Top 10 Unproven Claims for War Against Syria
September 6, 2013
Dennis Kucinich / Reader Supported News & Senator Dianne Feinstein & McClatchy News
In the lead-up to the Iraq War, Rep. Dennis Kucinich researched and circulated a document to members of Congress that refuted President Bush's claim for a cause for war. The document detailed how there was no proof Iraq was connected to 9/11 or tied to al Qaeda's role in 9/11, that Iraq had WMDs or was it a threat to the US. Once again, a US president appears to be engaged in a campaign to "mislead the nation into war."
Top 10 Unproven Claims for War Against Syria
Dennis Kucinich / Reader Supported News
(September 5, 2013) -- In the lead-up to the Iraq War, I researched, wrote and circulated a document to members of Congress which explored unanswered questions and refuted President Bush's claim for a cause for war. The document detailed how there was no proof Iraq was connected to 9/11 or tied to al Qaeda's role in 9/11, that Iraq neither had WMDs nor was it a threat to the US, lacking intention and capability to attack. Unfortunately, not enough members of Congress performed due diligence before they approved the war.
Here are some key questions that President Obama has yet to answer in the call for congressional approval for war against Syria. This article is a call for independent thinking and congressional oversight, which rises above partisan considerations.
The questions the Obama administration needs to answer before Congress can even consider voting on Syria:
Claim #1. The administration claims a chemical weapon was used.
The UN inspectors are still completing their independent evaluation.
Who provided the physiological samples of sarin gas on which your evaluation is based? Were any other non-weaponized chemical agents discovered or sampled?
Who from the United States was responsible for the chain of custody?
Where was the laboratory analysis conducted?
Were US officials present during the analysis of the samples? Does your sample show military grade or lower grade sarin gas?
Can you verify that your sample matches the exact composition of the alleged Syrian government composition?
Further reading: Brown Moses blog; McClatchy News report; Global Research report.
Claim #2: The administration claims the opposition has not used chemical weapons.
Are you speaking of a specific group, or all groups working in Syria to overthrow President Assad and his government?
Has your administration independently and categorically dismissed the reports of rebel use of chemical weapons which have come from such disparate sources as Russia, the United Nations, and the Turkish state newspaper?
Have you investigated the rumors that the Saudis may have supplied the rebels with chemicals that could be weaponized?
Has the administration considered the ramifications of inadvertently supporting al Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels?
Was any intelligence received in the last year by the US government indicating that sarin gas was brought into Syria by rebel factions, with or without the help of a foreign government or intelligence agents?
Further reading: Global Research report; Wall Street Journal article; Reuters story; Zaman story (in Turkish -- see Google translate from Turkish to English); Atlantic Sentinel story; AP story.
Claim #3: The administration claims chemical weapons were used because the regime's conventional weapons were insufficient.
Who is responsible for the conjecture that the reason chemical weapons were used against the Damascus suburbs is that Assad's conventional weapons were insufficient to secure "large portions of Damascus"?
Claim #4: The administration claims to have intelligence relating to the mixing of chemical weapons by regime elements.
Who saw the chemical weapons being mixed from August 18th on?
Was any warning afforded to the Syria opposition and if not, why not?
If, on August 21st a "regime element" was preparing for a chemical weapons attack, has an assessment been made which could definitively determine whether such preparation (using gas masks) was for purpose of defense, and not offense?
Claim #5: The administration claims intelligence that Assad's brother ordered the attack.
What is the type of and source of intelligence which alleges that Assad's brother personally ordered the attack?
Who made the determination that Assad's brother ordered the attack, based on which intelligence, from what source?
Claim #6: The administration claims poison gas was released in a rocket attack.
Who was tracking the rocket and the artillery attack which preceded the poison gas release?
Did these events occur simultaneously or consecutively?
Could these events, the rocket launches and the release of poison gas, have been conflated?
Based upon the evidence, is it possible that a rocket attack by the Syrian government was aimed at rebels stationed among civilians and a chemical weapons attack was launched by rebels against the civilian population an hour and a half later?
Is it possible that chemical weapons were released by the rebels -- unintentionally?
Explain the 90-minute time interval between the rocket launch and chemical weapon attacks.
Has forensic evidence been gathered at the scene of the attack which would confirm the use of rockets to deliver the gas?
If there was a rocket launch would you supply evidence of wounds from the rockets impact and explosion?
What is the source of the government's analysis?
If the rockets were being tracked via "geospatial intelligence," what were the geospatial coordinates of the launching sites and termination locations?
Claim #7: The administration claims 1,429 people died in the attack.
Secretary Kerry claimed 1,429 deaths, including 426 children. From whom did that number first originate?
Claim #8: The administration has made repeated references to videos and photos of the attack as a basis for military action against Syria.
When and where were the videos taken of the aftermath of the poison gas attack?
Claim #9: The administration claims a key intercept proves the Assad regime's complicity in the chemical weapons attack.
Will you release the original transcripts in the language in which it was recorded as well as the translations relied upon to determine the nature of the conversation allegedly intercepted?
What is the source of this transcript? What was the exact time of the intercept? Was it a US intercept or supplied from a non-US source?
Have you determined the transcripts' authenticity? Have you considered that the transcripts could have been doctored or fake?
Was the "senior official," whose communications were intercepted, a member of Assad's government?
How was he "familiar" with the offensive? Through a surprised acknowledgement that such an attack had taken place? Or through actual coordination of said attack? Release the transcripts!
Was he an intelligence asset of the US, or our allies? In what manner had he "confirmed" chemical weapons were used by the regime?
Who made the assessment that his intercepted communications were a confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by the regime on August 21st?
What is the source of information that the Syrian chemical weapons personnel were "directed to cease operations"?
Is this the same source who witnessed regime officials mixing the chemicals?
Does the transcript indicate whether the operations they were "directed to cease" were related to ceasing conventional or chemical attacks?
Will you release the transcripts and identify sources of this claim?
Do you have transcripts, eyewitness accounts or electronic intercepts of communications between Syrian commanders or other regime officials which link the CW attack directly to President Assad?
Who are the intelligence officials who made the assessment -- are they US intelligence officials or did the initial analysis come from a non-US source?
Claim #10: The administration claims that sustained shelling occurred after the chemical weapons attack in order to cover up the traces of the attack.
Please release all intelligence and military assessments as to the reason for the sustained shelling, which is reported to have occurred after the chemical weapons attack.
Who made the determination that was this intended to cover up a chemical weapon attack? Or was it to counterattack those who released chemicals?
How does shelling make the residue of sarin gas disappear?
The American people have a right to a full release and vetting of all facts before their elected representatives are asked to make a decision of great consequence for America, Syria and the world. Congress must be provided answers prior to the vote, in open hearings, not in closed sessions where information can be manipulated in the service of war. We've been there before. It's called Iraq.
'In My View, the Intelligence Is Clear…."
Hon. Dianne Feinstein / US Senate
Dear Environmentalists Against War:
(September 5, 2013) -- Thank you for contacting me regarding the possibility of US military action in Syria. I appreciate the time you took to write, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.
As the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have convened several hearings to carefully review the intelligence with respect to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. In my view, the intelligence on this attack is very precise and very clear. It points directly to the Assad government.
According to US intelligence, this most recent attack killed 1,429 people, including 426 children. I have reviewed video of these heinous attacks, and to see row after row of young children, some in their pajamas, gassed to death is a shock to the conscience and demands action.
The use of chemical weapons is absolutely prohibited by international law. If the United States takes no action, it will send a signal to the rest of the world that the use of chemical weapons will be countenanced. I will vote to support a defined and limited military action, because the conscience of the world demands a response when chemical weapons are used against civilians.
While I believe an international response is necessary, I continue to support diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Syria. Assad has killed more than 100,000 of his own people. More than five million Syrians have been internally displaced, and more than two million have fled the country in deep fear. The international community must join together to secure a negotiated peace for the Syrian people.
Please be assured that I am being as careful as I possibly can about the authorization of military force, and I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate discusses US policy towards Syria.
Once again, thank you for writing, and I hope that you will continue to keep me informed about issues of importance to you. Should you have any further comments or questions, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841, or visit my website at www.feinstein.senate.gov. Best regards.
United States Senator
To Some, US Case for Syrian Gas
Attack, Strike Has Too Many Holes
Hannah Allam and Mark Seibel / McClatchy News
WASHINGTON (September 2, 2013) -- The Obama administration's public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining US efforts this week to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad's regime.
The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.
After the false weapons claims preceding the US-led invasion of Iraq, the threshold for evidence to support intervention is exceedingly high. And while there's little dispute that a chemical agent was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside of Damascus -- and probably on a smaller scale before that -- there are calls from many quarters for independent, scientific evidence to support the US narrative that the Assad regime used sarin gas in an operation that killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
Some of the US points in question:
The Obama administration dismissed the value of a UN inspection team's work by saying that the investigators arrived too late for the findings to be credible and wouldn't provide any information the United State didn't already have.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq countered that it was "rare" for such an investigation to begin within such a short time and said that "the passage of such few days does not affect the opportunities to collect valuable samples," according to the UN's website. For example, Haq added, sarin can be detected in biomedical samples for months after its use.
The US claims that sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack, citing a positive test on first responders' hair and blood – samples "that were provided to the United States," Kerry said on television Sunday without elaboration on the collection methods.
Experts say the evidence deteriorates over time, but that it's simply untrue that there wouldn't be any value in an investigation five days after an alleged attack. As a New York Times report noted, two human rights groups dispatched a forensics team to northern Iraq in 1992 and found trace evidence of sarin as well as mustard gas – four years after a chemical attack.
The US assertion also was disputed in an intelligence summary the British government made public last week. "There is no immediate time limit over which environmental or physiological samples would have degraded beyond usefulness," according to the report, which was distributed to Parliament ahead of its vote not to permit Britain to participate in any strike.
Another point of dispute is the death toll from the alleged attacks on Aug. 21. Neither Kerry's remarks nor the unclassified version of the US intelligence he referenced explained how the US reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children. The only attribution was "a preliminary government assessment."
Anthony Cordesman, a former senior defense official who's now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, took aim at the death toll discrepancies in an essay published Sunday.
He criticized Kerry as being "sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number" of 1,429, and noted that the number didn't agree with either the British assessment of "at least 350 fatalities" or other Syrian opposition sources, namely the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has confirmed 502 dead, including about 100 children and "tens" of rebel fighters, and has demanded that Kerry provide the names of the victims included in the US tally.
"President Obama was then forced to round off the number at ‘well over 1,000 people' -- creating a mix of contradictions over the most basic facts," Cordesman wrote. He added that the blunder was reminiscent of "the mistakes the US made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell's speech to the UN on Iraq in 2003."
An unclassified version of a French intelligence report on Syria that was released Monday hardly cleared things up; France confirmed only 281 fatalities, though it more broadly agreed with the United States that the regime had used chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack.
Another eyebrow-raising administration claim was that US intelligence had "collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence" that showed the regime preparing for an attack three days before the event. The US assessment says regime personnel were in an area known to be used to "mix chemical weapons, including sarin," and that regime forces prepared for the Aug. 21 attack by putting on gas masks.
That claim raises two questions: Why didn't the US warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion US officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?
On Dec. 3, 2012, after US officials said they detected Syria mixing ingredients for chemical weapons, President Barack Obama repeated his warning to Assad that the use of such arms would be an unacceptable breach of the red line he'd imposed that summer. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chimed in, and the United Nations withdrew all nonessential staff from Syria.
Last month's suspicious activity, however, wasn't raised publicly until after the deadly attack. And Syrian opposition figures say the rebels weren't warned in advance in order to protect civilians in the area.
"When I read the administration's memo, it was very compelling, but they knew three days before the attack and never alerted anyone in the area," said Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian opposition activist who runs the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "Everyone was watching this evidence but didn't take any action?"
Among chemical weapons experts and other analysts who've closely studied the Syrian battlefield, the main reservation about the US claims is that there's no understanding of the methodology behind the intelligence-gathering.
They say that the evidence presented points to the use of some type of chemical agent, but say that there are still questions as to how the evidence was collected, the integrity of the chain of custody of such samples, and which laboratories were involved.
Eliot Higgins, a British chronicler of the Syrian civil war who writes the Brown Moses blog, a widely cited repository of information on the weapons observed on the Syrian battlefield, wrote a detailed post Monday listing photographs and videos that would seem to support US claims that the Assad regime has possession of munitions that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. But he wouldn't make the leap.
On the blog, Higgins asked: "How do we know these are chemical weapons? That's the thing, we don't. As I've said all along, these are munitions linked to alleged chemical attacks, not chemical munitions used in chemical attacks. It's ultimately up to the UN to confirm if chemical weapons were used."
Holes in the case already have allowed Russia to dismiss the US evidence as "inconclusive," with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying in a speech Monday that Moscow was shown "some sketches, but there was nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates, or details ... and no proof the test was done by professionals," according to the state-backed RT news agency.
"When we ask for further clarification, we receive the following response: ‘you are aware that this is classified information, therefore we cannot show it to you,'" Lavrov said. "So there are still no facts."
Lavrov's remarks signaled that Russia, one of the last Assad allies, was nowhere near being convinced enough stop its repeated blocking of UN Security Council resolutions targeting the regime.
But there's also skepticism among US-friendly nations, such as Jordan, which declined to endorse action until it studies the findings of a UN chemical weapons investigation, and the United Kingdom, where Parliament voted against intervention even before the US released an intelligence assessment that contradicted one released a day before by British authorities.
It's unclear how much a factor the evidence was in Parliament's decisions; there's also a high degree of wariness of any US-led intervention after the Iraq experience.
The US did get a boost Monday from the commander of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who told a news conference he'd seen "concrete information" that convinced him of the Assad regime's responsibility for an apparent chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in August.
Rasmussen said it would send a "dangerous signal to dictators" if the world didn't respond, but he left it up to NATO nations to decide their own responses and didn't advocate action beyond protecting member state Turkey, which borders Syria.
US allies across the Arab world and Europe have said they prefer delaying any potential military strikes until after the UN inspection team releases its findings. The UN mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons were used, but not to assign culpability. UN officials have said they're trying to expedite the inspection team's work while protecting the integrity of the process.
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