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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/30/17

Is Trump Making Up Syria-Sarin Claims?

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Photograph of men in Khan Sheikdoun in Syria, allegedly inside a crater where a sarin-gas bomb landed.
Photograph of men in Khan Sheikdoun in Syria, allegedly inside a crater where a sarin-gas bomb landed.
(Image by Theodore Postol)
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This week, the White House issued a warning to Syria that it would pay a "heavy price" if it carried out a chemical weapons attack that was allegedly in the works -- and President Trump took credit when no attack occurred. But no evidence was presented to support the White House claims amid growing doubts about Trump's earlier missile attack on Syria in retaliation for another alleged chemical attack on April 4.

The latest doubts about the April 4 incident came from legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh -- published in the Sunday edition of Die Welt -- who questioned whether the Syrian government carried it out. Hersh earlier had disputed U.S. government claims that the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Another skeptic of these U.S. government accusations is Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at MIT. In earlier comments on the topic of allegations of Syria's use of chemical weapons, Postol stated, "The White House took unjustified actions -- and is now creating another set of reasons for more such actions. Chances of an unpredictable escalation are significant. Trump is pushing the Russians to extreme positions and he's undermining the effort to destroy the Islamic State."

I spoke to Postol on Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints show about the U.S. claims that Syria had used chemical weapons as well as the dangers of a new global conflagration if the U.S. launches another attack on Syrian government forces now closely aligned with nuclear-armed Russia.

Dennis Bernstein: So, now, why don't you come at this, because we've seen a bit of evidence that these first two attacks by the Syrian government with chemicals really weren't from the Syrian government, if in fact they occurred at all. Clearly, the information isn't clear. You want to jump in here?

Theodore Postol: Well, I think there's a real dangerous situation in the United States actually, where people seem to really hate the Syrian government and that's not hard to do. The brutality of the behavior of the Syrian government there, there's nothing to talk about, except to agree that it's a very brutal regime. But, the problem is that they're also fighting very brutal rebels, and nobody comes out looking especially good.

So, the real question is whether or not the Syrian government had been, in fact, responsible for the nerve agent attacks. And, I think the answer is "No." I mean there's no evidence to prove that. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly points to the likelihood that these were attacks by rebel elements [...] with a very serious and clear military goal. The goal was to make it look like there's a nerve agent attack perpetrated by the Syrian government, thereby causing the United States to come in and attack Syrian military assets, which would then make it easier for the rebels to defeat the Syrian government. So, it's kind of a bizarre situation.

Nobody looks good here. I want to be very clear, I'm not trying to in any way suggest that the Syrian government is a group of good guys. But it's important, I think, for us to keep our eye on the ball. And the eye on the ball requires that we aim at defeating ISIS, which is the gravest threat, for all of us. And then if there are opportunities to do something about the Syrian government, I'm certainly not opposed to it. But as of right now, this preoccupation with taking down Assad is really very counterproductive toward the overriding important goal, which is to defeat ISIS.

DB: Now, Seymour Hersh -- who's now publishing in Germany, one of the best reporters the United States ever produced, investigative reporters, is reporting in other countries because it's very difficult to get his information in this country -- has again written a very compelling piece that seriously calls into question the last [chemical] attack, so-called from the Syrian government. You have taken great pains to demonstrate that perhaps there are grave doubts about who did this bombing, if there was a chemical bombing, and where it came from. Could you just give us your best shot at why you doubt the last one came from the Syrian government?

TP: Well, there's a great deal of forensic evidence in the form of videos that have been posted on the web. And some of the video data was actually cited by the White House in their April 11 -- I don't know if you'd call it -- intelligence report. What happened is, the president ordered this attack on the Shayrat Air Base in Syria. That was on April 7. The attack that allegedly was a nerve agent attack by the Syrian government occurred on April 4. And on April 11 the National Security Council put out this White House intelligence report.

And I have a fair amount of experience reading these kinds of things. And it was very clear to me that they were citing evidence that no competent intelligence agent would cite. And that evidence was images of a crater taken, through videos, which I got a hold of from the web. And this crater had a pipe in it, and the pipe was kind of bent. And this was supposedly the source of this sarin attack.

Well, first of all, the pipe could not have contained much sarin. And if you're going to have a significant number of people injured downwind, you need a significant amount of sarin. So that was a problem right there. And then the second thing was that the crater looked like it was kind of possibly made from a rocket, but from a very small explosion. And, if anything, it looked like... if you believed anything, you would believe that this was an improvised device that was set on the ground, and detonated on the ground, not delivered by air.

But the real fundamental problem was nobody -- nobody who has any knowledge at all of forensic evidence analysis -- would have assumed that this material had not been tampered with, had not been put in place.

And so, for the U.S. government to be citing evidence that no competent intelligence analyst would first, if they believed the evidence, find compelling. And second, if they believed the evidence it would indicate that they were really not an experienced analyst, would cite this evidence. So, it was really very suspicious.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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