW report, and shown they they proved nothing at all, and they ended up only raising more questions about this so-called attack than there were before:
**What’s disturbing to me about the situation is the timeframe. Zombietime and affiliated rightwing commentators got their story out very quickly, offering their analysis within days of the incident. **
Zuckerman’s statement is incorrect. The alleged incident occured on July 23, 2006. Zombie’s analysis was first posted on August 23 — exactly one month later. At that time the incident was old news and had been assumed to be Israel’s fault … until Zombie’s analysis brought that assumption into serious question.
Although I’m totally behind Zombietime, and Ray Pelland is too, I’m going to have to take Ray P to task for making some weak arguments and getting some facts wrong.
1. He says, reversing the HRW’s report,:”(HRW claims that closeness explains the inblown windshield on #777.)
Nor do they explain how a missile exploding inside #782 could blow in the windshield of #777 without doing serious damage to the interior of #782 – which shows no burn marks of any kind.”
However, the HRW report says: “The issue of the inward blown windshield on ambulance 782 is explained by the fact that ambulance 777 was struck first, and was parked adjacent to ambulance 782. The windshield of ambulance 782 was blown inwards from that first explosion.”
Note how Ray has it all backwards.
2. I wish Ray would clarify the following typo: “Both holes are much larger than the app. 4 3 holes in the pavement and the gurney.”
3. He writes: “It defies belief that a missile could cut off a man’s leg just below the crotch”
But it was further down his leg than that. Closer to the knee.
4. He also writes: “Their photo of the hole the missile supposedly made in the roof of ambulance #777 has been cropped to hide a much larger hole next to it that appears on a more distant view of the two ambulances in the lot.”
I don’t see how HRW could use such cropping to their advantage. (?)
5. Also: “Their diagram shows the two ambulances virtually touching (left-front of #777 touching right-rear of #782)
This is entirely backwards! Take a look at their diagram. Besides, it’s just a rough diagram; it wasn’t intended to show that the ambulances were actually touching. Ray is reaching too far.
On the bright side, Ray P does astutely note several good points. However, I think he ultimately hurts our case.
OK Phil – I just found these follow-up posts while browsing another blog. It’s been a while but I’ll try to answer your objections.
First, in a general sense, I think both HRW reports on the incident are very amateurish. I am an amateur. I might make mistakes and if so I’ll admit them – but unlike HRW, I don’t expect the international war crimes court to come to any conclusions based on what I say.
What you say about the diagrams may be true and so maybe there is a plausible reason why the windshield was blown inward. I don’t think however, that whether a man’s leg being blown off “just below the crotch” or a bit closer to the knee makes much difference as to blood loss, shock, lack of other serious damage to his body, etc. – all in the absence of any medical care for 1.5 hrs.
HRW made no credible attempt to explain this. It’s my understanding that American GI’s who lose limbs in Iraq have a decent chance of survival – but only because they are helicoptered to advanced medical care within minutes of the injury – and even then they only really overcome the threat to their lives after months of intensive care and rehabilitation. It seems to me that the medical establishment should be producing studies on how this could have happened. Maybe even a TV special on it.
HRW are not amateurs. They are a funded organization making serious claims about attempted murder and war crimes violations against Israel. They can be expected to provide at least some unimpeachable evidence for their assertions. I’ll admit I’m just going by what I have read in the zombietime report and the HRW report. I am a liberal, a Democrat and resident of the the USA. zombietime is purportedly a RW blog. HRW sounds like an organization that I should support ideologically.
However, when I read the two – zombietime comes off as logically analytical and admitting of weaknesses in his position. HRW comes off as complete BS – with shifting assertions, weak and contradictory evidence and no explanation for the evidence they do have – such as the newly discovered “missile” holes in the pavement that contain no missile fragments, the inward punctured shrapnel holes in the roofs of the ambulances from explosions that supposedly occurred inside the ambulances – while leaving no burn marks, no shrapnel fragments in the ambulances, the guy who had his leg blown off and then waited around for an hour an a half without bleeding to death, – and it goes on and on.
Finally, I am not trying to make “our” case. I am calling bullshit on the HRW reports. I am a pretty analytical guy myself. Is it too much to ask HRW to provide some evidence that makes sense in support of their assertions? The only conclusion that makes any sense about this whole thing for me is that HRW is just another western NGO falling for Islamist propaganda.
HRW should know that is a likely conclusion – and should understand their heavy responsibility to provide some unimpeachable evidence that their assertions are true – something that even amateurs like me would find credible.