Why We Didn’t Attack Syria: Highlights of Sy Hersh’s Investigation

Last year, the U.S. came very close to involving itself in another unpopular war in the Middle East by attacking Syria over its government’s reported use of sarin gas on its people and the rebels it was fighting.  And, just like Iraq, had we attacked we would have later found out the justification would have been a lie and one that we knew about.

Legendary reporter Seymour Hersh investigated the situation and found what is probably shocking revelations to many.  Here are some of the highlights.

The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’…

…the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo…the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’

This information came out rather quickly last year but was mostly ignored in the rhetoric by U.S. officials since they had to maintain their tough stance for image reasons, which is ridiculous when you think about it.

It should be noted that both Russia and the Syrian government were helping to clear things up during this period as well, which is why engaging other countries in a logical and more empathetic way actually works:syria

Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence…Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’

The most damaging revelation in Hersh’s report is the role of Turkey and how they helped the rebels make and use the sarin gas that was found to have killed so many.  Turkey wanted the U.S. to attack and did what they could to make sure it happened by driving Obama over his “red line”.  The problem for Turkey is that the U.S. figured this out before firing the first shot.

The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’

As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts.

Hersh’s report contains a lot more information and is well worth the read for anyone wanting to know a lot more of this story.  Stellar reporting on his part as usual.

Ridiculous U.S. Rhetoric to Justify Syria Intervention

As we edge closer to what is a virtually unstoppable march toward bombing Syria, the United States continues to throw out whatever rhetoric it can to justify a military strike on the Assad regime and look like the world’s good guy.  More of this happened today:

America “recognizes that if the international community fails to maintain certain norms, standards, laws, governing how countries interact and how people are treated, that over time this world becomes less safe,” Obama said. “It becomes more dangerous not only for those people who are subjected to these horrible crimes, but to all of humanity.” (Emphasis added.)

Here we come Syria!

So, the U.S. is interested in adhering to international norms and laws?  I’m guessing this is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” situations.

I’ll ignore the fact that the impending strike on Syria will almost assuredly be a violation of international law and simply focus on other actions that have already occurred and were conducted by the U.S. government.

Is it an internationally accepted norm to spy on the democratically elected heads of state, including their text messages, of countries that you call allies, such as Mexico and Brazil?  Didn’t think so.

There is the continued use of drones to kill whoever the U.S. government deems a loosely defined “imminent threat” on foreign soil, including U.S. citizens, a certain violation of international law.

Are the recent confirmations that the U.S. helped overthrow the Iranian prime minister in 1953 or helped Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons against Iran in the late 1980s part of international norms that the world readily approves?  Not really.

Is the use of torture when interrogating people a lawful “standard” the world accepts?  Negative.

What about the United States use of chemical weapons, such as Agent Orange in Vietnam?  Who did the world punish for that?  Or, more recently, who was prosecuted for the use of depleted uranium by U.S. forces in Iraq?  Should there be a military strike on U.S. military installations for the horrific conditions in the hardest hit areas like Fallujah?

Or maybe the U.S. isn’t concerned about the norms and is more concerned with the fact so many people are dying.  Because when so many are dying, the U.S. intervenes.  Just like we didn’t when 250,000 people recently starved to death in Somalia over a three year period, half of which were children under the age of five.  Or like we didn’t in Mexico where likely over 100,000 people have been killed, some very brutally, since 2006 largely because of U.S. drug and gun policies.

Let’s face it.  This list could go on for quite a while.

In short, the U.S. wants to bomb Syria in the interest of maintaining international norms and enforcing international law because America is an example of following the most rigorous of these standards accepted by the world community.  My question is: since when?

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Wait for U.N. Test Results in Syria Before Striking?

As the apparent fervor to blow stuff up in the U.S. government can no longer be stymied, I can’t help but wonder: why the rush?

Obviously, the argument “because people are dying” is ridiculous in the case of Syria since 100k people have died and no military action has been taken yet.  And we also know the previous chemical attacks have very possibly and likely come from the rebel forces themselves and not the Assad regime.

It seems waiting a few more days until the results of the U.N. inspectors can be confirmed would be rather wise in this situation.  We are hearing from the likes of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel the U.S. has intelligence confirming it was the Assad regime that used chemical weapons last week but none is being produced at the moment.  And since they haven’t claimed it to be a “slam-dunk” yet, we should probably make sure we aren’t fooled again.

Even VP Biden has stated the Syrian government is the only force in the war capable of using chemical weapons, which is a rather bizarre statement considering we know the U.S. government has been paying contractors to train rebels to handle chemical weapons for quite a while.  And the rebels have captured a chemical plant, as reported by Der Spiegel:

Assad supporters also pointed out that the extremist Al-Nusra Front, which his aligned with al-Qaida, had gained control of the region east of Damascus and captured a chlorine gas plant there.

But experts doubt the rebels could have weaponized the chemicals found there. As poison gas specialist Stephen Johnson points out, enormous amounts of chemical agents are needed to kill hundreds of people, a feat impossible for the insurgents to pull off.

“Impossible” assuming they are untrained, which we know isn’t entirely true.

Then, there is the possibility some chemical weapons have made their way from Libya to Syria and, depending how much of a conspiracy theorist you may be, this may have been a residual factor in the whole Benghazi situation.  We know chemical weapons, including sarin gas, survived the fall of Qaddafi and we’re pretty sure the CIA was selling weapons to Syrian rebels in Libya.  Speculate for yourself.

Waiting a few more days for the results seems like the better option since they will seemingly be rather definitive, as reported in Foreign Policy:

While Sellstrom cannot explicitly say whether the Assad regime or the rebels conducted the attack, he can release information that would strongly implicate one party or the other — allowing U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to make the actual accusation.

The Syrian regime has been developing chemical weapons for decades; it has been Damascus’s strategy for offsetting the threat posed by the Israeli nuclear program. As a result, Duelfer said, the regime has acquired some extremely sophisticated systems for maintaining its stockpiles — adding chemical stabilizers to its toxic agents, for example, and creating binary munitions that mix the precursors to create a toxic agent after the rocket or mortar has been fired. “[I]f they find little bits of rockets or artillery shells with that degree of sophistication, it will point toward the Syrian military,” Duelfer said.

Meanwhile, if the toxic agent used in Damascus is found not to have included chemical stabilizers and the delivery method is more rudimentary, that may tilt the argument toward the side of Russia and the Assad regime.

Rushing to fire on Syria without knowing for sure who used chemical weapons last week creates a very important question that we should an answer for before launching the first missile: what will the Syrian population (and surrounding Middle-Eastern populations) think of the U.S. if it is discovered the sarin originated from a rebel group?  Are we prepared to deal with that possibility?

This isn’t to say the international community should ignore the situation and nothing should be done.  But we should certainly question whether we are making the right decision considering all the muddiness of the past and if this is the best decision in the long term.

New Twist in Syria: May Have Been Rebels Using Nerve Gas

The United Nations’ team investigating Syria may be on its way to a very different conclusion from the U.S. and Britain on the use of nerve gas in the Syrian Civil War.  Their early evidence is suggesting the rebels are the ones responsible for the use of chemical weapons and not the Assad regime as everyone has assumed to this point.  The results of the investigation will not be released until June 3 but one investigator has “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” the rebels used sarin gas during the fighting.

Who is doing what in Syria?

Since the results are a month away, this makes the next few weeks even more volatile with the push for intervention growing because of the possible use of chemical weapons and the increasing Israeli bombing of Syrian regime targets.  Are the rebels willing to use this type of tactic in an effort to garner sympathy for their cause and essentially trick the West into action?

It could prove effective since politicians in the U.S. and Russia have called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” in the war and, of course, it would not be the first time the United States has been pushed into action through the abuse of propaganda.  The U.S. was infamously fooled by the Nayirah testimony when gearing up for a reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as the claim (made by a member of the Kuwaiti royal family) of Iraqi soldiers taking babies out of incubators and leaving them to die was never substantiated.

The difficult question now is: should the West wait for the results of this investigation nearly a month away to decide whether it intervenes in Syria or take action without conclusive evidence on the use of chemical weapons?  A tremendously strenuous decision awaits the leaders of the West over the next few weeks as they try to solve this crisis as they see fit.