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The Unproven Necessity of Unlawful War on Syria

John LaForge

Illegal acts of war against dozens of places in Syria are now being threatened and prepared by the United States, and the official rationale is retaliation or punishment for a chemical attack, allegedly committed by Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, in the Ghouta region near Damascus.

Without asking why Assad would commit such a ghastly massacre in the face of a certain and overwhelming military response from the U.S. or others, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry declare that they know Assad committed the “ugly crime,” as the Arab League called it Sept. 1. Yet the administration has not unveiled evidence to support this principal allegation, and it will not release transcripts of intercepted Syrian government discussions which reportedly indicate surprise at the attack.

Russia has said that anti-Assad rebels committed the crime to implicate the government. Without direct evidence of the origin of the August 21 assault — and after the U.S.’s illegal 2003 war on Iraq — who can shrug off suspicions of deceit today? Secretary Kerry chants to the cameras that the chemicals only hit rebel-controlled areas, but this fact neither disproves nor weakens the charge that rebels may have committed a “false flag” action.

A defense of necessity requires some evidence

The bombardment being planned by the White House is explained with a veritable defense of “necessity” or “justification,” in which an unlawful action is permitted or excused by showing that the “lesser evil” avoided a greater harm. In the case of ramping up U.S. aircraft carries, jet fighters, Navy destroyers, heavy bombers, drone jockeys and guided missiles, the lesser evil would be evil indeed.

The criminality of a US attack on Syria is clear. The UN Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state.” The UN Security Council has not authorized an action. Congress has not declared war or even passed a use-of-force resolution, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Treaty of Paris both outlaw war as a means of settling disputes and the Nuremberg Charter forbids planning any war of aggression. Ian Hurd, in a N.Y. Times op/ed, said the White House “should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law.”

How to show that satellite-guided and mechanized global mayhem is urgently necessary? Any defense of necessity — as U.S. District Judge Miles Lord instructed a jury that convicted me in 1984 (I took a kitchen hammer and damaged a nuclear missile guidance computer and awaited arrest) — “requires evidence of each and every one of the following essential elements: 1) The criminal conduct of which the defendant (in this instance the US) stands accused was taken to prevent a greater harm which was imminent; 2)There was no effective alternative method or course of action available that could be taken to avert the harm; and 3) There was a direct causal relationship between the criminal conduct taken and the avoidance of the alleged harm.”

The burden of proof is on the United States

Regarding No.1, evidence that a U.S. attack was taken to prevent another gassing of Syrian civilians would require a showing that at least some of Assad’s chemical weapons were destroyed. This evidence would be impossible to find without a U.S. military occupation that the White House says is out of the question. Furthermore, if U.S. bombs disperse plumes of Assad’s deadly chemicals — and if our remote-controlled destruction inside Syria strengthens extremist jihadis — how could it be shown that the harm done by our bombs is lesser than the dirtier, wider, longer and bloodier war enflamed by our attack? The “imminence” of another chemical weapon attack is also impossible to establish. Evidence that Assad is about to launch such an attack would be harder to find than the still-unearthed fingerprint or memo tying Assad to the August 21 atrocity.

The second element is the most embarrassing for President Peace Prize, since there are so many alternative actions available. Obama has neither exhausted diplomatic options, convinced key allies that Assad is the criminal, produced an authorizing resolution in the UN Security Council, interdicted weapons shipment to the regime, gotten rid of his own stockpile of banned weapons, nor even, and not the least, pursued charges against Assad at the International Criminal Court.

Thirdly, evidence that our side’s war crimes directly prevented another party’s war crimes would be harder to find than the Holy Grail. If U.S. spy agencies can’t cobble together evidence of Assad’s culpability in the Ghouta massacre, how could they show that U.S. bombs smashed Syrian government nerve agents in their launch tubes?

So far, the criminal White House war for “crime prevention” is just a rhetorical masterpiece of dishonesty, hypocrisy and self-deception. Obama’s rationale for it fails all three tests of the necessity defense. It must be rejected to avert another endless war.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

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