Chemical Weapons Victims in Syria

What strikes me, and no doubt I am very personal experience centered, is that these images of victims look nothing like the images of Halabja after the gas attack that killed several thousand people.  In the images from Halabja,  the people were all still lying where they fell as they attempted to run away or hide.      Images captured within a few hours of the attacks showed lives stopped in their tracks.    Babies were in the arms of their mothers.   Young children lay under the bodies of adults who covered them with their bodies in an attempt to shield them. Bodies lay on door sills and in the road with greenish vomit drooling from their mouths.

Members of the Iranian army were nearby, but there are no photos or recordings of an immediate  well organized response.   Local medical personnel were affected along with other civilians.   Some of  the victims who might be alive were removed by helicopter, but it was too difficult to effect a mass evacuation, and too late.   In Halabja, the victims who died were half or more of those affected.    They were buried quickly in mass graves.    Mostly whole families died.

So little news comes out of the war zones.     One would like to have the UN investigating the big picture rather than focused on identifying the composition of whatever toxins they can find.    Where are the mass graves?    Where are those who were sick and have perhaps recovered by now?    How many victims have actually been identified and what are their names?    This is an investigation.       Pictures of corpses laid out in rooms, and of victims in an indeterminate state with no clear identifying information with regard to their identity or their medical condition do not constitute more than a starting point for that investigation.

US Diplomat, Samantha Powers’ comment that the gas used in Syria was more concentrated than that used [by Saddam Hussein] in [Halabja] Iraq is disingenuous and misleading.    The gas used in Halabja was a mixture of Sarin with other neurotoxins and Mustard Gas.    Large quantities of this toxic brew were dropped on the civilian areas of Halabja from the air.   Four to seven thousand people died; ten thousand or more were sickened or injured.   Thousands have died since from secondary effects of the mix and many more are disabled.    So, no – it wasn’t pure Sarin, but it was concentrated poison in much larger quantities than we have seen evidence of anywhere in Syria.    According to Dr. Khateri of the Society for Chemical Weapons’ Victims Support in Iran, Sarin kills very quickly, but victims who don’t die immediately survive without complications.    Mustard Gas, on the other hand, causes terrible burns and horrific life long symptoms; disabling scar tissue, damage to the tissues of the eye that return even after a corneal transplant, lung damage and internal scarring that lead to increasing difficulties breathing.

The initial report from the United Nations team has some interesting details.

Survivors reported an attack with shelling, followed by the onset of a common range of symptoms,including shortness of breath, disorientation, rhinorrhea, eye irritation, blurred vision,nausea,vomiting, general weakness and eventual loss of consciousness. ” and “labored breathing and excess salivation among survivors” and “blurred vision, generalized weakness, shaking, a feeling of impending doom, followed by fainting.” According to the statistics in appendix 4, 36 clinical samples were evaluated (36 people were tested). The most prominent symptoms were loss of consciousness and labored breathing. Nausea and vomiting were found in less that 25% of the victims.  Overwhelmingly they found whatever evidence of Sarin exposure they were testing for in the urine and blood samples, but no evidence of Sarin exposure in the hair samples.

The evidence is consistent with Sarin poisoning.  But the test sample is extremely small.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Sarin Gas Poisoning: “Even at very low concentrations, sarin can be fatal. Death may follow in one minute after direct ingestion of a lethal dose”.   And “Sarin gas is 26  times more lethal than cyanide.”  and ” As the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, the victim vomits, defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms“.     I did not see evidence of this around the corpses in the videos.    They would have to have been cleaned up.  And if they were saving lives with atropine, where did they get such large supplies of it?    Corpse collection within an hour or two of the attack while others are sick and dying seems odd.   Moving corpses and the sick whose clothes are saturated with the toxic chemical indoors seems  dangerous and counterproductive.   How could they get the corpses organized and the videos posted within hours of the attack?

Another report is a document published by an international organization that includes Syrians who want an end to the fighting and has Nobel Peace Prize winner Maread MacGuire as it’s director.     The document was authored by Mother Agnes Mariam de la Croix , a Catholic Nun who has lived and worked in Syria for decades and the International Support Team for Mussalaha.   Mussalaha (Reconciliation) is an Interfaith group working for peace in Syria.    The document, The Chemical Attacks in East Ghouta, To Justify Military Right of Protection in Syria, provides a detailed examination of the video evidence published and accepted as concrete evidence of the attacks on Ghouta, including an exhaustive list of youtube addresses and notes on how the videos were classified according to significance by western government officials. .

I became interested in the subject of chemical weapons attacks after I met with members of the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support a number of times in Iran, and when they came to the U.S. to meet with doctors in the US.    SCWVS runs a medical research program and a Peace Museum in Tehran.   Dr.  Shahriar Khateri heads medical team and is spokesperson for the organization.    Recovering chemical burn victims from the war staff the Museum.   Chemical weapons effects and the treatment of chemical weapons victims are very important and well researched issues in Iran.    My perceptions may be founded in a narrow experience, but it is enough to make me question the evidence presented with regard to Syria.

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