On Tuesday 4 April there were reports of children and other civilians killed by chemical poisoning in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. There were contradictory reports, some saying they smelled the gas; others claiming it caused immediate death like odorless sarin.
On Wednesday 5 April, President Trump blamed the Syrian government despite conflicting reports and contradictory information and accusations. He said, “Yesterday’s chemical attack in Syria [was] against innocent people including women, small children and even beautiful little babies. Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated … my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
On Thursday, 6 April, Trump ordered a ‘targeted military strike’ on Syria with 50 tomahawk missiles attacking the a primary Syrian air base near Homs. This base is used to support the combat with ISIS in eastern Syria and Nusra / Al Qaeda in Idlib province.
As I will show below, it is likely the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by an armed opposition faction, not the Syrian government. The goal was precisely what has happened: a media firestorm leading to direct U.S. aggression against Syria.
What Happened and How?
On April 4 news broke of a ‘chemical weapon’ attack in Syria. Western media and governments quickly blamed the Syrian government. Just as quickly, neoconservatives such as Sen. John McCain recalled the 2013 crisis when Pres Obama ultimately decided not to attack Syria. Israeli PM Netanyahu chimed in with a not-too-subtle renewed call for war on Syria. He tweeted that it’s time for the international community to “fulfill its obligations from 2013.”
Basic facts include:
– On 22 March, the government controlled town of Khattab was over-run by militants with some civilians kidnapped and taken to the nearby opposition controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun.
– On 4 April, up to 80 persons, including many children, died at Khan Sheikhoun. Some showed signs of chemical poisoning. Photographs, videos, analyses and other sources are documented at “A Closer Look At Syria”.
– one of the videos features a UK born and raised Dr. Shajul Islam. He received his UK medical license in 2012 but had the license suspended due to reports he was involved in the kidnapping in Syria of journalist John Cantlie.
– Many of the video scenes depict an area set into a limestone quarry with apparent caves and storage depots. There are flat bed trucks with bodies scattered on the ground in this semi-industrial area. Other video show scenes in medical clinic.
– Photographs show “White Helmet” individuals handling bodies without gloves which is very strange if they died or were dying from chemical poison.
Who is responsible?
There are three theories about what happened:
– The western government narrative is that the Syrian “regime” is responsible. They fired illegal chemical weapons into the town, primarily killing innocent civilians and many children.
– The Syrian army acknowledges firing air strikes but deny using chemical weapons at this or any time. This area was the base for militant attacks against government areas in Hama province in the preceding weeks. The Russian Ministry of Defense says that militants had a weapons production factory including chemical weapon ingredients, and that may have been hit and caused the chemical weapon deaths.
– A third theory is the kidnapped civilians from Khattab were killed or poisoned by the militants as part of a staged event.
Evidence Pointing to the Militants
Looking at the facts, history and overall circumstances, it is far more likely the armed opposition is responsible for this event. Here is why:
(1) The incident and publicity help the opposition and hurt the government.
Crime investigations usually begin with the question: Who has a motive? In this case, it’s strikingly clear that the armed opposition and their supporters benefit from this event. They have used the story to further demonize the Assad government and make renewed calls for US and “the world” to intervene.
The Syrian government is making steady advances in many parts of the country. They have no reason to use chemical weapons; they have every reason to NOT use chemical weapons. They know very well that the armed opposition has immediate access to major media.
Accusations that the Syrian government intentionally attacks civilians is contradicted by their policies and actions. As demonstrated last Decembers in Aleppo, civilians are welcomed from opposition areas into government controlled areas. Even Syrian militants are welcomed after they sign an agreement to lay down arms.
It is also relevant to consider timing. There is a pattern of sensational events helpful to the armed opposition occurring simultaneous with critical international meetings or actions. In this case, the events in Khan Sheikhoun occurred the day before an important conference on Syria in Brussels. The conference titled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” has been effectively sidetracked by news about the chemical weapons attack and the Syrian government being blamed.
(2) Extremists were responsible for the August 2013 Chemical Weapon attack in Damascus.
Western supporters of the armed opposition were quick to blame the Syrian government for the chemical attack in Ghouta on 21 August 2013. However, subsequent investigations by the most credible investigative journalists and researchers concluded the Syrian government was probably NOT responsible. Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry concluded the attack was most likely carried out by militants with support from Turkey. The in depth examination titled WhoGhouta concluded “The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces.” An MIT study made a detailed trajectory analysis, concluded that the missile could not have been fired from government territory and warned “Faulty intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action.”
Armed Opposition Groups have a history of Staging Incidents
From the start, the Syrian conflict has included an information war. Hillary Clinton boasted of “training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists.” In December 2012, NBC journalist Richard Engel was reportedly kidnapped and abused by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian government. Engel and his film crew were “liberated” by Free Syrian Army rebels after a gunfight with the Assad supporting kidnappers. In reality, the entire episode from kidnapping to rescue was a hoax designed to demonize Assad supporters and glorify the “rebels”. The true story emerged years later after the actual events were leaked. When it was going to be made public, Engel finally admitted the truth.
(4) Supporters of the armed opposition have a history of fabricating stories which demonize the Syrian Government.
In February 2014, it was announced that a defecting Syrian military photographer, who was anonymous but code named “Caesar”, had 55 thousand photos showing the torture and murder of 11 thousand innocent Syrian civilians. This news received sensational media attention with live interviews on CNN and front page coverage throughout the western world. The news relied on the judgment of legal prosecutors who “verified” the story and produced a “Caesar Report”. This was released the day before the start of Geneva negotiations. It effectively disrupted the talks and facilitated the “rebels” refusal to negotiate and walk away. In reality, the “verification” and report was commissioned by the government of Qatar which has been a major funder of the armed opposition. Since then it has been discovered that nearly half the 55 thousand photos show the opposite of what was claimed: they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of explosions NOT tortured civilians. That is just one of the findings confirming the fraud involved in this sensational story. A concise expose of “Caesar” is here.
How the Public has been Misinformed on Syria
Historian and journalist Stephen Kinzer has said, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.” Here are a few examples showing the bias, half-truths and outright false statements regarding the events at Khan Sheikhoun:
– The PBS Newshour typically features two guests who are questioned by the host. The problem is that their guests consistently share the same basic viewpoint. On 4 April, one guest was from the Soros funded Physicians for Human Rights. She claimed, “We know that sarin has been used before by the Assad regime.” In fact that has NOT been confirmed by any credible organization. On the contrary, the most thorough investigations point to sarin being used by the armed opposition NOT the Syrian government. The other guest was Andrew Tabler from the neoconservative Israeli associated “Washington Institute”. His editorial from last Fall makes clear what he wants: “The case for (finally) bombing Assad.” The discussion on Syria at PBS Newshour is consistently biased.
– The New York Times feature story on 4 April was “Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; U.S. Blames Assad”. One of the authors, Michael Gordon, was an influential proponent for “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” that justified the 2003 invasion. But that has apparently not hurt his career. In this story on Syria, he and co-author Anne Barnard claim that “American intelligence agencies concluded” the 2013 attack was carried out by the Syrian government. That is false. The intelligence agencies did NOT agree and the “assessment” came from the White House not the intelligence agencies. It is astounding that they either do not know this or they are intentionally misleading the public. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity explained the significance in their memorandum “A Call for Syria – Sarin Proof”.
DemocracyNow is a popular television/radio show. It is widely considered to be “progressive” but is also highly biased in its presentation on Syria. It almost solely promotes the perspective of those who support the armed opposition and/or western intervention in Syria. On April 5, they interviewed Dr. Rola Hallam. She is infamous for being the key player in the documentary “Saving Syria’s Children” which purports to show a chemical weapon attack in Aleppo but was actually staged. The “documentary” was then broadcast at a critical time trying to influence the 2013 vote in British parliament for an attack on Syria. On April 6, DemocracyNow interviewed another “Syrian” who lives in the West and promotes western intervention: Lina Sergie Attar. Viewers of Democracy Now have no idea that the majority of Syrians support the government and especially the national Army in their struggle against invasion and terrorism.
Public understanding about what’s happening in Syria has been seriously confused by the bad analysis of prominent analysts. Some have suggested that Israel was content to live with Assad. Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren clarified the truth as he said “we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to those who were backed by Iran.” In short, Israel prefers Al Qaeda or ISIS or, better yet, the conflict to continue so that both sides are destroyed.
Before the conflict began, in 2010, Secy of State Hillary Clinton made demands to Damascus that all revolved around Israeli interests. She wanted Syria to end its alliance with Hezbollah, to reduce its interactions with Iran and to come to an agreement with Israel. In contrast with what some analysts have said, Israeli interests have been a major factor driving and maintaining the conflict. With the liberation of Aleppo and prospect of a victory by Syria and allies, Israeli demands to escalate the war have probably increased.
Some of the world’s most famed political analysts have contributed to the confusion and lack of resistance as the war on Syria has continued. For example, Noam Chomsky on Democracy two days ago said “The Assad regime is a moral disgrace, the Russians with them.” Evidently he believes all or most of the accusations which have said about the ‘regime’. In sharp contrast with Chomsky’s assessment, it’s remarkable that Syria has held together as well as it has in the face of attack by some of the most powerful and rich countries on earth. Over 100 thousand Syrians have given their lives defending their country against the onslaught. Russia has supported their ally in compliance with international law, continually trying to work with the U.S. coalition as a “partner” against terrorism. Evidently Chomsky is unaware or does not believe the extent of lies that have been created around Syria. Evidently he does not recognize the distorted and shameful media coverage mentioned by Kinzer. Everyone makes mistakes but Chomsky’s poor analysis here is a whopper. If he was to visit Syria and talk with real Syrians I think his perception would be dramatically changed just as described by the PBS Frontline crew here. With consummate hypocrisy, both Syrian and Russian governments are now demonized by western neoconservatives and liberals who have done little or nothing to stop their own government’s collusion with terrorists raining havoc and destruction in Syria.
The need to restore International Law
International law has been undermined and replaced by “humanitarian law”. This has contributed to the current disastrous situation whereby the U.S. and NATO are waging aggression under a humanitarian pretext.
International law regarding attacks on sovereign states is clear: it is illegal unless authorized by the UN Security Council or in legitimate self defense. It is clear that Syria poses no threat to any of its neighbors or any other nation. It is also clear that Syria has been the victim for six long years of aggression by foreign states which have funded and promoted a proxy army of fanatics and mercenaries from around the world.
As the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has said: “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.”
There has been a sustained attempt to derail Trump’s campaign pledge to stop the US “regime change” policy. This has been accompanied by a semi-hysterical demonization of Syria’s ally Russia. Liberals have been willing accomplices in this campaign which serves the interests of the U.S. military security complex, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
It looks like the foreign policy hawks and neocons have succeeded. Yesterday’s attacks on Syria mark an escalation in the war of aggression and violation of international law against Syria. This could lead to WW3 unless there is sufficient outcry and opposition.
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at [email protected]