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John E.C. Thompson

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The Truth About Poison Gas In Syria

Posted: 08/21/2013 4:46 pm

Did the Syrian government launch a nerve gas attack on the night of August 20, 2013, that killed 1,300 people? Yes, no, or maybe... choose your answer. But don't count on knowing if it's accurate.

First, no media report provided by either the Assad Government or the Syrian National Front should be accepted at face value, although -- perhaps -- the Assad government has more of a history of controlling media and less of one of providing fabricated material.

However, various local parties on both sides of the civil war have learned from the Palestinian Authority about the value of providing staged or fabricated media events. "Pallywood", as some reporters and journalists have described it, has a long history of providing exciting or emotional images that have no basis in reality.

Hezbollah moved things to a new level during its 2006 conflict with Israel, when it turned out that their own cameramen provided some images, and there were many carefully staged and choreographed media events. Some local stringers for media outlets even turned out to be members of Hezbollah.
Hamas tried the same strategy during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09.

The civil war in Syria is undeniably vicious and there have been plenty of atrocities by both sides, but the allegations of poison gas use have been flying thick and fast.

Syria has been known to have been making its own chemical weapons since the 1980s, particularly blister agents (such as mustard gas) and nerve agents (such as sarin and VX). These, in the main, are "area denial" chemical weapons, and may have been developed with halting an Israeli armoured thrust in mind -- the IDF came perilously close to Damascus in the '73 war.

For gassing people hiding inside buildings and cellars, blister and nerve gases are inefficient; choking and blood agents such as phosgene and cyanogen are far more effective. Syria was not believed to have been manufacturing these prior to 2011.

Using chemical weapons on rebels is an old habit in the Middle East. Egypt used them on Yemeni Royalists in the 1960s, Saudi Arabia on Wahhabi militants in 1979, and both Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi used them in the 1980s. It is very hypocritical for the Arab League to be crying 'foul!' at the Assad regime.

For those with the stomach for it, it is not too hard to find footage on the internet of tests of nerve gas on animals... including al-Qaeda experiments on dogs in their Afghan training bases prior to 9/11. There are also a lot of photographs of victims of blister-agents dating back to WWI.

The footage of purported victims of recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria shows a distressing number of children's corpses... but then both Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah have been accused of stockpiling them in the past to reserve for media events. The Syrian National Front might be no different.
Dead children are an abomination under any circumstances -- and every propagandist knows it.

However, film of partly shrouded dead children (showing gray faces but whose bodies are wrapped in thick cloth) yields few obvious clues about the manner of their death.

The victims of the chemical weapons attack in a mosque (again, with an abundance of children) show no signs of the painful blisters that attend exposure to mustard gas or the twitches and convulsions of exposure to nerve gas.

Also, blister and nerve agents tend to be "persistent" which means those who blithely treat casualties without wearing full protection soon become casualties too.

It is possible, indeed probable, that the Assad Regime has used chemical weapons at times on Syrian National Front rebels. It is equally likely that the rebels have returned the favour. However, one could wonder why both sides seem to be randomly firing limited qualities against non-combatants, instead of reserving their stocks to seek some decisive battlefield advantage somewhere.

In a vicious ideologically-driven civil war with plenty of murders and massacres already to the discredit of both sides, it may not be too cynical to submit that chemical weapons -- when used -- are mostly being used for their propaganda value as "proof" of the bestial nature of the foe. We require no further proofs about either side.

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  • A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask seized from a Syrian army factory in the northwestern province of Idlib on July 18, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian volunteers try to evacuate 8-year-old Mahmud Fayad still trapped under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria on July 20, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian citizens gather near damaged cars that were burned after a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Jaramana, Damascus, Syria, Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • An Indian Shiite Muslim woman breaks down as she holds a placard during a protest rally organized to condemn an attack on a Shiite shrine in Syria, in Bangalore, India, Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

  • A Syrian man stands amidst the rubble of the Othman mosque, in Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor, on July 24, 2013. (KARAM JAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An injured Syrian man receives medical treatment at a hospital in the town of Ariha, in the northwestern province of Idlib, on July 21, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This Tuesday, July 9, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows buildings are seen damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling, in the Salah al-Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

  • Syrian volunteers cry of joy after rescuing 8-year-old Mahmud Fayad who was trapped under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria on July 20, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian citizens gather near damaged cars that were burned after a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Jaramana, Damascus, Syria, Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • Syrians inspect the site where a barrel bomb dropped by an air force helicopter exploded in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria on July 20, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian men rush a heavily wounded man to hospital in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria after a barrel bomb dropped by an air force helicopter exploded less than 10 metres away from his car on July 20, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Indian Shiite Muslim women raise slogans as they participate in a rally organized to condemn an attack on a Shiite shrine in Syria, in Bangalore, India, Friday, July 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

  • In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian citizens look at a damaged building after a car bomb exploded in the suburb of Jaramana, Damascus, Syria, Thursday, July 25, 2013. (AP Photo/SANA)

  • Syrians search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb in northwestern Syria on July 20, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Doctors treat a young Syrian girl hit by shrapnel following an air raid in the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb, in the Idlib province, on July 19, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Syrian girl walks next to the debris of her house, after it was targeted by a missile, in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib on July 18, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this Wednesday, July 3, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Lens Young Homsi, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians inspecting the rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrike and shelling, in the al-Hamidiyyeh neighborhood of Homs province, Syria. (AP Photo/Lens Young Homsi)

  • A picture taken on July 18, 2013 shows smoke rising from a building after opposition forces attacked a government forces held checkpoint in Syria's northeastern city of Deir Ezzor on July 18, 2013. (ABO SHUJA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp on Thursday, July 18, 2013 near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Jordan-Syria border. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) AP10ThingsToSee

  • A rebel fighter points his gun towards pro-government forces' positions during clashes in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 9, 2013. (JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian children wait in line to collect a free Iftar meal in the northern city of Raqqa during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on July 14, 2013. (MEZAR MATAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A rebel fighter aims his weapon to Syrian government forces' positions inside a destroyed school in the Izaa district of Aleppo, on July 14, 2013. (JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A rebel fighter from the Suqur Al-Sham brigades, takes a nap after his night shift in a trench along the highway that connects Idlib city with Latakia, 100m far from the Syrian regime's forces's positions, on July 14, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, buildings are seen damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo, Syria, Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

  • Family members pray over the bodies of two Syrian children, Safia Baour, 14, and her three-year-old brother Khaled, who were killed after a shell landed on their family home as they gathered to break their fast with the iftar meal on July 13, 2013 in Maaret Al-Numan in southern Idlib province. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian rebels head to the town of Bsankol in the northwestern province of Idlib to join comrades fighting regime forces for the control of the highway that connects Idlib with Latakia on July 11, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An opposition fighter stands over seven year old Ahmad Jabir, who was injured alongside some his family members by a shell, as he lies on a X-Ray machine after he brought the boy to a hospital in the town of Al-Bara, in Syria's northwestern province Idlib on July 10, 2013. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian rebels gather outside a building which they blew up to target a regime sniper taking shelter inside but who managed to escape in the Salaheddine district of the northern city of Aleppo on July 10, 2013. (SALAH AL-ASHKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Rebel fighters look up listening as they take positions during clashes with pro-government forces in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 9, 2013. (JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • This Tuesday, July 9, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian rebels running during heavy clashes with Syrian soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Salah al-Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

  • Rebel fighters break a wall before holding a position during clashes with pro-government forces in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 9, 2013. (JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A rebel fighter speaks on a walkie-talkie as he holds a position in a flat during clashes with pro-government forces in the Salaheddine district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 9, 2013. (JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Syrian rebel fighters gather around a former Syrian army tank as rebels prepare to attack positions held by the Syrian army areas in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo, on July 8, 2013. (ABO MHIO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Opposition fighters carry one of their comrades, who died on the front-line, as they were leading an attack on positions held by the government forces in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of Aleppo on July 8, 2013. (ABO AL-NUR SADK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An opposition fighter throws a Molotov cocktail during clashes with Syrian government forces in the Salah al-Din area of the northern city of Aleppo on July 8, 2013. (ZAID REV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • In this Tuesday, July 2, 2013 citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, homes are seen destroyed by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in the neighborhood of Karam Tarab near Aleppo International Airport in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

 
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