On BBC Newsnight, 30 August 2013
|Member of||Hand in Hand for Syria|
"Dr. Rola" appeared in late Summer 2013 on the BBC to make an emotional appeal for bombing Syria. She portrayed herself as an aid worker, but her real name was not disclosed and her background was left unexplained.
"Dr. Rola" appeared anonymously on UK television a few days after the attack in Ghouta to report on the aftermath of another attack in Syria. Her emotional call for humanitarian intervention in the shape of bombs drew parallels with "Nurse Nayirah"'s lies to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in the run up to the US vote on the 1990-91 Gulf War.
- 1 Full Name
- 2 BBC TV Appearances
- 3 Associations
- 4 The Nurse Nayirah Affair
- 5 Unanswered Questions
- 5.1 1. What is the precise name and location of the school?
- 5.2 2. When did the attack occur, and what is there by way of independent verification?
- 5.3 3. Why were so many children allegedly at school during the school holiday period?
- 5.4 4. What is Dr Rola's family background?
- 5.5 5. What is Dr Rola's nationality?
- 6 Later Activities
- 7 BBC Response
- 8 External Links
- 9 References
The BBC declined a FOIA request for Dr Rola's full name both under journalistic privilege and because "Dr Rola requested anonymity". However, she is identified on the BBC video as Dr Rola Hallam in its reporting of the alleged attack on a school in Syria, and referred to by the BBC as such in subseuqent correspondance regarding the video , an identity corroborated by her 'role of honour' entry on the ATFAL website.
The UCL staff page mentions as "Education Fellow + Registrar in Anaesthesia" a Dr Rola Alkurdi, a name used by a coauthor of Rapid Paediatrics and Child Health. She was one of 725 doctors who signed a 2009 open letter demanding the dismissal of newly-appointed WMA president, Dr Yoram Blachar, because of Israeli doctors' complicity in the torture of Palestinians. This is probably her maiden name.
BBC TV Appearances
Panorama - 29 August 2013
BBC Panorama footage of the aftermath of alleged Aleppo 'Napalm' attack was shown on Thursday 29 August 2013, included video footage described by the presenter as 'unverified'. In it Ian Pannell, the BBC on-the-spot reporter, described how two British doctors present were working as volunteers for the charity Hand in Hand for Syria. One of them, 'Dr Rola', was interviewed in the aftermath of the alleged attack. In a related Daily Telegraph article she was described as an 'English Doctor working at a London Hospital' and volunteering for relief work in Syria through 'Hand in Hand for Syria' .
Newsnight - 30 August 2013
Introduced to BBC Newsnight viewers as "A British Doctor just back from volunteering in Syria who wants to be called 'Dr Rola'" an attractive thirty-something lady described her experience of an alleged napalm attack in Aleppo, Syria as "...one of the most horrific few hours of my life". Speaking in an educated English accent (with just a trace of East Midlands), she gave a bravura, restrained-emotional performance describing the horrors she had witnessed and advocating Western military intervention in support of Syrian anti-government forces. Had this interview been broadcast before the UK House of Commons vote which had declined military action a few hours earlier, the outcome may well have been different.
Politics Programme - Saturday 31 August 2013
During her studio interview for this program, Dr Rola stated that: "The whole world has failed the Syrian nation" and pointedly offered to host a 7 day visit by Ed Miliband and his family to Aleppo "... to see for himself and at my expense". Opposite her in the studio was Labour MP Dianne Abbott who, in a bizarre contribution and looking very uncomfortable indeed in the face of Dr Rola's scathing attack on her leader for declining military intervention, assured us that "Bombing Syria has probably only been postponed".
Panorama and News - 30 September 2013
In a report headlined BBC Crew returns to Aleppo on 30 September 2013, rehashed footage from the original program was aired again. It featured BBC reporter Ian Pannel talking to two Hand in Hand for Syria female doctors. Presented as a heart-rending report of what is undoubtedly grave and genuine humanitarian suffering, it was nonetheless done in such as way as to very effectively demonise of the Syrian government.
There is clear evidence that the Panorama video footage is not, as it appears, a live action shot of casualties being rushed to hospital, and that the audio is not original. These two points alone raise serious doubts as to the authenticity of the whole report, to say nothing of the multiple subsidiary issues with the video.
Close comparison of the video footage in the 29 August and 30 September programs reveals the videos share sections which are very similar but not identical. This is definitely not simply due to recording the same incident from 2 slightly different vantage points. See, for example, the left arm of the man in the fluorescent jacket next to the doctor, which is down in one video, but not in the other - or check the position of the van. These are different shots on which similar audio has been dubbed.
Inspection of the audio tracks reveals that Dr Rola's words have been edited in at least one of the videos. Not only the words, but the intonation and timing of Dr Rola's voice is identical in both tracks, the only difference being the level of background noise (which is easily reduced with software) for the text "It’s just absolute chaos and carnage here, erm we’ve had a massive influx of what looks like serious burns, er seems like it must be some sort of". On 26th of August she continued "chemical weapon, I’m not really sure." On the 30th September, however, she continued ", I’m not really sure, maybe napalm, something similar to that.." Her face mask prevents easy detection that the audio has been edited.
On Dec 2, 2013, the BBC admitted that the phrase "chemical weapon" had been removed, remarking that "it is common in broadcasting to edit spoken contributions to ensure maximum clarity", and that normally such editing is accompanied by a cutaway shot, but that since Dr. Rola "was wearing a mask this was not considered necessary".
Close scrutiny of the third party footage which Ian Pannell described as "unverified" raises disturbing questions about the authenticity of the entire alleged attack. The footage includes no evidence that the building shown is in fact a school. The behaviour of some of those alleged to have napalm like burns and other injuries appears choreographed, and there is evidence that the words spoken by some of those were not their own. 
Both Panorama programs talk of two British female doctors, "volunteers for the Charity Hand-in-Hand-for Syria", suspected to be Dr Rola Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan. The BBC did not mention the backgrounds of either of the "charitable volunteers".
Hand in Hand for Syria
- Full article: Hand in Hand for Syria
- Full article: Hand in Hand for Syria
The charity for which Dr Rola works, Hand in Hand for Syria, appears to have a close ideological connection to the Syrian National Opposition in Exile - i.e. the Rebels and their Free Syrian Army - since the Charity logo is derived from the SNO adopted flag. Also, in her BBC interviews, she repeatedly urges the need (for humanitarian purposes naturally) to overthrow "the regime" (a BBC pejorative for 'government').
Dr Saleyha Ahsan
- Full article: Dr Saleyha Ahsan
- Full article: Dr Saleyha Ahsan
Dr Saleyha Ahsan is only shown in one of the videos with Dr Rola. The first Muslim woman to graduate from Sandhurst as a British Army Officer, she saw service as a Captain with the British Army Medical Corps in Bosnia before leaving the army in 2000. She co-presented BBC2's 2013 series Trust Me I'm a Doctor. Her BBC profile page describes her as "a filmmaker and medic, reporting on stories related to access to healthcare in conflict zones". She also works as an A & E doctor in a London hospital and as a speaker for Knight Ayton Management, where her profile page states that she worked for six months in Libya "filming doctors on the frontline" and has "a passion for storytelling". 
The Nurse Nayirah Affair
- Full article: Nurse Nayirah
- Full article: Nurse Nayirah
To those who remember the run-up to the first Iraq war in 1990, Dr Rola's reports carry disturbing echoes of the Nurse Nayirah episode, in which a volunteer 'student nurse' who, for security reasons, wished to remain anonymous, testified (not under oath) to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that she had witnessed Iraqi troops "throwing new-born babies from incubators and leaving them to die on the cold floor". It later transpired that her testimony was a fabrication cooked up by the US PR firm Hill & Knowlton, whom the Kuwait government had employed to make the case for war. The 'student nurse' was in fact the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US who sat behind her as she delivered her testimony.
Having appeared on national TV using medical, charitable and altruistic credentials to advocate a bombing campaign for humanitarian purposes, can Dr Rola have any realistic expectation of anonymity? In light of the fact that she did multiple takes of the interview which purports to be a live shot in the middle of a crisis, her whole performance has strong echoes of the Nurse Nayirah affair. With the background of a rising drum-beat crescendo for military intervention in Syria, doesn't the public deserve some straight answers about who "Dr Rola" really is and what she is up to, the better to judge what to make of her testimony.
1. What is the precise name and location of the school?
The Hand in Hand for Syria website reports that the school was in the village of "Orum Alkubra in Aleppo province".. Is this "" أورم_الكبرى(Urum al-Kubra). According to an Arab language web site with a contributor said to be from the vicinity of the claimed attack, the bombed building shown in the video is not a school but a fairly standard construction villa with a swimming pool on the other side of the buttressed wall.
2. When did the attack occur, and what is there by way of independent verification?
Are witnesses available for interview? What is the condition of the school now? Other commercially-controlled media reports such as that from the Guardian are mere echoes of the Panorama report and contain no new information. Are there any independent media outlets or bloggers covering this story?
3. Why were so many children allegedly at school during the school holiday period?
The original BBC piece claimed the school attack took place during the last week of August 2013, "at the end of the school day", and killed at least 10 children. However, Syrian school holidays run from 30 June to 1 September[Citation Needed].
4. What is Dr Rola's family background?
Friend and colleague Dr Saleyha Ahsan writes that "her father, also a doctor, helped coordinate medical logistics from inside Syria in the early days of the uprising. He is now involved politically with the Syrian National Council". If Dr Rola's maiden name is al-Kurdi, that would suggest that her father is Dr Mousa Al-Kurdi. Is Dr Rola also related to Malik al-Kurdi, deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army?
5. What is Dr Rola's nationality?
Towards the end of her first appearance, Dr Rola opined, in an impeccable estuary English accent: "The whole world has failed our nation". However, 5 days later she stated: "The whole world has failed the Syrian nation". A BBC video posted on 30th September introduces the attack "two British doctors, two thousand miles from home". In a 2013 petition her nationality is listed as "Syria/UK". So, is she Syrian or British or both?
Robert Stuart has energetically pursued the BBC's official complaints procedure in regards to this incident, and in January 2014 started to document their respones online (here). In response to his first letter, the BBC addressed some points, but left many more unanswered.
- Radio show about the "ubiquitous matrix of lies", featuring "Dr. Rola" and "Nurse Nayirah"
- The role of the BBC in the Syrian conflict - Apophenia 3 November 2013
- The role of the BBC in the Syrian Conflict - YouTube video by Rinaldo Francesca. The video reprises much of the content of this page.
- Fake BBC Video - Craig Murray, October 7, 2013
- BBC report from 29 September 2013, originally entitled "Syrian children burnt in school bombing found by the BBC", later retitled "Syria: Agony of victims of 'napalm-like' school bombing", retrieved 2013-10-25
- File:BBC ECU Response about Dr Rola
- UCL Staff page
- Torture-row doctors stick the knife in
- Syria: BBC Panorama films 'napalm' attack on school - Telegraph Friday 30 August 2013
- Syria crisis: Doctor criticises Miliband over MPs' vote - BBC News 31 August 2013
- Syria crisis: BBC crew returns to Aleppo - BBC 30 September 2013
- BBC's response to Mr. Stuart's first letter of complaint, published 2-14-01-18
- The Theatre of War - Craig Murray 8 October 2013
- Media Lens forum Discussion
- BBC Media Fabrications on Alleged Incendiary Bomb Attack in Aleppo, Syria - Global Research 5 October 2013
- Saleyha Ahsan on providing medical care in Syria - BMJ Blogs 8 Jan 2013
- Saleyha Ahsan web site - 30 September 2013
- Hand in Hand for Syria reports the location of the school
- SyriaTruth.org - 2 September 2013. Use Google translate for a garbled English translation
- Syria: 'napalm' bomb dropped on school playground, BBC claims, Aug 30, 2013 from The Guardian
- Medicine as a weapon of war in Syria - Feb 6, 2013
- Malik al-Kurdi's Facebook page
- Q&A: Free Syrian Army deputy leader, 17 August 2012
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