Human Rights Watch: “Strong” evidence Syrian govt behind chem attack

Human Rights Watch, a respected human rights group – one of the big two really, along with Amnesty International – issued a report today concluding that the evidence “strongly suggests” that the Syrian government was behind a chemical weapons attack on two Syrian suburbs that killed hundreds of civilians, including many children.

While the Human Rights Watch report doesn’t really prove whether there should or shouldn’t be military action, I think it does go to the point of whether dismantling the weapons is enough.  It’s not.  And here’s why…


If we simply dismantle Assad’s chemical weapons then we’re telling future governments, or individual actors, that the only penalty you’ll pay for mass murder is losing your toys AFTER you kill everyone.  So if you’re going to use a weapon of mass destruction, you might as well make it a big one.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone responded that we could still go after Assad for war crimes.  Not a bad point. But how exactly would that work?  And how would somehow removing Assad to the Hague not result in the same worrisome concerns about the Syrian state falling apart at the seams after he leaves?

This is from the series of videos the Obama administration showed Congress about the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack.

This is from the series of videos the Obama administration showed Congress about the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack.

I don’t know the answers.  But as I’ve written before, I’m extremely troubled by the world letting someone get away with intentionally targeting civilians with these kind of weapons.  (Though I fully appreciate the argument about considering the consequences of military action to the country and to the region.)

As for the arguments that America is a hypocrite for not speaking up about other atrocities, or that America herself doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to war, yes every country does bad things, and no one is perfect, not even America.  But some things are more imperfect than others.  And dropping weapons of mass destruction on your own people definitely ranks up there with the worst.  And no country’s imperfections, even the US’, are an excuse for inaction in the face of such horror.

From HRW’s press release just issued today:

Available evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for chemical weapons attacks on two Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. These attacks, which killed hundreds of civilians including many children, appeared to use a weapons-grade nerve agent, most likely Sarin.

The 22-page report, “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria,” documents two alleged chemical weapons attacks on the opposition-controlled suburbs of Eastern and Western Ghouta, located 16 kilometers apart, in the early hours of August 21. Human Rights Watch analyzed witness accounts of the rocket attacks, information on the likely source of the attacks, the physical remnants of the weapon systems used, and the medical symptoms exhibited by the victims as documented by medical staff.

“Rocket debris and symptoms of the victims from the August 21 attacks on Ghouta provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning.”

The evidence concerning the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks strongly suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces, Human Rights Watch said.

CNN covers the alleged videos of the aftermath of the attack.  They’re rather gruesome, as are the photos I posted above.  But the topic is gruesome, and we do no one any favors by sugar coating what we’re really talking about.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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