Accusations fly long after the missiles stop
After Russia and the United States of America, Syria has the third-largest chemical warfare program in the world. On the August 20th 2012 US President Barack Obama said that the ‘Red Line’ would be crossed as soon as Syria or any other country utilised chemical weapons. On the anniversary of Obama’s ‘Red Line’ speech, the Ghouta chemical attacks occurred with devastating effects.
Several incidents have been recorded regarding chemical accidents and attacks in Syria. The Syrian regime has allegedly used Chemical weapons on 14 different occasions since 2012.
According to the National Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) consultant, Dr Jill Dekker, Syria has worked on: anthrax, plagues, tularemia, botulism, smallpox, aflatoxin, cholera, ricin and camel pox, and had Russian help to install anthrax in missile warheads. She also said that Syria views their bio-chemical weapons program as part of a ‘conventional’ weapons program.
The Syrian chemical weapons program was set up in the 1970s, allegedly with assistance from Iran and Russia while ‘Western’ companies supplied raw chemicals. It was apparently designed to counter Israeli forces.
Some ‘Western’ countries believe that the stockpile is spread over dozens of research, development and production sites in Syria – most of them underground. Syria is one of just seven countries that are not signatories to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
Syria’s chemical weapon attack could not have come at a worse time. The Assad regime has dominated Syria’s complicated and prolonged war over the last few weeks. The United Nation’s inspectors were on a mission in Damascus questioning whether or not Syria had used chemical weapons earlier this year.
In the early hours of Wednesday the 21st of August, news spread over social media that chemical agents had been set up in a couple of towns east and West of Ghouta. Videos that depicted panic-stricken citizens fiercely gasping for breath and others lying lifeless on the ground went viral on YouTube and Facebook.
These videos allowed people from all over the world to witness the carnage in Syria. There were videos of children foaming at the mouth. Hospitals were overcrowded and not everyone could receive medical care. The footage was dominated by images of corpses.
After the shocking attack, the UN Security Council decided that an emergency meeting should be held in New York. With 1300 people dying tragically, this could be considered the world’s most lethal chemical attack since Saddam Hussein’s gas attack on Halubjah in 1988 – which killed between 3000-5000 Kurds.
The Syrian rebel leadership held the government responsible for the chemical attacks. “The Syrian regime is mocking the UN and the great powers when it strikes targets near Damascus, while the (UN weapons inspectors) are just a few steps away,” stated the opposition National Coalition’s George Sabra.
The Syrian Regime dismissed the claims, calling the accusations ‘baseless’. Russia accused the rebels of having staged the attack to try and frame the Assad government in an attempt to gain foreign intervention in the conflict.
There are many conspiracies as to who released the chemical weapons – America being one of the main suspects. Five possible attacking forces have already been picked up. There are four different US destroyer ships in the Eastern Mediterranean, which are all equipped with cruise missiles, which can also be fired from submarines. The US Navy does not want to reveal their locations.
Then there are two airbases, one in Jordan and the other in Turkey, which are also capable of these attacks. There are two USS aircraft carriers and one French aircraft carrier (Charles de Gaulle) that are also in close vicinity. Lastly, there are two other French aircraft squadrons that can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.
The US reacted by denying all accusations and said they had nothing to do with the attack. A few days later, new evidence surfaced that appeared to implicate rebel forces. YouTube videos showed different chemical weapons that were found in a Jobar in a rebel stronghold. A still that came from one of the videos clearly shows a chemical agent that was developed by a Saudi factory.
This came out in light of Obama’s accusations levelled at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s. It was also speculated that Obama wanted to attack Syria but nothing has been confirmed yet. Bashar al-Assad has described these accusations as ‘preposterous’ and ‘completely politicised’. He added, “How is it possible that any country would use chemical weapons, or any weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its own forces are located?”
Rebel forces are attempting to overthrow the Assad government and they have claimed innocent lives before. Further evidence emerged as a phone call was aired on the news, featuring two terrorist groups negotiating and talking about getting two more bottles of Sarin gas… the exact same gas used in the attack on Syria.
President Obama stated that if the Assad Regime used weapons against the rebel forces, America would have to intervene on a moral basis. An American government official made the decision to retaliate against Syria for its use of chemical weapons on civilians. Obama was quoted as saying that the USA has a ‘moral responsibility’ to respond with force. The administration feels that if the Syrian government does not face any repercussions, it would set a dangerous precedent.
“This attack is an assault on human dignity,” Obama said in his address in the White House Rose Garden. “It also presents a serious danger to our national security… It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”
Since the administration’s earlier statement of intent to attack the perpetrators, the plan to launch a ‘limited but effective’ attack has been put on hold in order for the US Congress to debate the matter.
This move has sparked widespread political controversy as Obama and his administration do not need the approval of the House of Representatives to launch a limited military intervention campaign. Some members of Congress are in strong agreement with this decision, while others disagree sharply.
Senator Bob Corker is one of those in agreement with Obama’s decision. He feels that at this point in the United States’ history, it is the right choice. “I look forward to seeing what the administration brings forward and to a vigorous debate on this important authorisation.”
Republican Peter T. King was quoted as saying: “President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The president doesn’t need 535 members of Congress to enforce his own ‘Red Line’.”
Although the administration feels strongly that the Assad regime should pay for its actions, Obama stated that he would ‘seek authorisation for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress’. He ultimately left the stakeholders with this question: “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” The President stated that as soon as the go-ahead is given, the Pentagon is ready to implement the plan of action.
In Ghouta, emergency medics were operating on the injured citizens. The medics reported that treating the injured citizens remained problematic as the situation was getting worse. There was a shortage of Atropine, jimson weed, and mandrake capable of dilating the pupils, increasing the heart rate, and reducing salivation. Instead, medics had to use water to treat those in need.
A member of the Liwa Brigade Muslim Army, Fouzi Al-Kabouny, described what happened: “At around two AM, we heard a strange noise, quieter than mortar fire. You get used to the sound of different types of projectiles and weaponry but this sounded different. We went outside. There were people in the street that had collapsed and couldn’t breathe. Around us there were around ten people dead. Elsewhere, it was worse. I travelled with my battalion to other areas to try to help. So many people, so many of them children, stretched out on the ground. Some of them had their hands raised above their heads as if beckoning to God ‘Why?’”
Al-Kabouny went on: “I remember as we were standing there amongst this scene of horror. A (Syrian Army) MIG flew overhead. I and some of my comrades grabbed our Kalashnikovs and started shooting at the sky even though we know our guns are not powerful enough to hit it. Part of me wanted God to take my life too.”
There are many conspiracies as to what happened on the 21st of August and who is to blame, but the reality is that lives were lost.
Adrian van Veen, Christopher Swartz, Jason Moller and Lauren Petersen.