Here's a report from July, "FSA chemical lab uncovered near Damascus":
According to AFP, “Specialists in the impact of chemical weapons said the video evidence was not entirely convincing.” The AFP report cites a number of different experts, who give some quite specific reasons for their skepticism:
"At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators," said Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"In a real case, they would also be contaminated and would also be having symptoms."
John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said he had not seen the telltale evidence in the eyes of the victims that would be compelling evidence of chemical weapons use.
"Of the videos that I've seen for the last few hours, none of them show pinpoint pupils… this would indicate exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents," he said.
Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World magazine, which specialises in chemical weapons issues, said the evidence did not suggest that the chemicals used were of the weapons-grade that the Syrian army possesses in its stockpiles.
"We're not seeing reports that doctors and nurses… are becoming fatalities, so that would suggest that the toxicity of it isn't what we would consider military sarin. It may well be that it is a lower-grade," Winfield told AFP.
Chemical and biological weapons researcher Jean Pascal Zanders said…“I’m deliberately not using the term chemical weapons here,” he said, adding that the use of “industrial toxicants” was a more likely explanation.
Wow, none of them are Russian.
Haaretz, not Press TV, reports:
Western experts on chemical warfare…are skeptical that weapons-grade chemical substances were used.
Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps …pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear,” he says, “and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”
Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.”
[Yes, I remember how we held Richard Nixon responsible for the My Lai massacre. Or would that be the government that is now insisting on immunity for George W. Bush, et. al,. for waging a criminal war of aggression on Iraq? No question who said “go” on that, but, according to Eric Holder, these American culprits cannot be prosecuted – not because they aren’t guilty, but because, in committing the “supreme international crime” (also here and here) they were “acting within the legitimate scope of their employment” (also here and here). There’s still hope, though. Just this week, the journal Foreign Policy confirmed, based on “formerly unnoticed documents” and interviews with former intelligence officials, "an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched." What d’ya say, Marie? Let’s put the responsible parties in the dock! Really, how much of this hypocrisy can we stand?]
This is the fruition of the ruthless and ridiculous logic that Obama laid out months ago, as Shamus Cooke pointed out, in an article I cited in a previous post: “No matter who is responsible, the Obama administration plans to hold the Syrian Government responsible for crossing the ‘red line’ of a chemical weapons attack…Susan Rice…’repeated previous American warnings that there would be ‘consequences’ if the Assad government used or failed to secure chemical weapons.’” So even if it the Syrian “rebels” were to use chemical weapons they had stolen from the Syrian government, it’s the Syrian government that the US will hold responsible, “for not securing chemical weapons.” Damned if you don’t.
And here’s a video of a Syrian rebel talking about using sarin. And here’s another of them allegedly firing chemical artillery. Do these videos constitute definitive proof of anything? No. It’s not I who is insisting on launching an American military attacks based on YouTube videos. What kind of fool would do that? I don’t put a lot of store in argument by atrocity video. I know very well that war means plenty of atrocity to go around, and that the Syrian government is no slouch when it comes to viciousness. But if such evidence is going to be in the mix, then you might make sure you see a wide range of it. Don’t miss this (verified) video of the Syrian “rebel” cutting out and eating the heart of a Syrian soldier, and this one, of “rebels” cutting the head off a living man with a knife and executing a couple of women. These are the forces who, it is likely, provoked Obama’s planned military attack on Syria, and who, it is certain, will benefit from it. Dennis Kucinich is not wrong when he says that American airstrikes on Syria would turn the U.S. military into “al Qaeda's air force.”
It’s quite possible that definitive proof of responsibility for last week’s incident will not be available – and that’s OK with me, and should be with every American. The US is rushing to attack Syria, and preempt UN inspectors from doing their job, not because it’s “too late,” but because the US knows very well that, given enough time and support, disinterested inspectors’ findings are not likely to help American claims of certainty.
The issue facing Americans right now is not who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in this vicious civil war. It’s whether there is any reason or justification for a military attack on a sovereign country, an attack that will have only destructive consequences on that country, that will likely lead to devastating effects in the entire region, and maybe even – oh, the real horror – on us peaceful, innocent, naïve Americans ourselves. ‘Cause, you know, when you, in violation of every statute and concept of international law, bomb the crap out of another sovereign country that poses no threat to you at all, that country has the right to strike back.
Similarly, anyone who wants to assert that there is some transcendent right of “humanitarian intervention” – extra-legal, entirely bypassing the framework of international law and institutions, but nonetheless somehow still legitimate – must accept that China and Russia and their friends have as much right to get together and attack, for example, Egypt, to save its people from the “massacre,” as the US and its friends Britain and France have to attack Syria or Libya to save whomever. If there were, on this planet, a “humanitarian interventionism” which accepted that logic, then it might be something other than an equally transparent excuse for American/NATO imperialism. But there is not.
Indeed, anyone with an honest appreciation of the carefully-constructed and delicate post-war architecture of international law and institutions has to acknowledge Jean Bricmont’s point that, “like it or not, the actions of ‘Russia, China and Iran’ in Syria have been in accordance with international law, unlike those of the ‘U.S. and its Gulf allies.’” (And not just in Syria. At this point, through their repeated displays of arrogant disdain for that architecture, the United States and Israel have gone a long way toward demolishing it.)
Of course, there’s also, “Obama Willing to Pursue Solo Syria Strikes.” Perhaps there will be a combination of domestic political pressure that, along with international reluctance, will create an effective pushback against Obama’s momentum towards war. I hope. (Come out for the demonstrations tomorrow.) It’s certainly the case that the American people don’t want this. Depending on the poll and how it’s read, 60%, 85%, 75% (or 91%), cutting across traditional political lines, oppose military intervention in Syria. There have even been some stirrings in congress, with one letter signed by 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats, and another letter from 54 House Democrats, both demanding that Obama seek congressional authorization before a strike against Syria.
Not likely. It’s not that Obama doesn’t “get it.” Short of widespread popular unrest, on issues like this, the will of the people counts for nothing against the exigencies of imperialism and Zionism, as understood by the American political elite. It’s folks who don’t understand that who don’t “get it.” To begin with, there would be no challenging debate in the US Congress like that in the British Parliament. All the congresscritters are looking for – the Democrats certainly – is some contrived display of oh-so-conscientious concern, as a prelude to the inevitable acclamation of patriotic consent. Please, Mr. President, let us approve it for you, and then it’ll be all constitutional and everything. Anyway, Obama is in a hurry. Can’t give people too much time to think about this. As the NYT article makes clear, he is determined to attack Syria as soon as the UN inspection team is wheels-up, whatever Britain, the UN, or Congress do (i.e., again, with fewer willing accomplices, and less credible cover than Bush). A “chemical weapons” incident is a pretext that’s been in preparation for a long time, and can’t be wasted.
Michael Gordon’s NYT article, cited above, implicitly recognizes this, right after explicitly denying it. He cites “military experts” who “say the strikes have to be aimed at the Syrian armed forces, infrastructure and command centers that Mr. Assad sees as critical to his ability to control his country and prevail.” He cites a former naval officer involved in contingency planning, to the effect that “cruise missile attacks could have a major effect on Mr. Assad’s forces if they were concentrated on destroying his warplanes and the airfields he has used to receive arms from Iran.” He also quotes a former Pentagon official, who says, “If deterrence is to be restored, we need to do more than Assad has anticipated and destroy assets he really values.”
If Israel or the US invades a rebellion-weakened Syria, it won’t be to destroy chemical weapons, but to destroy the Syrian army tout court, and eliminate the Syrian state’s ability to provide any significant resistance to future Israeli or American attacks, or any significant material support to other targets, like Iran, Hezbollah, or Palestinian resistance groups. This means destroying tanks, aircraft, anti-aircraft systems, communications systems, missile facilities, weapons stores, production facilities, and – especially if it’s Israel – as big a chunk of the social infrastructure as it can get away with. If the Syrian rebels can’t or won’t thoroughly destroy the military capacity of the Syrian state, and if the Americans (and their Arab and Turkish allies) want to avoid the embarrassing presence of the IDF in the Assad endgame, the US will have to do this dirty work on Israel’s behalf. “Chemical weapons” are nothing but a cover for that….
It is also virtually certain that [any Syrian state resulting from such an intervention] will be weak, divided, utterly dependent on foreign patronage, laid bare to the predations of international capital, incapable of providing any support to Palestinian resistance, and defenseless against the at-will incursions of the Israeli army and air force. It is possible, if the Israelis have their way, that it will devolve into a collection of confessional bantustans. (Too Many Cooks: The Syrian Demise)
[E]verybody knows what’s coming: "’Syria . . . will be an Islamic and Sharia state,’" said [al-Nusra fighter] Khattab, who has little knowledge of Arabic but fought in Afghanistan. ‘We will not accept anything else. Democracy and secularism are completely rejected.’ … [H]e warned anyone who might stand in the way. ‘We will fight them,’ he said, ‘even if they are among the revolutionaries.’” Syria will be a divided, violent, and chaotic country, at war with itself, a danger to everyone, and with a lot of anger directed at Israel and the United States. And that is not a mistake. It is the point. Creating new enemies is the point. Perpetual war is necessary for Israel and for the United States (for different but complementary reasons), and raging jihadi violence will give a veneer of “moral legitimation” to their perpetual warfare. Both countries think they can manage that. And why should they not? They are excellent at blowing stuff up. Who’s going to stop them? Who’s going to force a change of course? American leaders or voters, conservative or liberal? (As Syria Devolves, Israel Rampages)
Throughout this week, a lot of progressive media have been, rightly, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, and Martin Luther King’s renowned “I Have A Dream” speech, and have been considering what’s changed for the better since then and what has not. It would do us well also to remember MLK’s other words, whose enduring truth will, unfortunately – by the country’s first African-American president, unfortunately – be confirmed in a few days: that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”