On Sunday 6th April, the London Review of Books published an article by Seymour Hersh about the chemical weapon attacks in Ghouta and surrounding areas in August 2013, in which he makes a number of explosive claims. Among these claims are that:
- British scientists at Porton Down had established that the Sarin used in the attacks didn’t match any Sarin known to exist the in Syrian regime’s Arsenal, and then told their U.S. counter-parts that the case against the Assad regime would therefore not ‘hold up’.
- That actors within the Turkish military and intelligence establishment thought they could make Obama enforce his ‘Red Line’ on chemical weapons usage by ‘dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria’.
- That when the Obama regime claimed after the attacks that only the Assad regime had access to Sarin, they knew this to be incorrect, as it was contradicted by a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from June 20th 2013.
- That a senior CIA Official had sent a message in August 2013 stating that the attacks were ‘not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this’.
- And most explosively of all, that the U.S. Intelligence community had reason to believe, based on communications intercepts, that the attacks were ‘a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line’. That is, a false flag attack designed to draw the U.S. into an open war with Syria.
The article has caused much consternation among those people in the corporate media and the NGO community who are 100% certain that the Assad regime was responsible for the attacks. A small sampling of tweets to demonstrate the fact:
From ex-Guardian middle east editor Brian Whitaker:
From Human Rights Watch’s Peter Bouckaert:
From Rana Kabbani (who has written about Syria for The Guardian):
From the autodidactic weapons buff Eliot Higgins:
From Channel Four’s Paul Mason:
So if these people are correct, then, Hersh’s article is ill informed, fictitious genocide denying rubbish that has since been demolished by other journalists.
I’ve read quite a few of the attempted debunkings of Hersh’s article, and while some of them do, I think, make reasonable criticisms, none of them have come anywhere near close to ‘demolishing’ it. You can read some of the response to Hersh here:
The main criticisms seem to be:
1. Hersh ignores the fact that the attacks appear to have been carried out using Volcano rockets, which have been filmed in the possession of regime forces (this is Eliot Higgin’s main criticism). But the former UN Weapons Inspector and munitions expert Richard Lloyd has said on Twitter that:
I would say that Lloyd is at least as credible as Higgins, if not far more so, and he certainly doesn’t seem to believe that the use of Volcanos is incontrovertible evidence of regime guilt. Indeed, in January 2014, he told Mcclatchey newspapers that ‘the Syrian rebels most definitely have the ability to make these weapons . . . I think they might have more ability than the Syrian government’.
2. That the Sarin sample allegedly tested at Porton Down, and which didn’t match any known Sarin from the Assad regime’s arsenal, came from Russian Intelligence, and is therefore of questionable reliability. This to me is a reasonable criticism, because Russian Intelligence do have a vested interest in exonerating the Assad regime. But as Hersh tells it, the scientists at Porton Down – who you wouldn’t expect to easily fall for the ruses of Russian Intelligence – appear to have accepted the sample as genuine.
3. That the U.N. have said that the Sarin came from government stockpiles, with Just Security quoting a U.N. report which reads ‘the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military’.
While the report does indeed say this, the use of ‘likely’ is a bit of a qualifier, and suggests a degree of doubt. This reading is further backed up by the fact that the very same report, in reference to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, then says ‘In no incident was the commission’s evidentiary threshold met with regard to the perpetrator’ (p.19).
We are all entitled to infer our own conclusions from this U.N. report, but it categorically does not blame the Syrian regime.
4. That the claim of Turkish regime culpability for the attacks comes from a single ‘former intelligence’ source. Again, i’d say that’s a reasonable criticism, given we don’t know who that source was, or how reliable they are.
I guess reactions to the article might ultimately come down to how much you trust Seymour Hersh to be able to accurately mine and convey information – because that is essentially what he is asking you to do. Trust him and his sources. And for a lot of people, including me, his track record dictates that i’d put a great deal of trust in his work indeed, while not necessarily being 100% certain that every claim he has conveyed is the unvarnished truth.
At the very least, his article contains enough information to suggest that the public hasn’t been told the full story of what happened in Ghouta and surrounding areas on August 21st, and that despite protestations to the contrary, the ‘Assad definitely done it’ theory doesn’t have to be the only one in town.