Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Used Sarin in Syria?

The massive causalities from the chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, suburban Damascus has brought the two and a half year old conflict in Syria to the attention of the whole world. The many pictures and videos this event produced of hundreds of lifeless bodies with no outwards signs of trauma left little doubt that a chemical weapons attack had taken place even before any lab result could come back.

But the question of who was responsible for this, and the other earlier but smaller, chemical attacks that have taken place since December has been a hotly contested one. While many have blamed the regime for all of these attacks, the regime and its supporters have in turn, blamed the opposition.

With regards to the attack on the morning of 21 August, a very strong prima facie case can be made that the Assad regime bears responsibility. The Syrian Army is known to possess large stockpiles of sarin, VX and mustard gas and have special units equip and trained to deploy them whereas al Qaeda or groups affiliated with it have never used nerve gas anywhere. This was a very large and sophisticated attack that involved eight separate locations and rockets specifically designed to carry chemicals. Over a thousand people were killed and the gas was dispersed at the very best time, 3am, when winds are calm and people are asleep. This attack was definitely carried out by a force the knew how to effectively use chemical weapons.

No poison gas reached regime areas. All of the rockets fell in opposition areas that had been under siege by the Assad regime for months. They had already pounded it with artillery, jet aircraft and conventional weapons without being able to reduce it. Then after the gas attack, they resumed the artillery barrage to destroy the evidence while they kept the UN investigators out. They also set fires to help clear residue gas.

Still there have been strong currents on the Left who claim that they are clueless about who could be behind this genocidal attack. They dismiss the prima facie evidence as they dismiss the pictures of dead children. They talk like lawyers for Assad, demanding he be given the benefit of the doubt, no matter his other crimes. They counsel nothing should be done until all are satisfied by indisputable proof. They wonder "Why the rush?" They are not very concerned with preventing future attacks.

There is another strong current on the Left that is striving to blame the victims. They are trying desperately to exonerate the Assad regime and come up with some theory on how Assad's opposition, the "rebels" are behind all of the chemical attacks, including this most recent one, just as the Assad Regime claims.

One of the most ridiculous stories to come out along these lines in recent days has been this tale spun by two writers for MintPress. They have published a story claiming interviews in which rebel fighters admitted that they accidentally killed all those people that night when they fumbled a tank of sarin gas they had gotten from Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia:
Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack

Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group.
By Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh
August 29, 2013
Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”
“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.
“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said. More...
So that's their story. Somehow inept handling of Saudi nerve gas by rebel fighters in a tunnel accidentally killed over a thousand people in multiple locations separated by unaffected areas. All of this based on the word of one reporter who says he interviewed people who told him this.

Smell test anyone? I can tell this story stinks without getting any closer to it but Free Cow went further. Here is a selection from their critique of this story:
The info itself relies on a few very weak testimonies, here is the full list :

- Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.
- Ghouta townspeople said
- A female fighter named ‘K.’
- A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’
- More than a dozen rebels interviewed (who reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.)
- Rebels interviewed

In the article, it is specified that interviews were conducted "with people in Damascus and Ghouta". Please know you can not access Damascus without a visa from the regime. Someone claiming to have interviewed people from "Damascus and Ghouta" has a good chance to have been in contact with propaganda agents from the regime, probably going in Ghouta in a guided tour, "randomly" meeting "rebels" who would into journalists to explain how they are paid by Saudi and how they work for Al Qaeda. In any case, it is not specified how Yahya accessed Ghouta: from Damascus with a regime visa or from a rebel zone, hiding among them for several month? The "interview with people in Damascus" hints toward the first solution.
This story is really so out-there, conspiracy theory ridiculous, that it wouldn't be worth the brain power and bandwidth to address at all except that it has been given remarkably wide credibility from those looking for a good reason not to intervene in Syria and allow the people to continue to be slaughtered by whoever is doing it. Look at this list of websites that have either reprinted or recounted favorably, the MintPress story, and this list is just a sample:

AntiWar.com | OpEdNews  | FAIR InfoWars  | Democratic Underground  | Godlike Productions | Global Research | News Ninja | Daily Kos | Before it's News  | Tea Party Command Center  | Counterpunch | Friends of Syria  | Occupy.com | Religious Liberty Monitoring | Watchmen News | World Socialist Web Site | Democracy and Class Struggle

What a pathetic situation! Over 1400 people are dead! Dead! Including over 400 children and these people of the Left are promoting ridiculous "blame the victim" scenarios that can not help but give aid and comfort to the killers and they are doing this so that they can comfortably keep on doing what they've been doing all along.

And its not just the Left, the list above reveals the unholy alliance these Left wing apologists of the fascist Assad regime have made with some of the most extreme right wing elements in the US.

There is something else about this MintPress story that marks it as a fabrication and that is the way everybody interviewed in Ghouta is throwing around Prince Bandar's name. Everybody seems to know that the sarin came from him. This story seems quite improbable because Saudi Arabia has no known chemical weapons program, never had one, and no stockpiles of chemical weapons and would seem unlikely to have a secret one because they already enjoy the US nuclear umbrella and would pay a high price with that patron if word of a secret Saudi WMD program ever where to come out.

But ignoring all that, even if the Saudis were supplying a chemical weapon to a rebel group, why would the Saudi intelligence chief wanted it known that he, personally, was responsible for bringing a war crimes violation to Syria. That would be very stupid and Prince Bandar is anything but stupid.

But the obsession this MintPress story has with Saudi Prince Bandar, in a short article it mentions him 15 times, does more than brand it as a fabrication, it gives us a clue who the original story tellers are because as Free Cow points out "Syrian Mukhabarat are obsessed with prince Bandar Bin Sultan." Check their article for more background on this. So based on that signature, this story probably originated with Assad's security services and all of these Left websites that republish or promote this story are actually promoting the fascist propaganda of Assad's Mukhabarat.

The evidence that the Assad regime carried out this chemical crime is continuing to build. 30 August 2013, the Obama Administration released its unclassified "Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013" which found that the Assad regime carried out the attack. I found the most interesting thing in that report was the admission that the Obama administration knew about the attack before it happened but apparently alerted no one:
We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.
Now the French government has come out with a report that is much more detailed and specific than the White House report and it firmly fixes the responsibility for the attack with President Bashar al-Assad. France24 is reporting:
French report claims Syria staged three chemical attacks
3 Sept 2013
The French government published a nine-page synopsis on Monday about Syria’s chemical weapons programme that cites at least three chemical attacks between April and August.

The report also alleged that nobody but the Bashar al-Assad regime could have carried out the August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus, which it said at least 281 deaths could be attributed to. The analysis based that count in part from dozens of videos culled by French intelligence services.

The figure was markedly lower than that provided by Washington, which spoke of at least 1,400 deaths.

The French report said “massive use of chemical agents” were involved in the attack and that the regime could carry out other strikes of a similar nature in the future. More...
Foreign Policy also has a good piece on the French report:
French Spies Provide New Details on Assad's Chemical Weapons Program

Posted By David Kenner
Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 5:49 AM
As Congress debates whether to authorize a military strike on Syria, the French government has released its declassified intelligence report on the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the eastern Damascus suburbs.

France, the United States' only remaining potential partner for military intervention in Syria, agrees in broad strokes with the White House's view of the attack. Both governments present evidence that the Syrian regime launched chemical weapons on rebel-held neighborhoods, likely killing over 1,000 people. But in terms of its level of detail, the French report puts the U.S. intelligence assessment to shame.
While the American report focuses solely on the most recent attack, the French provide a comprehensive look at the nature of the Syrian chemical weapons program. The report includes a breakdown of the toxic agents that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is believed to have obtained: hundreds of tons of mustard gas, tens of tons of VX gas, and several hundred tons of sarin gas.

Assad's sarin stockpiles, which the United States says were used in the Aug. 21 attack, reveal a "technological mastery" of chemical weapons, according to the French. The sarin is stored in binary form -- the two chemical precursors necessary to make the gas are kept separate and are only mixed immediately before use. This technological sophistication may be a key point when U.N. investigators release their report on the Damascus attack: If they find that the toxic agent used in the attack was an advanced form of sarin -- containing chemical stabilizers and dispersal agents -- the weapon will most likely have come from Syrian regime stockpiles.

While U.S. officials have conceded that they don't know if Assad himself ordered the use of chemical weapons, the French assessment rebuts claims that the Aug. 21 attack could have been the work of a rogue officer. France traces Syria's chemical weapons program to "Branch 450" of the innocuously named Center of Scientific Studies and Research, which Israel bombed in May. Only Assad and top members of his regime, the report says, have authority to order the branch to employ its deadly weapons. Nor does the report give credence to the idea of a rogue element within Branch 450 itself: The unit, it says, is "composed solely of Alawite military personnel … [and] distinguished by a high level of loyalty to the regime." More...
Links to French reports on Syrian chemical weapons program and attack of 12 August 2013 [in French]:
Syria - National Synthesis intelligence declassified - September 2, 2013
Syria - National Synthesis intelligence declassified - September 2, 2013 - Presentation
National executive summary of declassified intelligence
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-1
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-2
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-3
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-4
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-5
Syrian chemical attack of 21 August 2013-6
Finally we have word from Reuters of a Syrian defector who is now expected to give testimony about the attack:
Defector has ‘evidence of chemical attack’
Shahrour says he has documents to prove his point

Published: 17:50 September 3, 2013
Istanbul: A Syrian forensic medicine expert with evidence that President Bashar Al Assad’s administration used chemical weapons in an attack near Aleppo in March has defected to Turkey, the opposition said on Tuesday.

Abdul Tawwab Shahrour, head of the forensic medicine committee in Aleppo, would make public his evidence of the March 19 chemical attack in Khan Al Assal, Istanbul-based opposition coalition spokeswoman Sarah Karkour said.

Shahrour had documents proving that a chemical weapons attack took place and eye-witness accounts from police authorities that contradicted the administration’s version of events, a second opposition official said.

The attack at Khan Al Assal in the northern province of Aleppo killed more than two dozen people. Both the government and rebels have blamed each other for what they say was an attack involving chemical weapons.
So we can see that the evidence continues to build and there can be no reasonable doubt that the Assad Regime has been responsible for these chemical attacks just as it has been responsible for most of the carnage in Syria.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria


  1. There are labs established world wide certified to make the determination if and what agent was used. This has not happened yet and anything prior to those certified results is speculation! Determination of what agent used with positive scientific analysis in this False Flag world is priority.

    1. The agent used is certainly relevant, and the UN/OPCW team should be able to clear that up (and their analysis may have some further info re provenance). But I'm not sure its decisive: the regime and its allies have already constructed a narrative that attempts to pin possession of sarin on the oppostion (aided by the usual conspiracy suspects). In my view the decisive question is mode of delivery and capabilities. The OPCW is unlikely to pronounce on that - so its still going to be an open question. But see Eliot Higgins work on Brown Moses.

  2. Greeting, Clay. You or someone seeming to claim to be you signed up at A Closer Look on Syria. I was honored, after first blocking the account but then learning my mistake. Then the wiki went down, so I decided on a comment here. Please do complete your thought(s) there ... whenever it's up and running again.

    "al Qaeda or groups affiliated with it have never used nerve gas anywhere." I would challenge how you know that? It's not their general thing AFAIK, but in Syria ... Have you seen Brown Moses' article on the plastic grenades that kept turning up at alleged CW attacks in Aleppo and Idlib? Seen only one other place, on the chest of an al-Nusra fighter around that area. Later denied but still maybe true: al-Nusra members in Turkey and in Syria busted with sarin, twice. Carla Del Ponte hearing from credible locals that rebels had been unleashing sarin. Numerous chemical labs busted all over, including in Jobar just upwind from all this on Aug. 24.

    And of course considering motive for each side to have just this happen right then and there, it's all but a slam dunk, from my perspective, who to suspect. Countering it, as you cite, all this chatter, rebel descriptions of how it happened, the defector, alleged phone calls ... hey, I think you missed one of those:

    <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/04/us-syria-crisis-germany-idUSBRE9830TV20130904>German spy agency sees Assad behind gas attack, cites phone call</ref>

    Another point in a growing body of clues that <i>this time</i> a U.S. president insists on warfare over chemical weapons in a Baath party regime in the Iraq and al-Sham area, this time it must be true, and intervening would not be a horrendous mistake.

    1. A Closer Look on Syria generally has a different take on the Syria Conflict to mine, but they usually do their homework, so I've been meaning to see what work they are doing on this. But seem to be down at the moment. I'll certainly look at the Brown Moses item, which I hadn't seen.
      But I wonder if CLoS is maintaining their standards on this one. I don't know of any Carla del Ponte statement that says what is claimed here (Clay is the expert on this so he may respond). As far as I know all of the claimed reports of rebels possessing/developing Sarin have been debunked (most very hollow) except for the Turkish report, which I need to explore.
      And of course there's the fact that the initial reports of rebels using chemicals (e.g in Khan al-Assal) claimed they were chlorine- based, then suddenly switched to Sarin when it suited. Overll, evidence against regime look pretty tight to me.

    2. Thanks for the compliment and fair points. Carla did say that, look it up. As for chlorine vs. sarin, yes, a puzzle. I'm guessing a chlorine base with, as Russia's scientists said, small amounts of un-stabilized unprofessional sarin, degrading fast and recently made. But still has ?? over it. None of it's 100% proof by any means, whereas Syria is believed to have large stocks, and less than zero motive to do this there and then. The site was down, but back now. http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Alleged_Chemical_Attack,_August_21,_2013

    3. It is well documented that the Assad regime had been trying to take East Ghouta for months using everything but chemical weapons so for you to say he had zero motive means that you are blind to the world around you.

    4. Clay, wow, that's quite a leap. I must be blind, eh? Don't worry, I'm not bitter. "Zero motive" would be better said "net motive: far less than zero." Thinking that gassing numerous towns, next to the just-arrived U.N. CW team, might finally secure the areas is one strange +, a possible motive. The risk of red-line crossing and missile strikes or NATO air war like what crushed Libya, etc. is a bigger and clearer -. Or a + for the other side. To me that seems basic, but other people might have a hard time seeing it clearly.

      I have more response, but it might be too caustic when I'm hoping you'll come back to ACLOS, now that it's up and you're not blocked (again, sorry for that) and say what you were going to. I'm curious what had motivated you (if that was you? Petri thinks so). We aren't swamped with contrary voices, so you could have pretty much all the space you want. I don't see a reason there can't be a Clay's rebuttal page (with counter-rebuttals, of course), for this or any other issues. The Houla massacre myth sold last year is one that needs some defending now. (Same goes for readers to a lesser degree).

      - Adam

  3. @Caustic Logic. I stand partially corrected on Carla del Ponte (I'd misremembered the first part of her statement): but what she actually said was: "Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week ...there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated." So: no "Carla Del Ponte hearing from credible locals that rebels had been unleashing sarin." Rather, Carla del Ponte inferring from second-hand statements gathered in neighbouring countries that sarin may been used.A much longer evidence chain than you imply - and also a rather odd one. Why are Syrian victims being treated in neighbouring countries? Can you really infer what agent was used from their mode of treatment?)A lot of gaps here.

  4. Now for fully corrected:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188""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."
    Not proven she said. Commission scrambled to "counter" her saying it's not proven. Rebels often infer sarin from atropine but no, not proof. Whatever it was, the people who fled to where the commission could go, said rebels put it on them. Rebels countered that of course.

  5. I suppose you just got too busy then? The spot's still open if not. http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/User_talk:Clayclai