Boy Discredits Video Which Led to Western Airstrikes
The alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta on April 7 by Syrian government forces prompted the US, France and Britain to launch massed naval and air missile strikes against Syria on April 14. Amid the scanty 'evidence' used to justify the strikes was a video from a local hospital purporting to show terrified locals breathing through respirators or pieces of cloth and being covered with water to deal with the aftermath of a suspected gas attack.
However, this week, Russian media was able to obtain exclusive testimony from Hassan Diab, an 11-year-old boy featured in the White Helmets video, discovering that he became an unwitting participant in a propaganda stunt.
According to the boy, after arriving at the hospital, unknown individuals grabbed him, poured water on him and placed him alongside others for filming. Afterwards, his father said, filmmakers gave Hassan, his mother and the others dates, cookies and rice and released them to their homes.
The boy's testimony follows that of other eyewitnesses caught in the White Helmets' film, including ambulance driver Khalil Azizah, who revealed last week that the hospital where the video was shot was also treating actual victims from a bombed out residential building.
Jihadist Child Abuse
Hassan's case is unique in that he actually got a chance to quickly disprove the claims made on his behalf by the White Helmets and their video, with his testimony even picked up by some foreign media. However, it certainly wasn't the first case of the militants fighting the Syrian government to use children as props for regime change.
In 2016, amid the military's operation to liberate jihadist-held districts in the northwest Syrian city of Aleppo, the photo of Omran Daqneesh, a four-year-old boy injured in the fighting, went viral, and was used extensively in the Western media as a symbol of the Syrian government's alleged horrific disregard for the lives of civilians. Some also used the attack to advocate for US cruise missile strikes against the Syrian military.
What was left out of the story was the fact that Omran's father Mohammad is a government supporter and fierce critic of the militants occupying his city. Speaking to Russian media last year, Mohammad revealed that the militants shamelessly filmed his son and put on makeup to exaggerate the extent of his injuries, while Mohammad himself was busy nearby trying to rescue others after their home had been destroyed.
Remember Omran Daqneesh from Aleppo? An update on him, he's okay and still living in Aleppo. pic.twitter.com/bLdeviWQVW— Lina Arabi (@LinaArabii) June 5, 2017
Tall Tale Tweeting
Last but not least, there is the case of Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old from eastern Aleppo who gathered hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter via a series of heartrending tweets from the conflict zone in eastern Aleppo. Last year, an American publisher published Bana's new book Dear World, in which she documented the horrors of war from a child's perspective.
My name is Bana, I'm 7 years old. I am talking to the world now live from East #Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die. — Bana— Bana Alabed (@AlabedBana) December 13, 2016
However, Bana's case too has been unraveling amid revelations regarding her family. Last year, investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley made a trip to Bana's neighborhood in Aleppo, revealing that the girl's family was associated with Nusra Front* (al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate). Locals told Beeley that her father was a Sharia court judge, both Nusra and before that, for Daesh (ISIS)*. Bana's case, according to the journalist was "complete child exploitation by our governments."
Other investigators have also called the Bana narrative into question, pointing to her difficulty with the English language (indicating that someone was obviously helping her with her tweets), and calling into question her aggressive calls for the US to launch an attack on Syria over the operation to free Aleppo.
Ultimately, it seems that with time, the Syrian government, its allies, and independent media have learned to counter the narratives pushed by groups like the White Helmets, and to blunt the effectiveness of these groups' use of children to spread their message. The big question is whether the non-mainstream media's investigations will be enough to challenge Western governments, which have freely used manufactured narratives to build their Syria policy, including last week's airstrikes.
*Terrorist groups banned in Russia.