The international body that investigates the use of chemical weapons released a damning report this morning: The Assad regime in Syria used sarin in its April 4 attack on civilians, which killed nearly 100 people.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) finding is particularly worrying because of the specific chemical weapon that was used. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sarin is a man-made nerve agent that is toxic to humans and fast-acting. If someone is exposed to a large dose of it, he could lose consciousness, be paralyzed, convulse, or die because of breathing problems.
This report adds some new dimensions to the attack two months ago that prompted Trump to fire missiles at the Syrian government. It shows the Assad regime clearly kept a chemical weapons stockpile even though it was supposed to have given up the weapons in a deal with the US and Russia in 2014. The OPCW is in charge of ensuring the deal remains intact. Today’s announcement shows Syria is in clear violation of the agreement.
The report did not finger the Assad regime as responsible for the attack — the fact-finding mission was only tasked with determining whether chemical weapons were used, not identifying who was responsible. But intelligence at least in the United States, Britain, and France indicate the Assad regime was responsible.
Assad denies the charge, even going so far as to question whether the disturbing images of children choking in the gas attack were real: “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun,” Assad told Agence France-Presse in an interview, mentioning the town where the attack took place. “Were they dead at all?”
They were. And this report makes it clear they were killed with a horrific nerve agent.
But while this report does little more than explain what the Assad regime used to kill its own people, it’ll still add fuel to the fire of the ongoing US-Syria saga over chemical weapons.
The US doesn’t want Syria to use chemical weapons again
The White House reportedly received intelligence indicating Syria was planning another chemical attack from the same military base it launched the last one from — the airbase the Trump administration bombed on April 6.
On Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer put out a statement warning the Assad regime it would face serious retribution if the attack took place. It didn’t, and national security Cabinet members like Secretary of Defense James Mattis and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley credited the White House statement for why the attack didn’t happen.
Whether that is true or not, it was another example of the administration’s tough stance that it will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The OPCW finding is unlikely to lead to US retribution strikes on the Syrian government. But it could definitely be used as a justification for a future attack. Until then, the OPCW’s report does a great service: It shows just how brutal Assad can be toward his own people.