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Ear to the Ground

Kerry Presents Case for Attack on Syria

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Posted on Aug 30, 2013
Ralph Alswang, Center for American Progress Action Fund (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Secretary of State John Kerry in 2009.

After the British Parliament’s refusal to join a U.S. attack on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry declared Friday there was “clear” and “compelling” evidence that the government of President Bashar al-Assad used poison gas against its citizens. Meanwhile, the Obama administration released an unclassified intelligence report intended to back up the claim.

“Read for yourselves the evidence from thousands of sources,” Kerry told the press and public. “This is the indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons. This is what Assad did to his own people.” More than 1,400 people were killed in the chemical attack, including more than 400 children, he contended.

Readers of a New York Times article reporting the announcement were not directed to the sources Kerry implied were available for public review.

A four-page intelligence summary released by the White House reported the U.S. government’s conclusion that the Assad government had “carried out a chemical weapons attack” in suburbs outside Damascus. The document cited human sources as well as communications intercepts, and said the suggestion that the opposition might have been responsible “is highly unlikely.”

The Times did not independently verify the claims made in the assessment, which are summarized in the excerpt below. It is impossible to verify the story Obama and his officials are telling without the release to the public or press of the evidence he claims he has. Given that U.S. leaders have relied on allegations of chemical weapons use as a pretext to justify past invasions, many experts are urging that the administration’s present claims be treated with extreme skepticism.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

American intelligence agencies in the three days before the Aug. 21 attack detected signs of activities by the Syrian authorities “associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack,” the assessment said. Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the suburb of Adra from Aug. 18 until early on the morning of Aug. 21. On that date, it added, a “Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack,” including the use of gas masks.

Spy satellites detected rocket launchings from government-controlled territory 90 minutes before the first reports of a chemical weapons attack. The intelligence agencies said they had identified more than 100 videos related to the attack, many showing large numbers of bodies with physical signs consistent with nerve agents, and they added that the Syrian opposition “does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos.”

The agencies also said they had intercepted the communications of a senior Syrian official who “confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on Aug. 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence,” the assessment said. It added that on the afternoon of that day, Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations.

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