The following report was published two days ago on Oil Price.com and is one of the most detailed accounts I’ve read so far about the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus on August 21st. Oil Price.com is not a political website with an ideological position to sell. Compare this to the fuzzy storydevoid of any real evidence upon which Obama has been relying to convince us that military action is necessary.
Syrian Chemical Attack: More Evidence Only Leads to More Questions
By Yossef Bodansky | Tue, 10 September 2013 21:27 |
Accumulating new evidence regarding the August 21, 2013, chemical attack in Ghouta, eastern Damascus, raises most basic questions.
The recent findings point increasingly toward the conclusion that it was indeed a self-inflicted attack by the Syrian opposition in order to provoke a US and Western military intervention against the Ba’athist Government of Pres. Bashar al-Assad. Ultimately, it will take the detailed chemical analysis by the UN of the agents used to provide the guidelines as to who’s the guilty party.
The paucity of revealed facts highlights the reality that little is really known about the actual attack. There is still no agreed upon number of fatalities, with unverified claims ranging from the US assertion of 1,429 fatalities to the French assertion that only 281 were killed. In other words, the French Intelligence number is about 20 percent that of the US assertion. Most Syrian opposition sources now put the number of fatalities at between 335 and 355, as does the non-governmental organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). This is about 25 percent of the US number. Either way, this is too huge a gap not to be explained and substantiated.
It is still not clear what type of agent killed the victims.
To-date, the US position in documents submitted to Congress is that the victims died as a result of “nerve agent exposure”. Orally, however, Secretary Kerry claimed the US has proof it was sarin. The French intelligence report also attributes the deaths to “chemical agents” without further identification. The most explicit finding to-date comes from the UK’s Defence Science Technology Laboratory. Soil and cloth samples “tested positive for the nerve gas sarin”. The sarin in the cloth was in liquid form that soaked into the cloth. As discussed below, this finding reinforces the conclusion that “kitchen sarin” was used. Hence, so much will depend on the UN’s findings when their tests are completed.
The claim that the agent used was a “military sarin” is problematic because military sarin accumulates (like a gaseous crystal) around the victims’ hair and loose threads in clothes. Since these molecules are detached and released anew by any movement, they would have thus killed or injured the first responders who touched the victims’ bodies without protective clothes, gloves and masks. However, opposition videos show the first responders moving corpses around without any ill effects. This strongly indicates that the agent in question was the slow acting “kitchen sarin”. Indeed, other descriptions of injuries treated by MSF – suffocation, foaming, vomiting and diarrhoea – agree with the effects of diluted, late-action drops of liquified sarin. The overall descriptions of the injuries and fatalities treated by MSF closely resemble the injuries treated by the Tokyo emergency authorities back on March 20, 1995. The Tokyo subway attack was committed with liquified “kitchen sarin”
The knowhow for this type of sarin came from North Korean Intelligence, and is known to have been transferred, along with samples, to Osama bin Laden in 1998. That the jihadist movement has these technologies was confirmed in jihadist labs captured in both Turkey and Iraq, as well as from the wealth of data recovered from al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001/2.
As well, it is not yet clear what weapons were used to disperse the chemical agent. The specifics of the weapon will provide the crucial evidence whether this was a military type agent of the kind available in the Syrian arsenal, or improvised, kitchen-style agent of the type known to be within the technical capabilities of the jihadist opposition.
Meanwhile, the mangled projectiles shown by the opposition, and which were tested by the UN inspectors, are not standard weapons of the Syrian Armed Forces. These projectiles have a very distinct ribbed-ring fins which are similar to projectiles used by the opposition in Aleppo, Damascus, and other fronts with both high-explosives and undefined materials. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) retrieved a video claiming to be of the attack, but is most likely of a daylight testing of the launcher. The truck-mounted launcher included a chemical sleeve that was supposed to absorb leaks from the improvised warheads and not harm the launch crew; hardly the precaution taken with a military weapon.
Moreover, the warheads used in Damascus were cylindrical tanks which cracked and permitted a Tokyo-style mixture of liquids, rather than the pressurized mix and vaporization at the molecular level by the force of core explosion in a standard Soviet-style chemical warhead. Had Syrian militarily-trained experts built these warheads, they would have used the upper pipe for the core-charge the explosion of which would have created a significantly more lethal vaporized cloud of the toxic agent. The mere fact that the pipeline remained empty suggests the work of amateurs found in the ranks of the improvised weapon makers of the jihadist opposition.
As well, the opposition also pointed to cracked plastic pieces which resembled shreds from large blue plastic tanks/bottles (like a water cooler’s huge bottles) fired by chemical launchers the opposition had bragged about in the past. These weapons are in agreement with the multitude of images of victims publicized by the opposition which did not show any injury due to shrapnel which would have come from Soviet-style chemical munitions of the type known to be in the Syrian military arsenal.
Most important, of course, is the question “Who could have done it?” given the available data. Significantly, evidence collected by numerous Arab sources on the ground in the greater Damascus area and recently smuggled out of Syria narrows the scope of potential perpetrators and the reason for the attack. This evidence points to specific commanders of Liwaa al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra known to be cooperating in the eastern Damascus theater.
On the night of August 20/21. 2013, and the early morning of August 21, 2013 – a day before the chemical attack – the jihadists’ Liberating the Capital Front, led by Jabhat al-Nusra, suffered a major defeat during Operation Shield of the Capital. Operation Shield of the Capital is the largest military operation of the Syrian Army in the Damascus region since the beginning of the conflict. The jihadists also amassed a huge force of over 25,000 fighters for their Front from 13 armed kitaeb [battalion-groupings].
The main units belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra and Liwaa al-Islam. The other kitaeb were Harun al-Rashid, Syouf al-Haqq, al-Mohajereen, al-Ansar, Abu Zhar al-Ghaffari, Issa Bin Mariam, Sultan Mohammad al-Fatih, Daraa al-Sham, the Jobar Martyrs, and Glory of the Caliphate. They included both Syrian and foreign volunteers. (The mere gathering of so many kitaeb for the battle of eastern Damascus refutes the assertion in the US and French intelligence reports that the opposition was incapable of conducting coordinated large-scale operations and therefore the chemical attack must have been launched by Assad’s forces.)
Around dawn on August 21, 2013, the Liberating the Capital Front suffered a strategic defeat in the Jobar entrance area.
The Jobar entrance was the opposition’s last staging areas with access to the heart of Damascus from where they could launch car-bombs and raids. The Jobar entrance is also the sole route for reinforcements and supplies coming from the Saudi-Jordanian-US intelligence base near Jordan’s major airbase and military facilities in al-Mafraq (from where the eastern route to Damascus starts) and distributed via the Ghouta area to the outlaying eastern suburbs of Damascus. The eastern route is so important that the efforts are supervised personally by Saudi Princes Bandar and Salman bin Sultan, and overseen by Col. Ahmad al-Naimeh, the commander of the opposition’s Military Council of the Southern Region and Horan.
The jihadists’ defeat on August 21 effectively sealed any hope of a future surge from Jordan by CIA-sponsored jihadist forces because the jihadists who, starting August 17/18, 2013, were attempting to use the western route to Damascus from the base in Ramtha, Jordan, had by now been encircled and defeated not far from the Golan border with Israel.
As the jihadist forces were collapsing, the Front commanders deployed an élite force to block at all cost the Syrian military’s access to the Jobar entrance area. The majority of the jihadists in this force were from Liwaa al-Islam and the rest from Jabhat al-Nusra. The commander of the force was a Saudi jihadist going by the nom de guerre Abu-Ayesha. (Abu-Ayesha was identified by a Ghouta resident called Abu Abdul-Moneim as the jihadist commander who had stored in a tunnel in Ghouta weapons some of which had “tube-like structure” and others looked like “huge gas bottles”. Abdul-Moneim’s son and 12 other fighters were killed inside the tunnel by a chemical leak from one of these weapons.)
According to military and strategic analyst Brig. Ali Maqsoud, the Liwaa al-Islam forces arrayed in Jobar included “the so-called ‘Chemical Weapons Front’ led by Zahran Alloush [the supreme leader of Liwaa al-Islam]. That group possesses primitive chemical weapons smuggled from al-Qaida in Iraq to Jobar, in the vicinity of Damascus.”
When the jihadist Front collapsed, the jihadist leaders decided that only a chemical strike could both stop the advance of the Syrian army and provoke a US military strike that would deliver a strategic victory for the jihadists. The chemical agents were then loaded on what Russian intelligence defined as “rockets [which] were manufactured domestically to carry chemicals. They were launched from an area controlled by Liwaa al-Islam.”
Maqsoud is convinced the chemical weapons strike was launched at the behest of Washington and on Washington’s orders. “In the end, we can say that this [post-strike US] escalatory rhetoric aims to achieve two things. The first is strengthening [the US] position as leader of the opposition and imposing conditions in preparation for the negotiating table. The second is changing the [power balance on the] ground and stopping the Syrian army’s advance,” Maqsoud told al-Safir of Lebanon.
The identification of Liwaa al-Islam under Zahran Alloush as the jihadist force most likely to have conducted the chemical attack raises major questions regarding the Saudi involvement and particularly that of Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Zahran Alloush is the son of a Saudi-based religious scholar named Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad Alloush. During the 1980s, he worked for then Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Turki al-Faisal in both Afghanistan and Yemen.
Zahran Alloush was involved with the neo-salafi/Wahhabi underground in Syria since the 1990s, was jailed by Syrian Mukhabarat, and released in mid-2011 as part of Bashar al-Assad’s amnesty aimed to placate Riyadh. Zahran Alloush immediately received funds and weapons from Saudi intelligence which enabled him to establish and run Liwaa al-Islam as a major jihadist force.
On July 18, 2012, Liwaa al-Islam conducted the major bombing of the headquarters of Syria’s national security council in Rawda Square, Damascus, assassinating, among others, Assaf Shawkat, Bashar’s brother-in-law and nominally the deputy Minister of Defense, Dawoud Rajiha, the Defense Minister, and Hassan Turkmani, former Defense Minister who was military adviser to then-Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa. In Spring 2013, Zahran Alloush helped the Saudis weaken the Qatari-sponsored jihadist forces in the Damascus area. In June 2013, he suddenly withdrew his forces in the middle of a major battle with the Syrian army, leaving the Qatari-sponsored First Brigade and Liwaa Jaish al-Muslimeen to be defeated and mauled.
Significantly, in late August 2013, the opposition insisted on having Zahran Alloush and Liwaa al-Islam secure and escort the international experts team when they collected evidence in the opposition-controlled parts of eastern Damascus. Zahran Alloush entrusted the task of actually controlling and monitoring the UN team to his close allied katiba, the Liwaa al-Baraa from Zamalka. Thus, the international experts’ team operated while in effective custody of those jihadists most likely responsible for the chemical attack.
According to several jihadist commanders, “Zahran Alloush receives his orders directly from the Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan” and Liwaa al-Islam is Saudi Arabia’s private army in Syria.
The Bandar aspect is important to understanding strategic-political aspects of the chemical strike.
No independent evidence ties Bandar to the actual chemical attack.
Presently, there is no independent evidence connecting Bandar, or any other Saudi official, to the supply and use of chemical weapons in Damascus. There exist, though, the long-time connections between the various jihadist commanders and both Saudi intelligence and Bandar himself. However, Bandar’s threats in the meeting with Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin cast a shadow on the question of Riyadh’s foreknowledge, and, given the uniquely close relations between Bandar and CIA Chief John Brennan, Washington’s foreknowledge as well.
On August 2, 2013, Prince Bandar had an unprecedented meeting with Pres. Putin at the Kremlin.
Their meeting covered a host of issues ranging from future energy economy to the situation in Egypt to what to do about Syria. Throughout, Bandar made a huge mistake – believing that Putin was just like the successive US senior officials Bandar has dealt with in the past – namely, that like the Americans, Putin would also be easy to bribe with flattery, weapons acquisition, and oil-related cash.
Putin was not.
Of significance to the issue of the chemical strike in Damascus was the exchange between Bandar and Putin regarding the future of Bashar al-Assad. Bandar wanted Putin to support the toppling of the Assad Administration and its replacement with a Saudi-sponsored opposition administration. Bandar promised that Russia’s interests in Syria would be preserved by the proposed Saudi-sponsored post-Assad government.
In this context Bandar sought to both allay Putin’s concerns regarding jihadist terrorism and to deliver a veiled threat. “As an example,” Bandar stated, “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move [also] in the direction of the Syrian territory without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”
Putin responded quietly. “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Bandar again discussed the Syrian issue at length. He stressed that as far as Riyadh was concerned, there was no future for the Assad Administration. “The Syrian regime is finished as far as we and the majority of the Syrian people are concerned,” Bandar said, and they, the Syrian people, “will not allow President Bashar al-Assad to remain at the helm.”
Putin responded that Moscow’s “stance on Assad will never change. We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters.” Again, Bandar resorted to threats. He warned Putin that their dispute over the future of Syria led him, Bandar, to conclude that “there is no escape from the [US-led] military option, because it is the only currently available choice given that the political settlement ended in stalemate”. Bandar added that Riyadh saw no future for the negotiating process.
Bandar expected such a military intervention to soon commence.
Did he have any foreknowledge of a provocation to come? Significantly, Bandar insisted throughout his visit to Moscow that his initiative and message were coordinated with the highest authorities in Obama’s Washington. “I have spoken with the Americans before the visit, and they pledged to commit to any understandings that we may reach, especially if we agree on the approach to the Syrian issue,” Bandar assured Putin.
Did the Obama White House know in advance about the Saudi claim to controlling jihadist terrorism in both Russia and Syria? Did the Obama White House know about Bandar’s anticipation of an US-led military intervention?
Several Arab leaders, as well as senior intelligence and defense officials from the Arabian Peninsula are now convinced that the chemical strike was aimed to provoke a US-led military intervention which would in turn lead to the toppling of Bashar al-Assad and the empowerment of an Islamist government in Damascus.
These senior intelligence and defense officials have privately expressed anger that the US has not [yet] struck at Syria, as was so widely anticipated in the Arab world. These notables point out that in late Spring, the top leaders of the Syrian opposition and its regional sponsors impressed on the highest authorities in Washington and other Western capitals the gravity of the situation. The opposition and sponsors warned that unless there was a major military intervention during the Summer, the struggle for Syria would be lost come Autumn. The leaders of the opposition and their sponsors now insist that they were assured in these discussions that the US and key West European powers were eager to provide such help and intervene in order to topple the Assad Administration and empower the opposition in Damascus.
Given the political climate in the US and the West, the Arab leaders say that they were told, it was imperative for US and Western leaders to have a clear casus belli of an absolute humanitarian character. Recently (but before the chemical attack), the opposition and sponsors were asked for lists of targets to be hit by US-led Western bombing should there be a Western intervention. The opposition provided such target lists, convinced that their bombing was imminent. The leaders of the opposition and their sponsors now feel cheated, for there had just been an humanitarian catastrophe in Damascus with all the characteristics of the sought-after casus belli, and yet, there were no US and Western bombers in the skies over Damascus!
Significantly, most of these Arab leaders and officials are not in the know. They don’’t pretend to have any specific knowledge of what happened in Damascus beyond the coverage in the Arab media. They complain so bitterly on the basis of their comprehension of how things should have been done given the overall strategic circumstances. And for them, such a self-inflicted carnage is the most obvious thing to do if that was what Washington and other Western capitals needed in order to have a viable casus belli for an intervention.
Meanwhile, the US case against the Assad Administration continued to crumble.
“No direct link to Pres. Bashar al-Assad or his inner-circle has been publicly demonstrated, and some US sources say intelligence experts are not sure whether the Syrian leader knew of the attack before it was launched or was only informed about it afterward,” observed Reuters’ Mark Hosenball.
A closer study of the much-touted electronic intercepts proves that Assad and his inner-circle were stunned by the news of the chemical attack. When the first reports of the chemical attack surfaced, a very senior Syrian military officer called in panic the artillery commander of the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army which is under the direct command of Maher al-Assad.
The senior officer wanted to know if the brigade had fired any chemical munitions in contravention of the explicit orders of the top leadership not to do so. The artillery commander flatly denied firing any rocket, missile, or artillery. He added that he had already checked and confirmed that all his munitions were accounted for, and invited the general staff to send officers to verify on their own that all brigade’s munitions were in safe storage. The senior officers took the commander to task and he was interrogated for three days as a thorough inventory of the munitions was carried out. This artillery officer was returned to duty as it was confirmed beyond doubt that no munitions were missing. (Since there was no other chemical-capable unit in the area, the claim of rogue officers should identify from where and how they had obtained chemical munitions.)
The reaction of the Assad inner-circle was in agreement with earlier observations by German Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND).
The BND reported that since the beginning of Spring 2013, Syrian brigade and division commanders had repeatedly asked the Presidency for permission to use chemical weapons against jihadist forces besieging them. The Presidency had always denied permission in strong and uncompromising terms. The BND has no indication, let alone proof, that this consistent policy changed on or before August 21. 2013.
This is also the opinion of a very senior Iranian official in Beirut. When the news of the chemical attack first broke, a very senior HizbAllah official called the Iranian for advice. The BND intercepted the call. The HizbAllah official wondered whether “Assad had lost his temper and committed a huge mistake by giving the order for the poison gas use”. The Iranian senior official assured his HizbAllah counterpart that there was no change to Assad’s “long-standing steadfast policy of not using these [chemical] weapons”.
One of the main reasons for Washington’s accusatory finger at the Syrian military was the assertion that the chemical attack took place in the context of a Syrian military effort to recapture this part of the Damascus area. Having met stiff resistance and under immense pressure to decide the battle swiftly, Washington’s explanation goes, the Syrian military used chemical weapons in order to break the opposition.
However, the Syrian Armed Forces have a long history of training by the Soviet Armed Forces and access to Soviet-era weaponry, both chemical agents and means of dispersal. Among these are huge quantities of the vastly more lethal VX and grenade-size aerosols optimized for dense urban environment. Syrian commando was supplied with, and trained on, these systems starting the late-1970s when preparing to fight the jihadist insurrection in some of Syria’s main cities. Hence, had the Syrian military wanted to clear the said areas with the use of chemical weapons, they would have used VX in aerosols with greater efficiency and lethality. And why not use the same VX-filled aerosols in other key urban battle-fronts like Aleppo or Homs to expedite victory? Why use “kitchen sarin” and wide-area-effect munitions that will only hinder military advance into contaminated areas?
Hence, what is the basis for the Obama Administration’s confidence that “Assad did it” to the point of threatening military action which in all likelihood would evolve into US involvement in Syria’s bloody civil war? The most honest answer was provided on September 8, 2013, by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on CNN’s State of the Union program. McDonough asserted it was “common sense” that the Syrian Government carried out the chemical attack, and provided no further evidence to back his statement. Nobody pressed McDonough on this point. The US has long taken sides in the Syrian civil war and all the regional wars and strife integrated into it.
The US placed itself as the self-anointed manager and arbiter of the outcome of this fateful dynamic. Nobody in the region believes the Obama White House’s assurances about a limited strike with no intent of “regime change”. After all this was the exact assurances given by the Obama Administration on the eve of the UNSC’s vote on Libya solely in order to convince Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to abstain and let the resolution pass (which they did). Now, should the US strike Syria, alone or at the head of a makeshift coalition, the US would have crossed the threshold of active participation and leadership. Pressure would mount on the US to complete the job: to invade and get involved directly in the fighting, to secure the strategic weapon arsenals (which will take 75,000-100,000 troops by the Pentagon’s latest estimates), and to overthrow Assad and empower what Bandar calls “moderate” Islamists.
Arab leaders and their Islamist protégés are now convinced that only the US can, and should, defeat the Assad Administration and empower the Islamists for them. Should the US shirk or dither, there would be more and worse provocations, and more innocent Syrians would die in the hands of their brethren and saviors until the US delivered Damascus to the Islamists-jihadists and their sponsors.
After the catastrophe that Libya is today, does Washington really want to try again in Syria? Wouldn’t confronting reality and the Islamists-jihadists be a more expedient (and honest) way of doing things?
Zbigniew Brzezinski, one time National Security advisor to US President Jimmy Carter and the man behind the US financing of the mujahideen in Afghanistan and arming them against the Soviet invasion back in 1979, has recently gone on record as saying that growing political awareness among the public is making it hard for the powers that be to realise their plan for a military strike in Syria. This statement by the man who now acts as Obama’s foreign advisor sounds very much like an admission that our glorious leaders have been in the habit of peddling us lies and propaganda in order to get their way…surely not?!!
The following story can be found on the StoryLeaks website
BRZEZINSKI: ‘GLOBAL POLITICAL AWAKENING’ MAKING SYRIAN WAR DIFFICULT
by Mikael Thalen
August 29th, 2013
Updated 08/29/2013 at 2:47 pm
During a short interview with Germany’s DW News last Monday, former US National Security Adviser and Trilateral Commission co-founder Zbigniew Brzezinski commented on the growing inefficiency of war due to the increased political knowledge of the public.
“Given the contemporary reality of what I have called in my writings ‘Global Political Awakening,’ a policy of force based primarily on Western and in some cases former colonial powers does not seem to me a very promising avenue to an eventual solution to the regional problem,” said Brzezinski, referring to the situation in Syria.
Despite Brzezinski’s noted long-term relationship with Obama which included a top foreign policy adviser position, Brzezinski denied any specific knowledge of his plans regarding Syria, saying that if the administration has a strategy, it’s a “very well-kept secret.”
Obama’s Middle Eastern strategy has been a mere continuation of the policies seen under Bush, exemplified by former four star general and NATO commander Wesley Clark’s admission of the Bush-era Pentagon plan to overthrow several countries including Libya and Syria.
Although Brzezinski at times attempts to appear opposed to military interventionism, President Obama’s actions in Syria, which include the support of admitted Al Qaeda fighters, closely mirrors several of Brzezinski’s previous policies, most notably the opposition to the Soviet Union in 1979, where decisions made by Brzezinski led to the creation of Al Qaeda through the CIA funding of the Afghan Mujaheddin.
Brzezinski’s call of warning to the “global political awakening” has only intensified in recent years. Last year during a speech in Poland, Brzezinski noted that it has become “increasingly difficult to suppress” and control the “persistent and highly motivated populist resistance of politically awakened and historically resentful peoples.” Brzezinski also blamed the accessibility of “radio, television and the Internet” for the “universal awakening of mass political consciousness.”
“[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people,” said Brzezinski during a 2010 Council on Foreign Relations speech in Montreal.
Despite attempts by both the Republican and Democratic leadership to gain support for a war in Syria, a new Reuters poll revealed that only 9 percent of Americans support military intervention in Syria. If the United States intervenes, it will be the least popular war in American history.
The massive and growing evidence forced out by the alternative media, which points to a US backed chemical attack by Al Qaeda led rebel forces to be blamed on Assad, has only accelerated the inevitable downfall of the corporate press that is now only trusted by 23 percent of the public.
The alternative media news website, Infowars, run by the now infamous and outspoken Alex Jones has been very influential when it comes to giving space for counter arguments against Obama’s now desperate attempts to convince the people of America and the wider world that a military strike against Syria is the right thing to do. The latest story to be aired by Infowars is pretty scary.
As the world continues to hold its breath and Obama and his cohorts desperately bend ears about the crossing of red lines, the ordinary folk of Syria fortunate enough to still have them ,sleep uneasily in their beds waiting for the humanitarian missiles from the West.
So what is this ‘red line’ that Obama correctly pointed out was drawn, not by him, but by the world? When did that happen? And who exactly signed up to it? Given the fervour with which Obama has been pounding his pulpit you could be forgiven for thinking the US were one of the first countries to put their name to it. If so you would be wrong. The Geneva Protocol , to give the ‘red line’ its official title, came into being in 1925 but the US didn’t sign up to it until 50 years later in 1975 and then only with the reservation that the Protocol would cease to be binding upon them if “any enemy state does not observe the prohibitions of the protocol”. What this means, ironically, for the current situation is that now that Obama is claiming that Assad has failed to observe the prohibitions on chemical weapons – Syria having signed up to it in 1968 – the protocol is no longer binding on the US and thus they could ‘legitimately’ use them against him should they so choose.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting here that the United States would resort to such a foolish and reckless act. I merely make the point to further illustrate the depth of hypocrisy which underlies Obama’s argument for military action against Syria and the US position generally on the use of chemical weapons. And there is, of course, a further international agreement in force which militates against the use of chemical weapons, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction which the US signed in 1993. This agreement is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is an independent organization based in the Hague, in the Netherlands. This convention augments the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and includes extensive verification measures such as the on-site inspections we’ve seen in Syria and previously in Iraq. There are currently 189 signatories to this agreement.
Back in 1969, before the US had signed up to the Geneva Protocol and in the midst of their involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, Russia accused them of war crimes because of their use of Agent Orange. The US strongly denied this claiming Agent Orange was a herbicide, not a chemical weapon and anyway they were not bound by the Geneva Protocol. Nonetheless, there were many in America who were very concerned about this and felt that the fact they were not a signatory to the protocol did not put them above the law. Professor George Bunn, writing in the Wisconsin Law Review, made the case for signing up to the Geneva Protocol and in so doing provided a detailed history of the world’s ‘red line’ which has provided much of the factual content of this post.
The first treaty dealing specifically with poison gas was the 1899 Hague Gas Declaration which contained an agreement “to abstain from the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases.” Twenty-seven states became parties to this declaration, including all participants in the Hague conference except the United States. The American representative, Navy Captain Alfred T. Mahan, refused to agree because gas projectiles were not yet in practical use or fully developed and because he thought gas warfare was just as humane as other forms of warfare. Unfortunately, the language of this declaration was so limited that it had little if any effect on gas warfare during the First World War. In the first major poison gas attack of that War, at Ypres in 1915, the chlorine gas used by the Germans came from large cylinders, and not the “projectiles” described in the declaration. The French used projectiles containing tear gas, which they said was not an “asphyxiating or deleterious” gas within the meaning of the declaration. Similarly, a projectile used by Germany did not have “as its sole object” the diffusion of poison gas because, the Germans argued, it was also used for shrapnel. With these and other arguments, the existing limitations on poison gas were brushed aside in the First World War.
Then came the 1919 Versailles Treaty. This treaty contained the following provision:
“The use of asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases and of analogous liquids, materials or devices being prohibited, their manufacture and importation are strictly forbidden in Germany.”
While the United States failed to give its consent to the ratification of the Versailles Treaty primarily because of its provisions establishing a League of Nations, the quoted language was incorporated by reference in the 1921 Treaty of Berlin between the United States and Germany. But the United States regarded it as only applicable to Germany.Then in 1922 came The Washington Treaty on Submarines and Noxious Gases. Drawing on the language of former peace treaties, the Washington Treaty stated:
“The use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices, having been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world and a prohibition of such use having been declared in treaties to which a majority of the civilized Powers are parties, The Signatory Powers, to the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as a part of international law binding alike the conscience and practice of nations, declare their assent to such prohibition, and agree to be bound thereby between themselves and invite all other civilized nations to adhere thereto.’
This provision, being drawn up at a conference in Washington, was based upon a United States proposal and was adopted at the urging of Secretary of State Hughes. Its been said that in order to help achieve later Senate consent, Senator Elihu Root was asked to represent the United States at this conference. In addition Secretary Hughes took pains to have an advisory committee of prominent citizens appointed by President Harding and attempted to mobilize popular opinion behind the treaty. As a result, the Senate gave its consent without a single dissenting vote. French ratification was necessary, however, and sadly the treaty failed because of French objections to its provisions on submarines even though there was consensus on the issue of chemical weapons.
Three years later in 1925 The Geneva Protocol, of which we now hear so much from Obama, was born. This protocol added to the poison gas prohibition of the Washington Treaty an additional ban on bacteriological warfare. The relevant wording reads :-
“Whereas the use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices, has been justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world; and
Whereas the prohibition of such use has been declared in Treaties to which the majority of Powers of the world are Parties; and
To the end that this prohibition shall be universally accepted as part of International Law, binding alike the conscience and the practice of nations:
Declare: That the High Contracting Parties, so far as they are not already Parties to Treaties prohibiting such use, accept this prohibition, agree to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of warfare and agree to be bound as between themselves according to the terms of this declaration.”
So the Geneva Protocol was adopted at the insistence of the United States. However, probably because of the ease with which the Washington Treaty had sailed through the Senate, Secretary of State Kellogg did not make the effort to gain the same support for the Geneva Protocol that Secretary Hughes had made earlier for the Washington Treaty. Although Congressman Burton was the head of the United States delegation, no Senator was included. No advisory committee was enlisted and as a result the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service was not prevented from mobilizing opposition to the protocol.
The Chemical Warfare Service duly enlisted the help and support of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Chemical Society, and the chemical industry itself. Senator Wadsworth, Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, led the Senate opponents of the protocol and argued that it would be torn up in time of war, once more echoing the US view of chemical weapons that existed back at the 1899 Hague convention, that poison gas was in any event more humane than many other weapons.
Senator Borah, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, finally withdrew the treaty from Senate consideration, presumably because he and the Senate majority leader had concluded that they did not have the votes.
The Geneva Protocol , therefore, came into force without the United States signing up to it, despite the fact it was their insistence on it that led to others doing so. An America emerges from this as a nation that sees itself to be above international law; a nation that now holds a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction yet doggedly persists in denying those weapons to other states; a nation with the military potential to commit massive crimes against humanity yet refuses to subject itself to the International Criminal Court. If such a nation were characteristically peaceful and non-interventionist this wouldn’t be such a problem, but the US is quite the opposite despite the sickly sweet moral rhetoric that drips from its jaws.
By the time the US was heavily involved in the Vietnam War the Geneva Protocol had over 60 adherents, every member of NATO except the United States, and all Warsaw Pact members, including the Soviet Union, were parties. Indeed, all European states except Albania joined the protocol. Of the major industrial countries, only Japan and the United States had failed to become parties by the end of the 1960s.
Many people have credited the Geneva Protocol with a major role in preventing gas warfare in Europe during World War 11. It came to symbolise the abhorrence for gas which even military men felt after World War I and this abhorrence contributed to restraints imposed by both civilian and military leaders.
Retaliation was the primary sanction acting to deter the use of poison gas and germs and so the protocol established the norm of conduct. Unlike World War I, no gas warfare occurred among the industrial states of Europe during World War 11 on the battlefield at least. It could and has been argued that Hitler’s gassing of millions of Jews constitutes such conduct.
So at the time of the Vietnam War when they were using Agent Orange and napalm as weapons, the United States was not a party to any treaty which expressly prohibited it from engaging in gas or bacteriological warfare. However the principles of the protocol appear to form a rule of customary international law applicable even to the United States at that time.
Custom is the older and the original source of international law. . . . International jurists speak of a custom when a clear and continuous habit of doing certain actions has grown up under the aegis of the conviction that these actions are, according to international law, obligatory and right.
To determine the existence of a customary rule of international law, state practice with respect to the use of poison gas and biological weapons in war should be examined. Where that practice indicates non-use, the question must still be answered whether this was based on a belief that a rule of international law existed even for those not parties to the protocol. The then practice and official views of the United States and Japan appear to be most relevant as they were the only major industrial states which had not, at that time, ratified the protocol.
The United States did not engage in gas warfare during World War II although it could have been to their military advantage in the Pacific in 1945. At the beginning of United States’ participation in World War II, the State Department became concerned that the Japanese, not being parties to the Geneva Protocol, would engage in chemical warfare .
The British, French, Italian, and German governments had exchanged pledges to observe the protocol; the British had made the same offer to Japan, although it replied evasively. The US State Department proposed that a declaration be made to Japan that the United States would comply with the protocol if others did. Secretary of War Stimson, however, opposed any acceptance of the protocol by declaration. In February of 1942 he urged that the US “keep our mouths shut,” apparently because he was concerned about their preparedness to retaliate if the Japanese should use gas.
In June 1942, President Roosevelt was persuaded by the Chinese to issue a statement concerning reported Japanese use of noxious gases in China. Without referring to the protocol, Roosevelt threatened “retaliation in kind and in full measure” if Japan persisted “in this inhumane form of warfare” against China or any other American ally.
A year later the United States was better prepared to retaliate, if necessary, and Roosevelt issued a more comprehensive statement. Again, however, he did not refer to the Geneva Protocol when he said:-
“From time to time since the present war began there have been reports that one or more of the Axis powers were seriously contemplating use of poisonous or noxious gases or other inhumane devices of warfare. Use of such weapons has been outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind. This country has not used them, and I hope that we never will be compelled to use them. I state categorically that we shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies. As President of the United States and as Commander in Chief of the American armed forces, I want to make clear beyond all doubt to any of our enemies contemplating a resort to such desperate and barbarous methods that acts of this nature committed against any one of the United Nations will be regarded as having been committed against the United States itself and will be treated accordingly. We promise to any perpetrators of such crimes full and swift retaliation in kind. …. “
After Germany was defeated, consideration was given to using poisonous gas on Japanese forces in the Pacific in order to bring the war swiftly to an end. However, the joint chiefs never recommended its use to the President. Personal and institutional distaste for chemical warfare among military men probably played a major role. The military view that gas was an insidious and dishonourable weapon did not necessarily mean that all military decision makers agreed with President Roosevelt that the use of gas had been “outlawed by the general opinion of civilized mankind.” But some did. President Roosevelt’s statement would, in any event, have been a hurdle to overcome even though his death left any final decision to President Truman.
The United States did not use gas warfare in Korea although authority to do so was requested by some of their commanders in the field. US preparedness was greater than that of the North Koreans or mainland Chinese, and the gas was thought by some to be useful in flushing the enemy out of entrenched positions. When the North Koreans accused United States forces in Korea of germ warfare, American representatives denied the charges, maintaining that such warfare was abhorrent. Although not decisive, American failure to use gas in Korea and their defence against the germ warfare charge are evidence that they believed the use of poison gas and germ warfare to be wrong.
During the period between the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, Wisconsin’s Democrat Congressman Kastenmeier precipated a debate on the use of chemical and biological warfare by introducing a draft concurrent resolution which would have reaffirmed the longstanding policy of the United States that in the event of war the United States shall under no circumstances resort to the use of biological weapons or the use of poisonous or obnoxious gases unless they are first used by their enemies.
Congressman Kastenmeier deduced from public statements and articles that the Defence Department was attempting to relax policy strictures on chemical and biological warfare.When asked whether his administration was contemplating changing United States policy against initial use of chemical and biological weapons, President Eisenhower said that “no official suggestion has been made to me, and so far as my own instinct is concerned, it is not to start such a thing first.”
Fast forwarding to the Vietnam War, in replying to Communist charges of violation of the Geneva Protocol , United States representatives excepted tear gases and herbicides from the provisions of the protocol, thus implying a conviction that they had to observe those provisions. Similarly, Secretary Rusk insisted that the US were not “embarking upon gas warfare in Vietnam …. We are not talking about gas that is prohibited by the Geneva Convention of 1925 or any other understandings about the use of gas.” In other words they were splitting hairs.
In 1966, the United States sponsored and voted for a United Nations General Assembly resolution which called for “strict observance by all states of the principles and objectives of the Protocol” and condemned “all actions contrary to those objectives.”
A United States delegate stated that “while the United States is not a party to the Protocol, we support the worthy objectives which it seeks to achieve.” Following this resolution, the State Department took the view that, by voting for the resolution, “the United States reaffirmed its long-standing support for the principles and objectives of the Protocol.” In this view, the “basic rule” set forth in the protocol “has been so widely accepted over a long period of time that it is now considered to form a part of customary international law.”
When the US finally ratified the Geneva Protocol on 22nd January 1975 it was the last major industrial nation to do so. Since that time, and notably in the case of the war against Serbia, the notions of ‘just war’ and ‘humanitarian war’ have emerged along with the concept that the mighty America is the ‘world’s policeman’ in order to justify military action. But these arguments provide increasingly flimsy cover for the real reasons America and its allies have invaded and plundered the lands of others.
Given the massive lack of popular support across the world for Obama’s proposed military strike against Syria it could be said the world has drawn another red line and maybe the President of the United States should beware of stepping over it.
June 8th 1972, Trang Bang village, South Vietnam. Villagers fleeing after napalm attack.
Watching yesterday’s press conference with Obama at the close of the G20 Summit in St Petersburgh I was struck by just how frighteningly good he is at persuasion. Unlike the wooden performance of Cameron who often sounds like he’s reciting a speech written for him off by heart, Obama’s conversational style sounds spontaneous and unrehearsed. He’s a superb actor with a presence designed to disarm and he masterfully kept the Syrian focus on an emotional and moral agenda, refusing to engage with more material questions about tactics or outcomes.
I wonder why it is, then, that while he’s stomping around up there on the moral high ground so beloved by American Presidents and other Western leaders, that no journalist thought to take advantage of his exposed position to take a determined shot at him by bringing up the question of US military use of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam? Why, when he so righteously emphasises the atrocity of Syrian children attacked by chemical weapons, did no-one remind him of the countless Vietnamese children running for their lives from their napalmed villages with their skin hanging off? Why did no-one have the courage to remind him of the many Vietnamese children born in the last forty years horribly disfigured because of their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange? And why did no-one ask him why those parents are still trying to get compensation through US courts, not from the US military who sprayed the stuff all over their country, but from the US companies that manufactured it?
Napalm is nasty stuff. U.S. troops used it from about 1965 to 1972 in the Vietnam War; napalm is a mixture of plastic polystyrene, hydrocarbon benzene, and gasoline. This mixture creates a jelly-like substance that, when ignited, sticks to practically anything and burns up to ten minutes. The effects of napalm on the human body are unbearably painful and almost always cause death among its victims. “Napalm is the most terrible pain you can ever imagine” said Kim Phúc, a survivor from a napalm bombing. “Water boils at 212°F. Napalm generates temperatures 1,500°F to 2,200°F.” Kim Phúc sustained third degree burns to portions of her body. She was one of the only survivors of such extreme measures
Napalm was first used in flamethrowers for U.S. ground troops; they burned down sections of forest and bushes in hopes of eliminating any enemy guerrilla fighters. Later on in the war B-52 Bombers began dropping napalm bombs and other incendiary explosives. Air raids that used napalm were much more devastating than flamethrowers; a single bomb was capable of destroying areas up to 2,500 square yards. Throughout the duration of the war, 1965 – 1973, eight million tons of bombs were dropped over Vietnam; this was more than three times the amount used in WWII.
Agent Orange, on the other hand, is more like the sarin claimed to have been used in Syria. It’s a toxic chemical herbicide that was used from about 1965 – 1970 in the Vietnam War. It was one of the main mixtures used during Operation Ranch Hand. Operation Ranch Hand was intended to deprive Vietnamese farmers and guerilla fighters of clean food and water in hopes they would relocate to areas more heavily controlled by the U.S. By the end of the operation over twenty million gallons of herbicides and defoliants were sprayed over forests and fields.
Agent Orange is fifty times more concentrated than normal agricultural herbicides; this extreme intensity completely destroyed all plants in the area. Agent Orange not only had devastating effects on agriculture but also on people and animals. The Vietnam Red Cross recorded over 4.8 million deaths and 400,000 children born with birth defects due to exposure to Agent Orange.
The use of Agent Orange was later determined to be in violation of the Geneva Contract yet no-one launched a military strike at the US as a result of this violation. The would-be punishers remain unpunished for their crime.
The US lost the long ‘never ending’ war in Vietnam. There has been no victory in Iraq or Afghanistan. The ‘threat’ to American interests is not in doing nothing in Syria. When you count the cost to Americans in lives lost and billions wasted on losing them, the real threat to ordinary Americans lies in yet another futile flexing of their military muscle in the Middle East.
Diminished Dave doesn’t seem to be enjoying his job much at the moment. He probably wishes he was still on that Cornish beach – anywhere but St Petersburgh where his standing as the great leader of a great world power seems to have dissolved along with his ambition to be an even bigger war criminal than Tony Blair and hang with the big boys in all the important meetings. Gone are all those photo opportunities for the history books he longs to be in, where he could stand proudly shoulder to elbow with Obama as they announce their strategic aims for the destruction of more Syrian lives. He must feel he’s let himself down, he’s let Eton down and he’s let Queen and Country down.
But before you weep in anguished sympathy for this miserable wimp consider how he, and his hero Obama, continue to let humanity down. For despite all his craven assertions about how much he respects democracy and the will of Parliament and the people he’s still sticking to the big lie about Syria – he still claims along with Obama, in the face of no credible evidence, that Assad gassed his own people. Either he’s as gullible as the Americans hope the public are or he’s a cold and calculated liar, as this video strongly suggests…