UN Report Provides Information, Not 'Intelligence'

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The United Nations mission to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria has released its report on the mass deaths in Ghouta on August 21, and it presents compelling evidence that the killings resulted from a deliberate attack with the nerve gas sarin. While the report explicitly declines to attribute responsibility for what it describes as a war crime, the details it provides of the quality of the sarin, the munitions used to deliver it and the trajectory of the projectiles used point to the Syrian regime as the likely perpetrator.

FAIR criticized US media for insufficient skepticism in its coverage of the US government report on Ghouta released on August 30 by Secretary of State John Kerry (FAIR Blog9/1/13), which explicitly blamed the Syrian government for the attack. The contrast between the two reports is striking: While Kerry’s report avoided providing specific details to back up its claims–”in order to protect sources and methods,” Kerry said–the UN report strove for maximum transparency, describing, for example, where samples were taken, how they were handled to avoid contamination, how they were tested and what results were obtained.

The UN does have the advantage in not being actively engaged in covert operations to overthrow the Syrian government, which allows it to collect evidence with a minimum of subterfuge. But the US government clearly could have shared much more information than it did (Washington Post9/2/13), and chose not to; this seems to reflect the priorities of the intelligence community, where secrecy is paramount. It refers to “classified assessments” based on “a substantial body of information,” but what the specifics of that information are we don’t have a need to know.

The UN report, on the other hand, appears designed to provide information to facilitate a public discussion. It provides detailed information to bolster its conclusions that can be both understood by laypeople and evaluated by experts. In short, it treats the global public as citizens, with a right to be informed about global events–while the US government treats its citizens as passive consumers of a predigested message.

  • Harel B

    One question: If they are so sure that the Syrian government did it despite Assad knowing it would invite a western assault, despite Syrian Army being ahead, despite the stupidity of ordering CW exactly after the arrival at Syrian government invitation, of UN inspections, like the next day, when there was no mortal danger to Damascus, despite German intel spent many months secretly monitoring Assad and found he always rejected CW (see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/08/syria-chemical-weapons-not-assad-bild contradicting earlier Spiegel; even clearer wording w/out added spin on “well maybe it was Army without Assad’s ok, see http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-09/09/c_125345938.htm) just one question – if you’re so sure, why not investigate vigorously other claims that rebel used it?

    It would be very straightforward – not necessarily easy but a clear specific path forward – locate and find the Ghouta residents Ababneh interviewed, the Ghouta rebels, give them safety/protection (if need be, asylum for them and family) so they can speak, and check their claims made by these many different people that rebels used CW.

    Also straightforward – when someone who has a good reason to hate the Syrian government, he was captured AND TORTURED by the Syrian government (http://www.britishsyriancentre.com/sites/default/files/Front%20copy-leeds.jpg) and even this pro-rebel journalist, Piccinin, says he was then taken hostage and abused by rebels, a story corroborated by journalist Quirico – they both heard the rebel commander say that THEY THE REBELS used CW, and used them in the Ghouta area- they even have names for the leads so they knew who to try to apprehend and question them further – why is there no UN vigorous action (if any) on these fronts?

    Why would someone tortured by Assad’s forces and who had spoken at pro-FSA etc conferences say rebels used CW unless he really heard it? Why would his Italian fellow hostage journalist, also pro-rebel, say he heard the same?

    The UN is less biased than the US. Inner City Press did reveal ahead of time how under pressure, the UN held secret meetings with western countries (and apparently only those) to assure them that hints would be put in pointing at Assad, while the ostensibly neutral UN did not to my knowledge hold any such pre-release meetings to “assure” Russia that its evidence was at least, looked at. Russia on the contrary says key evidence it provided was not included in UN report (paraphrasing; can’t find url just now) and earlier Russian report gave details:

    “the shell used in the incident “does not belong to the standard ammunition of the Syrian army and was crudely [according to type and parameters of the rocket-propelled unguided missiles] manufactured in the north of Syria by the so-called Bashair al-Nasr brigade”” and ” RDX, which is also known as hexogen or cyclonite, was used as the bursting charge for the shell, and it is “not used in standard chemical munitions”” and other technical (http://rt.com/news/chemical-aleppo-findings-russia-417/)

    Neither I nor other mainstream progressives , have ever opposed vigorous investigation of link to Syrian Army. Please do investigate those, and links to pro-govt militias, too. But don’t omit evidence, or meet “selectively” with some governments to “Assure” them, and most of all: the lack of any statements that UN have, or even will, conduct the interviews and safety-providing for those who testified that rebels, or rebels that said that they did it – silence is deafening.