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First Published: 2018-02-06

WMD Claims in Syria Raise Concerns over US Escalation
Following a well-established script, anonymous US officials are making unsubstantiated claims about weapons of mass destruction this time in Syria while the media fails to ask tough questions, reports Rick Sterling.
Middle East Online

Its the WMD story all over again.

Map of Syria.

Not unlike the spurious claims that paved the way to war with Iraq 15 years ago, anonymous U.S. officials are once again accusing a targeted regime of using weapons of mass destruction and issuing threats that the U.S. military may have to hold it accountable. Once again, Western media is broadcasting these accusations and threats without skepticism or investigation.

TheWashington Poststory is titled Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons. TheReuters story, which was carried by theNew York Times, says, U.S. officials have said the Syrian government may be developing new types of chemical weapons, and President Donald Trump is prepared to consider further military action. President Bashar al Assad is believed to have secretly kept part of Syrias chemical weapons stockpile.

Jerusalem Onlinesays, A U.S. official says Syrian President Assads forces may be developing new types of chemical weapons, which could reach as far as the U.S.Janes Defence Weeklyquotesa U.S. official saying, They clearly think they can get away with this.

The accusations follow a long-established pattern of officials making anonymous claims and then ratcheting up tensions and issuing calls for retaliatory action while the media repeats the claims without the slightest amount of skepticism. TheWashington Postarticle, for example, includes the following statement by an anonymous official: If the international community does not take action now we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors such as ISIS and beyond. And that use will spread to U.S. shores.

Yet, based on a review of recent history, there is plenty of reason to believe that the story is false and is being broadcast to deceive the public in preparation for new military aggression.

The invasion of Vietnam with over 500,000 U.S. soldiers was preceded by the phonyGulf of Tonkin incidentwhere a U.S. ship was supposedly attacked by a North Vietnamese vessel. It wasnt true and President Lyndon Johnson knew it. The resolution was passed unanimously (416-0) in the House and only Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening had the integrity and insight to oppose it in the Senate. Was anyone ever held accountable for the lie that led to the deaths of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese? No.

The 1991 attack on Iraq and subsequent massacre of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was preceded by thefabricated testimonyof the Kuwaiti Ambassadors daughter pretending to be a nurse who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators and leaving Kuwaiti babies on the floor. Were the marketing officials Hill & Knowlton and politicians such as Tom Lantos who managed this deceit ever held accountable? No.

In 2003 the U.S. launched the invasion of Iraq leading to the deaths of over a million Iraqis based on the false and fabricated evidence provided by the CIA and uncritically promoted by the mainstream media. For example,Michael GordonandThomas Friedmanpromoted and lauded the invasion at theNew York Times. Were they held to account? No, they carry right on to today.

In 2011 the U.S. led NATO attacks on Libya with the stated purpose of protecting civilians from a possible massacre. This was explained and encouraged by journalists and pundits such asNicholas KristofandJuan Cole. NATO officials bragged about their operation. After the brief Western euphoria, it became clear that the campaign was based on lies and thereal resultwas an explosion of extremism, massacres and chaos which continues to today. Accountability? None. One rarely hears about Libya today. Out of sight, out of mind.

In August 2013 we heard about a massive sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus.Human Rights Watchand others promoting a Western attack quickly accused the Syrian government. They asserted that Assad had crossed Obamas red line and the U.S. needed to intervene directly. Subsequentinvestigationsrevealed the gas attack was not carried out by the Syrian government. It was more likely to have been perpetrated by a Turkish supported terrorist faction with the goal of pressuring the Obama administration to directly attack Syria. Two Turkish parliamentarians presented evidence of Turkeys involvement in the transfer of sarin.

Some of the best U.S. investigative journalists, including the lateRobert ParryandSeymour Hersh, researched the issue and uncovered evidence pointing to Turkish-supported rebels not Syria. Despite the factual evidence exposing the junk heap of false claims, mainstream media and their followers continue to assert that Assad committed the crime.

In April 2017 it was the same thing: U.S. and allies made accusations which were never proven and ultimatelydiscredited. The UNs team of investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons never visited the scene of the crime. They discovered the curious fact that dozens of victims in multiple locations showed up at hospitals with symptoms of chemical injuries before the attack happened. This is strong evidence offraudbut that line of investigation was not pursued.

With or without awareness of the deceit, Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base which killed 13 people including four children. Accountability? None.

Now, despite their earlier failures to investigate properly, anonymous officials at the OPCW are reviving the story of the Syrian chemical attacks withclaimsthat laboratory tests have linked the Syrian governments chemical weapon stockpile to those attacks, supporting Western assertions that Assad was behind the atrocity.

Taken together, these recent developments indicate that forces in the U.S. government intend to continue trying to destroy Syria. Despitecontradictoryclaims by the Trump administration, a core fact is that the U.S. is training and supplying a sectarian military militia inside northern Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government. The U.S. previously said they were in Syria to get rid of ISIS but now that ISIS is largely gone, the U.S. military says it is not leaving. On the contrary, the U.S. militaryhelped escortISIS fighters from Raqqa to al Bukamal and the U.S. is nowtrainingISIS fighters to be reincarnated as yet another anti-Assad rebel force.

Regarding the latest accusations, the following is noteworthy:

  • Secretary of Defense Mattisacknowledgesthey do not have independent evidence.
  • The accusations come from NGOs, fighters on the ground, according to Mattis. In other words, the accusations come from the armed opposition and White Helmets.
  • In contrast with their media image, theWhite Helmetsare neither independent nor neutral. The organization is a creation of the U.S. and U.K. governments and Western military contractors. Its a well-funded and highly successful deception. The U.S. and U.K. train, supply and pay volunteers to provide them with accusations that can then be used to justify the desired aggression.

Behind the scenes, anonymous U.S. officials are feeding the mediaevidence-free claimsthat the Syrian government is rebuilding a chemical weapons program and developing new munitions to deliver chemical weapons. They claim the program is evolving and using a mix of sarin and chlorine.

Finally, there is the issue of timing. It is a curious fact that each time there are scheduled negotiations involving the Syrian government and opposition, there is an outburst of atrocity claims. This time the accusations come at the same time as the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi, Russia. An objective investigation would consider who benefits from actions which distract from or sabotage negotiations. In February 2014 when Geneva negotiations were undermined by sensational claims ofphotos showing torturein Syria, theChristian Science Monitorbroke ranks with mainstream media by suggesting it was a well timed propaganda exercise.

Journalists supposed to critically question, investigate the facts, and expose contradictions and falsehoods. When the media fails to do that, they have some responsibility, especially when it leads to wars, death and destruction. As indicated above, there are many horrible and bloody examples of mainstream media failure. There should be some accountability. When is that going to happen?

Rick Sterlingis an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached atrsterling1@gmail.com.



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