Talk:Alleged Chemical Attack, August 21, 2013/U.N. Investigator Response

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This is an area to watch closely, and maybe worth some discussion and thought. It's thorny stuff. --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:17, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

Starting Thoughts

Obviously, the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team had just arrived not two days before this to start a two-week mission. They were based in a Damascus hotel less than 5 km away from one activist who said "I think the regime doesn’t care that the UN inspectors are less than 5 kilometres away. On the contrary, by carrying out these bombings despite the observers’ presence, they’re sending a crystal-clear message to the international community." [1] (exact alleged message unspecified) Similarly, CNN reported this taunt:

"The inspectors will not come," said a resident who didn't want his real name used. "If they wanted to come, they would have come a long time ago. The Assad regime determines where the inspectors go, and they will not let them go there. There is already a siege around Eastern Ghouta from the Assad regime." [2] --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:17, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

From a Washington Post report:

Ake Sellstrom, the Swedish scientist who heads the U.N. inspection team in Syria, told the Swedish media that he had seen only the television images of the alleged attacks. "But the high number of wounded and dead they are speaking about sounds suspicious,” Sellström told Swedish news agency TT, via telephone from Damascus. “It sounds like something one should take a look at.” [3]

And of course, Western powers are demanding exactly that the "inspectors," as activists keep calling them, be allowed to cruise over there and somehow find out if CW were used, but carefully not decide by whom. The pull of events sucking Sellstrom's team into the (rebel-infested false-flag free-fire) zone is immense. They are being played up as heroes - inspirational non-Muslim ones! - who would be immensely mourned if they did show up and see the truth, only to be gassed by "the regime" before they escaped with the truth. --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:17, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

That's a possible plot, however likely, that might be part of why Damascus won't let them go. As Fabius said, Assad would be caught "with his hand in the till" and NATO bombing would be the most logical next step. So to avert that, maybe Damascus will have to let them go to ... Arbin to Zamalka, what, 8-9 places? By the time it's done, two weeks will be long passed. Or they will get gassed too on the third stop, and "Assad" will be caught hiding the truth, and thus, same next logical step. Or, Syria promises to let them go, once the surrounding countryside is cleared again, which will take way more than three weeks. In case any witnesses in Khan al-Assal remain alive, no one will come talk to them.--Caustic Logic (talk) 11:17, 23 August 2013 (UTC)


The Investigators (not inspectors) had first been requested by the Syrian government, on March 20 to document the previous day's alleged chemical attack by rebels against soldiers and civilians in the Shi'ite Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal. Their request was complicated and delayed (see Talk:Alleged chemical attack, March 19, 2013#UN Investigation, until Syria was able to negotiate a compromise on scope and methods in July, after which rebels conquered Khan al-Assal in a massive push, and proceded to massacre soldiers and civilians, perhaps witnesses. The investigators were given a two-week mandate to investigate three areas: - Khan al-Assal (alleged rebel strike) - An unspecified (?) area in Homs (alleged government strike) - The Damascus suburb of Adra (alleged government strike)

One important and often-noted limit on the team's mandate: they were to discern whether chemical weapons were used, presumably what the chemical was and possibly how it was delivered, but expressly NOT who on which side of the war deployed the weaponry. (more - sources, details, given reasons - later) This might prevent them from forming a coherent explanation for at least the Aleppo attack, if the rebels in fact did it. It would of course also prevent them blaming the government outright, but that- and not the former- can easily be done after the fact by political leaders, referencing the report and - if necessary - twisting it. Even in Khan al-Assal "the regime" could be blamed, solong as the investigative report doesn't explicitly say otherwise. --Caustic Logic (talk) 07:43, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

This limitation was carried over to the Ghouta attacks, which became the sole focus of the team. A Reuters report mentioned that "the U.N. inspectors' [sic] mandate dictates they will only seek to determine whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. Western diplomats said that limitation undermined the usefulness of the inspectors' findings." [4] In fact, that might have been exactly the idea. --Caustic Logic (talk) 07:43, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

Many sources say that Sellstrom's team arrived on the day before the August 21 attacks, and I've been saying less than two days before, thinking it was the 19th. But in fact they arrived on Sunday, August 18 (AFP Aug 18 NYT Aug 18). Anyway, at the very start of their fourth day - with the team still in the hotel in Damascus and no investigations started yet - someone distracted them with chemical massacres in about a dozen rebel-held areas right around Damascus. This became their primary focus, and even that was only partially investigated. By the time The Team Leaves Syria|they left Syria late on August 30, it had been about 12 days. So in fact, the team's time mandate wound up nearly fulfilled, but coincidentally occupied totally with the unscheduled investigations and ending with "sorry, best be off now. Bombing is expected any time. Pleasure workin' with ya, hope to visit again sometime." --Caustic Logic (talk) 07:43, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

Demands to Investigate

Some of these early demands are interesting for their drama and language, or for other reasons. One I read in Mother Agnes' report: Unified Medical Office of East Ghouta called for, among other things, "First: the entry of the Observers Commission immediately to Ghouta to document what happened before the demise of the toxic substance (unknown?) due to its short half-life (known?)" --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:24, 20 September 2013 (UTC)

Mostly, it was dramatic guilt-tripping.

"The inspectors will not come," said a resident who didn't want his real name used. "If they wanted to come, they would have come a long time ago. The Assad regime determines where the inspectors go, and they will not let them go there. There is already a siege around Eastern Ghouta from the Assad regime." (CNN, Aug 21 )

Rebel Orders From Aleppo

An "operations room" in Khan Al-Assal has issued a statement demanding that the Investigators first go to Ghouta, or else they won't get access to Khan Al-Assal. The Russians say Syria is ready for "maximum" cooperation. Maybe your first suspicion among the line of "dead investigators are bad for Damascus" was spot on. --CE (talk) 11:24, 23 August 2013 (UTC)
Fascinating twist there. They are really being pushed, geographically, to this spot(s), in a palpable way that's ominous. Also, distracting from Aleppo is central, and this helps show that. Statement should continue: "if you go to Gouta first - ALL sites and there are five more we forgot to mention - and get here, alive, we promise to cooperate fully, and that if anyone gasses you here, it will be the regime, not us." --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:19, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

Investigating Ghouta

By the 25th, almost one week into their two-week mandate (possibly will be extended), it was announced the team would go to the sites of the recent attacks.

On 24 and 25 August, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane met with senior officials of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. The purpose of her visit was to seek cooperation of the Government in facilitating an expeditious investigation of the incident in the Ghouta area on 21 August involving the alleged use of chemical weapons.
The Secretary-General has instructed the Mission under Dr. Sellström, currently in Damascus, to focus its attention on ascertaining the facts of the 21 August incident as its highest priority. The Mission is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities, starting tomorrow, Monday, 26 August.
The Secretary-General notes the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic affirmed that it will provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident. ... The Secretary-General would like to reiterate that all relevant parties equally share the responsibility of cooperating in urgently generating a safe environment for the Mission to do its job efficiently and providing all necessary information. [5]

Shot by Snipers

So they drive over there - just where I'll have to see. First thing, unidentified snipers shoot at the lead vehicle several times, forcing them to give up and go back. Clearly the regime trying to stall them, right? No one dead yet. Gassing won't work outside a basement prison, I decided, so shooting or other hard hits will have to do it if they want to have the regime off these guys. Maybe another try tomorrow. --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:41, 26 August 2013 (UTC)

They should just visit the Special Forces Headquarters parking lot. See who's firing the rockets? -- Petri Krohn (talk) 12:54, 26 August 2013 (UTC)
Not safe. That's where the snipers were shooting from. ;) --Caustic Logic (talk) 14:36, 26 August 2013 (UTC)
UN Investigators take samples at a site in Zamalka on August 28,2013

They were entering the southwest outlier site Moadamiya when shot at. They managed to investigate there anyway, talking to people in a rebel-run hospital. Samples were collected showing a "chemical substance," the U.N. said after deciding it was not some ... other ... kind of substance. They continue to investigate, there are videos and reports, not collected here yet. At left, one of their members collects soil, it seems, from the site of a rocket strike in the Zamalka area. --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:56, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

I wanted to come back to this issue of where the shooting happened. I see quiet contention, with two versions and possible significance. U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, told reporters the snipers had hit the lead first vehicle "in its tires and its front window," and so "it was not able to travel farther." But that's not what I meant. Where on the map. State TV (SANA?) is said to have said "Members of the United Nations team... came under fire from armed terrorist groups as they entered the Moadamiyet al-Sham area" but the U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said it happened later in the day, while heading east to Ghouta. (sources around...) There seems to be plenty evidence of a visit everyone says is to M. al-Sham, so on the face of it, state TV was wrong and it was the second visit to rebel-held East Ghouta the unknown snipers briefly barred the team from. --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:14, 17 September 2013 (UTC)

No, it was on the first visit to Moadamiyeh, on the 26th, and pretty early in the day. I know for sure because I kind of predicted it on the forum and when I checked back, it had happened (won't win me a million, though). It seems they used the next day for further negotiations and "safety guarantees" before they finally went to eastern Ghouta on the 28th and 29th. There's a bit of the planning described in the Sellström report, but not as much as I had hoped for. --CE (talk) 12:39, 17 September 2013 (UTC)
It's all same-day, Aug.26. They (U.N.) say the shooting stopped the visit and made them turn back, they got M al-Sham, and turned back from a trip east to east Ghouta. So maybe that was the first attempted visit that was cut short, after which they went southwest for the first actual visit. --Caustic Logic (talk) 09:08, 18 September 2013 (UTC)

The Rest

(should be a big section someday) --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:14, 17 September 2013 (UTC)

U.S. Response: "Too Late"

The U.S. response is interesting. Citing Los Angeles Times: U.S. dismisses Syria's inspection offer as 'too late':

The Obama administration dismissed Syria's offer to allow inspectors access to the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack as having come "too late" and declared there was "very little doubt" the government had used poison gas against civilians...

or in essence, it's too late for facts to disrupt this total certainty. Who knew it had a gestation period less than five days? Now we can never go back, no matter what the facts say. There is and can be no real doubt. Ever, again. Clearly, there is theatrics to the "tioo late" blustering. It makes little to no factual sense, but has an emotional impact, a big threatening shout at an insane pitch, designed to shake Syrians into defection and disarray. Problem is, it's been done incessantly at so many volume levels, even this - loudest yet though it is - they might remain immune.

So is actual full-on conflict on the way? I think the signs say no. Consider:

a senior administration official, in a written statement given to reporters on condition of anonymity, brushed aside the Syrian offer...

Is that deniability? Could be, if needed. More hedging even now? Especially now?

Despite the assertion of "little doubt," the administration has not presented any evidence of its own that the Syrian government carried out such an attack, instead citing public reports made by others.

They don't have John Kerry holding up a report and a vial of powder at the U.N., claiming the hardest proof ever the regime dunnit. So far it seems more "it's worth another try" at threats, than a real drive to war. I hope I'm right on that. --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:52, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

On to the logic of the dismissal: It won't hold up.

"If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the U.N. — five days ago," the official said. By now, the government has had many opportunities to destroy evidence, including by shelling the areas, the official noted.

Five days of shelling renders a site worthless? Why didn't anyone mention that when they were insisting Syria grant access to a dozen or more sites of alleged attacks dating back sometimes to December? One of those - Homs, Dec. 23 - was on the investigators' itinerary at the moment this major distraction blew up all around them just a few days ago. When was that going to be cancelled for being months too late? The government was still hoping to have Khan al-Assal looked at, five months after they first asked for this investigation. But the U.S. gets all snippy when it takes five days, in the middle of a war zone full of ... problems. Perhaps they're afraid that, after all the bluster about how they'd better get over there, there will be no clues implicating the regime. But they were there a few days ago, everyone's pretty sure, and they're already so convinced that actual gathered facts would just be anti-climactic and a buzzkill. --Caustic Logic (talk) 11:52, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

Tucker Reals, CBS News foreign editor, wrote a critical and thoughtful piece: "Syria chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad, but where's the evidence?" In it, he mentioned these older attacks, where "the remnants of any CW used have had five months to degrade, but the weapons experts still wanted to go and collect samples." [6] As shown, these sites in fact date back eight months. Addressing the alleged credibility-destroying delay, Reals wrote:

There is also the fundamental claim that Assad's government delayed the inspectors' visit to Ghouta. They have now visited the suburbs on three separate days, and on Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem countered the accusations of a deliberate delay, saying his government only received the request from U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane to visit the area on Saturday.
"Miss Kane came on Saturday, on Sunday we agreed and on Monday, they (the U.N. inspectors) went to Moadamiyeh (a town in Ghouta). We did not argue about the sites they wanted to visit. We agreed straight away," said Muallem. "How could we be accused of causing a delay?" [6]
How can you be accused? With words, seeking to paint pictures of guilty conscience trying to stall justice. At five days they had to call it "too late", because no more delay was available by then to complain about. Pathetic. --Caustic Logic (talk) 09:19, 2 September 2013 (UTC)

The Team Leaves Syria

As threats of a United States military strike, unilateral or otherwise, continued, the U.N. team was pulled out of Syria altogether.

  • AFP via Raw Story, Aug. 29:
As the five permanent members of the security council held a second emergency meeting on Syria in two days on Thursday evening, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, instructed the 20-strong inspection team in Damascus to leave on Saturday, a day ahead of schedule. Ban also announced that the team would report to him immediately on departure, raising the possibility that the UN could issue an interim report on the 21 August chemical attacks that left hundreds of people dead. [7]
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said the inspectors would be leaving Syria on Saturday but would return later to investigate several other alleged poison gas attacks that have taken place in Syria during the country's 2-1/2-year civil war. [4]

Sure they'll be back, and a million people will be gassed then. They didn't even touch the stuff they came for - months-old alleged attacks in Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. Oddly, they were completely distracted by the new surprise mass attacks around Damascus,. The article notes that this work was done but results would take weeks and the U.S. was intent to act as soon as it liked. --Caustic Logic (talk) 01:18, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

A United Nations chemical inspection team left Syria on Saturday as U.S. officials were said to be preparing a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government for its alleged use of poison gas.
Various news agencies reported that a convoy carrying the U.N. contingent had left its hotel in Damascus early Saturday and later crossed the border into neighboring Lebanon.
Reports have suggested that the White House preferred to wait until the U.N. contingent had departed Syria before launching any assault. [8]

In essence, it seems like they were chased out by the U.S., with the ridiculous "too late" claims, with a threat of force against the area they were in. Didn't this happen in Iraq too? Just as they were on the verge of continuing to find no WMDs, the inspectors were chased out by a convinced United States breaking the info stalemate with bombs or threats of them? --Caustic Logic (talk) 01:18, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

Are you asking a question? Hitler left no paper trail of the Holocaust (at least not one that would connect him to the crime). Modern war criminals need a paper trail. This is called plausible denial. They need a layer of yes-men and dodgy dossiers around them to make believe that they are acting morally. Finding the truth is never the aim of investigations. They exist only to give credibility to the alternate false reality. -- Petri Krohn (talk) 10:44, 9 September 2013 (UTC)
A hypothetical that got a tangential answer. But I checked back and yes, the U.S. said get out, the UN called them out, the (British?) insurance company insuring their helicopters pulled coverage, and they left, as the threat of verifying no WMDs was averted. --Caustic Logic (talk) 12:09, 9 September 2013 (UTC)
You should add that to my write-up on the main page. --CE (talk) 13:12, 9 September 2013 (UTC)
Not sure which spot. source, however. --Caustic Logic (talk) 13:51, 9 September 2013 (UTC)
Ah, thanks, sorry, you were talking about Iraq. I heard that the Syria team was kind of directly harassed to leave as well, thought you were referring to this. --CE (talk) 14:06, 9 September 2013 (UTC)


Here is one video of the visit. It is a private video only posted to the Facebook page of the Damascus Countryside Reporters Network.

UN report

Moved to /Report


  1. Chemical weapon claims: Two Syrian activists’ diverging viewpoints France24, August 22, 2013
  2. Syrian activists: Videos show chemical weapons used By Samira Said and Ashley Fantz, CNN, updated 8:27 PM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
  3. Head of UN chemical weapons team in Syria says he wants to look into latest gas attack claimWashington Post, August 21, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 U.N. investigators to exit Syria, chemical probe may take weeks By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters via Yahoo News, August 30, 2013
  5. Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria UN. New York, 25 August 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 Syria chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad, but where's the evidence? Tucker Reals, CBS News, August 29, 2013
  7. UN orders its inspectors out of Syria over fears of U.S. air strike Agence France Presse, via Raw Story, August 29, 2013
  8. U.N. chemical inspection team leaves Syria; region braces for attack By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2013, 11:26 p.m