UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’
Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said. Carla Del Ponte told Swiss TV that there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof”. Ms Del Ponte did not rule out the possibility that government forces might also have used chemical weapons. Later, the commission stressed that it had “not reached conclusive findings” as to their use by any parties.
“As a result, the commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time,” a statement added. The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the statement was terse and shows that the UN was taken by surprise at Ms Del Ponte’s remarks. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was established in August 2011 to examine alleged violations of human rights in the Syrian uprising. It is due to issue its latest report next month.
‘Unsupported’. In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV on Sunday, Ms Del Ponte, who serves as a commissioner on the panel, said: “Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals. “According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.”
Sarin, a colourless, odourless liquid or gas which can cause respiratory arrest and death, is classed as a weapon of mass destruction and is banned under international law.
Ms Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general and prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), did not rule out the possibility that troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad might also have used chemical weapons, but said further investigation was needed. “I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got… they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,” she said. Ms Del Ponte gave no details of when or where sarin may have been used. However, a member of the main Syrian opposition alliance, the National Coalition, denied rebel fighters had done so. “The claim is unsupported,” Molham al-Droubi told the Reuters news agency. “There is no objective evidence.”
US intelligence agencies released an intercept on Wednesday showing that after the attack, a ministry of defense official made outraged inquiries from a local commander as to what in the world he had done.
The intercept would be consistent with local Baath chem warfare units routinely mixing a little deadly sarin gas into crowd control gas, killing small numbers of rebels with each deployment, but in this case making an error and getting the mix wrong. Thus, around a thousand were killed instead of dozens. British intelligence seems to have come to a similar conclusion
7 Questions You Should Ask About Syria
Lightening-Quick Obama Makes Bush’s ‘Rush to War’ Look Slow and Methodical
Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003. This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.
Here we go again. A Ba’athist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he “kills his own people.” Which we haven’t cared about before. But: WMDs.
Ten years ago, the Ba’athist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn’t want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!
And: again. “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible,” an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.
“Too late”? Really? Assad’s government OKed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don’t get back to me that quickly. Doesn’t seem like a slow response from a government that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they’re kinda busy fighting a civil war.
Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage ‹ concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.1. “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: “The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it’s Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man Why would he brush off Obama’s “red line” about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it’s not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad’s forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?3. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama “days away” from a military strike? To “send a message,” in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after, Clinton’s campaign against Serbia during the 1990s, caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn’t Obama’s goal, why chance it?
4. When you bomb one side in a civil war ‹ a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack ‹ you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren’t very nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they’ve outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?
5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: “We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.” And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, “Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.” If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1000 deaths different?
6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world’s conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?
7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?
Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism. Which has made so nuts that we’ve gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the “forgotten MLK,” from 1967: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today ‹ my own government.”Some things never change.Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email
The struggle in Syria began peacefully in spring of 2011, but after about half a year it turned violent when the regime deployed tanks and other heavy munitions against the protesters. Some of the latter took up weapons and turned to violence in revenge. Thereafter the struggle spiraled into a civil war, in which the regime showed itself perfectly willing to attack civilian city quarters and kill indiscriminately. The struggle has killed over 100,000 persons. As the regime became ever more brutal, the rebel fighters were increasingly radicalized. Now, among the more important groups is Jabhat al-Nusra or the Succor Front, a radical al-Qaeda affiliate.
President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria with cruise missiles will do nothing to hasten the end of the conflict. Instead, it will likely prolong it.
It should be remembered that the US couldn’t end the Iraqi civil war despite having over 100,000 boots on the ground in that country. It is highly unlikely that Washington can end this one from 30,000 feet.
The hope for avoiding another decade of killing is that the governmental elite and the rebels get tired of fighting and prove willing to make a deal. It is probably too late for Syria to succeed at the kind of transition achieved in Yemen. There, the president stepped down and his vice president ran for his seat. At the same time, members of the opposition were given seats in the cabinet. That kind of cohabitation with the former enemy is easier if too much blood hasn’t bee shed.
The best solution for Syria would be if President Bashar al-Assad steps down and the Baath Party gave up its dictatorial tactics. At the same time, the rebels would have to forewswear al-Qaeda-type extremism.
Probably each side would have to feel that they could not gain any substantial benefit from further fighting, for negotiations to have prayer of success.
The prospect of a US missile strike is emboldening the rebels. They increasingly hope that the US will come in militarily with them.
the rebels don’t look at the proposed US missile strikes as a limited affair or as solely related to chemical weapons use. Aside from al-Qaeda, they see the US as an ally. Thus, they are complaining that Obama’s indecisiveness isemboldening Syrian President al-Assad. The US is now part of their strategic calculations and they see decisive American action as an asset.
Obviously, such euphoria at the prospect of US military intervention on the rebel side is incompatible with the kind of “pacted” transition political scientists favor. The rebels will have every incentive to hold out for ever more forceful outside Syria intervention in the coming years.
By striking Syria, Obama has all but guaranteed that a negotiated solution becomes impossible for years to come. In the absence of serious negotiations, the civil war will continue and likely get worse. The US should give serious thought to what the likely actual (as opposed to ideal) reaction in Syria will be to the landing of a few cruise missiles. The anti-regime elements will celebrate, convinced that it will all be over quickly if the US gets involved. The last thing they will want will be to negotiate with the regime.