An investigation by the international group Human Rights Watch found that the Syrian regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad is most likely responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that the U.S. government says killed more than 1400 people. Although the intelligence services of France and Germany have also said they believe the Assad regime carried out the attack, the Human Rights Watch investigation is the first in-depth assessment not conducted by state intelligence agencies.
In a statement accompanying the 22-page report, Peter Bouckaert, of Human Rights Watch said the “evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning.”
Human Rights Watch compiled the report based on interviews with residents of the Damascus suburbs hit by the August 21 attack, information from medical staff who treated victims in the aftermath, and the debris left over from the incident. The report states that two kinds of rockets used in the attack are of Syrian and Russian origin, and “have never been reported to be in the possession of the opposition.” Neither has the Sarin gas the report says they were armed with. The group also says the opposition lacks the equipment to fire the rockets, which are shot from vehicle-mounted launchers.
Critics of the Obama administration have been skeptical of the U.S. government’s evidence on Syria, particularly after the Iraq War that began in 2003 after the Bush administration made a case for invading the country based on weapons of mass destruction that were never found. Some have alleged that the rebels might be responsible, while others, like talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, have indulged the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama framed Assad for the attack in order to bolster the case for striking Syria. Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida wrote in the New York Times last week that, “I don’t know who is right, the administration or The Daily Caller,” citing a report from the conservative website that said the rebels were responsible.
In an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose that aired Monday, Assad said he was unsure that a chemical weapons attack even occurred and said he opposed the use of chemical weapons. “We’re not sure that anything happened,” Assad told Rose, adding later that “we are against any W.M.D., any weapons of mass destruction whether chemical or nuclear.” The Assad regime said Tuesday morning that it would agree to a Russian proposal to hand over the chemical weapons in its possession in exchange for averting a potential U.S. military strike. Syria foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said the regime would accept the deal to “uproot U.S. aggression.”