Suspicions That Rebels Launched Chemical-weapons Attack Refuse to Die

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad once again denied, in so many words, that his regime was responsible for chemical-weapons attacks.  In an interview with Le Figaro, he said, “I’m not at all suggesting that the Syrian army does or does not possess such weapons.” Then he reiterated what he said in an earlier interview:

Let’s suppose that our army wishes to use WMD: is it really going to do so in an area where it is actually present and where soldiers have been wounded by these weapons, as the UN inspectors found during their visit to the hospital where they were being treated? Where is the logic in that?

However far-fetched, according to Washington group-think and what’s now conventional wisdom, a hotly disputed article by Dave Gavlak at Mint Press News based in Minneapolis suggests that’s in our best interest not to discard the-rebels-did-it scenario just yet. Gavlak writes:

… from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

However implausible to most, the tale “many” tell is too plausible to ignore. In other words, it sounds too realistic and detailed to be the work of their imaginations. Based on the excerpt below, see what you think.

“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion.

… Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.

The next touches are especially convincing.

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. … A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. … And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.

Feeding those suspicions, the Independent reports

It was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first alerted Western allies to the alleged use of sarin gas by the Syrian regime in February.

More on Prince Bandar, Russia and the Chechens in a future post. Meanwhile, if you still need to hear reservations about the Syrian regime mounting the attacks from a source more respectable than Mint Press News, Hannah Allam and Mark Seibel summed them up for McClatchy yesterday:

The case Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last Friday contained claims that were disputed by the United Nations, inconsistent in some details with British and French intelligence reports or lacking sufficient transparency for international chemical weapons experts to accept at face value.

The first reservation cited:

The Obama administration dismissed the value of a U.N. inspection team’s work by saying that the investigators arrived too late for the findings to be credible and wouldn’t provide any information the United State didn’t already have.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq countered that it was “rare” for such an investigation to begin within such a short time and said that “the passage of such few days does not affect the opportunities to collect valuable samples.”

Second:

Another point of dispute is the death toll from the alleged attacks on Aug. 21. Neither Kerry’s remarks nor the unclassified version of the U.S. intelligence he referenced explained how the U.S. reached a tally of 1,429, including 426 children.

… Anthony Cordesman [of the Center for Strategic and International Studies] criticized Kerry as being “sandbagged into using an absurdly over-precise number” of 1,429, and noted that the number didn’t agree with either the British assessment of “at least 350 fatalities” or other Syrian opposition sources. … He added that the blunder was reminiscent of “the mistakes the U.S. made in preparing Secretary (Colin) Powell’s speech to the U.N. on Iraq in 2003.”

Third – and an embarrassing and possibly deadly gaffe on the part of the United States:

Another eyebrow-raising administration claim was that U.S. intelligence had “collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” that showed the regime preparing for an attack three days before the event. … That claim raises two questions: Why didn’t the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?

Fourth:

Among chemical weapons experts and other analysts who’ve closely studied the Syrian battlefield, the main reservation about the U.S. claims is that there’s no understanding of the methodology behind the intelligence-gathering. … Holes in the case already have allowed Russia to dismiss the U.S. evidence as “inconclusive,” with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying in a speech Monday that Moscow was shown “some sketches, but there was nothing concrete, no geographical coordinates, or details…and no proof the test was done by professionals,” according to the state-backed RT news agency.

Even though this author is that rare progressive who doesn’t reflexively balk at “humanitarian intervention,” it’s obvious that the Obama administration is working from the same playbook as the Bush administration and trying to steamroller us into another war without sufficient – or any – justification.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.