The UN released its report on chemical weapons use in Syria. You can read it here. It’s not that long, just some forty pages including legal appendices. John Kerry says it confirms that the Assad regime fired the gas rockets. Unfortunately, that is not what the actual report says. In a court, Kerry’s case might be seen as circumstantial at best, certainly not enough for a jury to return a guilty verdict in a murder trial.
Kerry said this (emphasis added):
And what did they [the UN inspectors] learn? They returned with several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report. But anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do – and they made it easy to do – understands what those facts mean.
The White House added: “Indeed, several crucial details confirm the regime’s guilt.”
The problem is that the report does not confirm anything other than chemical weapons were used. I can’t give you a quote because the report simply does not say– anywhere– that the Syria Army, or the rebels, or anyone by name– used the weapons. But don’t believe me. Unlike Kerry, I provide links, so check the full text of the report. If you don’t care to read it all, skip to page five, “Conclusions.” It just isn’t there. No one is named as the culprit.
Regardless, Kerry goes on to make his circumstantial argument:
We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122-millimeter improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks. There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession or has launched a CW variant of these rockets such as the kind that was used in the 21st of August attack. Equally significant, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples that the UN investigators collected provide clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack contained the nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there’s not a shred of evidence, however, that the opposition does.
Objection your Honor! The prosecutor is jumping to a conclusion not supported by the evidence. He has found a gun next to the body. That the victim is sadly dead was never in question. That that gun was used to kill him was never in question. However, what, if anything, ties that gun and thus the murder to my client? Where is that evidence your Honor? The prosecutor is jumping from A to C in a capital case without putting the gun in my client’s hand.
Sustained. The prosecution must show evidence that the defendant actually used the gun to commit the crime.
Who shot the gas rockets? Could they have been fired by rogue military elements not acting under Assad’s orders? Could the Syrian army have lost control of some rockets which were picked up by the rebels (Vladimir Putin has made that very claim, that the rebels themselves fired the gas rockets in an attempt to draw the United States into the conflict)? Could a third party have supplied such rockets to the rebels to create a pretext for war? As there is no evidence in the UN report that the trigger was pulled by the Syrian Army under Assad’s orders, there is no evidence that the rebels pulled it and no evidence that someone else did. That’s why the UN report does not draw a conclusion of guilt– there’s no evidence on which to base such a conclusion.
A final point. Page 22 of the report says:
As with other sites, the locations have been well-traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the [UN] Mission. Time spent on the sites was well-used but limited. During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.
Evidence tampering? A contaminated crime scene? Your Honor, I move that charges be dismissed against my client.
Sustained. Prosecutor Kerry, I hold you in contempt!
The U.S. is wholly misrepresenting facts in favor of another Middle East war. Unlike a fictional murder trial where one man’s life is on the line, should the U.S. attack Syria many, many people will lose their lives.
I feel no jury would convict on the evidence presented by John Kerry, but, hey, you be the judge.
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, will be available March 2014.