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Update 5th March 2014: The UN team investigating the chemical weapons attacks on Ghouta and Khan Al-Assal have stated that they believe that the chemical weapons used in both attacks appeared to have come from the Syrian army’s own stockpiles. Since the regime has not claimed that any of its stockpiles of chemical weapons had been stolen or have gone missing, this finding rules out any possibility whatsoever of anyone except the Syrian army being responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.
On August 21st, 2013, the Damascus opposition held suburb of Ghouta was hit by a massive chemical weapons attack. Estimates of the final casualty toll ranged from 280 to over 1700 fatalities, with thousands more affected.
In trying to prove that the attack was “orchestrated” by the rebels (in effect, claiming that the rebels gassed themselves to provoke a Western-led military intervention), regime apologists have relied on primarily on two sources; the “analysis” of Agnes Mariam, a Palestinian nun with no training or expertise in chemical weapons warfare, or any warfare of any kind, and an article written by the American journalist Seymour Hersh, which was published in the London Review of Books after being rejected by both the Washington Post and New Yorker Magazine.
Sources that refute Agnes Mariam
Agnes Mariam, using Youtube videos of the attack’s aftermath, claimed in a report later exploited by the Russian government, that all the footage of the chemical weapons attack was faked.
Doctors Without Borders had a team in Ghouta at the time, and have an extensive report on how its own doctors treated hundreds of cases of patients with symptoms consistent with that of a chemical weapons attack.
An article on the BBC’s website provides a point by point rebuttal by Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, to the claims made by Agnes Mariam
The Wall Street Journal published a powerful piece on the Obama administration’s mishandling of the attacks as they occurred;
And finally, some background information on Agnes Mariam herself, and her history of collusion with the regime, and her propaganda efforts on its part;
Sources that Refute Seymour Hersh
In December 2013, the journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article in which he claimed that Jabhat Al-Nasra, an Al-Qaeda affiliated militia, had attacked Ghouta with chemical weapons. It took less than 24 hours for Seymour Hersh’s shoddy analysis to be thoroughly debunked, and the man himself derided;
An article in the Telegraph newspaper provides a comprehensive takedown of Hersh’s conspiracy theories;
Foreign Policy published a detailed analysis by Syrian conflict weapons usage expert Eliot Higgins, of the Brown Moses blog, of the chemical weapons attack. Higgins has spent more man-hours than any other person on the planet analyzing the weapons used in the war. He concluded that Hersh had ignored many key pieces of evidence, especially new evidence that had come to light in the three months since the attack;
Dan Kaszeta, a former US Army and US Secret Service specialist on chemical, biological, and radiological defense, wrote a very detailed and informed piece on all the myriad problems with Seymour Hersh’s article;
Cheryl Rofer, a chemical weapons expert, and retired supervisor at Los Alamos, has an excellent piece on the issues with Hersh’s claims;
EA World View has one of the earliest and still best dissections of Seymour Hersh’s article on the chemical weapons attack. The article is written by
And finally, Hersh’s own decade long background as a facilitator for the Assad regime’s propaganda and diplomatic efforts are examined by The Weekly Standard;
Sources that Refute Pro-Regime Claims in General
Brian Whitaker asks, Questions for the Syria Sarin sceptics. If rebels were to blame how did they do it?
Chemical weapons experts have pointed to the presence of hexamine in the weapons used as damning proof of the regime’s culpability. Hexamine is not a standard chemical in the production of sarin, and yet the regime is known to have stockpiled massive amounts of the material as part of its chemical weapons program.
The chemical weapons attack on Ghouta on August 21st 2013 could only have been carried out by the forces of the Assad regime for the following reasons;
- The munitions used in the attacks were of a type undoubtedly in possession of the regime. Their forces have uploaded videos of themselves loading and launching munitions types that correspond exactly to the ones used in the attacks. In contrast, no one has presented any evidence whatsoever to show that the rebels had access to such munitions.
- The massive scale of the attack and the quantities of chemical agents used could only have been manufactured over many years, and by a party possessing sophisticated manufacturing techniques, capabilities which are beyond that of the Syrian opposition. The Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo spent millions of dollars and years of effort to produce sarin that in the end, only managed to kill 13 people, and that in a very confined space, the Tokyo subway.
- On March 5th 2014 the UN team investigating the attack concluded that the chemical weapons used in the attack could only have come from the Syrian army’s stockpiles. Since the regime has not claimed that any of its stockpiles of chemical weapons had been stolen or have gone missing, this finding rules out any possibility whatsoever of anyone except the Syrian army being responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.
- The presence of hexamine in the weapons used is by itself enough to prove the culpability of the regime. It has been described by chemical weapons experts as being “akin to the police finding red lipstick in a woman’s purse that matches collar stains on a murder victim”
- Doctors Without Borders were present in Ghouta during the attacks, and reported on treating hundreds of patients with symptoms that were consistent with that of a chemical weapons attack.
- The rockets used in the attacks had a range of 2.5 km, putting the affected areas well within range of advance regime positions at that date, as evidence by reporting from the area by the Russian language ANNA News
- Jabhat Al-Nusra, the group that pro-regimists claim launched the chemical weapons attacks, were never active anywhere near Ghouta, which had been besieged and surrounded by the regime for over a year.