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Critics Find Obama's Syria Charges 'Full of Holes'


September 9, 2013
McClatchy News & Information Clearing House & RT News & Maan News & Fiji Times

The Obama administration's public case for attacking Syria is riddled with inconsistencies and hinges mainly on circumstantial evidence, undermining US efforts to build support at home and abroad for a punitive strike against Bashar Assad's regime. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared 'utter nonsense' the idea that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own people and called on the US to present its "evidence" to the UN Security Council.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/09/02/201027/to-some-us-case-for-syrian-gas.html

To Some, US Case for Syrian Gas
Attack, Strike Has Too Many Holes


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.



Putin to (Nobel Peace Prize Winner) Obama:
'Think About Future Syria Victims'

Information Clearing House

The Russian president has expressed certainty that the strategy for a military intervention in Syria is a direct response to the Syrian government's recent combat successes, coupled with the rebels' retreat from long-held positions.



Putin: US Should Present
Syria Evidence to Security Council

RT News

(August 31, 2013) -- The Russian president has expressed certainty that the strategy for a military intervention in Syria is a contingency measure from outside and a direct response to the Syrian government's recent combat successes, coupled with the rebels' retreat from long-held positions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared 'utter nonsense' the idea that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own people and called on the US to present its supposed evidence to the UN Security Council.

Putin has further called the Western tactic a 'provocation.'

Washington has been basing its proposed strategy of an attack on Syria on the premise that President Bashar Assad's government forces have used chemical agents, while Russia finds the accusations unacceptable and the idea of performing a military strike on the country even more so. Especially as it would constitute a violation of international law, if carried out without the approval of the UN Security Council.

Further to this, Putin told Obama that he should consider what the potential fallout from a military strike would be and to take into consideration the suffering of innocent civilians.

The Russian president has expressed certainty that the strategy for a military intervention in Syria is a contingency measure from outside and a direct response to the Syrian government's recent combat successes, coupled with the rebels' retreat from long-held positions.

Putin Rejects US's Syria
Chemical Use Claim, Demands Proof

Maan News

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday dismissed claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, demanding that the United States provide proof rather than taking rash action.

"Syrian government forces are advancing, while the so-called rebels are in a tight situation, as they are not nearly as equipped as the government," Putin told ITAR-TASS. He then laid it out in plain language:

"What those who sponsor the so-called rebels need to achieve is simple -- they need to help them in their fight... and if this happens, it would be a tragic development," Putin said.

Russia believes that any attack would, firstly, increase the already existing tensions in the country, and derail any effort at ending the war.

"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," said the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, adding that the threats issued by Washington "in the absence of any proof" of chemical weapons use.

On Friday, Washington said a plan for a limited military response was in the works to punish Assad for a "brutal and flagrant" chemical attack that allegedly killed more than 1400 people in the capital Damascus 10 days ago.

The Syrian government has been denying all allegations, calling the accusation preposterous and pointing its own accusations against rebel forces, especially Al-Qaeda-linked extremists who have wreaked havoc on the country in the two years since the start of the civil war.

"Syrian government forces are advancing, while the so-called rebels are in a tight situation, as they are not nearly as equipped as the government," Putin told ITAR-TASS. He then laid it out in plain language:

"What those who sponsor the so-called rebels need to achieve is simple -- they need to help them in their fight..... and if this happens, it would be a tragic development," Putin said.

Russia believes that any attack would, firstly, increase the already existing tensions in the country, and derail any effort at ending the war.

"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," said the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, adding that the threats issued by Washington "in the absence of any proof" of chemical weapons use.

On Friday, Washington said a plan for a limited military response was in the works to punish Assad for a "brutal and flagrant" chemical attack that allegedly killed more than 1400 people in the capital Damascus 10 days ago.

The Syrian government has been denying all allegations, calling the accusation preposterous and pointing its own accusations against rebel forces, especially Al-Qaeda-linked extremists who have wreaked havoc on the country in the two years since the start of the civil war.

Russia Sends Forces
Fiji Times

MOSCOW (August 31, 2013) -- Russia will be sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean "over the next few days" as the West prepares for possible strikes against Syria, the Interfax news agency says.

"The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces," a source in the Russian general staff told Interfax.

"A large anti-submarine ship of the Northern Fleet will join them (the existing naval forces) over the next few days.

"Later it will be joined by the Moskva, a rocket cruiser of the Black Sea Fleet which is now wrapping up its tasks in the northern Atlantic and will soon begin a Transatlantic voyage towards the Strait of Gibraltar."

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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