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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

US: Assad didn't use chemical weapons in Syria

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The Obama administration is conducting a robust defense of itself and what some see as its pro-Assad stance in the face of a growing body of evidence that Bashar al-Assad has started to use chemical weapons in the 22 month old conflict that has taken more than 60,000 Syrian lives without them.

In August, Obama said that the movement or use of "a whole bunch" of chemical weapons would be a red-line that would cause him to do something. I said at the time that he was giving Assad a green light to additional slaughter by every other means. That was 40,000 Syrian lives ago,

Then in December came intelligence reports that Assad had moved some chemical weapons and loaded them into bombs. Obama reissued his red-line warning but dropped the prohibition against moving them.

23 December, came reports from activists and medical people of a chemical attack in Homs. Five people died and many more were treated. Video evidence was taken and distributed.

A few day later a defector from Assad's military police confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Homs.

Then yesterday, Foreign Policy broke a story about a secret state department cable that reported that a US consulate investigation had concluded that Assad had indeed used chemical weapons.

If this is true, if it turns out that Assad has used chemical weapons, and the White House knew this via the state department investigation, and still did nothing after having given Assad a green light for everything but. Well, that could be very embarrassing for the President.

But if there was no chemical attack, no problem! Except for the ~200 a day being slaughtered by non-chemical means, of course, but Obama never drew a red-line against that, so there's no problem on the integrity front.

So naturally, the White House is finding fault with the reports that Assad has used chemical weapons.

I think that the safest reading of all the available evidence is that Assad has used chemical weapons and is preparing to use more of them. That is the context in which the present discussion must be viewed.

His father killed 20,000 in one swipe - and caught hell for it. Bashar al-Assad has learned well the fable of the boiling frogs. He has just killed a little each day and so far the world has let him get away with killing three times as many as his father.

His approach to using chemical weapons can be expected to follow the same course and Obama's "a whole bunch" reservation has given him the cue.

All the best evidence is that in Homs, he used just one chemical shell and killed five people. One shell certainly isn't a whole bunch. Are 2? Are 3?

There are already indications that he has used chemical weapons in other places and I believe he will continue to racket up the use of chemical weapons. He is being forced to, as he depletes his other methods of killing. But he will do it at a slow pace in the hopes the world will not notice or mind.

And so far it is working, even when I first reported on this chemical attack in Homs, some Kossacks accused me of crying wolf, so what do you think they will say the next time they hear that "a whole bunch" of people are being gassed to death?

This is how "NEVER AGAIN!" turns into "never mind."

Here is the CNN report on the White House version:
U.S.: Syria didn't use chemical weapons in Homs incident

January 16th, 2013 02:08 PM ET
By Elise Labott
The Syrian government did not use chemical weapons against residents of Homs in a December attack, a U.S. State Department investigation shows, but did apparently misuse a riot-control gas in the incident, according to senior U.S. officials.

The investigation stemmed from allegations inside Syria about the use of chemical weapons during an attack on the city of Homs on December 23. The officials said the State Department launched a probe from its consulate in Istanbul after doctors and activists reported dozens of victims suffering from nervous system, respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments after inhaling the gas.

Foreign Policy's "The Cable" blog reported Tuesday that a secret diplomatic cable provided a "compelling case" that President Bashar al-Assad's military used chemical weapons in the attack.

The United States was informed of the incident by representatives of a non-governmental organization working in Syria, who told the U.S. consulate in Turkey that they believed a chemical attack took place in Homs, according to a U.S. official. The NGO set up some interviews for the consulate, which then wrote a cable discussing the concerns. The U.S. official said the cable noted that the evidence was inconclusive that there was a chemical attack.

However, the concern triggered a more extensive investigation by the State Department, with intelligence personnel assessing online videos of the attack and pictures of the victims. Chemical weapons experts and doctors experienced in treating patients exposed to chemical weapons were also consulted, according to U.S. officials. And interviews were conducted with Syrian doctors and activists inside the country by a U.S. partner there.

The gas was determined to be a "riot control agent" that was not designed to produce lasting effects, but became more dangerous when it was released in dense areas and was not dispersed in the air quickly, the officials said. More...

Still the Mail On-Line is reporting:

Syria used chemical weapons in Homs, US state department cables reveal

By Sean O'hare
14:41 EST, 16 January 2013
A secret US government communication concludes that the Syrian army more than likely used chemical weapons during an attack in the city of Homs last month.

The document, leaked to The Cable, reveals the finding of an investigation by Scott Frederic Kilner, the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, into accusations that the Syrian army used chemical weapons in the December 23 attack.

An Obama administration official who had access to the document was reported as saying: 'We can't definitely say 100 per cent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23.' More...

The Financial Times says:
White House questions Syrian weapons claim

By Geoff Dyer in Washington
January 16, 2013 4:46 am
High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c4091546-5f7f-11e2-8250-00144feab49a.html#ixzz2IC5TuqFm

The White House played down reports on Tuesday that Syria used chemical weapons on its own citizens during a December attack on rebels in the city of Homs.

A report by Foreign Policy, the magazine and website, said a secret US state department cable had concluded that the Syrian government forces likely used a form of poison gas during the December 23 attack on Homs. More...

The New Yorker has this:
The Case of Agent 15: Did Syria Use a Nerve Agent?

January 16, 2013
Posted by Raffi Khatchadourian
Just before Christmas, deeply troubling reports emerged from the city of Homs, in Syria, that government forces had used sarin gas, or a deadly nerve agent like it, in an attack on a rebel-held neighborhood, poisoning scores of people. “The situation is very difficult,” a desperate-sounding activist told Al Jazeera, which reported the incident on December 24th. “We do not have enough face masks. We don’t know what this gas is, but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas.”
....

So was the gas used in Homs akin to sarin? No and yes, it seems. Sarin is odorless, and people in Homs reported smelling the chemical. Sarin is hyper-potent, and some people apparently inhaled a lot of this gas without dying. If these details are correct, then the compound surely differs from sarin in significant ways. And yet, there are similar chemicals out there that cause the same symptoms but are not nearly as potent and do have an odor. They are orgaonphosphate pesticides, which happen to be among the most common pesticides in the world and are also cholinesterase inhibitors. They can cause symptoms identical to their military counterparts, including death, and are treatable with atropine. If the chemical used in Homs was a commercial pesticide, then it appears that someone has manufactured a crude, poor-man’s chemical weapon out of a commonly available item.

This explanation may also help clarify the Obama Administration’s reaction to the attack. “The reporting we have seen from media sources regarding alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria has not been consistent with what we believe to be true about the Syrian chemical weapons program,” Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said yesterday. Today, a State Department spokesperson added that the secret cable’s contents had been mischaracterized by Rogin’s source, and that there was “no credible evidence to corroborate or to confirm that chemical weapons were used.”

The chemical used in Homs does not appear to have been deployed by the five-hundred-pound bombs that Israeli intelligence observed—or, at least, no one has testified to this. Even the deployment via tank shell, as described in Rogin’s story, has been called into question. Rami Jarrah, a Syrian political activist living in London, recently alleged on his Facebook page that the secret cable reflected a “hoax” in that it was poorly sourced, and that though he had gathered reports of a gas that had caused unusual symptoms, “the furthest we could demonstrate was possible usage of gases that were set off in air balloons that pop once they reach a certain altitude.” His claims are unverified, and he did not say which faction in Syria would conceive such a plan, let alone execute it. The balloon scenario seems improbable. Still, the videos of the casualties are compelling; they do not seem staged, and the notion of what constitutes a “hoax” in war can span many possibilities. If a phony nerve-agent attack with a pesticide resembling a “chemical weapon” was in fact orchestrated in Homs just before Christmas, one has to wonder: Who would stage such a thing—whether by balloon or any other method of deployment—and why? More...

More, later

Click here for a list of my other diaries on Syria

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