Mar 7, 2014

Quote from Commission of Inquiry on Syria

If this is your first time here, I recommend starting from the conclusion page.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, has issued its 7th report which deals with many atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, but also provided the following interesting quote (page 19):
The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents.
The report also states that the chemical agents used in Ghouta were similar to the Khan Al-Assal attack, and concludes that "In no incident was the commission’s evidentiary threshold met with respect to the perpetrator".

This seems to indicate the commission had information that could prove valuable for our research here. Unfortunately, UN bodies have proven in the past to be a problematic source of information when dealing with the Ghouta attack, so some care should be practiced. Indeed, the first thing that stands out is that the commission does not provide any evidence to support its conclusion, or even provide an indication of what that evidence could be. This obviously renders this information unusable for our investigation.

Nevertheless, we can try to deduce what information the commission has by analyzing their statements.

A first clue is given in the first question in the press conference that followed the report, where the commission's chairman explains that since they did not visit Syria, their conclusion is based principally on the existing findings of Sellstrom's team, as well as "interviews with experts and functionaries".

A second clue is the comparison to the Khan Al-Assal attack, which is said to have "the same unique hallmarks as those used in Al-Ghouta". Since Sellstrom's team did not visit Khan Al-Assal and had no field samples, the only source for such a comparison would be Russia's 100-page report of the attack submitted to the UN, which included certified lab results of field samples. The full results were not published, but were reported to provide evidence that RDX was used as the bursting charge.

These clues bring us back to the well-known Hexamine issue - which serves as the current "smoking gun", ever since the "trajectory intersection" theory was refuted. Since RDX is based on Hexamine, it seems likely that the Russian labs reported Hexamine in their samples, which brought the commission to connect them to the Hexamine in the Ghouta attack (probably correctly), and both attacks to the Syrian stockpiles (probably incorrectly).

So since the commission refuses to provide any evidence, states that their conclusion is based on Sellstrom's data, and found similarities to Khan Al-Assal, there is little reason to believe they have more information besides the well-known Hexamine finding.

The other evidence mentioned is the amount of agent used, which is indeed one of the main challenges to the opposition-attack theory. However, detailed analysis indicates that while not an easy feat, producing such amounts is within the opposition's capabilities. The recent UN evidence showing the opposition deploying tens of kg of sarin, further strengthened this position.

As a side note, for those who are not familiar with the UN's multiple manipulations during the Ghouta investigation and choose to take this report at face value as indicative of a government attack, it should be pointed out that this would indicate that the only two cases where the government chose to use sarin at large scale are (a) an attack against Syrian soldiers in a government-controlled area, and (b) a massive attack on a purely civilian opposition neighborhood carried out upon arrival of a UN team invited to investigate the first attack. - An obviously perplexing choice of targets.

Finally, it is important once again to remember that the Ghouta attack is no longer a mystery where each little clue can change the picture (like it was in the early days). We now have very strong evidence implicating the opposition in the attack, and so far no one was able to propose a regime attack theory that is consistent with the evidence (see the end of this post to understand why this is so difficult). For our understanding to change, very strong contradicting evidence should be brought forward, or alternatively a plausible theory for a regime attack should be formulated. Vague statements or general-purpose chemicals claimed to be smoking guns, sadly, do not qualify.

Conclusion: The commission's quote seems to be based on the Hexamine findings and the amount of agent used, both of which have already been known and analyzed here before, and found to be of little value.


  1. You say:

    This is of course pure speculation, but an interesting connection comes up: One of the commission's members is Carla Del Ponte, who previously estimated that sarin was solely used by opposition forces. Perhaps a fuller disclosure of evidence would have also required exposing the evidence that brought Del Ponte to her conclusion,

    But we know what evidence brought Carla Del Ponte to her conclusion because she told us it was based on the way the doctors in Turkey treated the victims, She told Swiss-Italian TV:

    "Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals."

    "According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated."

    The only mystery here is just how could Carla Del Ponte determine who used the sarin in Syria by how victims were treated in neighbouring countries, and why anyone would still be citing her conclusions as though they had in validity. Its certainly no mystery why her own commission rushed to disavow her statements a few hours after she made them.

    1. You make a good point. It's likely that the only evidence Del Ponte had was the fact that the victims were government supporters.
      I therefore removed the speculative statement.
      Thank you!

    2. Carla Del Ponte, who previously estimated that sarin was solely used by opposition forces

      Wasn't it "may" have been used?

    3. "...The only mystery here is just how could Carla Del Ponte determine who used the sarin in Syria by how victims were treated in neighbouring countries..."

      You're combining at least two different aspects of Del Ponte's comments confusing the issue even more, Clay.

      One comment during the Swiss interview was speaking to the evidence of Sarin use:

      "...Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated..."

      Based on direct testimony to the U.N. human rights commission team who received direct testimony from Turkish doctors. Doctors who choose treatment based on presentation of victims and their symptoms. This testimony was further corroborated by blood tests taken from victims. She was addressing specific medical evidence of Sarin being used by that comment, not medical evidence of who used it.

      She remarked later in the interview that the team's reports (April-May) indicated that there were, "...strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof..." of rebel responsibility in Al Assal. That was based on the inquiry team's testimony from *witnesses and victims*, not Turkish doctors treating them. I'm sure she feels the exact same way today.

      She is allowed to have a intelligent opinion based on witness testimony AND she is perfectly capable of determining whether the testimony will stand up in court or not. They're two different things. 'No incontrovertible proof' does not mean it never happened. The U.N. did not 'disavow her statements', they reiterated the one part they could: no proof.

      The Human Rights commission inquiry *is* tasked with identifying perpetrators of war crimes vs OPCW's mission. The June preliminary report from the commission simply said that no evidence so far (including Al Assal victim testimonies) met the commission's threshold of evidence for chemical weapons use in Al Assal. They never said the rebels didn't do it, just that they had no proof other than testimony. Their findings are consistent with Del Ponte's comment: they couldn't establish incontrovertible proof against the opposition based only on victim testimony.

      Sasa: I don't agree that Del Ponte used the 'government supporters' as evidence of anything. And the *only* evidence?? She read victim and witness testimony gathered by her human rights team. Are you suggesting she ignored pages and pages of testimony in favor of 'Regime supporter victims = Rebels guilty' logic? Common sense would say that these people were very unlikely to be government supporters anyway.

      The June report also mentions *most* of the testimony gathered so far was against the Syrian state, presumably from the opposition or civilians. Considering they could not enter Syria to interview government forces or civilians attacked by opposition forces, it's no wonder they had mostly opposition-friendly testimony from all the interviews. Despite that, civilian victims from Al Assal interviewed in Turkey specifically said rebel forces used the weapons against them. 'Pro-Assad' victims don't flee to Turkey - they'll go to a Syrian government hospital. So these victims were either Anti-Assad or opposition-friendly to even have ended up in Turkey. That makes their testimony about Al Assal to the U.N. even more damning, although still below the threshold of legal proof.

    4. I'm just saying it is a likely assumption. I can't see what testimony the victims could give that would imply culpability - they just hear an explosion and have symptoms. I could definitely see how just the fact that soldiers were the target drove her to the conclusion.

      It's still very possible she had other information - but that's speculation which I can't use here.

    5. While it is clearly circumstantial with regards to judging Del Ponte's veracity in this case, she does have a history that should lead one to both doubt her claims and have a pro-Russian bias. I do into that some in:
      Syria Sarin Blame Game: Is Carla Del Ponte at it again?
      and more in:
      Carla Del Ponte in the WikiLeaks Cablegate files

    6. "...I'm just saying it is a likely assumption...", "...I could definitely see how just the fact that soldiers were the target drove her to the conclusion..."

      Could be. I'm a lot more inclined to go with Clay's observations that Del Ponte has an agenda.

      "...I can't see what testimony the victims could give that would imply culpability - they just hear an explosion and have symptoms..."

      What? Based on a likely assumption that that's *all* that was in the testimony? You may be right - I'm just pointing out that a likely assumption based on another likely assumption is going to put you pretty far into the land of tinfoil. Welcome!

      "...It's still very possible she had other information - but that's speculation which I can't use here..."

      Ah-ha! Cherry-picking speculation [sorry - couldn't resist].

      Once again, Sasa, we're simply chewing on scraps of a nothing sandwich the U.N. threw over the fence to us. I'm still enthusiastic for a good rhetorical fight (or beating, as the case may be), but the latest vacuous U.N. report is hardly worth the electrons.

    7. Clay - Well presented ideas in your blog. As with Sasa's efforts here, thanks for your efforts in writing and sharing.

      And not to detract from your main points, but you are repeatedly suggesting that Del Ponte said the rebels did it. I'm no expert in legal weasel-ease, but she's far too skilled (and slippery) to have said precisely that. She infers and suggests and supposes - mostly to stir up the pot - but I'm certain she would have never stated clearly and unequivocally that the rebels were responsible.

      Off-Topic for a moment:

      I did especially appreciate this comment in your blog:

      "...I added the emphasis above because if there is one thing I have learned to hate in this world, it is a prosecutor who lies!..."

      I went the extra mile and learned to hate all lawyers that speak. The electroshock treatments, animal tranquilizers and booze are all helping me appreciate that they were rational human beings at one time - just like us. Isnt' that odd?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. (Above deleted to correct spelling)

    A very interesting analysis by the author who does not miss in showing the weaknesses of the "Assad-done-it" brigade. As much as they want it to be a government attack scenario and as much as they believe this to be the case they have never, ever produced a plausible "regime attack theory" as the author puts it.

    1. Why did they do it when they were winning on the ground?
    2. If they did launch CW why attack their own troops in an area that supported the government (Khan Al-Assal)?
    3. Why launch CW in Ghouta on the eve of UN inspectors arriving in Damascus at the request of the government to investigate a CW attacks on troops in Khan Al-Assal? (Bear in mind that now this UN team wants us to believe that the Syrian government attacked their own troops in Kan- al-Assal then asked the UN to visit Syria to investigate the attack only to then lauch another CW attack)
    4. The US drew a red line that was the use of CW and told Assad that if he used them he would pay. The gauntlet was thrown down, so why would Assad give the US a reason to attack at a time when he was fighting for his survival?
    5. Why did he, as the author points out, decide to attack his own troops and a mainly civilian area with CW when, if he was that mad and wanted to kill people, he was doing better with conventional weapons?

    I could go on with this line of questioning. But as long as the "Assad-done-it" gang refuse to offer up a 'regime did it scenario' it makes them and their arguments appear biased and self-serving. Saying it was Assad just because you believe it doesn't make it any more right. Why did he do it? Either way it matters not to me as the world has moved on from these events and Russia ensured that the US navy left the Syrian coast as quick as they came.

    Sure the investigation should continue as to what happened in Ghouta but the truth is no one will ever know the real truth. One should bear in mind that the countries supporting the opposition have the ability, will, desire and motives to issue CW to their friends and indeed the opposition are the ones who had most to gain from a CW attack. Yes the Syrian government had the means and ability to carry out these attacks too but they had no motive, nothing to gain and indeed had the most to lose for a CW attack never mind a CW attack on their own troops! Get real here.

    I have read all the ‘regime-did-it’ claims and all the ‘rebels-done-it’ claims and I can tell you that whilst the former is possible it’s the latter that makes more sense and fits the evidence. But who cares? Really, who cares today? CW were used, the US threatened action, the Russians stopped this action and now the world has moved on. A good idea would be, for those that claim Assad launched CW on his troops in an area that supported him, to do what the author requested and give the world your “regime attack theory”. I for one won’t hold my breath.

  4. "...Unfortunately, UN bodies have proven in the past to be a problematic source of information when dealing with the Ghouta attack, so some care should be practiced..."

    Agree, but I would have used a less charitable and more, er... 'colorful' description of the U.N.'s information quality.

  5. 1) The regime was not winning on the ground at the time of the attacks. They are barely winning on the ground at this point - if they are winning...

    2-5) Stupid stuff happens in wars.

    1. 1. The regime has been winning on the ground for the longest time now and a refusal to see this is evidence that one refuses to acknowledge the facts. This has also been acknowledged by all the MSM that I have read and watched.
      They were winning on the ground at the time of the Ghouta attacks.

      That all aside though the "Assad-done-it" gang refuse to put together a scenario that fits the evidence and to answer such questions as I posed in my opening post. Simply saying "Stupid stuff happens..." in answer to these quite serious and genuine questions is about the best answer you can get from these people.

  6. "if Western leaders are to be believed, it wanted to fire just seven missiles almost a half century old at a rebel suburb in which only 300 of the 1,400 victims (if the rebels themselves are to be believed) were fighters. As one Western NGO put it yesterday: "if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God's sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?""
    "A witness who was with Syrian troops of the army's 4th Division on 21 August – a former Special Forces officer considered a reliable source – said he saw no evidence of gas shells being fired, even though he was in one of the suburbs, Moadamiya, which was a target for sarin. He does recall the soldiers expressing concern when they saw the first YouTube images of suffocating civilians – not out of sympathy, but because they feared they would have to fight amid clouds of poison."

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