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.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | 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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50 Responses to “Human Rights Watch: “Strong” evidence Syrian govt behind chem attack”

  1. shadesofgrey says:

    Does anyone else here feel like we are all being played for “personal gain” by those other than the players in her headlines (Syria, US)? Who stands to gain?

  2. shadesofgrey says:

    The “US” is like any other country in that money and power are the motivation behind most actions (corporations, banks, oil) that are usually distorted to it’s people. The dictators and religious leaders of other countries are basically the same. Power and greed seem to prevail in positions of power and authority. The tragedy here are the victims.

  3. Roman Berry says:

    Right. Why should THEY be able to kill their own people when the US and it’s peace loving machines of war are so damn much better at it and can do it for them!

  4. Roman Berry says:

    Now, when there really is a damn good reason to take someone out…

    Only, there isn’t. Syria is not a threat to the United States. And if you really want to get down to who is responsible for what has been happening in Syria, the fact is…we are. Without US support (money and arms through whatever channels) for the “rebels” in Syria, this war would have been over more than a year ago. So any atrocity that has taken place in the time since we helped prolong and escalate this war is, as far as I’m concerned, on us. Our government was the enabler. Full stop.

  5. Kofi says:

    And so Assad should also be allowed to kill his own people with poison gas? Really?

  6. ronbo says:

    It would push the USA into their civil war. It would put money into corporate pockets of the for-profit war machines. It would allow a pipeline of oil to pass over land and not through the strait. It would open up a lot of business to American and away from Russia – their current source of military goods. It would increase military spending that enriches the Military Industrial Complex.

    Why did we go to war with Iraq? Those WMDs were never found… but the contracts flowed into MIC pockets.

  7. Ford Prefect says:

    Shorter Deadpool: To enforce the law we must break a bunch of others, including the prohibition on waging wars of aggression and plunge 22 MILLION people into greater chaos, bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and so on. As long as there’s no chemical weapons used by Assad. Others can use them though. Got it.

    Basically, what you’re saying is that Britain violating the chem weapons ban (which they signed onto), is not a problem. Additionally, mass murder by conventional means is totally OKAY. And while most murderous dictators are fine, this one is intolerably bad. You also have no problem with US use of chemical (or other banned) weapons whenever its convenient, even in this case. The cluster bombs we’ll use and will kill children for years afterward are not a problem. None of the aftermath represents an issue either apparently.

    Oh, the oil reserve is for the military. It’s not for us. Besides, in the midst of a global economic meltdown, releasing the reserves won’t do much of anything positive. And you think my argument is hollow? Fact is, you don’t care about any of it. You just want your war, regardless. Are you trolling for the FSA perhaps?

  8. Deadpool says:

    Hmm what happens when gas shoots up? Oh I know! US finally tap into our oil we have been sitting on forever? And I agree you stop all the killing but Assad has killed over 2,000 people in 2 years firstly we need to put a stop to that. I really don’t know why you named all of this other countries that are in a dictatorship because THEY DIDN’T USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS UNAUTHORIZED AGAINST THEIR CIVILIANS. So your logic is flawed. Britain did do that but like I said early they didn’t use them. So you wrote a few paragraphs just rambling. I am not not talking about human rights violations I’m talking about the illegal activity of USING CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Why can’t you get that? Your entire argument is hollow.

  9. Ford Prefect says:

    Look, your entire “dictator” spiel is hollow. See the countries in which we openly abet or support massive, systemic human rights violations: Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Israel, Thailand, Uganda, Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Columbia, Honduras, Uzbekistan and so forth…this list is entirely too long for anyone to pose as an arbiter of moral values or human rights.

    As for WW3, if we attack Syria, that may very well lead to WW3 but it most likely won’t happen if we don’t attack. So you have that backwards. In any case, it WILL become a regional conflict with potentially global consequences. What do you think will happen if oil shoots to $200? So if you want social strife here at home and around the world, by all means, start your precious little war.

    You know, as recently as ten months ago, Britain sold precursor chemicals to Syria for their chemical weapons. Perhaps that means we should bomb London as well? And why didn’t the US pay any price for supplying Saddam Hussein with the chems he used to kill tens of thousands of Iranians during that war?

    So your logic is non-existent. You use a plainly phony “moral” argument to justify violating US and intl law, in order to launch a war of naked aggression against a country that hasn’t attacked us. You ignore history and our own role in that history, as well. You also ignore all the various competing agendas and entanglements that pretty much guarantee a much larger and much bloodier conflict. Oh, but killing all those people advances human rights somehow?

    What to do? Help Assad get rid of his chems and push a political settlement. If you want to advance human rights, then perhaps lessening or ending the killing might be a good start.

  10. Deadpool says:

    So you think we should do nothing then? Let the dictators of the world know that if they do an illegal act killing hundreds, that US, no, the entire world will just sit back and give you a slap on the wrist? No no sir that is called appeasement and the last time that happened a mass genocide killed millions of Jewish people. You want to talk of a legality issue, ok we will stand by and let WW3 happen when a dictator is allowed to gas his own people and then eventually others around him due to no foreign intervention. We are already going to be bombing Syria Obama had announced this in his speech. So this debate isn’t even logical anymore.

  11. Ford Prefect says:

    America has every right to step in and take action against Syria gov using chemical weapons after all NATO sorta said there was a law against the use of chemical weapons.

    Wrong. The US does not “have every right,” sans UN approval. Without that, the US is violating the UN Charter, to which it is signatory. And that means it would also violate the US Constitution. IOW, what you are proposing is flatly illegal.

    What is so difficult about this? When the Israelis used chemical weapons on civilian hospitals and schools in Gaza, did the US intervene? No. We replaced their inventories of White Phosphorus instead, which we originally provided in the first place. Was the US held accountable for using WP, depleted uranium in Falluja after sealing off the city so civilians couldn’t escape? Nope. What about Agent Orange in Vietnam (that’s caused millions of still births and birth defects, continuing to this very day)? Clearly a violation of the treaty.

    If you want to make the legal argument, you can’t ignore US violations either, as a matter of course. That’s why the claimed “moral obscenity” is nothing more than a fig leaf.

  12. Deadpool says:

    Why would US have any reason to do the chemical bombings? And on that fact the hardcore talk in this blog is lack of evidence. Which original commenter had failed to address any. This entire thing is stupid. America has every right to step in and take action against Syria gov using chemical weapons after all NATO sorta said there was a law against the use of chemical weapons. Everyone is thinking so narrow minded America isn’t going to attack Syria because they used chemical weapons on civilians. The US is going in because they violated world law by using chemical weapons unauthorized. And it is a world threat. If a dog bites someone out of no where then we put the dog down because its a danger to others and it could always bite someone again. This is almost the same principal. Assad used chemical weapons there is plenty of evidence that proves this, so what’s to say he won’t do it again. In the interview with American reporter, Assad had practically said he won’t hesitate to do it again.

  13. Ford Prefect says:

    You’re conflating “moral authority” with legal obligations and in any case, the US was not appointed Judge, Jury and Executioner in the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As to “moral authority,” that breaks down the nanosecond one appreciates the insane level of hypocrisy in the administration’s argument.

    Did the US intervene in the wake of the Egyptian coup? No, they said it wasn’t a coup at all, so they could keep the weapons flowing. Did they intervene when Egypt’s new dictator slaughtered ~800 people? No to that as well. Did we intervene when the “brutal dictator” in Bahrain murdered and tortured thousands in pro-democracy demonstrations? Or what about the ethnic cleansing going in in our new client state Burma? Or what about the Occupied Territories? When the Israelis rained White Phosphorus on hospitals and schools, did the US react to that? No?

    The US has no “moral authority,” by virtue of these wee oversights. You can be moral or not, as the law requires neither. But you can’t claim moral authority when 90% of the time that’s of no interest to anyone in power. As for evidence, sorry Charlie, but YouTube videos simply don’t count as evidence in this case, simply because they don’t prove who actually did it.

    Lastly, discussing Syria without dealing with all the various exigent agendas at work is malfeasance of the highest order. In the end, this is about Iran, as everyone in DC is saying on the telly daily. You have to add in that as well, in addition to all the various consequences of this harebrained misadventure.

  14. ronbo says:

    No proof was given by either side. Motiviation to use CW, is definitely on the side working for regime change. If there were proof of Assad using CW, nothing stops the USA from presenting. Assad can’t prove a negative.

  15. ronbo says:

    Remember when Rumsfeld brought the hard evidence and identified the WMDs here, here and her around Tikritand, Baghdad and east, west, south and north”?

    Silence=sovereignty just as lie=truth.

    Anna, some may appreciate being sheepled us into another for-profit war; but, we must learn from our mistakes and teach our government to respect us. Their silence speaks volumes about the quality of their assumed “proof”.

    And even with proof, how does killing, regime change and instability improve the situation – unless of course you want business that Syria now does with Russia. Gosh that would be good business, wouldn’t it? Our 1% are better than their 1%.

  16. anna says:

    the US secretary of state has clearly states hard evidence against the Syrian government for their responsibility to the chemical weapon attack. The US has said that they have got messages from the Assad govt indicating the intent to use chemical weapons. The silence that they have had stems from the principle of sovereignty, it is difficult to simply invade a state when there is no clear indication of when a state should do so as seen in the R2P doctrine which says it is a state’s prime duty to protect is citizens and when this duty is in breach there is grounds to intervene, but it also says a state has full sovereignty leaving the point of intervention to be ambiguous. You also have to consider the full blown war that would happen if the US did get involved if it didn’t truly need to, Assad has said that the US should “expect everything”, so it is no wonder the level of hesitation they have had. Only time will tell whether the situation deepens far enough to warrant such world-altering intervention.

  17. anna says:

    who do you suggest intervenes then? surely you’re not saying that this doesn’t qualify for any intervention. the US as a member of the UNSC clearly carries a level of moral authority equal to that of the UK or France, with only this in mind their previous actions are in fact redundant. The fact is as a member of the UNSC they do carry a responsibility to intervene ESPECIALLY after Syria’s use of chemical weapons which are internationally recognized as weapons of mass destruction. i understand the view of the us being in contradiction with the previous intervetion in iraq, but unlike that catastophic intervention, this has hard evidence and immense international support against the horrific human rights abuses taking place.

  18. karmanot says:

    I can fully agree with that second paragraph. The rest is complete rubbish, particularly insulting your host.

  19. karmanot says:

    “looks like United States used the chemical weapons and trying to blame it on the Syrian government.” You think that’s a fact? Assad troll still stands.

  20. Blogvader says:


    The US has been killing civilians with approved weapons for generations, so where exactly does this presumed moral authority to drop bombs come from?

  21. ronbo says:

    You could be right. Where is Nate Silver when we need him?

    However, I tend to think that the trillions spent by NSA, CIA, Mossad, MI6, etc… to gin up the war were better planned. It seems orchestrated: Obama drew a red-line immediately before the the red-line was crossed.

    Money buys whatever money wants. (who can turn on a dime? Kerry, Obama, Pelosi, Powell, Dean, Kucinich, etc… just about any politician) The Republicans, unfortunately, started out in their pocket.

    The Justin Raimondo link was from a simple google search. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  22. smkngman3 says:

    Sadly, the US has a history of supporting murderous dictators! So much for our governments credibility.

  23. 3 of the 4 links are fine, but having Justin Raimondo’s on the list diminishes rather than increases your credibility.

    My guess is that someone used the chemical weapons without authorization, which in it own way is scarier than an attack authorized from the top.

  24. ronbo says:

    The odd event of Obama inserting a “red-line” and then having an unpresented chemical attack is just much too convenient for pushing us into war. The CIA, NSA, Mossad, MI6 get trillions of dollars of government funds and supplies to help shape our world.

    Gosh, with all that intent, money and access, you don’t think….

  25. ronbo says:

    Since monitoring Syrian communications has been top priority for over two years now, you’d expect that either the CIA, NSA, Mossad or MI6 would have SOME evidence.

    Their silence speaks volumes about the quality of their assumed “proof”.

  26. Sadly, Syria, Russia, and China all agree that dictators SHOULD be able to kill as many of their own people as they want to. So much for the UN helping.

  27. Say hi to the Syrian Electronic Army for us!

  28. bhull says:

    Not a point of fact but a point of contention on whether Assad/Syrian government ordered/approved the attack and we will never really know. So for the sake of argument let us assume the Syrian government at the highest levels ordered the gas attack. the UN should get involved, not just America. America is not threatened by this and should not act alone. In fact the US will break international law attacking Syria without UN approval.

    America is not god, America is not the police or justice court for the world, and American taxpayers alone do not fund and American blood alone does not provide protection for other countries. If America is not threatened then American military force should not be used.

    And PS, John did not and could not handle this opposing view and did not just discourage this opposing view but banned it in fat and satisfied cowardice.

  29. karmanot says:


  30. karmanot says:

    It’s so true, one actually risks being bored to death by Rose.

  31. karmanot says:

    Point of fact: the gas and its conveyer missiles were Syrian state, caught on satellite. And, PS John not only handles opposing views, but encourages them. ” its bloodlust lipsticked as morality.” Oh please Palin has already covered these hysterics. Get a grip and a writing guide.

  32. karmanot says:

    Assad troll—that’s a first.

  33. USA says:

    looks like United States used the chemical weapons and trying to blame it on the Syrian government. For a country that says your innocent until proven guilty show no proof that it was the Syrian government that used those chemical weapons and considering that the U.S knows which chemical was used so quickly only points that the U.S. government did it themselves considering America sponsored Al queda in Russian Afghani War now they sponsoring in the Syrian civil war

  34. perljammer says:

    Thousands of Kurds died in the village of Halabja in March 1988, as a result of the use of chemical weapons near the end of the war between Iraq and Iran. It was widely reported that the gas was of Iraqi origin; this was one of the justifications when America eventually invaded and removed Saddam from power. There is evidence, however, “strongly suggesting” that the gas was actually Iranian (, and the Kurds were just tragic victims of the battle between opposing forces. So, why wasn’t a strongly worded salvo of cruise missiles launched against Iran to ensure that never again, blah blah blah?

  35. bhull says:

    Human Rights Watch does not know who used the gas and relying on unsubstantiated conclusions is not enough. It is old thinking to rely on them and shake thew war pom-poms. We simply do not know and coupling this with the fact that the US has not support internationally to strike alone. Of course an America public saying no to another war is also quite powerful. If the US does goto war alone attacking Syria the US will be clearly violating international law. John, on this issue you are simply on the wrong side on this issue. To borrow your words tbhull says I’m extremely troubled by a righteous America known for lying on matters intelligence with the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on its hands from past wars over the the last 10 years or so now knocking at destruction’s door again wanting to satisfy its bloodlust lipsticked as morality. John may ban this post for he cannot handle opposing views, but I (tbhull – long ago banned as a regular poster) will post here at my leisure and unfettered discretion.

  36. TonyT says:

    Give them up meaning the chemical weapons.

  37. TonyT says:

    My gut tells me that al-Assad’s underlings did this and that he’s now sh&*ting bricks and will give them up. Let’s hope.

  38. Bill_Perdue says:

    The solution is clear. All US nuclear, chemical and biological weapons should be destroyed. We should push to permanently withdraw all US troops, air and navel fleets, CIA killers and mercenaries to home bases in the continental US.

    Obama is the enemy of world peace. He’s a mass murderer. We should push for convening an International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the Reagan, Bush1 and 2, Clinton and Obama regimes.

    If the fortunes of US corporations and US client states like the Saudis and the zionists decline that’s a good thing.

  39. Ford Prefect says:

    Maybe some of his disastrous Botox session went into his brain and paralyzed a lobe or something.

  40. Ford Prefect says:

    Just an FYI on that 100K number, 43% of those are Syrian Army, supporters of the ancien regime and civilians killed by the various “moderate” militias. Rose had no reason to sweat though. If Brad and Angelina had lunch with him and survived, then he probably would too!

  41. karmanot says:

    There is something fundamentally repellant and toolish about Kerry. He’s beginning to sound like senile McCain.

  42. karmanot says:

    Watching Charlie Rose sweat bullets interviewing a man who has murdered over a hundred thousand of his own people was very creepy. Reminded me of that interview with Saddam Hussein, when he patted the head of a small child and the boy screamed.

  43. Ford Prefect says:

    I’m not sure what’s “in it for them,” but this isn’t the first time HRW has decided to weigh in on behalf of interventionists. The “Right To Protect” crowd (Power, Rice, the unfortunately named Slaughter, Kerry et al) loves this kind of help in promoting their R2P fantasies.

    The timing of this is suspicious. It supports the administration’s goal of turning the Syrian civil war into a bloody regional conflict. Perhaps AIPAC (or some of their funders) has pull at HRW too. In any case, for a human rights organization to act in support of an agenda that would greatly increase the bloodshed–not to mention human rights violations–is beyond the pale.

  44. Rob the Realist says:

    This is another example of Dubya’s legacy. Due to his lies (and the stupidity of the American people to believe the drumbeat of the media) we went into Iraq. Now, when there really is a damn good reason to take someone out Americans have suddenly developed critical thinking.

    The only “proof” is going there and seeing it with your own eyes. I doubt any of you are willing to buy your ticket right now. Regardless of American hypocracy and the desire to avoid violence, it is really an inescapable reality that the future of the world is probably seeped in significant conflict over energy, food and water.

    How this goes down may very well determine how WWIII will be fought. Of course, however, the critical thinking of most Americans only goes as far as yesterday . . .

  45. perljammer says:

    “Strongly suggests” does not constitute concrete proof.

    I was a little taken aback by Kerry’s comment the other day to the effect that this is not a court of law; we don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt; we just need to use common sense. Well, how about that? The ‘reasonable doubt’ burden of proof in criminal law is there to protect the rights of an individual accused of a crime. Should be bear a lesser burden when contemplating an action that has a high probability of killing and injuring innocent bystanders?

    And of course, in a criminal case, the videos and photographs of chemical weapon victims would not be admitted into evidence, because aside from not establishing a link between victim and purported assailant, they are highly inflammatory and prejudicial.

  46. angryspittle says:

    Pot, meet Kettle. Fucking hypocrisy. For the greatest abuser of chemical/nuclear weapons on civilians to demand that Syria be held accountable for the same actions is laughable.

  47. Fireblazes says:

    Still don’t think blasting them will help in any way. Except for putting money in the military and their armsdealer’s pockets.

  48. nicho says:

    Well, the world let’s the US and Obama use horrific weapons against civilians.

  49. wearing out my F key says:

    I would argue this, but “worlds apart” already beat me to it- Oksana starts taking Kenneth Ross apart at 2:30, and kicks his ass for the next 25 minutes. enjoy!

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