Complaint: Dr Saleyha Ahsan – The Truth About Fat, BBC One, 2 April 2015

Subsequent correspondence with the BBC regarding this complaint:

See also this summary of startling contradictions in Dr Saleyha Ahsan’s accounts of the alleged events featured in the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children* and this October 2016 article by Humanitarian & Emergency Aid specialist Moeen Raoof which makes a number of serious allegations about Dr Ahsan.

Speaking about her time in Libya in this You Tube video Dr Ahsan states “I came out to support the revolution…  …then I worked in the hospital to look after the wounded fighters”.

* I presented a summary of my concerns regarding Saving Syria’s Children to Jeremy Corbyn MP on 16 December 2015. See also this presentation and this discussion.


Dear Sir / Madam

BBC One, The Truth About Fat, 2 April 2015

I wish to complain that the BBC’s employment of Dr Saleyha Ahsan as presenter of the above programme breaches Section 15.4.5 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which states:

The external activities of BBC editorial staff, reporters and presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output.  External activities should not bring the BBC into disrepute.  It is also important that off-air activities do not undermine the on-air role of regular presenters.

Breaches of international humanitarian law by Dr Saleyha Ahsan

The publication on Facebook by Dr Ahsan of photographs taken in Libya in October 2011 plainly breach Geneva Convention provisions protecting prisoners of war and others caught up in conflicts against insults and public curiosity.

I have obscured the relevant individual’s identity in the two photographs below. The full images are presently viewable on Dr Ahsan’s Facebook page. [1]

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http://on.fb.me/1DstGab

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http://on.fb.me/1yYedC8

Former BBC legal correspondent Joshua Rozenberg observes:

The Fourth Geneva Convention, signed in 1949, protects civilians in time of war. But its application is much broader, covering people who, “in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in the case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a party to the conflict or occupying power of which they are not nationals”.

It applies not only to “cases of declared war” but also “any other armed conflict”. This seems to cover the situation of foreign troops captured at gunpoint.

Article 27 says that people protected by the Fourth Convention “are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons” and be protected from violence, threats, insults and public curiosity.

A similar provision under the Third Convention protects prisoners of war against “insults and public curiosity”. Although this was probably intended to ban prisoners being paraded through the streets, it must apply equally to prisoners being forced to appear on television.

The US Government used this to justify its decision in 2004 not to allow photographs to be published of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The detainees, it said, were either prisoners of war or protected persons under the Fourth Convention.

Releasing their photographs, military lawyers said, “would be inconsistent with the obligation of the United States to treat the individuals humanely and would pose a great risk of subjecting these individuals to public insult and curiosity”.

Article 3, common to all the conventions, provides protection during civil wars and non-international armed conflicts. That says that people taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms for any reason, “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely”.

Ethics and integrity of Dr Saleyha Ahsan

Children and armed groups

Dr Ahsan’s Facebook page contains a number of images from Libya in which she poses with armed groups which include children. The adolescent in the grey top at the right of the first two images below would appear to be an active member of such a group. [2] The third image features a younger child surrounded by men brandishing automatic weapons. Unsurprisingly, this child appears uncomfortable. In the final two images a group of armed revellers is joined by Dr Ahsan and another young boy. In all the photographs in which she appears Dr Ahsan’s pleasure is apparent.

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http://on.fb.me/1HxQhIN

Dr Ahsan’s chilling attitude towards children and armed conflict is further evidenced in her dramatised account of her experiences in Libya, ‘The Road to Bani Walid‘ (copy here), broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 February 2015: [3]

“a seventeen year old boy who’s been separated from his brigade and is desperate to get back to them. You can tell he’s seen action, the way he holds himself, his eyes always focussing somewhere else – he needs his unit”. (The Road to Bani Walid, 24:30)

Notably, Dr Ahsan’s instinct is that this child’s most urgent need is to be reunited with a military fighting unit rather than with his family, or indeed to be offered the services of a counsellor in order to address the effects of trauma which Dr Ahsan observes.

In her approving attitude towards the participation of children in armed fighting units and her nonchalance towards the presence of children among armed groups Dr Ahsan demonstrates a clear lack of concern for the physical and psychological wellbeing of minors. [4]

Association with Hand in Hand for Syria

In the 2013 BBC Panorama special ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘ Dr Ahsan is seen volunteering with the UK registered charity Hand in Hand for Syria.

As noted here, until July 2014 the Facebook banner of Hand in Hand for Syria’s co-founder Faddy Sahloul read WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES. Such shocking and bloodthirsty sentiments, utterly divergent from what one would expect of a humanitarian charity, are in stark contrast to Hand in Hand for Syria’s declared purpose on the Charity Commission website of “the advancement of health or saving lives”. The image was removed shortly after this comment was made on the Guardian newspaper’s website.

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A nurse who appears at 31:17 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is pictured on this website wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic and apparently treating a child combatant. The site names the child as fifteen year old Mujahid Omar and claims he has spent three years in the “revolutionary movement service”. The image allegedly depicts him being treated following an injury sustained in battle.

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The nurse on the left appears at 31:17 in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ in scenes filmed at Atareb Hospital (at that time run by Hand in Hand for Syria) on 26 August 2013. Dr Ahsan is wearing the checked shirt, holding the infant.

The same nurse appears to treat a child fighter in this image on a blog post dated June 2014. She is wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic (the word “Hand” is plainly visible by clicking on the image).

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This site boasts of the fighting prowess of fifteen year old Mujahid Omar.


Hand in Hand for Syria is the subject of detailed and highly disturbing research by peace activist Dr Declan Hayes. Dr Hayes’ research has been submitted to the police and Charity Commission.

Dr Hayes notes (p13) the partnership between Hand in Hand for Syria and ShelterBox International, whose founder and former chief executive is currently facing fraud charges and whose governance is scrutinised in this report. In an email of 19 December 2014 Sam Hewett, Operations Coordinator of ShelterBox International, wrote:

We look forward to the results of the investigations of the Charity Commission. Special Branch have also been in contact with ShelterBox, and we have no doubt that they will also have been making investigations with Hand in Hand for Syria.

Yours faithfully

Robert Stuart

Notes

[1] All of Dr Ahsan’s photographs from Libya which are reproduced here were published on her Facebook page at the time of writing. Screengrabs demonstrating this are here.

[2] The images of the adolescent in grey recall this scene from ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘, a 2013 BBC Panorama special in which Dr Ashan participated. The still is from 11:30 in the programme, after reporter Ian Pannell and his team have just passed through an ISIS checkpoint. As Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria, notes in a complaint to the BBC the startling presence of young boys in a militia group at this point is strangely unremarked upon, a peculiar omission in a programme purporting to focus on the impact of the Syrian crisis on children.

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Dr Ahsan’s relaxed attitude to children and weaponry further recalls the photo album of another BBC employee, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ “Fixer/Translator” Mughira Al Sharif. As noted here (search for “Sharif”) the second image below was published on Mr Al Sharif’s Instagram account on Tuesday 27 August 2013, the day after he had purportedly witnessed dozens of injured and dying children at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo.

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http://instagram.com/p/tk5ZP4GVwZ/

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http://instagram.com/p/dhg4o4GV5a/

[3] Billed as “the story of her journey to confront the reality of revolution – and of her own reasons for being there” Dr Ahsan’s play contains a number of shocking passages, including:

“every time we stop more vehicles join the convoy, revolutionary songs playing from stereos – it’s more like going to a party than going to a war!” (23:00)

“a woman in hijab driving herself to war singing Andrew Lloyd Webber – how cool is that!” [Dr Ahsan is here referring to herself] (24:00)

“it looks like an arms fair out here – armoured vehicles, artillery, tanks, all lined up like a showroom – instant adrenaline surge! This war’s for real!” (26:50)

[4] The irony of Dr Ahsan’s participation in the 2013 BBC Panorama special ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘ is marked.

The BBC Trust Unit has judged that complaints alleging fabrication in some of the scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ should not be put before the Trust. However, in addition to a number of errors in the Trust Unit’s two separate decisions on this matter (such as its frequent appeal to an “independent investigation” of the alleged “playground napalm bomb” by Human Rights Watch when HRW has in fact clearly stated that it has “not investigated this incident“), a number of potentially crucial evidence points remain entirely unaddressed.

The Trust Unit also neglected to investigate the role that medical simulation techniques may have played in fabricating the alleged injuries presented in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, taking account of the personal relationship which exists between Brigadier Kevin Beaton who, as demonstrated in this Newsnight report, is involved in leading HOSPEX medical simulation exercises, and Dr Saleyha Ahsan (“he was my squadron commander in Bosnia and inspired me to study medicine”).

A summary of the issues surrounding ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ identified by the complainants is here.

Did NBC’s Richard Engel speak to BBC “napalm victim”?

In light of recent revelations surrounding the 2012 kidnapping of NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, NBC’s reporting of the Aleppo “playground napalm bomb” of 26 August 2013 warrants scrutiny.

A 30 August 2013 NBC article (subsequently deleted) by Elizabeth Chuck states:

A girl who witnessed the attack told NBC News’ Richard Engel that the plane attacked the school twice.

“As we were going inside the classroom, it hit again. I didn’t hear anything. We just saw people burning,” said the student, who was not identified. “My classmates were burning. It felt like Judgment Day.”

However as noted here the words of the unidentified “student” who “told” her story to Engel appear to be directly lifted from this You Tube video, shot at Atareb Hospital on the evening of 26 August 2013 (the most strikingly similar sections are italicised):

… while escaping they called us to return to the school as the war-plane has not finished bombing yet .. they were sure that it will bomb again .. and then the war-plane bombed us .. I did not hear any sound but all what I saw is people burning .. I got burnt and so my friends .. we did not know what happened and why .. a war-plane bombed us and bodies in flames all over the place .. I felt like it is the judgement day. [1] [2]

Wider questions regarding the authenticity of this video are discussed here.

The NBC article is also noteworthy in that it cites the contemporary assessment (“days after the attack”) of Dr Rola (“Roula”) Hallam that the seven month old infant who in most accounts is claimed to be the first victim received at Atareb Hospital “was covered in full-body burns”. [3]

The BBC distanced itself from Dr Hallam’s November 2013 statement that the infant had suffered “80% burns” partly on the basis that it was a single claim made “after the event”. [4]

Questions over the severity of the baby’s alleged burns are noted here. [5]

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“I did not hear any sound but all what I saw is people burning .. I got burnt and so my friends… .. I felt like it is the judgement day”. The words of the alleged napalm victim in this You Tube video http://bit.ly/1Otl5cA are strikingly similar to those “told” to NBC’s Richard Engel in a now-deleted NBC article of 30 August 2013 http://bit.ly/1bgmaIv

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The NBC article cites Dr Rola Hallam as saying that this infant “was covered in full-body burns”. See further image below and http://bit.ly/1zcKgI3

baby1

Notes

[1] Fuller translation/summary of the woman’s words:

We are students in Orm Alkubra academy .. we were at Ikra’ school in a mathematical lesson .. suddenly a war-plane bombed a nearby building .. as we panicked we rushed out and saw the building in flames .. teachers encouraged us to escape .. while escaping they called us to return to the school as the war-plane has not finished bombing yet .. they were sure that it will bomb again .. and then the war-plane bombed us .. I did not hear any sound but all what I saw is people burning .. I got burnt and so my friends .. we did not know what happened and why .. a war-plane bombed us and bodies in flames all over the place .. I felt like it is the judgement day .. everybody is trying to put out themselves .. corpses all over the place .. people scrubbing their bodies to the ground .. why this happened ? .. we got up and ran .. we hid at the neighbourhood, they soaked us in cold water .. once we came it is an indescribable scene .. all bodies on the floors .. all students are burnt .. we are education seekers .. what is our guilt? .. are we carrying weapons? .. we are carrying pens and notebooks writing in maths lessons .. what is our guilt? .. teachers are not guilty .. watching teachers burning in front of us and cannot do anything .. we were in flames and no one there to put us out .. suddenly people gathered and begun aiding us .. we came here to find people all over the place .. students are innocent .. many of the corpses cannot be identified … we all kids haven’t turned 18 of age yet” ……….. (the rest of what she said is wailing and also blaming and threatening Bashar Alasad and appealing to god to curse him and burn his children).

[2] The NBC piece cites the witness as claiming “that the plane attacked the school twice”. The BBC and Human Rights Watch (p13) claim there was one strike on a residential building followed by a second on the school, as indeed does the alleged victim/witness herself in the fuller translation of her words above.

[3] On Australian radio on 27 November 2013 Dr Saleyha Ahsan provided a different account of the first victim she encountered at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013 in which the baby and his father do not feature. This version of events entirely contradicts what BBC viewers saw from 31 minutes in Saving Syria’s Children.

[4] BBC Editorial Complaints Unit Provisional Finding, 23 April 2014 (pp 4-5, appendices here)

[5] Inconsistencies between accounts of the baby’s injuries are noted here. See also point 4 (“Burns to the baby’s face appear to have been exaggerated”) in this letter to the BBC Trust Unit.  

Panorama editor responds over ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

Editor of Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Tom Giles has responded to my brief (57 word) query regarding the identity and/or role of the western male filmed alongside Dr Rola Hallam at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013.

In an angry 448 word email of 22 March Mr Giles writes:

I have no idea who the man pictured is. He may be either working with the medical charity we were filming with or at the hospital where the patients are being delivered. As far as I’m aware he’s not someone working for BBC Panorama – though it’s perfectly possible he’s a BBC News safety advisor as BBC News (whom Ian and Darren normally work for) have to use security advisors in Category One hostile areas like Syria because it’s so bloody dangerous. We don’t normally name them as it’s sensitive for their own long-term security.

It seems perhaps odd that a “safety adviser”, whether working for the BBC or Hand in Hand for Syria, or indeed an employee of Atareb Hospital, should apparantly be concerned with photography and facilitating interviews in the midst of a “mass casualty event”.

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The role of the man in the grey shirt remains unknown. He carries a camera and demonstrates great concern that Dr Rola Hallam’s “interview” is filmed without interruption. See http://bit.ly/1EUkgYv

Mr Giles continues:

Though I don’t personally recognise him. So what of it? What difference could the presence of this person – whoever he is – possibly make ? Are you going to claim he’s part of some ludicrous half-baked conspiracy? Why bother – you already made your mind up about that back in 2013 and, as far as I can tell, nothing anyone says will ever make you ever see it differently. So I know there’s nothing I can say anyway to stop you just carrying on regardless with your ridiculous and hurtful campaign. Anything I say will be pored over and picked apart for some future complaint or point of order even though it is all based on the absurd premise that life -long BBC journalists would take part in a conspiracy involving the mass simulation of children dying of burns in order to help bring about the downfall of President Assad in cahoots with Western powers. All this of course, despite the fact that both the Panorama and the News item went out AFTER the Parliamentary vote rejecting the use of direct force against the Assad regime. In other words, based on your own misconceived logic, it was not just a ludicrous, manifestly-impossible conspiracy, it was also utterly pointless.

I noted in response (67 words) that Mr Giles is mistaken to claim that Ian Pannell’s initial BBC 10 O’Clock News report on the “playground napalm bomb” went out after the parliamentary vote on possible military intervention in Syria. As Hansard reports, there were two Commons votes on Syria on Thursday 29 August 2013: Division No. 69 (9:59pm) on the Labour amendment and Division No. 70 (10:17pm) on the government motion. The Daily Telegraph’s live reporting of the day’s events notes between 22:15 and 22:30:

As MPs vote, the BBC is playing a report into a horrific incendiary weapon strike on a school near Alleppo. Many children have been badly burnt.

Frontline Club comments on “held back” Darren Conway video

The Frontline Club has now commented on the absence from its website of video from the 15 October 2014 event at which ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ cameraman, producer and director Darren Conway apparently contradicted his colleague Ian Pannell over the time of the alleged events of 26 August 2013. The Frontline Club states on the event page:

The video from Darren Conway’s Reflections has not been put on the Frontline Club site to protect those colleagues whose names were mentioned that work in extremely dangerous locations. Everyone is aware of the extreme risk that journalists are facing today in places such as Syria and DC wants to do everything possible to prevent them from being put at further risk, something that we at the Frontline Club of course support. This is the only reason why DC’s Frontline Club session is being held back and, as soon as it is deemed safe for the individuals concerned, it will be made available on our site.

2013’s ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was the most recent work of Conway’s discussed at the event. To the best of my recollection, and that of others who attended, the only colleague other than Ian Pannell mentioned by Conway in respect of this project was “fixer”/translator Mughira Al Sharif, whom Conway referred to only as “Mughi”. As documented here (search for “Sharif”) Al Sharif openly proclaims pro-opposition sentiments on his Instagram account and elsewhere.

Moreover, as is the Frontline Club’s practice, the event was live-streamed on the internet. As Conway was undoubtedly aware of this, and of the expectation that video of the event would be published on the Frontline’s website, why would he have risked putting colleagues “at further risk” by mentioning their names?

A privately made recording of the section of the Q&A in which Conway appears to contradict Pannell is here.

BBC Complaints’ “very rare” 92 day delay over swapped Newsnight footage

Friday 17 April 2015 marked 92 working days since the BBC wrote to me stating that it may “take longer than 20 working days before you receive our reply” to my stage 1b complaint regarding the substitution of footage between two transmissions of an August 2014 edition of Newsnight.

On 21 September last year BBC Complaints replied to my initial (stage 1a) complaint, stating “we do not believe that the replacement of the footage altered the nature of the report, so we do not believe this breached our editorial guidelines.”

During my most recent phone call to chase the matter up (7 April, after 84 working days) the BBC Customer Services Adviser I spoke to expressed her bewilderment over the delay, saying it was “very rare”.

“Victim” who “fought to be allowed into hospital” had already been treated

Further scrutiny confirms that Ian Pannell’s BBC World Service report of (presumably) August 2013 is inaccurate in stating (at 3:06) “Fathers and mothers, desperate for help, fought to be allowed into the hospital, cursing their president Bashar al-Assad”.

As previously noted, the cries and rants heard at this point are those of the alleged father and mother of the woman in the black dress seen at 2:37 in the BBC Ten O’Clock News report of 29 August 2013.

On 23 April 2014 the BBC explained (pp 6 & 7) that in this sequence the woman had already been treated inside the hospital with white burns cream. She then “went back outside” (“to be evacuated” to “turkey or border hospital” according to Dr Saleyha Ahsan) prior to rushing back through the hospital gate (at 36 minutes in Panorama) with her family to declaim Assad to the BBC camera.

To say that the family was at this point fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” is therefore false. Furthermore, none of the alleged victims in Saving Syria’s Children are seen fighting “to be allowed into the hospital” – they are carried or walk inside, entirely unimpeded.

In his BBC web article of 30 September 2013 Pannell repeats the claim that “Fathers and mothers” “fought to be allowed into the hospital” but here substitutes the phrase “desperate for help” with “desperate for news”.

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Ian Pannell claimed that here this family was fighting “to be allowed into the hospital”. The BBC later stated that the woman in the centre had already been treated. See http://bit.ly/16GapbZ

Syria charity threatens peace activist‏

Dr Declan Hayes, whose two previous reports into Hand in Hand for Syria are cited on my home page, has published a further examination of this UK registered charity which features prominently in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. Please note that Dr Hayes’ report contains a number of graphic images.

Dr Hayes writes:

“Dodgy” Syria Charity Threatens Prominent Peace Activist‏

Controversial British Hand in Hand for Syria (HiH) charity’s rapid rise bears detailed examination as do their long-established links with Mohammad al Arafe, the most notorious recruiter of British male and female (sex) jihadists for Syria. Although ostensibly a secular charity, HiH has now joined with two other Muslim Brotherhood linked charities, under the auspices of yet another Muslim Brotherhood linked charity, to further their common agenda.

This 435 page document, available at  http://taigs.com/Hand-in_Glove.pdf or http://tinyurl.com/HandSyria or http://bit.ly/1NuCNMc asks over 100 very serious questions concerning HiH’s links to Syrian murder gangs both in the UK and Syria and about their finances and secretive structure. This much-enlarged document was written in response to a threat of legal action from this charity which like ISIS, in whose territory they freely operate, only tolerates outside examination on its own very controlled terms.

HiH’s slick media machine has garnered it not only acres of sympathetic coverage and millions of pounds in donations but it has even persuaded leading British MPs and Lords to raise their dubious cause in Westminster.

Read the 12 mb document and then email, tweet, phone this information to those politicians, journalists, researchers and concerned citizens who will act on it. For more detail go here www.taigs.com/Syria  and open up the www.taigs.com/Syria/home_beauty  folder to get the original Word and other documents. Use it, attributed or not, as you will. Just use it.