(Note: Several of the videos in this report are disturbing and should be restricted for viewing by readers under the age of 18.)
"The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
-- Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, 2007.
"What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used [or] who used them."
-- President Barack Obama, April 29, 2013, responding to evidence that chemical weapons had been used by US-backed rebels inside Syria.
While there is convincing evidence that horrendous civilian casualties were sustained in an August 21 incident that devastated Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, there is as yet no clear and conclusive evidence as to what chemicals may have been used or who was ultimately responsible.
According to Human Rights Watch, local activists claimed that 18 missiles were fired from the direction of a military museum in downtown Damascus and from Mezzeh, a military airport. The missiles reportedly hit several neigborhoods in East Ghouta -- Zamalka, Ayn Tarma, Douma, and Moadamiya. However, none of these targeted sites were controlled by opposition forces.
Despite the lack of concrete intelligence, Washington announced plans to take immediate action -- without even awaiting the findings of UN weapons inspectors who had been invited to examine sites where chemical weapons appeared to have been used.
This shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later response raised concerns – and suspicions – worldwide.
Another oddity surfaced in the days following the attack. The White House subsequently claimed it had "overwhelming evidence" of the Syrian government's role in the attack. In fact, senior administration officials revealed, US intelligence claimed to have had evidence of preparations for a missile launch "in the three days prior to the attack." This prompted outraged cries from civilians and militants in Syria. As Razan Zaitouneh, a resident of one of the targeted towns, told London's Daily Mail: "It's unbelievable that [the White House] did nothing to warn people [or] to stop the regime before the crime."
The intelligence report confessed to certain "gaps in our understanding." One of those uncertainties, the Mail reported was "whether the order was executed at a high level within the Syrian military, or if it was carried out by a rogue military officer."
Following the attack on Ghouta, Syria admitted a team of UN experts to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons. On August 28, Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari asked that the UN experts also investigate three alleged chemical attacks staged by opposition forces -- on August 22, 24 and 25 in Jobar, Sahnaya, and al-Bahariya.
It was Syria, by the way, that first called for UN inspections -- after a rebel attack in Allepo on March 19 left nearly 30 civilians and soldiers dead, apparently from the use of chemical weapons.
On the same day that Ambassador Jaafari made his request to UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Inter Press Service reporter Gareth Porter noted: "After initially insisting that Syria give United Nations investigators unimpeded access to the site of an alleged nerve gas attack, the administration of President Barack Obama reversed its position on Sunday and tried unsuccessfully to get the UN to call off its investigation," presumably because the UN's truth-seeking mission was "hindering [Washington's] plans for an attack."
We now know that US Secretary of State John Kerry lobbied behind the scenes to derail the UN inspection of the Ghouta attack and reportedly tried to strong-arm UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, To his credit, the secretary-general refused to bend. The inspections went ahead – but with the understanding that the scientists were to focus only on the chemical evidence: they were to make no attempts to determine who actually used the weapons.
Grounds for War?
The Obama Administration has repeatedly cited the use of chemical weapons as a self-imposed "red line" that would result in a US attack on Syrian forces. But even if the Assad regime did use chemical weapons (a question that remains unresolved), this still would not give the US a unilateral right to attack targets inside Syria. The UN Charter permits the use of force in only two situations: for self-defense in the face of imminent attack and when the Security Council authorizes the use of force to counter a threat to international peace.
(Ironically, international law now grants Bashar al-Assad the legal right to use military force against the threat of an imminent US attack!)
Even if Congress were to grant Obama's Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), it would still be illegal to attack Syria. On September 2, 2013, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored this point by warning that any "punitive" action against Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack would be illegal – unless the US first obtained approval of the UN Security Council.
Under growing public and political pressure, the president agreed to acknowledge the US Constitution and the War Powers Act. On August 31, he announced he would seek Congressional authorization for the use of force. Ironically, this conciliatory maneuver only served to escalate the military threat.
Initially, the White House had suggested the US response would be limited to a single nighttime strike with cruise missiles and a next-day follow-up to obliterate any targets missed in the first raid. On September 4, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution that would give the president the freedom to attack Syrian targets for up to three months. And the goal shifted radically. Instead of "sending a message" about the use of chemical weapons, the goal of the new, extended mission became to render "decisive changes to the present military balance of power."
In other words, the goal is to take sides in a civil war, employing the Pentagon’s military might to topple yet another foreign government. (Many observers believe this was the US intent all along and that the chemical weapons scare was only a convenient pretext for involvement.)
What's wrong with this approach? Imagine a parallel scenario. Two angry men are beating one another bloody in the middle of a street. A police officer shows up. Instead of trying to break up the fight, however, the "peace officer" joins forces with one of the belligerents and starts pummeling the other fighter.
President Obama unfortunately has placed his "credibility" on the line. Having publicly promised to strike Syria, he was wedded to take an action that would be condemned as illegal under international law. His invitation to involve Congress could have offered him a face-saving exit strategy. If Congress failed to approve his request to attack a government that poses no threat to the US, that would allow Obama to step back and acknowledge that he was responding to "the will of the people."
While Obama's credibility as commander-in-chief might be damaged, the reputation of the US would be greatly enhanced. Like the earlier "no" vote in Britain's House of Commons, a similar thumbs-down from US Senators and Representatives would establish – emphatically – that the US is a democracy, not a military dictatorship.
Chillingly, the president has indicated that, should he fail to win congressional support, he is willing – like his predecessor George W. Bush – to "go it alone." As Obama grimly proclaimed on September 4, 2013: "I always preserve the right and responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security" -- as he, and he alone, defines it.
Who Can You Believe?
Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly emphasized the charge that 1,429 civilians (including 426 children) were killed in the August 21 attack. These figures are now accepted without question. British intelligence, however has set the death toll at 350, a figure more in line with the cellphone images of victims' bodies shrouded in plastic and lined up on floors. This is still an atrocity of appalling proportions but, if the British assessment is closer to the truth, Washington could find itself accused of trying to "oversell" the tragedy. In any event, it’s a sobering reminder that we still don’t have "all the facts."
But Kerry is only one of the administration's team of "salesmen" assigned to win public support for an illegal, unilateral US attack. Also onboard is National Director of Intelligence (NDI) James Clapper. One problem: Clapper is a notorious liar.
When Sen. Ron Wyden recently asked the NID chief: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper replied under oath: "No, sir … not wittingly." When leaks by fugitive security contractor Edward Snowden revealed Clapper had dissembled – wittingly -- the intelligence chief's defense was that he had responded in the "least untruthful manner."
Instead of being placed before microphones, the intelligence chief should have been placed behind bars. In short: Clapper should be in the clapper. If this is the kind of guy knocking on your door to sell you a subscription to "The New American Century," it's time to slam the door and burn the "welcome" mat.
Were Chemical Weapons Used in Damascus?
Disturbing cellphone images provide abundant evidence suggesting that some kind of chemical attack occurred in Ghouta. If UN inspectors turn up hard physical evidence (in the form of shell fragments or chemical clues) that could confirm the use of sarin nerve gas and the chemical characteristics of the weapon could potentially help identify the perpetrators.
Sarin is a cholinesterase inhibitor. It causes muscles to contract and can lead to asphyxiation. Even without testing of hair and tissue samples, there was early evidence that sarin may have been present in some of the gassing attacks. Doctors without Borders treated many victims with atropine, a known antidote to sarin poisoning, and most who were treated in a timely fashion recovered.
However, not all the gruesome deaths memorialized on YouTube may have resulted from sarin or other sophisticated weapons likely to be found in the arsenals of the Syrian government. The production of simple – but deadly -- chemical weapons is well within the reach of the average urban guerilla.
An explosive release of chlorine gas can produce the kinds of convulsions and blistered skin captured on camera phones. Sarin and other nerve agents do not blister the skin. Blister agents (aka vesicants) are among the most common CW agents. Mustard gas, lewisite and phosgene (CX) are the best known.
US-backed Rebels Have Used Chemical Weapons
Previous deadly attacks involving chemical weapons have been traced to the rebel forces. One rebel attack on in Allepo on March 19, 2013 killed 30 Syrian soldiers and civilians. The incident prompted the Syrian government to call for a UN investigation.
A report on the Allepo attack from a blogger who goes by the name "Syrian Girl," provides a detailed account of the deaths and immediate aftermath. The reporter noted that survivors complained of the smell of chlorine gas. Inhaling chlorine gas can flood the lungs with fluids, leading to asphyxiation – as well as "frothing at the mouth," which was reported at the site of the Damascus gassing. Syrian Girl pointed out that doctors and bystanders were not wearing protective gear, which suggested that nerve agents were not involved. "Syrian Girl" cited a CBS report in which a chemical weapons expert insisted the video evidence did not show the symptoms typically associated with the use of sarin or mustard gas.
Here is the report from Syrian Girl:
UN Investigator Faults 'The Rebels, Not the Government'
After investigating alleged use of sarin and other chemical weapons in Homs in December 2012 and in Allepo in March 2013, Carla Del Ponte, head of the UN's Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, concluded: "This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."
In May of this year, a separate, independent UN investigation concluded that rebel forces were responsible for a series of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including the use of sarin nerve gas. The report was carried on CCTV, China's English-language newscast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs86RJR3ZUk) but was not picked up by any mainstream news programs in the US. Here is the CCTV report:
Killers of Bunnies: The Opposition's 'Chemical Battalion'
The anti-Assad forces have been accused of murdering civilians and executing captured soldiers. And then there was the video of "Abu Sekar," a "US-backed militant" who made a show out of eating the heart of one of his victims.
On December 5, 2012, a video attributed to the opposition forces was posted on YouTube (see below). The video purported to show how a rebel contingent had learned to mix chemical agents to create a deadly home-brew. In the video, a masked rebel demonstrates the gas' lethal effect on two unlucky rabbits.
In the unverified video, the masked rebel points to the bodies of the convulsing rabbits and proclaims: "Enemies of Allah will die like rabbits. Your destiny will be like theirs because you are supporters of Bassah al Assad. God is great…. We are from the AR-Reeh Al-sarsar Chemical Battalion [the Destructive Wind Chemical Battalion]…. We shall kill you all with our chemical weapons." The containers of chemicals in the video appear to have come from Tekkim, a company in Turkey. Here is the video (Viewer discretion advised):
On August 24, Reuters reported on the discovery of a trove of chemical weapons ostensibly linked to rebel forces. A video broadcast on Syrian State TV, showed the alleged contents of a rebel tunnel. In addition to piles of gas masks and shells, there were boxes and crates of chemical materials -- including containers bearing the signature: KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Here's is the rough footage, as recorded by reporters on the scene:
Behind the Ghouta Massacre: An Accidental Release of Saudi Chemicals?
Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak published some eyewitness accounts of the attack in Ghouta: "From numerous interviews with doctors, Gouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the (deadly) gas attack," Gavlak reported. But Galvak’s most surprising disclosure came when Syrian militants in the Ghouta admitted that they were responsible for the August 21 incident but, they insisted, the civilian deaths resulted from an accident. The rebels claimed they had received weapons nitially intended for use by the US-backed al-Nusra Front. Rebels told Gavlak that they were not told what the weapons were and, lacking training, they mishandled the material and accidentally detonated some of the weapons. (http://www.mintpressnews.com/witnesses-of-gas-attack-say-saudis-supplied-rebels-with-chemical-weapons/168135/)
Cui Bono? Who Benefits from a ChemWar Incident?
The Assad regime insists it has not used chemical weapons and the US has, to date, offered no indisputable, airtight evidence that it has. Instead, Washington focussed narrowly on the question whether there is evidence that sarin nerve gas was deployed.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out during a long press conference on September 2, Bashar Hafez al-Assad (whose forces continue to dominate the rebels) had no strategic or political reason to resort to chemical weapons. Assad clearly understands that a resort to the use of chemical weapons would cross Obama's "red line" and give the US its long-sought pretext for a military strike. As Putin observed, "It makes no sense."
Raining bombs on a foreign government to make it bend to the dictates of Washington is a brutal practice with a history of failure. So, if the goal of a US military strike is not to deter "future gas attacks," what is the purpose? Washington has not leveled with the US public. The "red line" and the chemical weapons scare are merely a pretext for an attack that is intended to weaken Assad militarily.
The US has invested heavily to support, train and arm members of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Front. (The campaign is modeled after the "Contra" war waged against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The model was also adopted by the CIA when it helped arm Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's rebel war against the Russian army of occupation in Afghanistan.)
Despite this covert aid and a bloody two-year fight that has caused the deaths of as many as 110,000 civilians and driven three million people from their homes, the rebel forces have been losing ground to Assad's onslaught. But there's more at stake here than the US simply trying to justify its investment in the losing side of a civil war. Several US administrations – Republican and Democrat – have been wedded to a geopolitical game-plan that requires the destruction of the Syrian government.
Gen. Wesley Clark (US Army, ret.) is one of those who has warned that the recent history of US attacks in the Middle East are manifestations of this long-established master-plan.
During a visit to the Pentagon several weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Clark recalled how he was pulled aside by a top-ranking official who confided: "I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense's office today. This is a memo that describes how we are going to take out 7 countries in 5 years…. Starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon. Then Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Then finishing off Iran." Here's a clip of Clark’s remarks:
What Could Go Wrong?
Col. Ann Wright (US Army, ret.) is a 29-year US Army/Army Reserves veteran and a former US diplomat. Wright resigned her diplomatic post in March 2003 to oppose George W. Bush's pending, illegal war on Iraq. Wright recently offered some seasoned advice on why attacking foreign nations is not a productive foreign policy.
"At this time of crisis," She writes, "it is worth remembering another time, 30 years ago in October 1983, when US warships bombarded Lebanon, the country located next to Syria. Within weeks, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by a massive truck bomb that killed 241 American servicemen: 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. Two minutes later, a second suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into the French military compound in Beirut killing 58 French paratroopers.
"As US warships gather off the shores of Lebanon to launch Tomahawk Cruise missiles at targets in Syria, we can make some educated guesses of what the 'unintended consequences' could be."
Here are several 'likely outcomes' that could follow a US attack:
• Syrian anti-aircraft batteries will fire their rockets at incoming US missiles. This would invite a Syrian counterattack on the US flotilla in the Gulf. If any US planes penetrated Syrian airspace and were shot down, this would clearly result in calls for US military escalation against Syria.
• Many Syrians on the ground will die (especially if US bombs trigger the release of dangerous chemical gases over populated areas). Both the US and Syrian governments will blame one another for the deaths.
• The US Embassy in Damascus will be attacked and burned. Many other US Embassies and businesses across the Middle East will suffer a similar fate.
• Syria might also launch rockets toward Washington's staunchest ally in the region – nuclear-armed Israel.
• Israel would launch bombing missions on Syria -- as it has three times in the past two years -- and perhaps take the opportunity to launch an attack on Syria's strongest ally in the region -- Iran.
• Iran is a country with a population of 80 million. It has the largest military in the region – a force untouched by war in the past 25 years. Iran might retaliate with missiles aimed at Israel and US military bases in Afghanistan, Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar.
• Iran could block the Straits of Hormuz and impede the transport of oil out of the Persian Gulf.
• Russia, which has a naval maintenance facility in Syria, has stationed 16 warships in the Mediterranean Sea.
After initially assuring the public that chemical weapons sites would not be targeted because of the inherent danger of triggering releases of deadly chemicals, the Pentagon is once again laying out a plan-of-attack designed to "take out" the regime's chemical weapons assets.
And, Finally: The "False Flag" Email Washington Will Not Discuss
In December 2012, a hacker in Malaysia intercepted an email exchange between David Goulding and Philip Doughty, two officials of Britam Defense, a British-based contractor. The contents of the email exchange were published in a story in the London Daily Mail on January 29, 2013.
The Daily Mail reported: "Leaked emails have allegedly proved that the White House gave the green light to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on Assad's regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country."
The reputed email, dated December 25, 2012, read:
We've got a new offer. It's about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.
'We'll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have. 'They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.
'Frankly, I don't think it's a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?
In a rather strange development, this story was quickly "scrubbed" from the Daily Mail website without explanation. Officials at Britam Defense and in Washington have reportedly refused to answer questions about this memo or the censored Mail report. A few archived copies of the original article can still be found on the Web – but proceed with caution (see below).
Have I Been Hacked?
On August 24, I attempted to locate and download a copy of the Daily Mail's blacklisted news report that spelled out a secret "US-backed" plan to stage a "false-flag" chemical weapons attack that could be blamed on the Assad government.
I tried to link to several archived versions of the story that turned up during an Internet search but none would open (the sites appeared to be blocked). On my final try, I hit a live link that lead to a posting of the censored news report.
I downloaded it and formatted it for posting on the Environmentalists Against War website (wwwlenvirosagainstwar.org). And then something strange happened.
I heard the sound of several loud keyboard clicks (about five) coming from my laptop. But my fingers were not on the keyboard.
After an initial start, I shrugged this off and resumed my work. Maybe my ears were playing tricks on me. A short time later, however, I was startled when the sound of the keystrokes again returned to my laptop – once again my fingers were nowhere near the keys. A chill ran down my spine: I was spooked.
Since I had finished my posting, I quickly disconnected from the Internet and shut off the laptop. (Do any readers have any knowledge of or experience with this kind of activity?)
The next day (August 25, 2013), I attempted to log on to one of my regularly visited sites (the homepage of the San Francisco Chronicle). Instead, I got the following alert (along with some boilerplate advice):
This Connection Is Untrusted You have asked Firefox to connect securely to www.sfgate.com, but we can't confirm that your connection is secure.
Normally, when you try to connect securely, sites will present trusted identification to prove that you are going to the right place. However, this site's identity can't be verified.
What Should I Do?
If you usually connect to this site without problems, this error could mean that someone is trying to impersonate the site, and you shouldn't continue.
[Get me out of here!]
I Understand the Risks
Gar Smith, an award-winning, Berkeley-based investigative reporter, is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of
Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green, 2012).