The Russian-allied Syrian government seems to be at it again. Recent information escaping the war torn Middle Eastern nation describes the government as using chlorine as a chemical weapon against populations of innocent non-combatants. In fact, chlorine has been the Assad regime’s favorite form of terrorizing the Syrian people over the last few years, especially as the USA and the world have cracked down on their WMD programs. After President Obama failed to follow through with his “red-line” threat when it seemed that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people two years ago, Assad allowed us to destroy most of his WMD’s in an effort to allow President Obama to save face without having to attack Syria directly.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 21, 2013
However, if chemical weapons use is the “red-line,” then it is hard to understand how the USA and the world can continue to allow Assad to bomb his own people with chlorine gas.
Chlorine, which is widely used for water purification, sanitation, and the manufacture of modern medicines, is essential for human well-being in today’s world. As epidemics of waterborne diseases escalate across Syria in besieged and opposition-held areas, the Syrian government’s systematic withholding of the primary means to decontaminate water in these areas can be considered an indirect weapon of mass destruction. However, although minute quantities of chlorine are life-saving, if too much is inhaled in its gaseous form, it can cause death in under thirty minutes. Recently, the Syrian government has used chlorine directly against civilians as a chemical weapon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has thus transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of both disease and terror…
If chlorine is not heavily diluted, inhaling it in its gaseous form causes choking and can be fatal. According to the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry for Syria and an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report of September 10, 2014, chlorine was repeatedly used in this way as a weapon in the Syrian villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita in April 2014…
On March 6, 2015, the UN Security Council condemned the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, though at Russia’s insistence the council didn’t name the Syrian government as the perpetrator or impose any sanctions.
And yet ten days later, I watched videos sent by my Syrian colleagues showing dying and newly dead children, unbearably vulnerable to the chlorine dropped on them. After the first chlorine bomb went off at 8:30 PM, one entire family—three very young children, their parents, and their grandmother—took cover in a basement, knowing there would likely be a second bomb. The lights literally have gone out in most of Syria, so it was pitch-black in Sarmin, a village in the northwestern governorate of Idlib, where the attack occurred. No one could see the yellow gas, but they could smell it. The second bomb struck their house, trapping them inside, where they would suffer increasing difficulty breathing and ultimately suffocate to death. Dr. Muhammad Tennari described the chaos:
The children came in their sleeping suits. The grandmother was dead on arrival but there was nowhere for her body. We had to place two of the children on top of her body, trying to resuscitate them…. We barely had water to wash patients, let alone oxygen or life-saving ventilators. No clothes for the children, left naked. And other casualties kept on coming.
Journalists questioned my colleagues: “Did you hear any strange sounds? Did you smell anything strange? Why didn’t you see any yellow gas, if it was chlorine? And isn’t atropine used for sarin, not chlorine?” Dr. Almilaji replied:
It was nighttime, no one can see anything. We hear rockets all the time. There are months when shelling happens twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We hear snipers. Missiles. Drones. Long-range cannons. Al-Assad’s arsenal has many different sounds, we know them all. As for atropine, if it is a chemical attack, we give atropine, period. The same emergency drugs are always given in chemical attacks—oxygen, atropine, salbutamol, hydrocortisone even in the best functioning hospitals in Aleppo, let alone field hospitals in rural Idlib. But there is no antidote for chlorine, a choking agent. We are not taught about chemical weapons in medical school. We may not know what we are dealing with, and can only give the drugs that we have.
So, yes, Assad is using chemical weapons again. But I’m sure our intrepid President won’t allow such horrors to stand – after all, didn’t he draw a red line on Syria two years ago? Let’s listen to the President’s brave remarks condemning Assad and describing what we are going to do now that Assad is using chemical weapons AGAIN.
“We have seen reports about the use of chlorine in bombs that had the effect of chemical weapons. Chlorine, chlorine, itself, historically has not been listed as a chemical weapon, but when it is used in this fashion, can be considered a prohibited use of that particular chemical,” President Obama said.
“And so we’re working with the international community to investigate that and, in fact, if we have the kinds of confirmation that we need, we will, once again, work with the international community and the organization charged with monitoring compliance by the Syrian government, and we will reach out to patrons of Assad, like Russia, to put a stop to it.”
So we’re not going to do anything then?
I’m not sure exactly what the President means about chlorine ‘historically not being a chemical weapon,’ because chlorine was one of the first chemical weapons. During WWI chlorine gas terrified soldiers fighting in Europe, and it is well known to be quite toxic when released in undiluted form as a gas. Perhaps the problem is that chlorine has so many uses today that the president has forgotten its chemical weapon application… but that shouldn’t be a reason to pretend it’s not a chemical weapon.
I’m not sure of the wisdom of invading Syria and ending Bashar Assad’s horrible regime, but I am sure that when a President draws a “red line” and says we will do this if you do that – and then does not follow through – it makes that President and his country look weak. Once again, Assad has crossed Obama’s obviously malleable “red line,” and once again the President dithers and dawdles in an effort to avoid actually having to do anything.
Doing nothing sure does seem to be President Obama’s favorite course of action.
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