Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pathetic Attempt at Debunking

I usually try and shy away from the political arena simply because I'm not very good at it. However every once in a while something comes along that makes me think and write.

Back in July, during the Israel-Lebanon conflict, there was an incident where the AP claimed that the Israelis attacked two clearly marked ambulances, injuring the occupants, some seriously. The attack was supposed to have happened on 23JUL06, and was originally reported on 24JUL06. On 1AUG06 a couple bloggers started to question the reports. Culminating in an analysis by Zombietime (which is responsible for most of the analysis I'm going to use here).

While it would make things easier if this was straighforward fraud or manipulation like the Reuters incident, it's not. Something happened on the 23rd of July which seriously injured two civilians, and injured rescue personnel. However it's not clear that this "something" was an intentional attack by the Israeli military.

After the original reporting by blogs like Zombietime and Powerline, Human Rights Watch reinvestigated the incident. They recently released the results of their investigation. They conclude that there was indeed an Israeli attack, and that to claim otherwise is to ignore the truth of the matter. Here's my problem with this conclusion: At no point do they actually prove what they claim.

That two people were admitted to various hospitals in Lebanon and transported by ambulance between them isn't, to my knowledge, in doubt. Even if it was it's not like the hospital admittance reports are available online (or in English if they were). The only evidence presented by HRW to support their claim of an Israeli attack are the ambulances themselves, and the victims.

Now, the incident happened at night, and HRW alledges that it was an attack by an Israeli armed UAV. It was pointed out the bloggers than the typical missiles fired from a UAV (Hellfires, TOWs, etc) would have done signifigantly more damage to the ambulances than we've seen, and would have left tell-tale evidence of their use in the form of shrapnel. HRW acknowledges this and, instead, claims that the missile in question was either a SPIKE anti-armor missile, the still-experimental DIME missile, or possibly some other, hitherto unknown missile. This is because, supposedly, these systems are designed to not cause a lot of shrapnel.

I'm not enough of an expert to judge the damage done to the ambulances. However I do have some questions that just don't seem to be answered anywhere.

This is a picture of one of the ambulances (#782) the day after the attack took place. This is a picture from the rear of the ambulance. The presence of so much rust so soon after the attacks was something that made various bloggers question the age of the damage. HRW dismissed those questions by saying that the Lebanese coast is actually quite humid and has a high salt content which causes rapid rusting. I'm going to assume that's true. Even though I'd thought Lebanon was more of a desert, it makes sense that on the coast it would be more humid, and exposed metal will for rust quickly. The presence of rust on these vehicles isn't indicative of the vehicles not being damaged on July 23rd 2006.

Now, this photo is what made me question the presence of the rust. It's tough to do a straight comparison between the two images. However HRW claims that the ambulance in the background is #782, the same ambulance shown above. If you look at the rear of the ambulance in this picture there doesn't appear to be any difference in the amount of rust present on the ambulance. If coastal Lebanon's air is so salty and corrosive as to cause the extensive rust shown in the first picture in less than a day, how is it that the rust didn't spread any further in over two months (the HRW pictures were taken in mid September). Maybe it's an issue which can't be addressed based on the images provided, but it doesn't seem to me that there has been any additional corrosion to the vehicles, despite more time to the harsh Lebanese sea air.

Another issue originally brought up by the critical bloggers was the fact that the windshield on #782 was blown in. The original story reported that #782 was the ambulance first hit so the windshield should have been blown outwards. HRW goes to great lengths to explain how the vehicles were arranged and that the other ambulance, #777, was actually the first hit. To HRW this explained why the windshield on #782 was blown inside of the ambulance. However while HRW was going into detail on the arrangement of the ambulances, it ignored a second issue that is clearly shown in their own pictures.

Above is a picture from HRW taken in SEP which shows the entry point for ambulance #777, the first ambulance hit. They claim the large hole in the roof is the entry point while the smaller hole in the floor was the exit point. They make no attempt to answer the question of what the other dozen or so holes around the entry point are. Originally I figured that they were from shrapnel from the missile. However, if you look, all of the holes are going into the vehicle, not exploding out like shrapnel would. For the missile in question to have caused the gashes seen in this picture it would have had to detonate above the vehicle, and then sprayed shrapnel as it entered the vehicle. There are weapons which are capable of such damage, the systems that HRW claimed were used are not. So, what could have caused this damage? HRW doesn't address it. Personally it looks like someone took an axe to the roof and gouged out some holes. And to return to a point I'd made before, in this picture of #777, taken two months after the attack, shows that the highly corrosive Lebanese air caused all of its damage in the span of a single day, and then ceased rusting the exposed metal.

HRW does take us to somplace I hadn't seen before. The site of the attack. The image here is of the hole left in the ground by the missile that HRW claims was used.

Now, maybe I'm just stupid, but it seems to me that if you were looking for evidence of the type of weapons used in an attack, checking the hole in the ground made by the weapon would be a good place to start. Regardless of the special non-fragmentation technology used in a missile, if the projectile has enough energy and mass to make a hole in asphalt there'd be material left in the hole. Again, I'm not an expert here, but that is the first place I'd look. Maybe HRW did, maybe they didn't, but it's a topic they fail to address other than to say they found no evidence of the missile in question, and that Israelis are developing weapons capable of leaving no shrapnel or fragments. You know what, I just realized that they did address it when they said they found no evidence.

HRW deserves some credit for reinvestigating a controversial claim they made. However their case still boils down to the assumption that the attack was caused by the Israelis. The evidence they present is a blank slate. The witnesses descriptions boil down to being present at an attack of some sort. The physical evidence can easily be viewed to represent a missile attack by Israel, or as after-the-fact tampering by parties unknown. I know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but that still doesn't excuse HRW of charging the attack as an Israeli attack when there remains no supporting evidence. The theory that the attack wasn't the result of Hezbollah is dismissed by HRW for lack of evidence, yet this same lack of evidence is proof of Israeli involvement. It's a double standard.

Either the evidence supports claims of Israeli involvement, or it does not. Personally, I think there is enough discrepancy between the description of the attack and the resulting damage to question HRW's conclusion that was obviously an Israeli attack. And while I applaud HRW for taking the initiative to reinvestigate the incident, I don't know if the same person who wrote

The unacceptably high death toll is the natural result of Israel's failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and Israel is responsible for the deaths.
is the same person to lead an impartial investigation into a supposed Israeli attack.

Anyways, my muse has exhausted herself and it's time to go kill orcs.


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