Following a well-established script, anonymous U.S. officials are making unsubstantiated claims about weapons of mass destruction – this time in Syria – and again the media is failing to ask tough questions.
It’s the WMD story all over again. Not unlike the spurious claims that paved the way to war with Iraq 15 years ago, anonymous “U.S. officials” are once again accusing a targeted “regime” of using “weapons of mass destruction” and issuing threats that the U.S. military may have to “hold it accountable.” Once again, Western media is broadcasting these accusations and threats without skepticism or investigation.
The Washington Post story is titled “Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons.” The Reuters story, which was carried by the New York Times, says, “U.S. officials have said the Syrian government may be developing new types of chemical weapons, and President Donald Trump is prepared to consider further military action. President Bashar al Assad is believed to have secretly kept part of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.”
Jerusalem Online says, “A U.S. official says Syrian President Assad’s forces may be developing new types of chemical weapons, which could reach as far as the U.S.” Jane’s Defence Weekly quotes a U.S. official saying, “They clearly think they can get away with this.”
The accusations follow a long-established pattern of officials making anonymous claims and then ratcheting up tensions and issuing calls for retaliatory action – while the media repeats the claims without the slightest amount of skepticism. The Washington Post article, for example, includes the following statement by an anonymous official: “If the international community does not take action now … we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors such as ISIS and beyond. And that use will spread to U.S. shores.”
Yet, based on a review of recent history, there is plenty of reason to believe that the story is false and is being broadcast to deceive the public in preparation for new military aggression.
The invasion of Vietnam with over 500,000 U.S. soldiers was preceded by the phony Gulf of Tonkin incident where a U.S. ship was supposedly attacked by a North Vietnamese vessel. It wasn’t true and President Lyndon Johnson knew it. The resolution was passed unanimously (416-0) in the House and only Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening had the integrity and insight to oppose it in the Senate. Was anyone ever held accountable for the lie that led to the deaths of more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers and millions of Vietnamese? No.
The 1991 attack on Iraq and subsequent massacre of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was preceded by the fabricated testimony of the Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter pretending to be a nurse who had witnessed Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators and leaving Kuwaiti babies on the floor. Were the marketing officials Hill & Knowlton and politicians such as Tom Lantos who managed this deceit ever held accountable? No.
In 2003 the U.S. launched the invasion of Iraq leading to the deaths of over a million Iraqis based on the false and fabricated evidence provided by the CIA and uncritically promoted by the mainstream media. For example, Michael Gordon and Thomas Friedman promoted and lauded the invasion at the New York Times. Were they held to account? No, they carry right on to today.
In 2011 the U.S. led NATO attacks on Libya with the stated purpose of “protecting civilians” from a possible massacre. This was explained and encouraged by journalists and pundits such as Nicholas Kristof and Juan Cole. NATO officials bragged about their operation. After the brief Western euphoria, it became clear that the campaign was based on lies and the real result was an explosion of extremism, massacres and chaos which continues to today. Accountability? None. One rarely hears about Libya today. Out of sight, out of mind.
In August 2013 we heard about a massive sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Human Rights Watch and others promoting a Western attack quickly accused the Syrian government. They asserted that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line” and the U.S. needed to intervene directly. Subsequent investigations revealed the gas attack was not carried out by the Syrian government. It was more likely to have been perpetrated by a Turkish supported terrorist faction with the goal of pressuring the Obama administration to directly attack Syria. Two Turkish parliamentarians presented evidence of Turkey’s involvement in the transfer of sarin.
Some of the best U.S. investigative journalists, including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh, researched the issue and uncovered evidence pointing to Turkish-supported “rebels” not Syria. Despite the factual evidence exposing the “junk heap” of false claims, mainstream media and their followers continue to assert that Assad committed the crime.
In April 2017 it was the same thing: U.S. and allies made accusations which were never proven and ultimately discredited. The UN’s team of investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons never visited the scene of the crime. They discovered the curious fact that dozens of victims in multiple locations showed up at hospitals with symptoms of chemical injuries before the attack happened. This is strong evidence of fraud but that line of investigation was not pursued.
With or without awareness of the deceit, Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base which killed 13 people including four children. Accountability? None.
Now, despite their earlier failures to investigate properly, anonymous officials at the OPCW are reviving the story of the Syrian chemical attacks with claims that laboratory tests have linked the Syrian government’s chemical weapon stockpile to those attacks, supporting Western assertions that Assad was behind the atrocity.
Taken together, these recent developments indicate that forces in the U.S. government intend to continue trying to destroy Syria. Despite contradictory claims by the Trump administration, a core fact is that the U.S. is training and supplying a sectarian military militia inside northern Syria against the wishes of the Syrian government. The U.S. previously said they were in Syria to get rid of ISIS but now that ISIS is largely gone, the U.S. military says it is not leaving. On the contrary, the U.S. military helped escort ISIS fighters from Raqqa to al Bukamal and the U.S. is now training ISIS fighters to be reincarnated as yet another anti-Assad “rebel” force.
Regarding the latest accusations, the following is noteworthy:
- Secretary of Defense Mattis acknowledges they do not have independent evidence.
- The accusations come from “NGOs, fighters on the ground,” according to Mattis. In other words, the accusations come from the armed opposition and “White Helmets”.
- In contrast with their media image, the “White Helmets” are neither independent nor neutral. The organization is a creation of the U.S. and U.K. governments and Western military contractors. It’s a well-funded and highly successful deception. The U.S. and U.K. train, supply and pay “volunteers” to provide them with accusations that can then be used to justify the desired aggression.
Behind the scenes, anonymous “U.S. officials” are feeding the media evidence-free claims that the Syrian government is rebuilding a chemical weapons program and “developing new munitions to deliver chemical weapons.” They claim the program is “evolving” and using a mix of sarin and chlorine.
Finally, there is the issue of timing. It is a curious fact that each time there are scheduled negotiations involving the Syrian government and opposition, there is an outburst of atrocity claims. This time the accusations come at the same time as the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi, Russia. An objective investigation would consider who benefits from actions which distract from or sabotage negotiations. In February 2014 when Geneva negotiations were undermined by sensational claims of photos showing torture in Syria, the Christian Science Monitor broke ranks with mainstream media by suggesting it was a “well-timed propaganda exercise.”
Journalists supposed to critically question, investigate the facts, and expose contradictions and falsehoods. When the media fails to do that, they have some responsibility, especially when it leads to wars, death and destruction. As indicated above, there are many horrible and bloody examples of mainstream media failure. There should be some accountability. When is that going to happen?
Top Photo | A crew member of the Danish warship Esbern Snare enters a decontamination shower wearing a gas mask, during preparations to head to the Syrian port of Latakia to pick up more than 1,000 tons of chemical agents slated for destruction as agreed upon with the Syrian government. (AP/Petros Karadjias)
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.