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NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T – US SATELLITE EVIDENCE AND THE MH17 TRIAL

by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with [1]

The US satellite images proving that a BUK missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, have existed for twenty-three days – between July 20 and August 12, 2014. Since then they ceased to exist.  Since then too, for almost six years, no US Government official has claimed in public, nor told Dutch police, prosecutors, or military intelligence officials in secret, that the images can be viewed with the naked eye.

A week ago, on March 23, Hendrik Steenhuis, a judge of The Hague District Court, ordered the production and disclosure of these US satellite images as evidence in the trial of four men accused of transporting the missile to its launch site, participating in the order to fire, and intending to kill all 298 people on board the aircraft.

Steenhuis, the presiding trial judge, gave Dutch prosecutors until June 8 to comply with the order and prove the satellite images exist. If they do not, the foundation of the case against the four accused, and against the Russian military and political command for ordering the BUK launched, will collapse.

Lawyers with experience in comparable international tribunals are sceptical of both Judge Steenhuis’s order, and of the likelihood the US Government and Dutch prosecutors will obey it.  Christopher Black was a Canadian lawyer for the defence in the Yugoslav trials beginning in 1993, and the Rwanda trials commencing in 1994. He says: “In our trial at the ICTR [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda] we pushed the judges to order the prosecution to produce what they claimed they had. Several times under our browbeating, they did make such orders. But they were never followed up. The prosecution never complied, even when a couple of times they were roasted by the judges for disregarding their orders. They didn’t care and nothing was done. We think it was all window-dressing for the press in order to make the judges appear neutral when they were part of the prosecution.”

The test of the Dutch prosecutors’ compliance begins now with the record which US and Dutch officials have made of the satellite evidence over the past six years.  

“There [are] a number of questions to be put to the Public Prosecutor regarding the completion of file” (Min 30:52 [2] )”, Steenhuis (right) read to the court from the text of his ruling on March 23.  One of them, according to the judge, arose from a “roundtable discussion of standing parliamentary committees on the 22nd of January 2016” (Min 31:53). There “it states that the United States has access to classified satellite images allegedly showing the missile being fired, and these have been shared with Dutch intelligence services.” (Min 32:05). “This has been made in a statement by Mr Langbroek who is a satellite expert. Further, it is stated in the [parliamentary committee] documents that the United States has no objection to declassifying this information.”

Left, Judge Hendrik Steenhuis; right, Dr Marco Langbroek. Langbroek publishes [3]a regular satellite tracking report of  observations made at Leiden. Langbroek’s work has been supported by the University of Leiden and the Royal Dutch Air Force.

“The question,” Steenhuis continued, “is whether this is correct and if so, whether the Public Prosecution is considering adding this information to the record through the MIVD or by declassification” (Min 32:27). MIVD (Militaire Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst) is the acronym for Dutch military intelligence, headed by Major-General Onno Eichelsheim. The judge was ordering the prosecution to bring Eichelsheim to court to testify as a witness, or his reports, or the US satellite images themselves.

The Steenhuis order and the reference to parliamentary testimony by Marco Langbroek, a Dutch satellite expert, can be read here [4]and here [5].

At the time of the destruction of MH17, the US Secretary of State was John Kerry (lead image, left). He is the only US Government official to say that satellite images of the shootdown on July 17, 2014, existed. If they did, then on July 18, Kerry did not instruct the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, to say so in her written report to the UN Security Council (UNSC).

“Let me share with you,” Power began [6],  “our assessment of the evidence so far.” She went on to read that the US assessment was that MH17 was “likely [sic] downed by a surface-to-air missile, an SA-11, operated [sic] from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine…. We cannot rule out [sic] Russian technical assistance in operating the [missile] systems… If [sic] indeed, Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers [sic] would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime. Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately… Yesterday [July 17] President Obama assured Ukraine’s president Poroshenko that US experts will offer all possible assistance [sic] upon his request [sic]… All evidence [sic] must remain undisturbed…”  

The qualifiers have been added to reveal, not only that the US Government was not claiming it had satellite evidence, but that the evidence it had did not prove the allegations it made with more than “likelihood”.  Power did make clear that if the Ukraine or an international investigation she proposed made the request, “US experts will offer all possible assistance”, and that “all evidence must remain undisturbed.” At that point in time, if US satellite images existed for evidence, the US Government was promising not to “disturb” it and to hand it over on request to Ukraine and to those governments “whose citizens were victims of this tragedy”.  

US ambassador Samantha Power delivering the first US report on the MH17 crash at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on July 18, 2014. Source: https://www.youtube.com/ [6]

Two days later, July 20, Kerry announced [7]on NBC’s Meet the Press: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing.  And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know, from voice identification, that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards.”    Kerry’s reference to Ukrainian-sourced interceptions of telephone calls and social media posts from “pro-Russian separatists” repeated Power’s reference to the same thing. The new evidence which Kerry – Kerry alone — introduced was satellite imagery.

Kerry repeated this only once. That was on August 12, 2014, in Sydney, Australia, where he was participating in the annual ministerial conference [8]of US and Australian security officials. “US Secretary of State John Kerry revealed yesterday the Americans then saw the airline vanish from sight. It had 298 passengers and crew aboard including 38 Australian citizens and residents. ‘This type of weapon, all the evidence of it was seen on our imagery,’ Mr Kerry said after the annual AUSMIN [Australia-US Ministerial Consultations] summit. ‘We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory, we saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.’”

This is what a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch reported Kerry as saying he had seen. The official record issued by the two governments didn’t say so. The communiqué was as qualified on August 14 as Power’s report to the UNSC had been four weeks before.  The communiqué  said [9]the US and Australia “condemned Russia’s support for and enabling [sic] of the continued destabilisation of eastern Ukraine; destabilisation which led [sic] to the shooting down of a passenger airliner, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, killing all 298 on board. Both countries affirmed their commitment to completing a full international investigation into the attack — – an appalling tragedy and terrible act of senseless [sic] violence.”

The term “senseless” implies that US and Australian officials had already concluded that whoever was culpable, the shootdown was neither an act of war nor an act of intentional murder – the charge which is now proceeding in trial in The Netherlands.

In the record which US, Dutch and Australian government officials have made since August 2014, there has been no claim that they have seen US satellite imagery to substantiate what  happened to MH17. Instead, there have been repeated requests, resolutions,  and orders for the production by the US of all the evidence available.

Pavel Kanigin was Westerbeke’s interviewer. Source: https://novayagazeta.ru/ [21]

Westerbeke refused to say the satellite “photos”, as he called them, would be released. He then added his own qualifier: “they are just a fraction of an immense body of evidence. It is all about the evidence of our eyewitnesses that is worth more than all data from the radars or satellites.”