Is 60 Minutes Working for a Broader War in Syria?
by C. L. Cook - Pacific Free Press
February 26, 2018
A descriptive paragraph for the Sunday, February 25th podcast edition of 60 Minutes, the iconic weekly CBS News program, reminds of the official justification for last year's US missile attack against Syrian Army positions following the alleged sarin gas attack against the town of Khan Sheikhoun by the Assad government saying,
"Last year -- civilians in Syria were victims of a deadly gas attack -- prompting a 59-missile response from the United States."1
60 Minutes goes on to detail an extremely troubling account of the current situation in East Ghouta, a near suburb of benighted Syria's capital city, Damascus, where new claims of gas attacks, this time using chlorine, are being attributed to government of Syria forces. Lead reporter, Scott Pelley claims,
"Over seven years of civil war, the Syrian government has repeatedly bombed its own civilians; as we saw this past week outside Damascus. Incredibly, it has also continued to use chemical weapons on civilians, attacking its civilians not just a few times, but nearly 200 times..."
The show teaser promises viewers will see the "awful proof" the "Assad dictatorship" is behind the alleged attacks over the course of the broadcast, but that proof finally isn't forthcoming. Explicitly excluded Pelley's feature too is any incredulity of a Syrian government motivation, let alone its responsibility for such an attack, one sure to provoke global condemnation, (and in the case of Khan Sheikhoun, predictably provide a casus belli for president Trump's infamous 59 missile salvo response).
Entirely absent as well are doubts like those expressed by superstar investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh in his June 2017 article, 'Trump's Red Line'.2 In that piece, Hersh elucidates a litany of reasons to be dubious of "rebel" claims of the sarin gas attack, not least of which being the opinions of US intelligence insiders, one pointedly saying the claims of both the gas and Assad's involvement are "a fairy tale."
Though Khan Sheikhoun did suffer an aerial bombing early in the morning of April 4th, according to American sources closely monitoring the situation between military forces on the ground, it was not the chemical attack claimed. But some of the effects of that attack were used to concoct and sell to the World, and more importantly the White House, a sarin gas fiction, complete with still pictures, and a heart-wrenching video production. It was enough for Donald Trump who, reputedly influenced by daughter Ivanka, bought it.
US intelligence was less impressed, as Hersh relates,
"Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. "He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it."
"The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’" the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.""2
But then, Seymour Hersh has more reason than Scott Pelley to take with the proverbial grain of salt tales of sarin attacks in Syria. He'd already written in a 2014 article, 'The Red Line and the Rat Line' of a similar plot designed to suck then-president Obama into launching attacks against Assad using a confabulated storyline of a gas attack in the same East Ghouta, a tale whose retelling apparently is central to efforts to mobilize global opinion against the Syrian "dictator" again in 2018.3
Back then, in the eleventh hour Obama reversed course, averting what seemed a certain march to yet another, and broader Middle-Eastern war because, according to Hersh,
"British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff."3
As near the conflagration was, Obama with the aid of Russian president Vladimir Putin, used the crisis to negotiate Assad's surrender of the entirety of his country's chemical weapons. The "Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons" operation, overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) entailed the removal for destruction of all Syria's declared chemical weapons stockpiles to the US Ready Reserve ship, Cape Ray.4
But the elimination of the Syrian Army's sarin didn't mean the end of the weapon in the region. Hersh's sources within US intelligence circles told him,
"The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons.
"On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’."
Curiously, 60 Minutes' guest and the primary source of its televised report, Edmond Mulet formerly led the investigation of chemical attacks in Syria for the OPCW. He if anyone should know at least as much as Seymour Hersh about all this, and yet he told CBS only the Syrian government could be responsible for the now "routine" use of chemical weapons in Syria.5
6 is steadfast in his certitude the alleged chemical attacks are not false flags designed to embarrass Assad, conveniently providing justification for foreign interventions a la France's, (France vowing more than once to enjoin Syria's already crowded théâtre de guerre).
It's hard to know for sure, but perhaps sensing an international appetite to belly-up to the Syrian war banquet is what lay behind former diplomat Mulet's certainty. That same sense of knowing which way the war winds are blowing may too be informing a recent and potentially explosive, Reuters article7 claiming proof Syria is in contravention of it's UN obligations under the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons.
The framework directs, if it's determined Syria has broken faith, the UN Security Council draw up another resolution, one providing for the, "[I]mposition of military or other actions against Syria under the UN Charter's Chapter VII."8
Meanwhile, the young French president, Emmanuel Macron already having declared his own ligne rouge in May of 2017, recently promised again "France will strike" if evidence of chemical weapons use emerges. Macron has, since his February 13th pronouncement, backed off a bit, perhaps feeling a little too far ahead of his international community colleagues and looking ridiculous, standing alone with his sabre too soon out of its scabbard.9
Which again begs the question of Assad's motivation: Why, after seven long years of struggle, would Assad risk a war he's on the verge of winning by mounting high profile attacks employing prohibited weapons?
Sadly, it's just another tantalizing element of the Syria saga left missing from the 60 Minutes report. Instead, what we're left with is a one-sided narrative that seems determined to create antipathy for the Syrian "dictatorship" and, through the calculated use of images of dead children, rouse the emotional ire of the venerable investigative journalism staple's viewers to such a state they would support further American military involvement there.
With all due respect to Senor Mulet and his OPCW colleagues, if anything is certain today it is the fact that, following 17 years of military adventurism in Central and West Asia the region is a wreck. What is needed least there now is the United Nations and western news services serving as agencies for the continuation and escalation of what is beginning to appear an endless war.
Chris Cook is managing editor of the web news site, PacificFreePress.com and host of the long-running public affairs program, Gorilla Radio, broad/webcast from CFUV Radio, University of Victoria. The program blog is, GorillaRadioBlog.Blogspot.ca