A U.S. intelligence report detailing reasons for the United States belief that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its citizens was released today. Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference as the report was released.
The report cites a number of factors indicating the use of chemical weapons on August 21, 2013 in Damascus.
“The Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents,” the report says. The report says the United States’ assessment that chemical weapons were likely used “is based on multiple streams of information including reporting of Syrian officials planning and executing chemical weapons attacks and laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin.”
Secretary of State Kerry elaborated in his press conference on the details of the report.
“With our own eyes we have seen the thousands of reports from 11 separate sites in the Damascus suburbs. All of them show and report victims with breathing difficulties, people twitching with spasms, coughing, rapid heartbeats, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness and death. And we know it was ordinary Syrian citizens who reported all of these horrors,” he said.
The report also notes a massive influx of Syrian civilians into local hospitals after the attacks. Nearly all civilians were being treated for exposure to nerve gas.
“Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization,” the report says. “The reported symptoms, and the epidemiological pattern of events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – were consistent with mass exposure to a nerve agent.”
Kerry also noted that most of the victims of last week’s attack appeared unharmed from the outside. Little blood was shed despite over 1,000 people dying.
“We know what the doctors and the nurses who treated them didn't report -- not a scratch, not a shrapnel wound, not a cut, not a gunshot sound,” Kerry said. “We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood.”
Kerry said that intelligence officials intercepted communications from a senior Assad regime official who was “intimately familiar with the offensive.” The official confirmed the use of chemical attacks and claimed to be worried about UN inspectors obtaining evidence. UN investigators were shot at by snipers when they went to investigate the attack last week.
Kerry did not use the press conference to speak on what the United States next step in the Syrian conflict will be. Members of Congress have demanded that the administration consult with them before intervening with military force. Congress members do not return to Washington for another week.
For a great breakdown of why the United States’ involvement in Syria is more complicated than it seems, check out this piece by foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher.