The evidence for Syrian chemical weapons use crumbles

Kenneth Timmerman | President, Foundation for Democracy in Iran

Now we learn that President Obama may be second-guessing his “decision’ to launch military action – that Secretary of State John Kerry insists is not “going to war” — to punish Syria for a chemical weapons attack the United States has not proved it carried out.

That is good news for the American servicemen and women who would be facing very real threats on a very real battlefield if the President did give the order to fight. For example, if the Russian spy ship Priazovye (SSV-201), now stationed in the Mediterranean, were to have used its high-power laser systems to blind American pilots flying toward Syria, would they become victims of “workplace violence,” like the victims of Fort Hood jihadist, Major Malik Hassan?

In classified hearings last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, was hard-pressed to justify unilateral U.S. military action, sources privy to the closed door sessions tell me.

As currently conceived by the President, U.S. military strikes would not significantly degrade Assad’s military, Gen. Dempsey admitted. And there was a “real possibility’ that our actions would widen the conflict, bringing in Iran and Russia and involving Israel.

Now the White House is soft-peddling its so-far unsupported claims that the Syrian regime was responsible for the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in a suburb of Damascus.

With the 13-minute compilation of YouTube videos the administration presented before the Senate Select Committee on intelligence last Thursday – and provided to CNN on Sunday – the Obama administration is now resorting to a “hearts and minds” campaign with the American public.

We are now supposed to launch military strikes on Syria based on a guilty conscience. Or as Secretary Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations committee last week, because if we fail to act, who knows what bad things Assad will do in the future.

The administration’s case for limited military strikes against Syria is falling apart even before President Obama has spoken to the American people.

Shortly after the August 21 attack, the United States claimed it had “high confidence” that the Syrian regime was responsible for the slaughter. Reinforcing that view were YouTube videos posted by opposition sources showing fragments of rockets that were of a kind used only by Syrian government forces, not the rebels.

But intelligence reports from French and Jordanian military intelligence show that the jihadist al-Nusra front rebels acquired similar rockets and chemical agents earlier this year when they overran a chemical weapons depot in Aleppo on May 17 and captured a rocket unit in Daraa now long afterward, sources privy to the intelligence tell me.

Those intelligence reports concluded there was a strong likelihood the rebels had carried out the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attacks either deliberately or by accident.

The Russians released a 100 page intelligence report to G-20 countries in July providing extensive detail of rebel responsibility for earlier chemical weapons attacks in Syria, as well.

So far, the U.S. has not commented on the Russian report, just as it has not presented Congress or the American public with credible intelligence to support its claim that Syria was responsible for the attack.

The administration’s own account of why it believed Assad was behind the attack said that the first reports of a chemical attack came in 90 minutes after the shelling had stopped. That suggests that the chemical attack began after the shelling had stopped, not that it was caused by the rocket attack.

A rebel commander told Associated Press reporter Dale Gavlak that the Sarin nerve gas was released by an accidental explosion caused by inexperienced rebels handling chemicals weapons. Foreign Policy magazine called that report “one of the five craziest conspiracy theories” on Syria. Why is that? Because the AP has inexperienced reporters who can’t tell the difference between a credible source and a fabricator?

In yet another version of what may have happened, the private intelligence group Stratfor reported on Saturday that German intelligence has evidence that Syrian forces carried out the gas attack without authorization.

The commander of the German Armed forces, General Volker Weiker, told chancellor Merkel and the Cabinet in a closed door briefing that Germany had intercepted numerous radio messages from Syrian commanders in the field requesting to use chemical weapons against the rebels, and they had all been denied by the general staff.

New sources came forward over the weekend to challenge the administration’s body count as well, which as I reported last week appeared to be nothing more than a computer simulation.

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said it had identified 395 victims. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had counted 502 dead, the AP reported.

Adding to the uncertainty of what actually happened was the admission by a U.S. consultant working for the rebels Syrian Emergency Task force, a group that has been advising Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain.

The consultant, Elizabeth O’Bagy, revealed on national television that the Syrian rebels were expecting U.S. air strikes against Syrian government assets shortly after the August 21 chemical weapons incident and had to reposition themselves when the attacks didn’t come, suggesting they had foreknowledge of the gas attacks.

Ms O’Bagy, who has not disclosed her relationship to the rebels in her many interviews on national television, told Fox News on Aug. 31 that rebel military leader General Salim Idris felt the United States has “let them down.” She then criticized President Obama for seeking a vote in Congress rather than launch military strikes immediately.

The 26-year old O’Bagy was subsequently exposed as “an advocate for Syrian rebels” by the Daily Caller.

All of this adds up to a sorry kettle of fish. Going to war on the basis of missing or disputed intelligence will further damage U.S. credibility, inflame passions in the region, and ultimately reinforce the determination of the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers to crush the rebellion with all possible force.

Congress should demand that the administration show the evidence, and release it publicly, or refuse to go along with ill-gotten plans to deliver what even President Obama has called a mere “shot across the bow” of the Syrian dictator.

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