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Doubts increase over sarin claims

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.

Comments

  1. intergalacticmedium says

    It seemed clear to me that even if substantiated it was on a scale that made it effectively insignificant on the grand scale of the current meat grinder which is the civil war, I wonder if the administrations hand is being forced as it was countries like France which initially made the claim of chemical weapon usage. I don’t see the motive for intervention from the government’s perspective as it is riding against popular opinion and knows it will probably be thoroughly chewed up by the snake pit of present day Syria. Without access to high level military intelligence I am unable to make an informed opinion of how effective intervention could be in saving lives (or destroying them) as it was shown in Libya that it could be helpful sometimes. A true quandary.

  2. sijd says

    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

    You’re thinking of a different US government here. During the last two years the Obama administration has done absolutely everything to stay out of the conflict in Syria, now that the red line seems to be crossed they’re back paddling. The same pattern could be seen during the uprisings in Libya (France and Britain initiated the intervention) and Egypt (Obama didn’t denounce Mubarak until very late in the conflict). Supporting the rebels is seen as risky and contrary to US interest as it destabilizes the region. Dictatorial regimes make much more reliable partners as they keep their people in place and suppress extremists (another good example of this policy is the treatment of Saudi Arabia and Iran)

    It may still be true that sarin was used but the US government clearly has not made its case

    Some 5000 people are being killed in Syria every month. What difference does it make whether they are being gassed, shot or blown to bits ?

  3. sijd says

    Mali would be another example of a recent, successful intervention that did not end in a quagmire

  4. MNb says

    Obama is not the only one to make this claim.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22773268
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/14/syria-sarin-rebels-twice-cameron

    As I am always willing to think the worst of dictators like Assad I am ready to believe he used sarin indeed. As I don’t really trust the rebels either I won’t be surprised to learn they did it too.
    There are precious few good guys here. So I prefer the Macchiavellian approach. What is the western interest? Stability. Will an intervention contribute to stability (note that French intervention in Mali did)? Well, given the cases of Somali, Afghanistan, Iraq and to a lesser extent Lybia I don’t think so.
    There are historical precedences. When a religious war broke out in Germany, 1618, foreign interventions only prolongued the misery. Only intervene when there is a clear party you want to support (like the Mali government) ánd have an exit strategy (like the French in Mali). Otherwise stay out, chemical weapons or not.
    Btw consulting Turkey and Israel sounds sensible to me.
    As American governments typically don’t listen to me I will make another prediction. If the USA intervene Hezbollah and the Iranian ayatollahs will take benefit in the end. Great prospect. I am not a fan of Obama, but I hope he is more sensible than his predecessor.

  5. slc1 says

    I think this is accurate. Obama’s actions during the past 4 years indicate that he is most reluctant to intervene militarily. As a matter of fact, he has been the subject of one derogatory commentary after another from the neocons relative to allowing the British and French to carry the ball in Libya (leading from behind) and his reluctance to get involved in Syria.

    I agree with the commentary that the use of chemical weapons thus far in Syria is small beer. The big news is the intervention of thousands of Hizbollah fighters who have spearheaded the advances of the Assad regime over the past few weeks. Prior to that intervention, it appeared that the rebels were in the ascendancy.

    The intervention of Hizbollah is threatening to turn the local conflict in Syria into a Sunni/Shiite religious war. Evidence is the demand from the Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip that Hizbollah cease its intervention and the actions of the Egyptian Government breaking off diplomatic relations with Syria. This prospect is already destabilizing Lebanon and has led to an upsurge in violence in Iraq.

    Of course, it’s the Government of Iran, led by the mad mullahs, that is behind this entire affair as they are the only one who might benefit from such a war. I find it incredibly naive of supposedly well informed folks like Prof. Singham to pontificate that it’s A OK for Iran to acquire a nuclear capability, just because Israel allegedly has the capability. Imagine a nuclear armed Iran in a Sunni/Shiite war. It boggles the mind.

  6. Mano Singham says

    Can you tell say Iran last engaged in an aggressive attack on another country?

    And since in the past you have called for Israel and the US to use nuclear weapons on Iran, shouldn’t your mind be boggling itself?

  7. slc1 says

    Iran has been engaged in vigorous aggression via subordinates like Hizbollah. It’s intervention in Syria, in the form of weapons and training is the only thing keeping the Assad Regime in power. The mad mullahs are smart about one thing, why commit Iranian troops to a conflict if they can do the same thing using subordinates like Hizbollah? This paid off big time in the last Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which fizzled out and left Hizbollah in a stronger position then before the invasion started. The US and Israel could profitably take a page from the Iranian playbook.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Once again, you are avoiding the question. If you have to bring in alleged surrogates, then it is clear that you cannot name even a single act of aggression committed by Iran against any other country. And yet you casually call for the use of nuclear weapons against it.

  9. slc1 says

    Let me see if I have this straight. If a wholly owned Iranian subsidiary like Hizbollah commits aggression, we shouldn’t hold Iran responsible. Is that really Prof. Singham’s position?

    Let’s try this one on. If I hire a hitman to carry out a hit for me, I am innocent of the crime because I didn’t pull the trigger? My subordinate did.

  10. sailor1031 says

    All I am able to find are unsupported extrapolations by the french government of an original UN report which stated that chemical weapons had almost certainly been used on several occasions and at least once probably by the Assad forces. Sarin was not identified. The UN was asking Assad for permission to send in inspectors to ascertain the facts. OTOH Assad was asking the UN to investigate one particular attack but denying authorization for widescale inspections – basing refusal on the abuse of inspectors’ reports and activities in Iraq prior to the US-led invasion. This single report and french extrapolations are being parrotted again and again and again to justify arming opposition forces in Syria. Given that it is as likely that the opposition have used chemical weapons as that Assad forces have done, the prudent course would be to stay out of it completely. It is difficult in the extreme to see how a victory for anti-Assad forces will be an improvement in any way at all – not in the international situation, not in the lives of the syrian people.

    One might think that if the United States had only humanitarian concerns over the years, it would have taken advantage of its influence as a syrian accomplice over forty years to moderate the treatment of its people by the syrian regime. Rather, the US was happy to use Syria as a destination for victims of “renditions” knowing they would be tortured – probably intending that they be tortured. Oh well…..

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    MNb @ # 3: What is the western interest? Stability.

    That’s only the world’s interest – who cares?

    The “west” (meaning the neocons and Zionists who seem to have greatest sway in the back rooms where decisions get made) remains fixated on punishing Iran for having slipped the Shah-leash ~34 years ago. Since the Damascus regime has loosely allied itself with the Tehran regime, only a bunch of pinko hippie liberal cheese-eating faggosexuals would even consider any course other than grinding millions of Syrian civilians into hamburger for the sake of greater American hegemony realpolitik.

  12. slc1 says

    The US and Israel tacitly supported the Assad regime for 40 years because Assad pere and Assad fils kept it quiet on the Golan Highths front. That was rather blinkered thinking on their part as we are now paying the price via increased Iranian influence in the area.

  13. slc1 says

    Rather more then loosely as, sans the support of Iran, Assad’s kleptocracy would have been history a year ago.

    Oh and by the way, in what way has the position of the population of Iran particularly women, been improved by the Shah’s replacement by the mad mullahs who currently run the place? Butler is just one of the left wing useful idiots that Ms. Namazie refers to in her post on Iran.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2013/06/19/siding-with-the-oppressor-the-pro-islamist-left/

  14. slc1 says

    By the way, IMHO, Obama made a horrendous error in proclaiming the use of chemical weapons a red line, and thus painting himself into a corner. What we see happening is the supporters and opponents of intervention are nattering about whether chemical weapons were used and it so, how many times, instead of discussing whether intervention would do any good, and what types of intervention might be appropriate. I will repeat one more time, there is no evidence that chemical weapons, if used, had the slightest effect on recent regime successes. The successes are due to the intervention of thousands of Hizbollah fighters, who are far more motivated then the regular Syrian armed forces which consist mostly of Sunnis.

  15. bmiller says

    Is the verdict out on this? Is there a stable Malian state?

    We in the west hear only about people “relieved” the Islamic militants are…dispersed, but how much support did they have? From the western media, it is difficult to answer this.

    Libya has certainly not demonstrated convincingly the value of intervention…the Libyan “state” is highly unstable (and unpopular), there are multiple militias imposing Islamic purity, ethnic cleansing, etc. etc. etc. But, most importantly for all concerned, there is no longer a truly independent Libyan bank and the western financial pirates can happily suck the country dry.

    Is it the role of “the West” to intervene in all civil wars? I find election of people like King, or Bachmann, or Gohmert worrisome, with their rhetoric of civil war and Fourth Amendment Solutions. Maybe we should invite European Union troops in to stabilize the situation?

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Fortunately for slc1, I have a busy day lined up, with no time to dissect fools &/or their foolishnesses.

  17. bmiller says

    What about direct American intervention in Iran via terrorist groups like MEK and Baluchistani separatists? If such was occurring on American soil, this would be considered an act of war.

  18. bmiller says

    Of course, slc ignores why the revolution occurred and the role that American support for the Shah’s Savage Savak Slayers (see…we can all play fun alliteration games!) played in said revolution. Said “women and children” probably LOVED seeing their menfolk picked up and tortured by the monarchial police state.

    Given his professed love for the women and children, maybe slc1 should turn his attention more directly to the budding theocracy growing in his favorite colonial settler fortress Apartheid state?

  19. slc1 says

    Maybe you should pay attention to the election results in that state where the theocrats were given the bums rush by the electorate and are no longer in the government. The poor slobs in Iran were given no such opportunity.

  20. bmiller says

    For now. Given the demographic trends…..????

    Besides, the very nature of the Israeli state is based, either directly or indirectly, on religious grounds. Even if said grounds were covered up by the original socialist Zionists. The Colonial Apartheid State nature of Israel was certainly never in question, either in this election.

  21. says

    Sarin is a neurotoxin that kills with a false signature of a heart attack. I heard people on NPR talking about “burns” and “coughing” – which are characteristics of WWI mustard gas (which nobody uses) or riot regurgitants like CS crystals or capsicum. As someone else mentioned, it’s absorbed through the skin, not breathing, so gas masks don’t work – also, it’s harder to deliver – you can’t use a WWI-style gas shell that explodes and releases gas, since you really want to deliver it more like bug spray. The scenarios I heard on NPR – of a rocket warhead releasing Sarin – are bullshit. If someone said that aircraft flew over trailing vapor clouds, that’d be more credible. It seems pretty clear to me that the “victims” are lying, for pretty obvious reasons, and that those lies are also pretty obvious.

    Sarin also has some really unique signatures: it produces hydroflouric acid when it breaks down in the presence of acids. It also etches aluminum. If chemical weapons experts are saying they don’t see traces of Sarin, it means that Sarin was not used. To get an area kill without Sarin leaving characteristic marks is so unlikely as to be practically impossible.

  22. slc1 says

    So is every Muslim state in the world. Apparently that doesn’t bother bmiller in the slightest.

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