Aug 28, 2013

Evidence Points to Use of Chemical Weapons by Assad Regime

Joel RosenbergBy Joel C. Rosenberg

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(Washington, D.C.)—Is the President of the United States certain chemical weapons were used to kill innocent civilians in Damascus last week, and is he certain that the Assad regime was, in fact, responsible for the attack? Is the evidence clear and compelling? Will such evidence stand up in the court of public opinion? The U.S. administration thinks so, and will make the evidence public soon.


We are told such evidence will include:

“The Obama administration believes that U.S. intelligence has established how Syrian government forces stored, assembled and launched the chemical weapons allegedly used in last week’s attack outside Damascus, according to U.S. officials,” reports the Washington Post. “The administration is planning to release evidence, possibly as soon as Thursday, that it will say proves that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad bears responsibility for what U.S. officials have called an 'undeniable' chemical attack that killed hundreds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. The report, being compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is one of the final steps that the administration is taking before President Obama makes a decision on a U.S. military strike against Syria, which now appears all but inevitable.”

I’m looking forward to seeing this report. It is important that the American people have a chance to examine the evidence that has led the administration to be so certain that chemical weapons were used, and that the Assad regime was, in fact, responsible.

There are many Americans who deeply distrust this administration. There are many who distrust the American government as a whole these days, and not without cause. No country should casually launch military attacks, certainly not the leader of the free world.

That said, it is worth noting that President Obama was a strong opponent of using military force in Iraq over the alleged threat of weapons of mass destruction. So while the President has very little credibility with a large percentage of Americans who deeply disagree on all or most areas of policy, it is important to at least consider the notion that Mr. Obama has been a long-time skeptic of U.S. intelligence claims about WMD in the Middle East and the need to use force to deal with such threats. He has also been disinclined to involve the U.S. militarily in Syria for the last two years.

I deeply disagree with this administration on many issues. But I refuse to be a cynic. I refuse to disbelieve anything that comes out of their mouths. I will listen carefully on each and every issue. If the evidence is clear and compelling, I want to see it with honest eyes and make a fair and well-reasoned conclusion. If the Assad regime really did use chemical weapons to murder innocents, then I believe they should be punished severely—in part so that no Syrian government ever uses chemical weapons again, and in part so that no government uses chemical weapons in the future.

Along these lines, I’m interested in an exclusive story in the Foreign Policy blog this morning, describing intercepted telephone calls.

Key excerpts from the Foreign Policy article:

  • Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime—and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days….
  • American intelligence analysts are certain that chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21—the captured phone calls, combined with local doctors' accounts and video documentation of the tragedy—are considered proof positive. That is why the U.S. government, from the president on down, has been unequivocal in its declarations that the Syrian military gassed thousands of civilians in the East Ghouta region….
  • However, U.S. spy services still have not acquired the evidence traditionally considered to be the gold standard in chemical weapons cases: soil, blood, and other environmental samples that test positive for reactions with nerve agent. That's the kind of proof that America and its allies processed from earlier, small-scale attacks that the White House described in equivocal tones, and declined to muster a military response to in retaliation.
  • When news about the Ghouta incident first trickled out, there were questions about whether or not a chemical agent was to blame for the massacre. But when weapons experts and U.S. intelligence analysts began reviewing the dozens of videos and pictures allegedly taken from the scene of the attacks, they quickly concluded that a nerve gas, such as sarin, had been used there. The videos showed young victims who were barely able to breathe and, in some cases, twitching. Close-up photos revealed that their pupils were severely constricted. Doctors and nurses who say they treated the victims reported that they later became short of breath as well. Eyewitnesses talk of young children so confused, they couldn't even identify their own parents. All of these are classic signs of exposure to a nerve agent like sarin, the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice.
  • Making the case even more conclusive were the images of the missiles that supposedly delivered the deadly attacks. If they were carrying conventional warheads, they would have likely been all but destroyed as they detonated. But several missiles in East Ghouta were found largely intact. “Why is there so much rocket left? There shouldn't be so much rocket left,” the intelligence official told The Cable. The answer, the official and his colleagues concluded, was that the weapon was filled with nerve agent, not a conventional explosive.
  • In the days after the attacks, there was a great deal of public discussion about which side in Syria’s horrific civil war actually launched the strike. Allies of the Assad regime, like Iran and Russia, pointed the finger at the opposition. The intercepted communications told a different story—one in which the Syrian government was clearly to blame.