April 11, 2018
By Stephen Gowans
#1. The fundamental question of whether a chemical weapons (CW) attack took place last Saturday in the Syrian town of Douma has yet to be independently addressed. The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the one neutral body that is qualified to investigate the use of chemical weapons, has yet to begin its investigation.
#2. While the OPCW can determine whether a chemical attack has occurred, it is beyond its capability to assign responsibility. The allegation that the Syrian government perpetrated a CW attack is not verifiable in principle by a neutral body.
#3. The sole evidence for the claim against the Syrian government consists of allegations from two partisan sources: the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society.#4. Both groups are allied with jihadists seeking to overthrow the Syrian government and both are funded by Western states which openly call for regime change in Damascus. These outfits are neither neutral nor independent.
#5. As parties to the conflict, both groups have an interest in fabricating atrocity stories to defame their enemy and create a pretext for the continued and even escalated intervention of Western militaries in Syria.
#6. As parties to the conflict, Western states have an interest in legitimating the atrocity stories to defame the government they seek to change and to furnish a pretext for their continued and even escalated intervention in Syria.
#7. While early media reports referred to the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society as the sources of the allegations, explicit references to these partisan sources have now mostly disappeared from media coverage.
#8. Instead, the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society are now referred to by more neutral-sounding terms, such as “medical professionals and human rights groups,” or “relief workers”* disguising their partisan character and creating the illusion that they are independent humanitarian organizations free from a vested interest in the outcome of the conflict.
#9. Following the tenet cui prodest scelus, is fesit (he has committed the crime who has received the profit) suspicion falls more heavily on the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society, as perpetrators of a hoax, than on the Syrian government, as perpetrators of a crime. While it’s easy to attribute a motive to the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society to fabricate a story, no credible motive or benefit has been adduced to explain why the Syrian government would carry out the alleged CW attack. Those explanations that have been advanced fail on either of two grounds: they’re circular, or implausible and free from evidence.
A favored circular explanation holds that Assad ordered an attack because he’s an “animal.” How do we know he’s an animal? Because he ordered an attack.
Another line of argument attributes the alleged attack to a desire on the part of the Syrian government “to terrorize the population.”** Apart from the reality that no evidence for this claim is adduced, it is wholly unsatisfying as an explanation. Populations can be far more effectively terrorized by carpet bombing (also known, fittingly, as terror bombing.) If the Syrian government sought to terrorize the population, why use chemical weapons, when far more effective means are at hand, ones, morever, that don’t cross a red line?
#10. The bottom line is that there is no independent verification that an attack even took place, let alone that the Syrian government is responsible for one. What’s more, the sources of the allegations are wholly untrustworthy, have an interest in perpetrating a hoax, and no credible motivation has been cited to explain why the Syrian government would undertake the alleged CW attack.
The only reasonable conclusion in light of the above is that there’s not a speck of credible evidence that the Syrian government perpetrated a CW attack at Douma last Saturday, and that there are strong grounds to suspect the White Helmets and Syrian American Medical Society have created a deception.
* See for example “The US presses allies to back military strike on Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2018 or “Russia warns it will shoot down US missiles fired at Syria, target launch sites,” Reuters, April 11, 2018. Two days earlier the Wall Street Journal’s reporting identified the Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets as the sources of the allegations, as did The Associated Press and the New York times.
** See for example “Syria gas attack echoes Assad’s gamble that gains outweigh risks,” Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2018.