By Sharmine Narwani
Let us be clear. The United States can verify absolutely nothing about the use of chemical weapons (CWs) in Syria. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.
Don’t take it from me – here is what US officials have to say about the subject:
A mere 24 hours after Washington heavyweights from the White House, Pentagon and State Department brushed aside Israeli allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the White House changed their minds. They now believe “with varying degrees of confidence” that CWs have been used “on a small scale” inside Syria.
For the uninitiated, “varying degrees of confidence” can mean anything from “no confidence whatsoever” to “the Israelis told us” – which, translated, also means “no confidence whatsoever.”
Too cavalier? I don’t think so. The White House introduced another important caveat in its detailed briefing on Thursday:
“This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example, the chain of custody is not clear, so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”
“The chain of custody is not clear.” That is the single most important phrase in this whole exercise. It is the only phrase that journalists need consider – everything else is conjecture of WMDs-in-Iraq proportions.
I asked a State Department spokesman the following: “Does it mean you don’t know who has had access to the sample before it reached you? Or that the sample has not been contaminated along the way?”
He responded: “It could mean both.” (more…)