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September 9, 2013

Bombing Syria is a war crime

Scott Stockdale

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Although it appears to be an open and closed case for bombing Syria, with international observers having overwhelmingly confirmed that Syrian President Assad is complicit in the preponderance of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people, Prof. Noam Chomsky said bombing Syria without UN approval would be a war crime, regardless of Congressional approval.

"As international support for Obama’s decision to attack Syria has collapsed, along with the credibility of government claims, the administration has fallen back on a standard pretext for war crimes when all else fails: the credibility of the threats of the self-designated policeman of the world," Prof. Chomsky told HuffPost in an email.

"[T]hat aggression without UN authorization would be a war crime, a very serious one, is quite clear, despite tortured efforts to invoke other crimes as precedents," he added.

Indeed, in a CNN interview, US President Obama admitted that bombing Syria may constitute a war crime, if certain conditions are not met.

“If the US goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. Mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it,” President Obama said.

Notwithstanding the gruesome pictures of civilians – including children – suffering the effects of some sort of chemical attack, experts were initially divided on whether military-grade chemical weapons, which the Assad regime possesses, or more amateur weapons, which the rebels have, were used. 

After United Nations inspectors spent about two weeks investigating the alleged poison gas attack that occurred August in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, it is completing its report on the incident in The Hague in the Netherlands.

But the Obama administration has indicated that it could take military action before the UN report is completed.

Meanwhile, much of the Obama administration's justification for bombing is supported by rhetoric about inaction in the face of evil and that the US must defend human rights and democratic values, although the US has long permitted and supported massacres against civilians in despotic regimes it is allied with, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

In previous interviews, western media hosts were usually taken aback – if not aghast - when Prof. Chomsky said that when people the US is opposed to use force to attempt to change the power structure of a country, western leaders and the mainstream western media call it terrorism, but when the US and its allies do the same, it's labeled “nation building” or “stabilizing the situation.”

“When we do it, it's stabilizing. When they do it, it's destabilizing,” Prof. Chomsky said.

The UN now confirms a death toll over 100,000 people, the vast majority of whom have been killed by Assad's troops.

An estimated 4.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. The illegitimacy of Assad's regime is clear, but we don’t know what the objective is for a U.S. incursion in Syria, or whether it is legally justified.  Although US Secretary of State John Kerry used his utmost rhetorical skills to try to convince US lawmakers otherwise, there are a lot more factors involved in the decision to strike Syria than the number of dead or a principled stand against chemical weapons.

Considering that the US itself used napalm and white phosphorous in an attempt to subdue the insurgency in Iraq, the current “principled stand” against Assad's use of chemical weapons appears to much of the world as a case of, “Do as we say, not as we do.” At the very least, America's use of chemical weapons makes its claim to the moral high ground fraudent.

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Prof. Chomsky sees President Obama himself as a man without a "moral centre".

"If you look at his policies I think that’s what they reveal. I mean there’s some nice rhetoric here and there but when you look at the actual policies … the drone assassination campaign is a perfectly good example, I mean it’s just a global assassination campaign."

On Israel's continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank, Prof. Chomsky said: "There was no effort" by Obama to even try and curb it.

"[Obama's] telling Netanyahu and the other Israeli leaders: 'I’ll tap you on the wrist but go ahead and do what you like .... So in fact, Obama is actually the first president who hasn’t really imposed restrictions on Israel.' "

Prof. Chomsky said there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The great powers must use their influence at the negotiating table, not the battlefield.

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