Report: Assad Government to Blame: Human Rights Watch finds 'telltale' evidence of Sarin gas

Syria CW attack

Researchers with the New York-based Human Rights Watch today charged that the Syrian government is the likely culprit in chemical weapons attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, which according to the Obama administration resulted in the deaths of 1429 people, including 426 children. The attacks appeared to use a weapons-grade nerve agent, most likely Sarin, according to HRW researchers. The human rights advocacy agency today issued a 22-page report, “Attacks on Ghouta: Analysis of Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria,” which reviewed 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.”

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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. HRW researchers also analyzed publicly posted YouTube videos from the attacked areas as well as higher-resolution images of weapon remnants provided by a local activist in Eastern Ghouta.

Two separate surface-to-surface rocket systems believed to be associated with the delivery of chemical agents were identified. The first type of rocket, found at the site of the Eastern Ghouta attacks, is a 330mm rocket that appeared to have a warhead designed to be loaded with and deliver a large payload of liquid chemical agent. The second type, found in the Western Ghouta attack, is a Soviet-produced 140mm rocket that, according to reference guides, has the ability to be armed with one of three possible warheads, including one specifically designed to carry and deliver 2.2 kilograms of Sarin.

The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the attacks and has blamed opposition groups, but has presented no credible evidence to back up its claims, according to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch and arms experts monitoring the use of weapons in Syria have not documented Syrian opposition forces to be in the possession of the 140mm and 330mm rockets used in the attack or their associated launchers.

In Washington today Secretary of State John Kerry spoke before the House Armed Services Committee as he pursued Congressional authorization to use military force in Syria. Kerry argued that what "Assad has done" directly affects America’s security. "We have a huge national interest in containing all weapons of mass destruction," he said. "And the use of gas is a weapon of mass destruction. Allowing those weapons to be used with impunity would be an enormous chink in our armor that we have built up over years against proliferation.... Our own troops benefit from that prohibition against chemical weapons.

"Those weapons have been outlawed...in all of the wars we fought since World War I," Kerry said, adding U.S. troops "have never been subjected to it because we stand up for that prohibition."

"There’s a reason for that. If we don’t answer Assad today, we will irreparably damage a century-old standard that has protected American troops in war. So to every one of your constituents, if they were to say to you, 'Why did you vote for this even though we said we don’t want to go to war?' Because you want to protect American troops, because you want to protect America’s prohibition and the world’s prohibition against these weapons."

While Human Rights Watch was unable to go to Ghouta to collect weapon remnants, environmental samples and physiological samples to test for the chemical agent, it has sought technical advice from an expert on the detection and effects of chemical warfare agents. The expert reviewed accounts from local residents, the clinical signs and symptoms described by doctors, and many of the videos that were taken of the victims of the August 21 attacks.

Three doctors in Ghouta who treated the victims told Human Rights Watch that victims of the attacks consistently showed symptoms including suffocation; constricted, irregular, and infrequent breathing; involuntary muscle spasms; nausea; frothing at the mouth; fluid coming out of noses and eyes; convulsing; dizziness; blurred vision; red and irritated eyes and pin-point pupils (myosis). Some young victims exhibited cyaonis, a bluish coloring on the face consistent with suffocation or asphyxiation. None of the victims showed traumatic injuries normally associated with attacks using explosive or incendiary weapons. Such symptoms, and the lack of traumatic injuries, are consistent with exposure to nerve agents such as Sarin, Human Rights Watch said. There is laboratory evidence, according to HRW, that Sarin gas had been used in a previous attack in April on Jobar, near Damascus, when a photographer for Le Monde newspaper who was present at the time later tested for exposure to Sarin.

The HRW report provides further confirmation of the nature of the Aug. 21 attack and joins the Obama administration in fixing culpability for the attack on the Assad regime. Previously three Damascus hospitals that are supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières-MSF) reported that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died. Patients were treated using MSF-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms.

“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” said Dr. Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr. Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

Although Syria is not among the 189 countries that are party to the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, it is a party to the 1925 Geneva Gas Protocol. Customary international law bans the use of chemical weapons in all armed conflicts. The Aug. 21 attacks on Ghouta are the first major use of chemical weapons since the Iraqi government used chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurdish civilians in Halabja 25 years ago, Human Rights Watch said.

“The increasingly evident use of chemical weapons in Syria’s terrible conflict should refocus the international debate on deterring the use of such weapons and more broadly protecting Syria’s civilian population,” Bouckaert said.

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David Ward
5 years 1 month ago
Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs in a September 9, 2013 World Tribune article "New granular evidence points to Saudi role in chemical weapons attack." disputes the contention that the Syrian Government is the only possible culprit. I recommend reading the complete article which, as the title suggests, covers a wide area. If the following sample withstands scrutiny, it raises questions about HRC's methodology and the timing of its report. "The most explicit finding to date comes from the UK’s Defense Science Technology Laboratory. Soil and cloth samples “tested positive for the nerve gas sarin”. The sarin in the cloth was in liquid form that soaked into the cloth. As discussed below, this finding reinforces the conclusion that “kitchen sarin” was used. Hence, so much will depend on the UN’s findings when their tests are completed. The claim that the agent used was a “military sarin” is problematic because military sarin accumulates (like a gaseous crystal) around the victims’ hair and loose threads in clothes. Since these molecules are detached and released anew by any movement, they would have thus killed or injured the first responders who touched the victims’ bodies without protective clothes, gloves and masks. However, opposition videos show the first responders moving corpses around without any ill effects. This strongly indicates that the agent in question was the slow acting “kitchen sarin”. Indeed, other descriptions of injuries treated by MSF – suffocation, foaming, vomiting and diarrhea – agree with the effects of diluted, late-action drops of liquified sarin. The overall descriptions of the injuries and fatalities treated by MSF closely resemble the injuries treated by the Tokyo emergency authorities back on March 20, 1995. The Tokyo subway attack was committed with liquified “kitchen sarin”.The know how for this type of sarin came from North Korean Intelligence, and is known to have been transferred, along with samples, to Osama Bin Laden in 1998. That the jihadist movement has these technologies was confirmed in jihadist labs captured in both Turkey and Iraq, as well as from the wealth of data recovered from Al Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001/2..." ...As well, it is not yet clear what weapons were used to disperse the chemical agent. The specifics of the weapon will provide the crucial evidence whether this was a military type agent of the kind available in the Syrian arsenal, or improvised, kitchen-style agent of the type known to be within the technical capabilities of the jihadist opposition. Meanwhile, the mangled projectiles shown by the opposition, and which were tested by the UN inspectors, are not standard weapons of the Syrian Armed Forces. These projectiles have a very distinct ribbed-ring fins which are similar to projectiles used by the opposition in Aleppo, Damascus, and other fronts with both high-explosives and undefined materials. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) retrieved a video claiming to be of the attack, but is most likely of a daylight testing of the launcher. The truck-mounted launcher included a chemical sleeve that was supposed to absorb leaks from the improvised warheads and not harm the launch crew; hardly the precaution taken with a military weapon. Moreover, the warheads used in Damascus were cylindrical tanks which cracked and permitted a Tokyo-style mixture of liquids, rather than the pressurized mix and vaporization at the molecular level by the force of core explosion in a standard Soviet-style chemical warhead. Had Syrian militarily-trained experts built these warheads, they would have used the upper pipe for the core-charge the explosion of which would have created a significantly more lethal vaporized cloud of the toxic agent. The mere fact that the pipeline remained empty suggests the work of amateurs found in the ranks of the improvised weapon makers of the jihadist opposition. As well, the opposition also pointed to cracked plastic pieces which resembled shreds from large blue plastic tanks/bottles (like a water cooler’s huge bottles) fired by chemical launchers the opposition had bragged about in the past. These weapons are in agreement with the multitude of images of victims publicized by the opposition which did not show any injury due to shrapnel which would have come from Soviet-style chemical munitions of the type known to be in the Syrian military arsenal. Most important, of course, is the question “Who could have done it?” given the available data. Significantly, evidence collected by numerous Arab sources on the ground in the greater Damascus area and recently smuggled out of Syria narrows the scope of potential perpetrators and the reason for the attack. This evidence points to specific commanders of Liwaa al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra known to be cooperating in the eastern Damascus theater." http://www.worldtribune.com/2013/09/09/new-granular-evidence-points-to-saudi-involvement-in-syrias-chemical-weapons-terror-attack/

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