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Doubts About Who Is Using Chemical Weapons in Syria

1-Chemical-weapons-Syria-Mirror-headline

The Obama administration and allies claim, with near certainty, that Bashar al-Assad has used lethal gas on his population.  But no credible evidence has emerged to confirm this. Conversely, as the West pushes for approval to bomb the Assad regime, some evidence suggests it may instead be the rebels who are using chemical weapons against other rebels—an extension of ongoing ethnic/religious battles being fought with what one UN inspector characterized as “almost medieval savagery.”

Perhaps both regime and rebels are using chemical weapons. Whatever the reality, these uncertainties must be carefully studied, right now, as the world edges to the verge of war.

Here is WhoWhatWhy’s roundup on the topic.

The Gavlak Report

A recent report says rebel fighters told a journalist inside Syria that in fact it was they who released sarin gas—and notes that some claimed the nerve agent was supplied by Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan. Saudi Arabia, a longtime enemy of the Assad regime and a leading partner in US Middle East activities regarding not just Syria, but also Libya and Iran, has been active as a supporter of and sometimes surrogate for the West.

The report, which appeared on an independent Minnesota-based website, and was co-authored by Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelance reporter operating on the ground near the gas attacks, and Dale Gavlak, a veteran Middle East stringer  for the Associated Press, whose work has also appeared on NPR and the BBC, cannot be easily dismissed.  It has circulated widely within alternative media circles but is unreported by more influential media in the United States.

Ababneh, who is pursuing a Masters degree in journalism, talked to numerous Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters in the Ghouta area, where the August 21 gas attack occurred.  According to the Gavlak-Ababneh report, rebel FSA fighters took responsibility for releasing sarin, some claiming that the nerve agent was supplied by Bandar.

A Video on Facebook

Another intriguing, if murkier development surfaced on August 24, when a video appeared on Facebook purportedly showing a gas attack via artillery shelling.

A specialized blue canister was carefully affixed to an artillery gun and fired over a wall.  The men in the video, who are not in uniform, do not appear to be Syrian military; they may or may not be rebel fighters.  This video is titled: “Chemical weapons in Syria: Knockout to Jirga Brotherhood criminals P.”  The sketchy description implies that attack was directed at other rebel factions in the nation’s splintered, multi-sided conflict.  The Facebook page on which the video appeared is identified as being run by something calling itself “Minister of blood pressure and diabetes,” according to the Google Translator.  It boasts 287K “Likes,” but should obviously be considered with caution.

United Nations Investigation of April Attack

Another, more credible instance in which rebels, not the Syrian government, allegedly used chemical weapons came on April 25. That attack was investigated by United Nations inspectors.  In an interview with Swiss-Italian television, the Italian Carla del Ponte, a well-known former chief war crimes prosecutor for tribunals on genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said:

During our investigation for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, we collect some witness testimony that made to appear that some chemical weapons were used.  In particular nerving gas, and what appear to our investigation that that was used by the opponents, by the rebels.  And we have no, no indication at all that the government, Syria, authority of the Syria government had used chemical weapons.

Similar statements made by del Ponte were covered in the spring by the New York Times and Reuters, though they do not seem to be receiving attention during the current round of allegations against the Assad regime.  And the evidence pointing at the rebels not the government was played down by the UN commission itself, which, unsurprisingly, given intense pressure from powerful member nations, refused to come to a conclusion as to who was responsible for the April attacks. Without explaining the history of UN hesitancy to go against its most powerful constituents, the Times noted the backpedaling:

…that commission later issued a statement clarifying that it had not reached a conclusion about which side used the gas…”

Russia’s Evidence From a March 19 Attack

Russia, an ally of Syria, has, not surprisingly, challenged the US-led coalition’s efforts to pin gas attacks on Assad. Notwithstanding its own interests, some of the material it has presented appears to deserve attention by the open-minded.

Vitaly I. Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador, asserted in July that rebels had used sarin during still another attack, on March 19. Churkin submitted an 80-page technical analysis, and concluded:

“There is every reason to believe that it was armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal.”

Report From Turkey

Further claims that FSA rebel factions—not the Assad military—are responsible for nerve gas attacks comes from an unverifiable May 30 Russia Today report from Turkey:

“Turkish police have reportedly detained several members of the Al Nusra Front, a Jihadist group that’s fighting among the Syrian rebels against the Assad government.  The men were apparently on their way to the Syrian border transporting a cylinder of Sarin nerve gas.”

Russian sources for the incident are vague: “Turkish media reports.” But no media are mentioned by name.  The rebel fighters reportedly possessed a “2 kilogram” cylinder of the deadly nerve agent.  Twelve of the jihadis were detained, according to that report. The UK’s BBC also covered this arrest story, but only to feature comment from a Turkish official downplaying the report; US media by and large did not cover the story at all.  The British story did acknowledge Turkey’s own central role in the efforts to topple Assad, with this disclaimer:

“The Turkish government has been a key supporter of the Syrian opposition, and has allowed rebels as well as refugees onto its territory.”

Last December, CNN reported that US contractors in Turkey and Jordan were training FSA rebels to handle chemical weapons.

“The United States and some European allies are using defense contractors to train Syrian rebels on how to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria, a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats told CNN Sunday.”

This was presented strictly as defensive, but the very notion of the rebels being familiarized with the weapons itself seems to be relevant to the current, largely one-sided reporting that only Assad’s forces have chemical weapons know-how.

***

News reports frequently state that only the Syrian regime could have access to such weapons. But in fact the countries backing the rebels certainly have it. And in fact weapons shipments have been arriving steadily from Libya, a nation whose chemical weapon stockpiles went missing after the 2011 NATO-assisted overthrow of the government.  As the New York Times reported in June:

“Many of the same people who chased the colonel [Qaddafi of Libya] to his grave are busy shuttling his former arms stockpiles to rebels in Syria. The flow is an important source of weapons for the uprising…”

And The Washington Post reported, back in February of 2011:

“…10 metric tons of mustard sulfate and sarin gas precursor remain stockpiled in barrels at three locations in the Libyan desert south of Tripoli, where Moammar Gaddafi has holed up in a last-ditch fight to keep from being overthrown.  Many experts worry that the barrels are ripe for picking by terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.”

Anonymous Posts Videos

The hacker collective Anonymous posted a series of videos purportedly showing Syrian jihadis testing sarin nerve gas on rabbits, as early as December of 2012.  The manufacturer of the chemical agent is identified as Turkish chemical firm “TEKKIM.”

Kerry Avoids the Real Question

Recent statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry seek to separate the use of nerve gas from the issue of who the guilty parties are.

On August 26, Kerry said:

“And as Ban Ki-moon said last week, the UN investigation will not determine who used these chemical weapons, only whether such weapons were used – a judgment that is already clear to the world.”

The statement, remarkable in itself, does not seem to have drawn media scrutiny. Kerry appeared eager to simply establish that nerve gas was used, while skipping over the importance (before intervening militarily) of establishing with certainty who was committing the atrocities. Heavily one-sided coverage of his statement by the media has already convinced large portions of the population that it is Assad who is using the chemicals. From there, it is a quick leap to accepting the administration’s declarations that it is urgent that it be permitted to begin bombing against Assad’s forces.

Another revealing piece from the Associated Press featured US intelligence officials themselves casting doubt on the perpetrators. This report, too, has somehow not gained full-throated media attention:

“So while Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was “undeniable,” a chemical weapons attack had occurred, and that it was carried out by the Syrian military, U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. That suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report, according to the official who described the report.“

Parallels to the WMD Rationale for Invading Iraq?

The accusation against Bashar al Assad recalls similar charges against Saddam Hussein one decade ago.  The difference is that this time there is no doubt that Weapons of Mass Destruction (sarin nerve gas) have been used. The question remains, by whom?

Recently, Assad invited inspectors in, saying this would establish that it was not his troops using chemical weapons. But as soon as the inspectors arrived, they came under gunfire and withdrew. As with the chemicals themselves, it is not clear who wanted the inspectors to leave.

Do We Want a Confrontation with Russia?

The current debate over who did what obscures a larger issue: an attack on Syria could lead to something much more dangerous and protracted.

Russia has a large stake in the Syrian conflict, with Assad one of its few remaining military allies, as well as an active naval base inside Syria at Tartus on the Mediterranean.  Russia has sold to Syria advanced defensive weapons including S-300 surface to air missiles.  Russia’s president Putin derided the latest chemical weapons claims against Assad as “utter nonsense,” and “nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States.”  Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned that,

“Any unilateral use of force without the authorisation of the UN security council, no matter how ‘limited’ it is, will be a clear violation of international law, will undermine prospects for a political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict in Syria and will lead to a new round of confrontation and new casualties.”

 

 

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  • EmreS

    Turkish reports of the May 2013 al Nusra sarin incident are easy to find. See for example http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/explosives-seized-at-syria-border.aspx?pageID=238&nid=48064

  • sfulmer

    Where are all the fabulous spy satellite images available for the public to see? While being touted as strong evidence, are these images only part of the classified intelligence? It can’t be that satellite images might reveal intelligence sources or methods. Everyone knows they’re up there.

    • Guest

      Generally, everything about spy satellites is classified. The images reveal parameters like resolution, and generally show the enemy what we can and can’t see.

      • sfulmer

        Generally speaking is the problem. Google images have enough resolution to identify chemical weapons, particularly if one of the identifying features being touted as “intelligence” is where the weapons were used.

        And why would “we” care whether or not the “enemy” knew how resolute our images are? That just gives the enemy political cover to subvert our public ability to judge our own intelligence, as I’m doing here.

        Our intelligence is dumb and untrustworthy.

        • Guest

          If the enemy knows what we can and can’t see, then that helps them conceal their activity.

          I spoke generally because I wasn’t sure what was actually released in this case. Apparently, the satellite data wasn’t photos like Google images, but detections or rocket launches, and journalists dumbed it down by calling it “satellite imagery.”

          The Washington Post reported, “The four-page assessment and accompanying map revealed for the first time how communications intercepts and satellite imagery picked up key decisions and actions on the ground.”

          But the actual intelligence assessment says, “Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred… This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also leads us to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.”

          It doesn’t disclose technical details like which satellites were used or what sensors they used, That may be classified, and the data would give it away. Or maybe it was already released, I don’t know. But I know that conspiracy theorists will never be satisfied. They still demand to see Obama’s “real” birth certificate and photos of Osama bin Laden’s body.

        • sfulmer

          Conspiracy theorists come in a wide variety, as has been explored and discussed on this sight to a fair-thee-well. Your apologist response reveals more about you, “Guest”, than conspiracy theorists. After all, “intelligence” has more than a lot of skin in the conspiracy game.

          Who would even care what satellite was taking what picture? If you ask me, which obviously no one here is, flaunting high tech intelligence would greatly enhance prevention. The model of deterrence only works when the potential perpetrator thinks there is a good chance he/she will get caught. I think the evidence is glaring that preventing conflict is not what the Pentagon has in mind. Furthermore, a false-flag motivation makes a lot more sense than the desperate dictator flipping off Western powers in a suicidal move. How stupid are we supposed to be?

          Journalists may be dumbing things down, we know that, and that is a huge problem. However, it is only a problem for the government strategists if public pressure goes against their planning. Therefore, to have a model of semi-informed, if not ill-informed, public helps shape the perception of public opinion. We’ve all seen it before. The war planners control the “debate”.

          Those are our satellites. They are our images. Why rely on the word of people who have lead us astray again, and again, and again? If there is a strong case, it should speak for itself.

          Show us the intelligence! Ha! It would bankrupt an agency’s reason for being.

        • Frank von Winkhorst

          Fare-thee-well. Much as I agree with much of what you say, you really need to buy a dictionary.

        • sfulmer

          Didn’t know they were still in print.

    • http://twitter.com/shekissesfrogs Iguana Keeper

      early on in this war Satellite pics were released by the US but then debunked by MoonofAlabama as not being in the time frame claimed, if I remember correctly. The Administration has learned a wrong lesson, they don’t release anything anymore.
      It’s too bad they can’t focus on honesty for important questions, it might cause the public to support them a little more.

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  • SO

    It’s nice that WhoWhatWhy will freely report on foreign events. Perhaps their differing standards for coverage represent a split between the political powers who dominate us. Both sides seem to agree that it is better to lie to the people about domestic atrocities, but can’t agree on how they should lie to us about US atrocities abroad. Well, hooray. Do we really need our obnoxious presence forced upon every nation of this earth?

    • Anti-Troll

      SO, I’d suggest you stop firing insults here and go somewhere you like better. Otherwise, one gets the impression you are what is called “a troll”. Either that, or just a really grumpy and unhappy person who has too much time on their hands.

      • SO

        Thanks for the suggestion, but you hero seems to work for murderers.

        • Carla

          I propose banning this SO character. He or she is deliberately divisive and ugly.

        • ej3

          Seems like the more popular WWW gets the more trolls show up trying in the most childish ways to discredit this site. They are no better than some creepy neighbor kid who calls people names and runs away, lol.

  • Guest

    “Saudi Arabia, a longtime enemy of the Assad regime and a leading partner in US Middle East activities regarding not just Syria, but also Libya and Iran, has been active as a supporter of and sometimes surrogate for the West.”

    Saudi Arabia also fears the Muslim Brotherhood, and gave the Egyptian military billions of dollars to crush it. And meanwhile they gave Syrian rebels nerve gas?! Is there even evidence that Saudi Arabia has nerve gas? Oh, wait, the whole report is hearsay, which is why “It has circulated widely within alternative media circles but is unreported by more influential media in the United States.” And by “alternative media” we’re talking Infowars, Iran’s PressTV, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, birther Jerome Corsi at WND, Lew Rockwell, and you.

    Meanwhile, French intelligence pins the attack on Assad, some UN officials were more specific and pinned it on Bashar’s brother Maher, and months before the attacks, there were reports that the Syrian regime was mixing chemical agents and putting them into warheads. Mixed sarin has a shelf life of months.
    So readers, here at WhoWhatWhy, you get the story half-off!

    But listen, if the loonies are right and Al Qaeda now possesses sarin, then we’re safe just sitting on our hands, right? No worries.

    • Guest

      Giambrone starts off explaining this will be an article focusing on counterclaims, which is extremely useful considering the lapdog mentality of mainstream media going along with nearly everything the establishment says. The public deserves to hear evidence and come to its own conclusion. Perhaps you’d prefer it if you had your own monopoly on the truth.

  • fred

    is silly question – strategy (in this case the gas-strategy is to gain “pubic support” for war) is set by Policy, which is set by junta (no Barky O). Syria is object of their desire. So is Iran and Russia… So, absent a Policy Change, there will be (is) war. Comrade Col P, however, seems to have a plan for effecting Policy Change. Let us hope for the best – and I honestly have no idea what “best” is.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/themattprather Matt Prather

    Being open-minded, I was curious to see the reported referred to in the “Russia’s Evidence From a March 19 Attack” section.

    Alas:

    Mr. Churkin did not release the Russian analysis, which he said was 80 pages long and buttressed with chemical formulas and graphs. The ambassador said he would be forwarding copies to his American, French, and British counterparts. “I hope they find it persuasive,” he said.

  • StillKillingEm

    I’m just glad to see a well-written alternative to the mainstream reporting on Syria. Don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, trying to find out, reading everything, very worried about the situation.

    • Mainstream

      Evidently, the word “alternative” in alternative media is just code for low standards, same as in alternative medicine and alternative education.

      • lofty1

        Mainstream media is the one with low standards. They have the big budgets to gloss over and disguise the propaganda/BS of their corporate overlords and war profiteers.

        • Mainstream

          Mainstream media does have low standards, especially if you include the likes of Fox News and MSNBC. If anything, there’s too little fact checking, and too much he-said-she-said and false balance between the best available evidence and some maverick’s fringe views for the sake of ratings. But alternative media is nothing but extremely biased fringe views and virtually no journalistic standards.

          Similar situation with medicine. Conventional medicine has its issues with what you might call “disease profiteers,” but alternative medicine has virtually no scientific standards.

        • lofty1

          Do you consider this site to have extremely biased views with no journalistic standards?

        • Mainstream

          Haven’t been here long enough. At least this piece qualifies the evidence, noting that the Russia Today report from Turkey is unverifiable, that Russian sources for the incident are vague, and that the Facebook video “should obviously be considered with caution.”

          But it presents all this weak evidence and leaves out the strong evidence. By the way, now German intelligence blames Assad, citing an intercepted phone call between a Hezbollah official and Iran.

          Again, it’s like alternative medicine, presenting some preliminary in vitro test tube experiment like it’s a breakthrough, while dismissing large clinical trials.

        • lofty1

          What do you consider strong evidence?

      • Mike Beck

        I actually disagree, a lot of “mainstream” artifacts of life have the lowest standards. We are constantly lied to by mainstream media, Medical science really isn’t that scientific, did you know that in India there is actually a gelatin based birth control shot that temporally makes the patient (there’s both male and female shots) sterile for 10-15 years, but once you decide you want to have kids there’s an antidote. Brilliant right? Why’s it not in the US? Because, the pharmaceutical companies would lose billions. Money runs this world. Illuminati cough cough. Nevertheless, you can have your mainstream world if you’d like but you’ll be disappointed in the end. Alternative schools are actually pretty cool. Think about what college is, two years of pointless classes most of which you were either taught in high school, or they won’t even pertain to your life beyond. And the worst mainstream thing of all? Music. Alternative used to be mainstream ya know…Don’t you remember when Nirvana was the biggest band in the world?

        • ej3

          Excellent comment.
          But this “mainstream” is clearly here to act as a troll. He’s not worth your time as he’s not here to actually have a discussion.

      • WordAndReason

        Your opinion is not the same as fact.

        • Mainstream

          For one thing, these pieces of evidence don’t agree with each other. Did the rebels acquire their chemical agents from Saudi intelligence, or steal them from Libya, or mix their own using chemicals from TEKKIM?

          Weigh that against the conclusions of U.S., French, and now German intelligence. Remember that France was skeptical of intelligence about Saddam’s WMD, and stayed out of the Iraq War.

        • WordAndReason

          Of course this presentation has discrepancies. That’s the whole point. Governments are not media.

        • d b

          Mainstream, you are correct. There are numerous reports that various European governments were not convinced about WMDs in Iraq. When the Bush defenders say “the whole world believed the WMDs were there” that is revisionist history.

  • StephanLarose

    You’re leaving out the emails from British military contractors that reveal a U.S. plan to use chem weapons from other countries to stage an incident and provide pretext for Western intervention…

    http://2012thebigpicture.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/cached-copy-of-scrubbed-article-confirming-us-and-uk-backed-chemical-weapons-in-syria/

  • Ed Housman

    We seem to be strutting, uncertainly, into a “little war” where we will “take some sites out” just to show them we mean business – “stop it with the gas and get out of town, you blaggards.”

    No one has mentioned the fact that the those blaggards have weapons (including a few Russian missiles, perhaps) and might use them in retaliation, or preemptively, against our ships, our intel centers, our supply lines, “our” pipelines, or take hostages … remember those hostages?

    We’ll hit them, but not too hard, and they will lie down and be good? Right?

    But what if they sink one of our ships killing hundreds of US military, or mow down a group of contract warriors, or hang a few innocent US citizens, or CIA agents, or a dignitary on travel. Would we take that blow and limp away? Or …

    And how much would that war cost?

    Obama won’t let that happen. He will break a little knowing smile when Congress “stops him.” And he will be the first US president to have the guts to holster the gun and think of a better way.

    • Patricia Victour

      You have way, way more faith in that smirking gunslinger president than I do. I hope you are right, but that hope hangs by a very slender thread considering what a lying bag of horseshit Obama has turned out to be. What happens after Congress votes will tell the tale – and I hope it has a happy ending for all our sakes.

  • SO, the Unbanned…so far

    If the WWW crowd is against this war, I may have to reconsider my opposition. But, probably, this is just a credibility-builder for them. What have they got to lose with 90% of the public being against it?

    • Custer

      God, what a misanthrope. Hopelessly misguided, or worse. And always a nasty “point” to make. Bet he hasnt got a single friend.

      • SOooooo….

        How I envy you! So many friends! Wonderfully guided! Always a nice word! Nothing but sweetness and light! Oh! Oh! I have to go have an orgasm!

  • di is in los angeles

    I wouldn’t put the attack passed the USG, they’ve had their sights on Syria for a long time and they do not want the attack investigated. See some compelling reasons for attacking Syria detailed in these links:

    http://www.alternet.org/economy/larry-summers-and-syria?page=0%2C2&akid=10885.1085969.9IQXTV&rd=1&src=newsletter891901&t=9&paging=off

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines

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  • Macrocompassion

    Where does sarin gas come from? Syria? Sudi Arabia? Surely the techniques needed to produce sarin are more sophisticated than either country can manage, let alone the rebels who still need to master the art of shooting down helicopters. To make sarin you need at leats 3 chemical agents and they must be brought together in very specific quantities and conditions. By bomb or motar shell? so who supplies the specialized bomb or shell? And with all gas warfare what about knowing the wind direction and its likely change?
    What about protective clothing? In temperature exceeding 33 degrees celcius, whose fully suited persperation is so difficult to control as to cause death by de-hydration not only gas? Many of these technical questions make this kind of warfare almost impossible to prevail for long, before its politica lvalue becomes more significant than its killing effect.
    I think that technically the only force in the region who know sufficient to supply the sarin components and the means for its delivery are North Korea to supply Syria, and their army has probably done almost as much harm to itself using the bloody stuff as to their enemy. So both sides can provide evidence and blame the other. Look at the problems of logistics, not politics as to who can be blamed.

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