Here is my most recent column for the print version of CounterPunch, which was published last month.
As we all know, the use of chemical weapons is the most heinous crime that can be committed by a brutal, aggressive government: a brazen act of state terror, an offense against all humanity. Those who perpetrate such actions put themselves beyond the pale; indeed, they rank themselves with Hitler himself, as a succession of America’s highest officials has pointed out in recent weeks.
And that’s why the details of the infamous chemical attack in the Middle East resonate with stark moral horror. Especially chilling are the reports of some of the soldiers who actually took part in the chemical attacks, coming forward to offer evidence after the regime they served denied its obvious crime. As one regime soldier noted, the chemical weapon involved in the attack “burns bodies; it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for.”
A document produced by the regime’s own military said the chemical weapon “proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions and as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents … We [were] using [chemical weapons] to flush them out and high explosives to take them out.” Another soldier involved in these chemical weapons attacks said: “There is no way you can use [it] without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren’t just psychological in nature.”
But of course, chemical weapons were only part of this attack on the rebel position – an attack absolutely replete with war crimes violations. Before assaulting the civilian quadrants with a barrage of chemical weapons, the regime cut off the city’s water and power supplies and food deliveries. One of the first moves in the attack was the destruction of medical centers; indeed, 20 doctors were killed, along with their patients – innocent women and children – in a savage blitz before the chemical weapons were unleashed. But why would even a regime full of rogue barbarians attack a hospital? It’s simple, one of the regime’s “information warfare specialists” told the New York Times: hospitals can be used as “propaganda centers” by rebels trying to stir up sympathy for their cause.
Meanwhile, the BBC managed to penetrate the rebel-held areas and report on the results of the combined attack of chemical and conventional weapons:
“There are more and more dead bodies on the street, and the stench is unbearable … There are dead women and children lying on the streets. People are getting weaker from hunger. Many are dying from their injuries because there is no medical help left in the city whatsoever. Some families have started burying their dead in their gardens.”
By the end of the attack, vast areas lay in ruins. More than 36,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and religious centers. Medical workers estimated the civilian death count at between 4,000 and 6,000, which, the Guardian noted, was “a proportionally higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the Blitz.”
As both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have said so eloquently, those responsible for such a crime must be punished. To look away from such an atrocity, to fail to hold those responsible to account would be, as these eminent statesmen tell us, a crime in itself, tantamount to ignoring the Holocaust or the massacres in Rwanda …
But of course the crimes enumerated above did not take place in Syria in August of 2013. They were part of America’s Guernica-like destruction of the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004: one of the most egregious – and most sustained – war crimes since the Second World War. The widespread use of chemical weapons in the decimation of Fallujah – including the flesh-eating horror of white phosphorous, the future-maiming deployment of depleted uranium and other chemicals, which have led to an epidemic of birth defects in the region – is well-documented and, after years of outright lies and evasions, now cheerfully admitted by the United States government. Using these chemical weapons – along with good old-fashioned mass-murdering conventional munitions just like mother used to make – the United States government slaughtered thousands upon thousands of innocent people in its berserker outburst against Fallujah.
It goes without saying that the “international community” did not rise up in righteous indignation at this use of chemical weapons to slaughter far more civilians than even the Obama Administration’s wild exaggerations are claiming in Syria. It goes without saying that the drone-bombing Peace Laureate and his lantern-jawed patrician at Foggy Bottom have signally failed to criticize – much less prosecute! – the perpetrators of the Fallujah war crime, or make the slightest change in the system of military aggression that produced it. Instead they have expanded and entrenched this system at every turn, extending it far beyond the wildest dreams of Bush and Cheney.
Whatever his manifest crimes (and alleged exacerbations), Bashar Assad will remain a hapless piker next to these pious virtuosos of mass-murdering violence.