I said that I would wait for evidence before believing the Obama administration’s claims last week that the Syrian government had used sarin. Given the US government’s past history of blatantly lying in order to win public support for its warlike intentions, that seems to be the obviously prudent thing to do. And sure enough, Matthew Schofield of the McClatchy news service writes that chemical weapons experts are casting doubts on US claims.
Chemical weapons experts voiced skepticism Friday about U.S. claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used the nerve agent sarin against rebels on at least four occasions this spring, saying that while the use of such a weapon is always possible, they’ve yet to see the telltale signs of a sarin gas attack, despite months of scrutiny.
“It’s not unlike Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark,” said Jean Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons who until recently was a senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies. “It’s not just that we can’t prove a sarin attack, it’s that we’re not seeing what we would expect to see from a sarin attack.”
Only one detailed independent report of a chemical attack has surfaced in that time, however – a lengthy report in the French newspaper Le Monde last month that triggered both French and British letters to the United Nations.
Zanders, however, said that much about that report bears questioning. Photos and a video accompanying the report showed rebel fighters preparing for chemical attacks by wearing gas masks. Sarin is absorbed through the skin, and even small amounts can kill within minutes.
He also expressed skepticism about the article’s description of the lengthy route victims of chemical attacks had to travel to get to treatment, winding through holes in buildings, down streets under heavy fire, before arriving at remote buildings hiding hospitals.
Zanders, who also has headed the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and was director of the Geneva-based BioWeapons Prevention Project, noted that had sarin been the chemical agent in use, the victims would have been dead long before they reached doctors for treatment.
Incidentally, among major US media outlets, McClatchy (then called Knight Ridder) and its reporters Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel were alone in voicing skepticism about the US claims back in 2002 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so they have a good track record. Of course being right counts for nothing which is why many people have never heard of the two. What counts is supporting the warlike establishment. If you do so, it does not matter how many time you are wrong or what suffering is caused by your errors, your opinion will still be sought after.
It may still be true that sarin was used but the US government clearly has not made its case. Whatever the truth of the matter, the US government has achieved what it wanted with its claim of Syrian sarin use, which was to justify its policy of escalating its involvement in the conflict while also deflecting attention away from its NSA embarrassments.
But despite that, public opposition to US military intervention on behalf of the Syrian rebels remains high, suggesting that they are wary of getting involved in yet another war.