How Does the US Know the Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons?

Credit: YoutubeCredit: YoutubeA few days ago Secretary of State John Kerry said that the U.S. believes that chemical weapons were used last week in an attack near Damascus. Given that the United Nations inspectors have yet to release the results of their examination of the sites of the suspected chemical attacks it is fair to ask how Kerry knows that chemical weapons were used.

The footage from the sites of the attacks do strongly suggest that chemical weapons were used on civilians. Footage of the aftermath of the attacks does not show those who died having any obvious wounds that would be expected had they been killed by conventional weapons, and many of those filmed seemed to be suffering from the effects of a sarin gas attack. Doctors Without Borders says that hundreds of the patients they were treating with "neurotoxic symptoms" have died. However, as strong as the anecdotal evidence is, it does not definitively confirm exactly what sort of weapons were used, or who used them.

Foreign Policy's blog "The Cable" has an article up explaining why U.S. intelligence analysts are sure that chemical weapons were used near Damascus last week by Assad’s forces.

From Foreign Policy:

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime -- and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.

But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? "It's unclear where control lies," one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?"

The article goes on to point out that the U.S. does not have what would be traditionally considered hard evidence of the use of chemical weapons (tissue and environmental samples), and that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney considers the work of the U.N. inspectors in Damascus, who are working on gathering such evidence, “redundant” given what the Obama administration already reportedly knows.

From Foreign Policy:

However, U.S. spy services still have not acquired the evidence traditionally considered to be the gold standard in chemical weapons cases: soil, blood, and other environmental samples that test positive for reactions with nerve agent. That's the kind of proof that America and its allies processed from earlier, small-scale attacks that the White House described in equivocal tones, and declined to muster a military response to in retaliation.

There is an ongoing debate within the Obama administration about whether to strike Assad immediately -- or whether to allow United Nations inspectors to try and collect that proof before the bombing begins. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the work of that team "redundant ... because it is clearly established already that chemical weapons have been used on a significant scale." 

Even if, as is looking increasingly likely, the Assad regime did use chemical weapons in Syria it is unclear why the use of such weapons should be considered a "red line."

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  • Jordan||

    Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds?

    I wonder if Assad tried to claim he first heard about the attack from a newspaper?

  • ||

    He was reading a children's book.

  • DontShootMe||

    Ralph Peters (!?) has a War flaccid

  • BakedPenguin||

    How Does the US Know the Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons?

    What difference does that make? Let the missiles fly!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Let freedom ring. . .in the ears of the survivors.

  • ||

    Tinnitus is justan occupational hazard for some people. Damn that Lana.

  • Aresen||

    The unicorn told them.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds?

    I'd buy that, because otherwise it would have been incredibly stupid for Assad to bring all this heat down on him just to clear out a few villages.

    So this was either a false flag by the rebels or a gargantuan fuck up by a Syrian army officer.

  • Lord Humungus||

    The false flag operation is certainly a possibility. I could even imagine AQ doing the job, forcing the U.S. to bomb Assad and Co as a result. Or maybe I've been reading too many spy novels.

  • ||

    Tinker Tailor Soldier Mohammed Jihad

  • WTF||

    Durka durka

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Worth repeating:

    "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"

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's a correct statement, too, more or less. The latter part is if the U.S., our possessions, or our armed forces are under attack or about to be.

    In Syria, of course, none of the above. This clearly needs congressional authorization, and if the president launches an attack without it, he should be impeached.

  • DontShootMe||

    he got away with bombing Libya, why shouldn't he get away with bombing this collection of brown people?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Fair question. Ask Congress why their shitting away their and our rights.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Sorry, "they're." The first time, that is. Not the second.

  • Agammamon||

    Congress isn't shitting away its *rights, rather its shitting away its *powers*.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Don't quibble with me. Quibble with them.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Well something something kinetic military action see also Libya, I guess.

  • Pro Libertate||

    The Magic Disposition Matrix says. . .Reply hazy, try again.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    No booty. No booty.
    Hey Obama, don't shake your booty.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    PFFFFTTT that only applies when a Democrat's not in office. /MSM

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I didn't even know the quote existed until I saw it on CNN today, so I'll give them a little credit. But guess what they did with a quote so obviously damning?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Denial is a river in Egypt, not Syria.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Hmmm... made excuses for the President about how it doesn't apply? Or maybe, BOOOOOSSSHHHHHH?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    not a damn thing, that's what. Just skipped right over any analysis.

  • ||

    Jay Carney considers the work of the U.N. inspectors in Damascus, who are working on gathering such evidence, “redundant” given what the Obama administration already reportedly knows.

    The transparency of this admin is only exceeded by their respect for international institutions. Hope, change and bombing for peace.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Right out Alice in Wonderland!

    ‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’

  • CatoTheElder||

    Hope 'n Change was a campaign promise.

    The bombing is for his Peace Prize.

  • DJF||

    """""Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. """"

    Could the answer be that once reports of the chemical attack happened then the Syrian defense officials called up their chemical weapons unit to make sure that they were not involved. Asking a unit questions is not proof that the unit was the guilty party.

  • Adam330||

    Presumably they know the content of the communications.

  • Agammamon||

    And presumably, if the answer from the CW unit confirmed the narrative it would have been released.

    Instead we're told only that someone *called* a unit up and asked about the attack.

    Its a similar thing to when a drug raid produces drugs the cops shout about how much they got - when it doesn't they only say that a raid happened.

  • ||

    Even if, as is looking increasingly likely, the Assad regime did use chemical weapons in Syria it is unclear why the use of such weapons should be considered a "red line."

    NPR had a pretty damning story on the narrowness of the expected response and the narrowness of the purpose. It is frankly pathetic.

    Far from the world's policeman, the US has become the world's vice principal.

  • Spoonman.||

    SLD and all, but if the US is getting involved I want it to kick ass. (I don't want it to get involved).

    Killing people without any purpose is even worse than killing people for a purpose.

  • NeonCat||

    Just for that, the NSA is recommending you get detention.

  • ||

    Just so long as it is solely to punish me, not to hinder my ability to keep being a bully.

  • Lord Humungus||

    time for the obligatory you know who else used chemical weapons?

    btw, my wife is driven nuts by my constant Godwinning.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Kaiser Wilhlem II?

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    And his slightly more famous relative Kaiser Wilhelm II too!

  • JEP||

    That'd be an interesting twist on Jane Eyre...

  • RightNut||

    Assad's regime kills perhaps 100,000 people using conventional weapons, and one use of sarin gas that kills perhaps 1,000 is going to be the reason Obama bombs Syria?

    Why is being shot to death not as bad as being gassed?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    I understand this criticism and I don't at the same time. I actually happen to like treaties where nations agree not to use all manner of terrible weaponry, so I'm admittedly conflicted.

  • RightNut||

    Is their a treaty that Syria is a party to that limits the use of chemical weapons? And even if they are, does that really give every other signatory country a casus belli against them?

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    The 1925 Geneva Convention

  • NeonCat||

    Does the Convention cover civil wars, or only wars between nations?

  • Adam330||

    I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that some treaty somewhere says governments shouldn't kill their own people en masse in any manner.

  • sarcasmic||

    Oh I highly doubt that.

  • Adam330||

    A lot of these treaties have all kinds of nice stuff that governments routinely ignore.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Because FYTW
    Also, red lines

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned.

    Well, to be sure they're recorded and the leader of the chemical weapons unit admits responsibility, right? Also is the Obama administration trying to find out who the traitor that leaked this information is?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    they've

  • Invisible Finger||

    The picture looks like a freshman dorm on Saturday morning.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Or the aftermath of a rugby party on Sunday morning.

    I feel terrible those folks may have done the VX Shuffle and died, but how are we going to make it better by lobbing in some TLAMs?

  • Drake||

    Not enough puke stains.

  • Agammamon||

    '. . . That's the kind of proof that America and its allies processed from earlier, small-scale attacks that the White House described in equivocal tones, and declined to muster a military response to in retaliation."

    Look goddangit! That was way back when we could afford to be patient and sure about our response. Now Obama is under attack for NSA and IRS scandals - we need to go in NOW! to distract the public from the shit going on at home = we can't afford to wait or the republicans might get their act together and start *suggesting* that the president might possibly be near stepping over a threshold where impeachment could be brought up as a possible response to his actions.

  • ant1sthenes||

    we can't afford to wait or the republicans might get their act together and start *suggesting* that the president might possibly be near stepping over a threshold where impeachment could be brought up as a possible response to his actions.

    Too late for that, I'm afraid.

  • Drake||

    It doesn't matter who shot the Archduke! The red line has been crossed - It's go time!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.

    Because the Syrian government was trying to discover who launched the alleged chemical weapons attack, that is proof that the government purposefully launched the alleged chemical weapons attack?

    ...

    Sorry, it still doesn't make sense.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.


    Why was the Syrian MOD official "panicked" if he learned Ghouta had been gassed? Shouldn't he have known in advance?

    If these intercepts are really dispositive, why didn't the article include a reply to the MOD official's questions along the lines of, "General Mahmoud ordered us to gas these rebel rats holed up in Ghouta!" Because if the MOD official did not know of the authorization to use gas in advance, his first question would have been who ordered it.

    "Panicked" questioning is just what one would expect if this were a false flag event.

    OTOH, it could have gone down like this:

    Officer: Looks like you need more ordnance, Sergeant Ali.
    Artillery SSgt: Yes, sir. We've run out, and have been using the blue shells over there.
    Officer: Ali, you stupid son of a donkey! We have to get authorization from Damascus before using those!

  • Robert||

    Phony gas attacks were a recurring theme on Lost.

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