Evidence In UN Syria Report Makes Regime Most Likely Suspect

UN inspectors have concluded that it was in fact a chemical weapons attack that occurred outside Damascus, Syria on August 23rd. The report does not assign blame for the attack. But according to Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director for Human Rights Watch, a careful read of the evidence laid out in the UN report shows the Syrian regime is most likely behind the attack. He talks with Robert Siegel about the UN findings and what they imply.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The U.N. weapons inspectors who reported on chemical weapons in Syria had a narrow mission, a single question to answer: Were chemical weapons used? Their answer was an unmistakable yes, and it was sarin gas, they said. Their answer to the question who did it was mistakable if you didn't read their report and the appendices to it. For the record, the inspectors stopped short of concluding that the Syrian regime, not the rebels, fired the rockets that carried sarin. But look at the evidence they found and the responsibility of the Syrian regime is very hard to deny.

Peter Bouckaert is the emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. He's based in Geneva, and he joins us from there. Welcome to the program.

PETER BOUCKAERT: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: The U.N. inspectors report on munitions they recovered at two sites. They found evidence that these were the vehicles for delivering sarin gas. What can you tell us about the kind of rockets they found were used?

BOUCKAERT: Yes. Their findings are consistent with the report Human Rights Watch issued last week. We found two rockets at these sites, which are actually located 16 kilometers apart. At the first site, the Moadamiya site, a 140-millimeter Soviet-era rocket capable of delivering sarin was used in the attack. And at the second site, in Zamalka, a different kind of rocket, a Syrian-produced 330-millimeter rocket capable of delivering a massive warhead load of about 55 liters of sarin was used in that attack.

SIEGEL: Now of five impact sites that the inspectors looked at, they wrote this, and I'm quoting now, "three do not present physical characteristics allowing a successful study of the trajectories followed by the rockets involved." But two sites, they write, and I'm quoting again, "provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles." And they give degrees and directions, but they don't say what origin for the firing of these rockets that would indicate. What's the answer?

BOUCKAERT: Well, they did very good work. They looked at the debris, which was left behind, and the directions the rockets came from and the precise angles of flight that the U.N. inspectors had determined. Human Rights Watch mapped the information, and they led us directly back to the base of the republican guards, one of the elite units in the Syrian military which has a long association with chemical weapons.

SIEGEL: The U.N. report sticks to its assignment, so it doesn't volunteer the conclusion that the Syrian military did this. If they had slapped that statement on the end of this report, would the evidence preceding it justify that conclusion?

BOUCKAERT: I certainly think so. You have to look at the evidence as a whole. These are very large rocket systems. They're only known to be in the possession of the Syrian government. They have been used previously against opposition targets before this attack, and only the Syrian government is really believed to possess the amounts of sarin, at least 800 kilograms of sarin and probably closer to a ton, which was used during this very large scale attack.

SIEGEL: The Syrian government's version here is, no, the rebels had a rocket. They launched this attack to attract world attention and to get the United States off the sidelines in attacking the Syrian regime. Is there anything in the U.N.'s report that plainly disproves that version of events?

BOUCKAERT: Human Rights investigated the possibility that the opposition forces were responsible for this attack, and we found not a shred of evidence to support that theory. And the Russian government, which continues to claim they have evidence rebels were responsible, also has not revealed any credible evidence to support that claim. The U.N. report firmly establishes that this was a complex military attack most likely carried out by the Syrian government and does not provide any evidence to support the theory that opposition forces were responsible for this horrific incident.

SIEGEL: Mr. Bouckaert, thank you very much for talking with us today.

BOUCKAERT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Peter Bouckaert is the emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. He spoke to us from Geneva.

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