Sep 04 2013

Syria: Push For War With Little Evidence

There still no hard evidence that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad used an unknown chemical weapons, possibly an organophosphate, on his own people in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21. Yet, the Obama administration and some hawkish members of congress are pushing for air strikes to take out strategic targets, swearing that it wi.l be limited, not target the civilian population or require American troops on the ground. The purpose as stated by Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to send a message to Assad to not use chemical weapons again without any evidence that he did. There are no guarantees that this will even work or that Assad will not strike back as is his right according to the UN Charter.

Chief of correspondents for McClatchy Newspapers and co-author of a recent article, Mark Seibel joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Nereem Shaikh to discuss the holes in the evidence.

TRanscript can be read here

“When it came to questions of the efficacy of a U.N. investigation, or the number of people killed in the conflict, or even the U.S. rendition of what happened in what order, there are contradictions,” Seibel says. The United States has claimed it had “collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence” that showed the Assad government preparing for an attack three days before the event. “That claim raises two questions,” Seibel writes. “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?”


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  1. TMC
  2. ewenallison

    The doctrine of humanitarian intervention holds that one state has the right to intervene militarily to protect population in another state.  A United States military court recognized as much at Nuremberg.  http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Mili…  p. 981-982.  This would legitimize punishment for use of chemical weapons against civilian populations.

    The doctrine of reprisals allows the taking of otherwise unlawful action to punish and deter violations of the law of war.  In World War II, for example, Germany put Canadian POWs in chains, and the Canadians did so themselves to German POWs.  Reprisals are not allowed against civilians and civilian objects, but that leaves a wealth of legitimate military targets.  This doctrine, too, would legitimize strikes in response to use of chemical weapons.

    The use of poison gas has been against international law since 1900, if not earlier.  That was entry-into-force date of treaties banning use of “poison or poisoned arms” and missiles delivering “asphyxiating or deleterious gases” in international armed conflict..  http://bit.ly/18s1h5l and http://bit.ly/15DlVMJ .  See also http://bit.ly/17tFZC0   Key parts of two these treaties are known loosely as the “Hague Regulations,” not “The Geneva Convention.”  Turkey ratified all these agreements.  Turkey controlled the territory that became Syria.   Therefore, Syria, too, is bound by those conventions.    

  3. TMC

    the problems that Syria presents are several:

    There is no clear evidence which side used it;

    The attack will not stop the CW weapons from being used again:

    Assad, under the UN Charter Chapter VII, Article 51, has the right to defend his country.

    The US is acting on the assumption that Assad is the perpetrator. Under the Nuremberg Principles the US would be the aggressor for attacking a sovereign state. The US has been down that road before in Iraq.

    The US at this point may be acting alone. The Germans have already said they are opposed to an attack and the the French President Hollande may face strong opposition from the people and the French Parliament.

    Syria has not been part of Turkey since the fall of the Ottoman Empire when it became a French Mandate under the secretly negotiated Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, eventually evolving into the Syrian Arab Republic. Syria is a member nation of the UN and is only bound by the treaties which it has signed. They cannot, as a sovereign nation, cannot be held to treaties and agreements of Turkey, any more than the US can be held to treaties and agreements signed by England, France or Spain. Syria is a signatory of the Geneva Convention but never signed Protocols II & III.  

    Again the problem is the proof that it was the Assad government that used the chemical weapons. We cannot take just the word of the US intelligence

    This dispute cannot and will not be settle with more weapons and attacks by other nations and more civilian blood shed.

  4. ewenallison

    I think what you’re saying in the first line after the chapeau is that you don’t trust evidence collected by the American and French governments.  That is not the same as saying there is no evidence.  What sort of evidence would convince you?  Would you dismiss out of hand evidence discovered by the U.S.?

    The Nuremberg Principles do not define the crime of aggression, they merely state that international crimes include aggression and participation in a common design or conspiracy to commit aggression.  The Justice Case made a distinction between lawful and unlawful invocation of the humanitarian intervention doctrine, with the result that the doctrine has to have the factual support to be lawfully invoked.  The Nazis didn’t have the factual support to go as far as they did.  I daresay we have better facts on our side than Hitler did.

    The doctrine of succession became an established rule of customary international law as early as the 19th century.  Again, given its history, Syria is bound by both sets of Hague Regs (entering into force 1900 and 1910 respectively) and the 1899 declaration on poison gas projectiles.  But thank you for pointing out that France had an interbellum mandate over Syria.  France, too, is party to those instruments, so the legal analysis works out the same.  Syria succeeded to the Hague Regs and the declaration.

    Actually, Syria is more than a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.  Syria ratified them outright.  Signing and ratifying a treaty are two different things, with the latter being definitive.  Strictly speaking, signing a treaty is only an indication of intent to ratify and a concommitant undertaking not to violate the principles of the treaty in the meantime.  I know a law professor who flunks students who use the terms “signatory” and “party” interchangeably!  

    Unilateral action not necessarily illegal.  Legally, it’s best if the Security Council decides to authorize military action, or if a regional security organization does so.  Refugee flows into Turkey make NATO a candidate.  We probably can’t expect a supportive resolution from the Arab League, though there’s some support among Arab countries for a U.S. strike, what with offers from Arab countries to pay for air strikes.  In any event, the Chapter VII monopoly is being steadily eroded by other instances of state practice, including, for example, the Uniting for Peace resolution.  I think it’s worth noting that the consensus among scholars is that Operation Allied Force was, as the Goldstone Commission put it, “illegal but legitimate.”  There is something immoral about pinning legality to the self-interested political opinion of Russia and China.  Nor can we allow dithering of friends to get in the way of doing the right thing.  Clinton and Annan both regret not doing more in Rwanda.  If we’re the only resolute country on earth, well, I’m all up for enjoying the view from the moral high ground.

    Of course, Syria has a right to defend itself against invasion.  It also has a right to suppress rebellion.  But the right to use force is not unlimited in any context.  We don’t go from Article 51 to a right to use chemcial weapons.  Which, interestingly, not even Syria has asserted.

    I agree that the problem cannot be solved with more civilian bloodshed.  I would favor striking only military assets where harm to civilians isn’t anticipated — after rigorous and good-faith vetting, of course.  Considering the tangled nature of Syria’s civil war, the only problem I would want a U.S. attack to resolve would be the problem of use of chemical weapons going unpunished.  A limited but powerful attack would meet this problem.

  5. TMC

    There is evidence that a toxic chemical was used. A US attack will not resolve the use of chemical weapons and will only further the bloodshed of the civilian population, nor will it resolve this civil war.

    As for the US acting without the backing of the UN, one cannot enforce an international law by violating another.

    My questions are asked by many:

     1) How will our “surgical bombing” stop Assad from killing people in his own country if we do not want a regime change in Syria?

       2) How does our “surgical bombing” prevent collateral loss of life and injury among the civilian population?

       3) If our “surgical bombing” does effect a regime change in Syria, what is to prevent al Qaeda from taking over the country and further killing more civilians?

       4) What is the cost/benefit of our becoming involved in a civil war in Syria?

       5)  How does it promote peace and prevent future terrorism?  

       6) Is there any guaranteed positive outcome from this both for the American people and the people of Syria?

    If this a humanitarian issue, then going to war is the wrong approach. Find the proof of who it was that used the CW and bring them to justice in the Hague. Killing people to save them is not a good reason for war.

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