26 August 2013
Syria: Update. UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said on Monday. “I just spoke to my Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament, Ms. Angela Kane, who is now in Damascus to oversee the investigation. The first day of investigation was carried out by Dr. Sellstrom and his team,” said Ban in a statement issued by his spokesperson.
“What I am told at this time is that their vehicle was attacked by an unknown sniper, but despite such very difficult circumstances, our team returned to Damascus and replaced their car and proceeded to a suburb of Damascus to carry on their investigation.”
According to the statement, during their first day of investigation, the UN experts “visited two hospitals,” “interviewed witnesses, survivors and doctors” and also “collected some samples” at the site of the latest alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 in the suburbs of Damascus.
Special comment. The question whether Syria used some form of chemical weapons against the opposition has moved beyond the domain of intelligence judgment into the domain of forensic science. Stentorian statements about blame before the facts are adduced are imprudent except as political theater. Now is the time for proof, not for bombast. It is time for patience while science does its work.
Inferences of guilt derived from judgments about how Syrian leaders should behave if they wanted to prove they did not execute a chemical attack indulge the most basic and persistent reason for US intelligence analytical failures: mirror imaging, i.e., the notion that Syrian leaders would act the way Americans might act under similar circumstances. Arabs seldom behave the way Americans behave.
The initial burden of proving an accusation always is on the party that makes the accusation. In this instance it is the Syrian opposition, whose evidence to date in the public domain falls short of establishing a prime facie case that a weapon of mass destruction was used. Something happened, but what remains to be determined.
The mainstream press has insisted that the Syrian government must prove it did not execute a chemical attack. However, elementary evidence law courses all over the world teach that it is impossible to prove a negative. Everyone knows that! Somehow the mainstream press persists in getting this entirely wrong.
The open source evidence and Feedback from Brilliant, Genuine experts on chemical warfare and its effects reinforce the NightWatch judgment that Readers should retain healthy skepticism about what took place east of Damascus on 21 August and who was responsible.
Expert feedback asserts without qualification that neurotoxins, such as Sarin, are not evident, despite the bombastic allegations of the Syrian opposition on 26 August. Feedback from experts also indicates that crowd control agents would explain the symptoms, casualties and other evidence in the public domain.
25 August 2013
Syria: Update. International news outlets predict US missile attacks against Syria. The overwhelming consensus is that Syria used chemical weapons of some sort, but the evidence in the public domain that supports this judgment is weak.
The government in Damascus has agreed to allow the UN inspection team to visit the site. The mandate of the 20-person team is to determine whether chemical weapons were used in the latest incident as well as in three others. The mandate does not include an assignment of blame.
Comment: Doctors without Borders reported 3,500 patients were treated for symptoms of chemical exposure at their three hospitals, of whom 350 or so died. The humanitarian organization did not say whom they thought was responsible.