U.N. Report Details Sarin Gas Use in Syria, but Doesn’t Assign Blame

Philip Bump, Atlantic Wire
See more stories about...
Philip Bump, Atlantic Wire
Sept. 16, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

The United Na­tions’ re­port on the al­leged Au­gust 21 chem­ic­al weapons at­tack in a sub­urb of Dam­a­cus sug­gests that it was not just al­leged. Call­ing the at­tack a “war crime,” Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon noted that evid­ence of the use of sar­in gas was “over­whelm­ing and in­dis­put­able.” By whom, however, isn’t spe­cified.

Ban presen­ted the re­port to the United Na­tions Se­cur­ity Coun­cil in a private meet­ing on Monday morn­ing, but made his re­marks avail­able to the pub­lic. The re­port it­self, also avail­able on­line, walks through the evid­ence col­lec­ted and ana­lyzed by the UN team that was already in the coun­try re­search­ing an­oth­er al­leged use of out­lawed weapons when the Au­gust 21 at­tack oc­curred.

Ban:

The Mis­sion has con­cluded that chem­ic­al weapons were used on a re­l­at­ively large scale in the Ghouta area of Dam­as­cus in the con­text of the on­go­ing con­flict in Syr­ia. The at­tack res­ul­ted in nu­mer­ous cas­u­al­ties, par­tic­u­larly among ci­vil­ians. …
Sur­viv­ors re­por­ted that fol­low­ing an at­tack with shelling, they quickly ex­per­i­enced a range of symp­toms, in­clud­ing short­ness of breath, dis­or­i­ent­a­tion, eye ir­rit­a­tion, blurred vis­ion, naus­ea, vomit­ing and gen­er­al weak­ness. Many even­tu­ally lost con­scious­ness. First re­spon­ders de­scribed see­ing a large num­ber of in­di­vidu­als ly­ing on the ground, many of them dead or un­con­scious.

The re­port it­self in­cludes 30 data points, walk­ing through weath­er con­di­tions, med­ic­al evid­ence, and pho­to­graph­ic de­tails of the sur­face-to-sur­face rock­ets that car­ried the weapons. While the team was lim­ited “due to the se­cur­ity situ­ation” (in Ban’s words), its point is dir­ect. The 30th data point simply reads, “This res­ult leaves us with the deep­est con­cern.”

It does not as­sign blame, however. “On the basis of the evid­ence ob­tained dur­ing our in­vest­ig­a­tion of the Ghouta in­cid­ent,” the re­port reads, “the con­clu­sion is that, on 21 Au­gust 2013, chem­ic­al weapons have been used in the on­go­ing con­flict between the parties in the Syr­i­an Ar­ab Re­pub­lic, also against ci­vil­ians, in­clud­ing chil­dren, on a re­l­at­ively large scale.” The name “Bashar al-As­sad” does not ap­pear in the text of the doc­u­ment. “The in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity has a mor­al re­spons­ib­il­ity to hold ac­count­able those re­spons­ible,” Ban’s in­tro­duc­tion to the re­port reads, but the re­port doesn’t identi­fy those parties.

Ban’s point in ad­dress­ing the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil with the re­port was, in part, to call for the group’s unity. In oth­er words, he’d like for Rus­sia and China to not veto any ef­fort to in­tro­duce a solu­tion to the use of chem­ic­al weapons. He praises the tent­at­ive agree­ment reached by the United States and Rus­sia in Geneva, and it’s pos­sible that de­clin­ing to as­sign blame is part of that polit­ic­al ef­fort.

In present­ing the evid­ence to the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil, Ban in­cluded in­form­a­tion meant to re­mind the world that the use of chem­ic­al weapons and the crime that con­sti­tutes is a small por­tion of the vi­ol­ence that has over­whelmed the coun­try. And fur­ther, that the world is im­plic­ated in that vi­ol­ence.

The UN Com­mis­sion of In­quiry has re­por­ted that Gov­ern­ment and pro-gov­ern­ment forces have com­mit­ted murder, en­forced dis­ap­pear­ances, ex­traju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions, rape and tor­ture against ci­vil­ians. It has also re­por­ted that anti-gov­ern­ment armed groups have com­mit­ted murder, ex­e­cu­tions, tor­ture and host­age-tak­ing. There has been in­dis­crim­in­ate shelling of ci­vil­ian neigh­bour­hoods by all sides. Yet arms con­tin­ue to flow to the coun­try and the re­gion.

The team that col­lec­ted evid­ence in­side Syr­ia notes one de­tail that sug­gests why Rus­sia may still be hes­it­ant to ex­cor­i­ate its Syr­i­an al­lies — and its pos­sible role in the at­tacks. Pho­to­graphs of the rock­ets used to carry the gas in­clude Cyril­lic char­ac­ters, as seen be­low. That the Rus­si­ans sup­ply Syr­ia with weapons is not new in­form­a­tion, but it’s cer­tainly not the sort of thing that the coun­try’s gov­ern­ment is eager to have be dir­ectly im­plic­ated in the at­tack.

The United Na­tions re­port will likely not of­fer any new data for the in­ter­na­tion­al dip­lo­mats that have been ne­go­ti­at­ing the world’s re­sponse — largely out­side of the ae­gis of the body it­self. What the re­port may do, though, is of­fer in­sight in­to why that ne­go­ti­at­ing pro­cess is tricky as it has been.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from the At­lantic Wire. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×