We now have Obama and Cameron bellicosely threatening serious repercussions for the Syrian government if it was found to be responsible for the chemical attack against civilians. Strangely they have not expressed any such similar threats against the Syrian rebel force if they were found to be the culprits. In May Turkish media reported the arrest of Syrian “rebels” in possession of sarin nerve gas. Also in May, UN official Carla Del Ponte reported that there was “strong, concrete” evidence that sarin had been used by the US/UK backed rebels. Al Qaeda In Iraq, allies of Al Nusra boasted of possessing chemical weapons and being prepared to use them and have indeed used them.
The evidence so far for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is second-hand and comes from a biased source.
Why would Assad invite United Nations chemical weapons inspectors to Syria, then launch a chemical weapons attack against women and children on the very day they arrive, just miles from where they are staying?
Why would Assad use them against women and children against with nothing to gain instead of against the Syrian Free Army troops?
On Aug. 19, in Ghouta, more than 50 local opposition fighters laid down their arms and switched sides. A few prominent local leaders widely associated with the opposition went on Syrian TV. They denounced the jihadists and their crimes against the local population, and stressed that the Assad administration was the real guardian of the people and their interests. The last thing the Assad would do is commit atrocities against the Ghouta area and the local population which had just changed sides so dramatically. At Khan al Assal the scene of another chemical attack rebels attacked and executed 120 villagers and soldiers there - the motive being possibly to destroy evidence and witnesses and hinder the UN inspection .
Syria’s allies Russia and Iran have expressed their doubts about the governments culpability.
Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. “At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators. In a real case, they would also be contaminated and would also be having symptoms.”
Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.” He also said “There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”
Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World magazine, which specialises in chemical weapons issues, said the evidence did not suggest that the chemicals used were of the weapons-grade that the Syrian army possesses in its stockpiles. “We’re not seeing reports that doctors and nurses… are becoming fatalities, so that would suggest that the toxicity of it isn’t what we would consider military sarin. It may well be that it is a lower-grade.”
Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps and a leading private consultant, pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”
John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said he had not seen the telltale evidence in the eyes of the victims that would be compelling evidence of chemical weapons use. “Of the videos that I’ve seen for the last few hours, none of them show pinpoint pupils… this would indicate exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents.”
Chemical and biological weapons researcher Jean Pascal Zanders said that the footage appears to show victims of asphyxiation, which is not consistent with the use of mustard gas or the nerve agents VX or sarin: “I’m deliberately not using the term chemical weapons here,” he said, adding that the use of “industrial toxicants” was a more likely explanation.
“MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières Doctors Without Borders]can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr. Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
So my amateur conclusion is that it was elements within the SFA who deployed home-made chemical weapons to discredit Assad and justify US/UK intervention. Hague required little convincing to apportion blame without waiting for any evidence. The press and media have performed their role admirably of not raising questions and uncritically accepting and relaying US/UK propaganda while challenging Syrian government explanations.