Tag Archives: Syria

Who Used Sarin?

In our very recent congressional discussions and our major media, it seems all but settled fact that Assad is the sole party responsible for the use of nerve gas.  The reported facts are disturbingly not as clear.

The UN said in May that initial evidence suggested the Syrian rebels, not Assad, were responsible for the use of sarin.  This was prior to the large death toll of 1500 + from gas that occurred in August.  The UN delegate was careful to say that incontrovertible proof did not exist that the rebels deployed the weapons and also acknowledged that Assad may have used them as well, but, the UN’s initial post-preliminary investigation opinion was that the rebels had used the gas.

The New York Times covered the UN conclusions by reprinting a Reuters news story.  Clearly, “Who used the sarin” is an important issue.  Possibly the most critical issue of the day, as it appears military strikes will be made based on the use of chemical weapons.  I found it odd and perhaps telling that the Times just reprinted a Reuters article instead of devoting at least one unpaid intern to call the UN and get an interview.  They also printed the story on A-9…hardly neon-highlighted.

They have not run any similar articles since that one, that I can find.  No more curiosity about who used the sarin.  In fact, on August 27, 2013, they ran a story called “Crisis in Syria – Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria”.  The story completely leaves out the fact that the UN investigation, the only presumably impartial investigation done, determined that the Rebels appear to have been the one to have used sarin.

How does the NYT leave the issue of “who used the sarin” out of an article about key questions in Syria?  The issue has not been resolved and is critical.

All across the country, In nearly every major paper, the headlines mirror the USA Today’s storyline of September 1, “Kerry Cites Evidence Syria Used Sarin Gas“.  The “new evidence” Syria used sarin consists of “…samples that were provided to the United States and that have now been tested from first responders in East Damascus, and hair samples and blood samples have tested positive for signatures of sarin,” Kerry said on NBC’s Meet the Press.  The evidence sounds like proof sarin was used, but it is certainly not proof of who used it.

The samples relied upon to come to the conclusion in Secretary of State Kerry’s new evidence did not come from the UN.  Rather, the samples we relied upon came from unnamed and unknown “independent sources”.

Groups linked with Syrian rebels (the al-Nusra front) were busted in Turkey very recently, in possession of sarin.  Reuters carried the story, which can be read here.  Try finding this story in our major media.  Why is the fact that rebels have been busted with sarin recently not being written about?  It strikes me as highly relevant at a minimum.  I can not find any American major media carrying this Reuters article.  Amazingly, just yesterday, Secretary Kerry, while being questioned by the Senate committee and discussing “boots on the ground”, stated

In the event that Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else, and it was clearly in the interests of our allies, all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction [falling into their hands],” Kerry said, “I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to be available to the president.  [My emphasis]

Well..we KNOW that the al-Nusra Front very recently had chemical weapons because of the remarkably under-reported Reuters story linked above relating how the group was caught with sarin.

As I finished typing this article, I just came across a CBS story that addresses some of the points seen here.  I am happy to see I am not a complete nut or at least, maybe a nut in good company.  Some of the issues herein were highlighted for me by a provocative video on a wonderful blog, High-Grade Discourse.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already approved action by a 10-7 vote.  The Senate gave a much more limited authorization of force than was requested, installing a temporal limit of 60 + possible 30 more days.  Obama requested a temporally unlimited use of force.  The Senate committee authorization of force does not, critically, appear to limit the use of force to Syria, geographically.  Although we are being told as a nation that the strikes would be of a scope only to send a signal against the use of chemical weapons, the actual resolution put forward tonight by the Senate panel states “…it is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria”.  Watch the mission creep and creep and creep.

I am personally against intervention for many reasons, but whatever your stance, the issue of who used sarin is a critical fact to our world leaders, and it has not been established.  We should speak out and demand more facts before the country is sucked into a black hole in Syria and beyond.

Low Hanging but Forbidden Fruit

Bernard Picart (1673-1733)-‘Tantalus’

The carnage in Syria is awful to watch.  In the name of “fighting terrorism”, Assad seems perfectly happy to slaughter his citizens to hold onto control.  Now he appears to have gassed about 1,500 people, crossing a publicly painted line President Obama laid down.


American military intervention, without a UN Security Council resolution, is illegal.  The term we coined after World War II for illegal, military, state-to-state aggression is “war crime”.

This inconvenient fact is barely worth discussion in our mainstream media.  Miles and miles of column inches have been devoted to Miley Cyrus’ twerking, but you hardly ever read that US military involvement in Syria would be a war crime.  Does that matter anymore?

Does it matter if what we want to do is a war crime?

One of the first discussions of this issue I saw was in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.  David Kaye wrote “The Legal Consequences of Illegal Wars“.  The article is far from an in-depth discussion, but it does at least plainly state that military action in Syria, without claims of self-defense and without a UN Security Council ruling, is illegal.  You could watch network news all night without hearing a mention of this issue.  Noam Chomsky (who should wear a superman’s suit & cape as far as I am concerned) came out today calling any US military intervention in Syria a war crime, but you can only find this quoted on Huffington Post.

During President Obama’s speech Saturday night (full transcript and recording are at the link), he handled the issue of the legality of any military strike in Syria by completely ignoring it.  Rather, he simply stated “I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”

“Paralyzed” in this instance means not doing what Obama told us, just Saturday, that he wants to do.  The Council was also apparently “paralyzed” when America funded Saddam Hussein before, during, and after his use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish people.  It is amazing to me that we do not hear more about the fact we funded and supported the last middle eastern leader who gassed his own people.  You can already see the historical white-washing.  Do you think kids will learn from their textbooks in 25 years that America danced with the “Butcher of Baghdad” as we knew he dropped mustard gas on kurdish men, women, and children?

The general lack of international reaction to President Obama’s declaration that America is essentially just not subject to international law has been interesting.  Madeline Albright apparently got the international community accustomed to America’s being beyond the pale of the law when she said of Iraq in 1994, as our UN Ambassador, “We recognize this area [Iraq] as vital to U.S. national interests, and we will behave, with others, multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must.”   

Let’s assume that committing war crimes is not really a speed bump for America anymore.  Can we work with another tool besides our military?  It might seem old-fashioned, but does diplomacy still have a place in the world?  Why are we not heading up talks now with Assad and the various factions of rebel forces?  If we are not the party best suited for that role, and we are probably not, why are we not trying to assemble talks moderated by any mutually suitable nation?  Diplomacy does not tend to kill people, collaterally or otherwise.  Diplomacy is free.  Diplomacy finally has the benefit of not making others want to kill you.  In at least these respects, diplomacy is generally preferable to military action.  Why are we failing to pursue serious diplomacy other than trying to get others to commit militarily with us?

Additionally, why are we not taking lead in easing the truly epic suffering of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt?  The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates the Syrian civil war has caused over 2 million displaced persons and a projected funding gap of about a billion dollars.

Why are we not making headlines world-wide for building temporary but safe mosques, schools, hospitals, tent-cities for refugees?  Would this not be an insanely cheap and effective way to change the violent, islamaphobic face of America?  One F-35 costs around 150 million dollars.  For the price of a handful, we could singlehandedly close the refugee funding gap and change the world for so many hundreds of thousands of refugees.  We could also elevate our world standing in a volatile yet important region of the world.

What would meaningful humanitarian expenditures pay us in goodwill dividends over the next quarter century?  What would yet another military quagmire cost us?

Why isn’t all of this low hanging fruit being gobbled up?