As the UN General Assembly gathers for its annual session this week, and the UN Security Council deliberates on a resolution over Syria under the chairmanship of Australia, there are worrying signs that Australian ‘guidance’ may not be impartial on the Syrian issue. The former PM Kevin Rudd had already made it clear that Australian allegiance to the US is a priority, so I felt it necessary to state the case for Syria to Australia’s new Foreign Minister.
This is my proposal to Julie Bishop:
In the context of the current Syrian and regional crisis, my concern is specifically about Australia’s role and potential role to either inflame or dampen tensions, and the extent to which we are prepared to take an independent stand that reflects both Australian interests and those of the Syrian people – the people in whose interest it is assumed ‘the international community’ will act. It need hardly be added that the coincidence of Australia’s chairmanship of the UNSC this month gives us a special responsibility in this regard.
The development of the Syrian crisis following the alleged Chemical Weapons attack in East Ghouta on August 21st has been dramatic to say the least, bringing the region to the brink of a military conflict with dangerously unpredictable consequences. While this confrontation has been averted for the time being, primarily through Russia’s intervention with a program to take Syria’s Chemical Weapons out of the equation, we should not now kid ourselves that the ‘limited strike’ proposed by the US was all that was averted. Most commentators saw the dangers of ‘escalation’, not simply of conflict spreading over Syria’s borders, but in a far wider and more dangerous confrontation between Russia and the US.
These dangers remain as long as some powers are prepared to act outside the UN framework. And there is no sense in beating about the bush simply because Australia is allied to the US and UK; it was these powers who threatened aggressive, and in the terms of the UN illegal, action against a sovereign state – Syria. They did so on the basis of a contentious principle – R2P – at best, or on the basis of something far more dubious – a ‘punitive strike’, or ‘to send a message’.
At the same time, Russia and China – whose motivation seems always called into question, have steadfastly pursued the path of diplomacy and action under the UN framework in regard to the Syrian conflict. They saw the way that their consent to ‘limited action’ – a No Fly Zone – against Libya enabled ‘regime change’ by assassination and a devastating and disastrous bombing campaign, killing many more innocent civilians than were claimed to be in need of protection, and reducing the country to Iraq status. Russia considers this precedent a sufficient justification to wield its power of veto over the Security Council when similar military action is proposed against Syria, but as this particular veto conflicts with the special interests of the other three SC members – US, UK and France – we are constantly told that Russia is ‘the problem’.
We should not forget that China is then also the problem; China had significant interests and investments in Oil and Gas in Libya as well as many nationals living there, and has similar interests which may be threatened by any change in Syria. This also clearly has ‘an Australian context’ which must be considered if Australia is to take sides in the Syrian conflict – that is to take the side of the Western backed external Syrian Opposition against that of the Syrian government and its people.
That is the background, and must be considered by the UN in formulating any resolution on Syria this week. But there is a far more important issue that relates to the actual alleged attack and use of Sarin in Ghouta last month. Clearly none of this would have happened if the Chemical Weapons attack had not happened – not the alleged atrocity, not the UN inspectors investigation, not the military build up and threat of attack with US Tomahawk missiles, and not the subsequent resolution with the Russian proposal to deal with Syria’s Chemical Weapons.
From my perspective, which is also that of the majority of non-aligned nations and their people, the use of Chemical Weapons by the Syrian army, or any party aligned with the Syrian government, is simply incomprehensible; it had no motivation to conduct such a militarily and politically useless attack, and every reason in the world not to. We have only to look at the consequences! So the ‘burden of proof’ is very heavy.
By contrast, it has long been feared by Syrians and their friends and allies that some element of the ‘rebels’ could stage such an attack; ever since Obama drew a ‘red line’ for intervention on the use of Chemical Weapons, they have had a clear incentive to commit this crime to bring on the Western intervention they have been pleading for for over two years. Not only this – elements of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ have evidently already used some kind of chemical weapon on several occasions, notably in Khan al Assal. Despite a UN investigation which found this attack was likely the work of rebels, and a detailed Russian investigation into it which identified the chemicals used, apparent means of delivery and likely culprits – a rebel group – we are still told that ‘the rebels do not have Sarin’. It should not need to be said that the UN investigation team was in Damascus on 20th August specifically at the request of the Syrian government to investigate the Khan al Assal incident ( on March 15th 2013), and confirm the Russian findings; conveniently for those responsible, the East Ghouta incident diverted the team from this task.
One of the striking things about the consequent investigation in East Ghouta ( but also, inexplicably in Moadamiya, SW of Damascus) was that the UN team’s mandate was restricted solely to ascertaining whether a chemical weapon was used, without attributing blame to any party. This was a restriction demanded by some external parties for the Khan al Assal investigation – and in that case may have been in their interest, but now seems a little bizarre. While there has never been any doubt that Syria had Sarin stocks, in common with most other countries in the region, the only question that needed answering in this case was which party was responsible for using them. The attempts to use the UN inspectors report to attibute blame to one party – the Syrian government – look a little desperate to an impartial observer, and look fraudulent to Syria and her supporters. The whole case seems to rest on the apparent trajectory of two different missiles found with Sarin contamination in an area under ‘rebel’ control which had been under bombardment with various missiles from the Syrian army for many months. Claims that the missiles were of Syrian army origin have recently been denied by Russia – the design illustrated in the UN report is evidently of old Soviet era style no longer used by the Syrian army.
The report also admits that the sites examined were subject to much traffic and ‘interference’ could not be excluded. This is not to mention that the UN team was not charged with investigating the technicalities of the munitions or speculating on their trajectories or origin, and could not be expected to make reliable conclusions on this.
In addition, it is notable that only the missile parts and surrounding soil were found to show Sarin contamination; samples of clothing and bedding and interiors were negative. The main evidence apart from the missiles was found in the blood and urine samples of victims, but these victims were provided by anti-government forces from local ‘field hospitals’. We might ask why inspectors did not examine a single dead victim, particularly given the number of these alleged by the US – some 1430 people. And with so many dead we might assume that many times this number would have been ‘injured’. Only 35 people were tested.
Does this satisfy the ‘heavy burden of proof’?
What now of the evidence that some element of the ‘rebel’ forces may have been responsible? It is well established that there is a mix of armed groups in the rebel held areas East of Damascus, including Al Nusra in Ain Tarma close to the site of the alleged attack. This is the area that they use to launch mortar attacks on the old city of Damascus, as well as the periodic suicide bombings that define such Al Qaeda linked extremist groups. Following the East Ghouta attack some Syrian army soldiers discovered a basement ‘tunnel’ which was apparently a small Sarin laboratory, with drums of chemicals, gas masks, and antidote vials. For many Syrians, as well as the army, this was confirmation of what they suspected – or expected – that rebels had launched an attack to try to frame the government; somehow it was presented in the West as a little trick by the government, even though it is quite obvious that the Syrian army would not ‘mix’ its Sarin in secret tunnels. Sarin is a ‘binary’ agent, where the two relatively safe components are stored separately in the shell and only mix when fired, so such a ‘kitchen laboratory’ must be seen as significant evidence of its manufacture by non-government agents.
Aside from verifying the presence of Sarin in victims’ samples, and around alleged missiles, the UN report presents nothing that could be called ‘evidence’ about culpability; grounds for speculation merely.
As I hope you are aware, Mother Agnes Mariam has drawn up a report based on analysis of the many videos presented of evidence for the attack on August 21st. For a succinct appraisal of her report and supportive evidence, I would be hard put to match this video by independent analyst James Corbett posted on GRTV:
Her full report, which is being presented at the UN this week by Sergei Lavrov, can be downloaded from the above website. The essential case Mother Agnes makes is based on her knowledge of the society, and presence in Damascus at the time of the alleged attack. She makes some essential points particularly into the videos showing so many children all together. The area in question is under bombardment by the Syrian army and contains few families but many fighters – the families of these fighters having mostly moved to Jordanian refugee camps. So where did all these children come from, and why were they there without their parents at 2.30am? Where are the grieving parents? She also notes that some children pictured dead in some videos are shown alive in others, or appear in a different position.
Given that the ‘evidence’ of what is shown in these many videos released after the attack has been used as a casus belli by the White House, along with reports from anti-government forces and activists on the number of dead adults and children, it seems extraordinary that such questions must be asked and that they cannot be answered.
As more analysis is done on the details of the alleged attack, new information continues to emerge and further speculation on the origin of the missiles and the identity of the victims is central to this. This article in the “Oriental Review” has some useful details about the 140 mm shell analysed by the UN team, which was said to prove Syrian army culpability, and demonstrates that it does the opposite – such shells are used in outdated multiple rocket launchers still being used by militants across the region, and seen in ‘rebel’ video clips being used against Government assets.
For the purposes of this letter, and the case against the Western pretext for ‘military intervention’, it is not necessary to pursue the rest of this ‘story’ – that the true identity of the children pictured in the Ghouta videos implies a true crime against humanity committed by Al Nusra terrorists. There are already sufficient grounds to cast significant doubt on all the claims made against the Syrian government and its supporters; more importantly it cannot be claimed by any reasonable person that the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt that the Syrian government has committed a war crime which demands a military intervention.
I sincerely hope that Australia’s stance at the UN will reflect this reality, and urge you to continue to pursue the process of dialogue and consensus through the whole international community that the UN represents.