Saying that truth is a casualty of war isn’t new. It’s the world’s oldest declaration, you might say.
Syria is no different. Monday, Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad gave an interview in which he casually acknowledged chemical weapons may have been used in Syria — but, if so, by his enemies, not him. “There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” he told Charlie Rose of PBS.
Asked if he possessed chemical weapons, Assad again argued in the alternative. If he did, the Syrian dictator told Rose, they were under “centralized control.”
Got that? Sounding irritated that Assad was being given airtime to spout bald-faced lies, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry erupted. “I just gave you real evidence of a chemical weapons attack,” he said. “I’m confident about the state of the evidence. Read the unclassified report on whitehouse.gov — what does (Assad) offer?
“This is a man who has just killed 1,000 of his own citizens. This is a man without credibility.”
Credibility is indeed the issue. Various governments have confirmed Assad used chemical weapons against his own people on the morning of Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus. Fifteen hundred were killed, one-third of them children.
Doctors Without Borders, who many (including this writer) cited in the days following Aug. 21, issued a statement confirming Syrian civilians had experienced “mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent,” and this was “a massive and unacceptable violation of international humanitarian law.” The group added it lacked the ability to assign blame, something missed by many (including this writer).
Doctors Without Borders was the first international aid group to issue a report on the Aug. 21 gassings. As such, the New York Times reported, “its report appears to lend credibility to other accounts by witnesses and to the opposition’s estimates of the dead.”
But is that really credible? Well, for those of us who have said we favour limited military action against Assad for his use of chemical weapons against his own people, various counter-arguments have been offered up. That military involvement can sometimes be a slippery slope (true), that the opposition rebels are worse (after Aug. 21, untrue), that the real motive for a strike is oil and money (untrue).
Mostly, however, those who are unmoved by the victims in the Aug. 21 attack — those who are indifferent about our collective obligation to punish the use of chemical weapons — have simply said one thing, over and over: Prove it happened. “I doubt/deny it happened.”
This line is Zundel-like in its simplicity. No matter how much evidence is marshalled, deny it is sufficient. Insinuate that it has been forged. Then go back to sleep.
For this, we can thank George W. Bush and his illusory weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. WMD has given genocide-deniers a useful excuse for inaction for generations to come.
There is a striking symmetry to the positions of the genocide-deniers and Bashar al-Assad. The ghastly implications of that are apparently lost on the former.
But not on the latter. He remains grateful the real truth remains a casualty — along with the hundreds murdered on the morning of Aug. 21.