This is illuminating. It would be yet another outrageous violation of international law for the U.S. to attack Syria, but as the world knows, this will not factor into the decision.
(Thanks to Charles Pigden for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Philippe Lemoine, a grad student at Cornell, writes with some additional and important information:
I wanted to thank you for the link to Prof. Polk's careful discussion of what has been going on in Syria in the past few years, which is indeed, by and large, the best thing I have read so far on that issue.
Regarding the recent allegations against the Syrian government that it used chemical weapons against civilians, however, there is another piece of information which is not mentioned by Prof. Polk, although it seems relevant.
Indeed, although the evidence that the Syrian government was involved in the recent attack in the suburb of Damascus is slim, and as Prof. Polk explains it is hard to see what could have been its interest in doing such a thing, there is actually solid evidence that, on the other hand, rebels have used or at least have intended to use such weapons.
As was reported by the Russian press (http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/), members of the Al-Nusra Front, which as Prof. Polk notes eems to be the best organized rebel group, have been recently arrested in urkey in possession of sarin gas. Of course, this does not prove that the recent attack in Damas was committed by rebels, but that alone should give everyone pause in jumping to conclusions about what actually happened.
Another fact which is mentioned in this article of Russia Today and was also reported by the press in the West (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188), though it was conveniently ignored soon after, is the result of investigations led by Carla Del Ponte in Syria about the use of chemical weapons, who concluded that rebels had almost certainly used sarin gas during the conflict.
Again, this does not prove anything about the recent attack in the suburb of Damas, but I think readers of your blog might want to know that, since journalists in the West - being more incompetent and stupid han ever - have for the most part chosen to ignore everything that does not fit the official story.
ANOTHER: Nick Treanor (Edinburgh) writes:
The suggestion [in the above] is that the "result of investigations" is that "rebels had almost certainly used sarin gas". The internet is awash with articles that say this, but it isn't true, as anyone reading the UN Commission's June 2013 report can see. Del Ponte's remarks, which said there was some indications that the rebels had used gas, were in an informal interview that took place a month before the commission issued its report, and the commission itself "clarified", in a press release immediately afterwards, that it had not reached any conclusion and that its investigations
were ongoing. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13298&LangID=E) When the report did come out, it said:
"There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified."
That's the 'executive summary', so to speak. The full text reads:
137. The Government has in its possession a number of chemical weapons. The dangers extend beyond the use of the weapons by the Government itself to the control of such weapons in the event of either fractured command or of any of the affiliated forces gaining access.
138. Anti-government armed groups could gain access to and use chemical weapons. This includes nerve agents, though there is no compelling evidence that these groups possess such weapons or their requisite delivery systems.
139. Allegations were received concerning the use of chemical weapons by both parties. The majority concern their use by government forces. In four attacks – on Khan Al-Asal (Aleppo), on 19 March; Uteibah ( Damascus) on 19 March; Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood (Aleppo) on 13 April; and Saraqib (Idlib), on 29 April – there are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator. Other incidents also remain under investigation.
140. Conclusive findings – particularly in the absence of a large-scale attack – may be reached only after samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged attack have been tested. It is therefore of utmost importance that the panel of experts, led by Professor Sellström and assembled under the mechanism established by the Secretary-General to investigate into the alleged use of chemical and biological or toxin weapons, be granted full access to the Syrian Arab Republic.
There is an additional error in the passage from Lemoine I quoted. Carla Del Ponte is a member of the commission that conducted the investigation, not the person who led the investigation; that was Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
AND ANOTHER: I'll open comments for more links and information--signed comments will be strongly preferred. Mr. Lemoine writes:
Nick Treanor is right that Carla Del Ponte was only a member of the UN investigation commission and not, as I mistakenly said in my first email to Prof. Leiter, its chair. He is also right that, in its report, this commission states that "it has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine ... the perpetrator" of the chemical attacks which it has been able to confirm.
However, this does not contradict what Carla Del Ponte said on BBC News (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdcEjjOvniU), namely that "what appears to our investigations [is] that [chemical weapons were] used by the opponents, by the rebels and we have no indication at all that ... the authorities of the Syrian government have used chemical weapons".
Indeed, this could simply mean that, at the time when Carla Del Ponte made this statement, there was evidence that rebels have used chemical weapons and no evidence that the government did, but the evidence available was not sufficient to officially incriminate the rebels.
In fact, this is exactly what she explained in the interview she gave to a Swiss-Italian radio (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10039672/UN-accuses-Syrian-rebels-of-chemical-weapons-use.html) that started the whole controversy, where she said: "we still have to deepen our investigation, verify and confirm (the findings) through new witness testimony, but according to what we have established so far, it is at the moment opponents of the regime
who are using sarin gas".
The fact that, one month later, when the report of the commission was released, it said that its members were unable to determine who perpetrated the attacks that have been confirmed, does not contradict what Carla Del Ponte said in May. Moreover, even after the report was released at the beginning of June, she declared in another interview to Euronews (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvH435WWhO0) that she did not regret what she said in May, since there was indeed evidence that rebels had used chemical weapons, though it is not conclusive.
This is exactly what she said in May and, as far as I know, neither she nor anyone else has ever claimed (at least up until the August, 21 attack in Damascus) that, since she first spoke at the beginning of May, new evidence indicating that the government had used chemical weapons had been uncovered. So, everything indicates that, at least in June, there was some evidence, though not conclusive, that rebels had used chemical weapons and no evidence that the government did.
If that is true, then the fact that the report of the commission said that it was not able to identify the perpetrators of the chemical attacks that had been confirmed, only reflects the fact that, though there was evidence accusing the rebels, it is not conclusive.
Since its report contains almost no details, I can only guess why the commission did not think the evidence against the rebels was conclusive, but here is something which I think is interesting. According to the report, there are "reasonable ground to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used" in 4 attacks, one of which took place on March, 19 in Khan Al-Asal, outside Aleppo.
Now, although the government and the rebels have accused each other of being responsible for the use of chemical weapons during this attack, at the time when the attack occurred, this village was under control of the government (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/syria-attack-khan-al-assal_n_3681711.html), which suggests that, if chemical weapons were used then, it was by the rebels. Khan al- Asal was only taken by the rebels in July, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-syrian-rebels-accused-massacre-20130727,0,1740523.story), was followed by the summary execution of 51 people.
Of course, this does not prove that it could not have been the government that used chemical weapons in March, but it strongly suggests it.
Moreover, let us not forget that, as I reported in my first email to Prof. Leiter, according to the Turkish press, members of a prominent rebel group were allegedly arrested in Turkey in possession of chemicals. I just found out since yesterday that, despite what the press initially reported, the Turkish authorities had denied that sarin gas had been discovered during the arrest (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/30/us-syria-crisis-turkey-idUSBRE94T0YO20130530), but they confirmed that unknown chemicals had been found. This was 2 months ago, so by now they must know what these chemicals were, but since as usual journalists are not doing their job, apparently nobody has asked them the question. Or, if someone did, perhaps they did not like the answer.