Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called the alleged unleashing of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria a “moral obscenity,” laying the blame for their use squarely on the shoulders of the Syrian government.
Kerry spoke at the top of the State Department’s daily press briefing, using some of the strongest language the Obama administration has wielded against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reports last week indicated that an attack in Ghoula, a suburb of Damascus, had incapacitated and killed hundreds of civilian men, women, and children. Doctors Without Borders on Saturday said that associated networks had treated 3,000 victims showing signs of toxicological poisoning and at least three hundred dead.
Videos of the incident and its aftermath have been circulating the Internet for days, which Kerry told reporters that he watched after speaking with his foreign counterparts last night. “It is hard to express in words the human suffering that they lay out before us,” Kerry said. “As a father, I cannot get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing while chaos swirled around him. The images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of life or even a visible wound. Bodies contorting in spasms. Human suffering that we can never ignore or forget.”
Kerry also made clear that the United States believes that the Syrian government retains custody over its stockpile of chemical weapons, counter to claims that rebels have seized and utilized the agents for themselves. “We have additional information about this attack, and that information is being compiled and reviewed, together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead,” Kerry said.
“Anyone who can claim an attack of this staggering scale can be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass,” Kerry continued. “What is before us today is real, and it is compelling.” Just before Kerry took the podium, Russia Today reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told British Prime Minister David Cameron that no evidence exists that an attack even took place in Syria. Previously Russia had indicated that the Syrian rebels were behind the attack, leaving the choice of denying an attack at all odd.
Meanwhile, President Obama is said to be consulting with Congress over how to proceed in response to last week’s attacks, which if confirmed will have crossed the “red-line” he set last year as changing the U.S. calculus. The United States has already moved naval assets within the Mediterranian to better provide Obama options on how best to respond.
“Make no mistake,” Kerry concluded, “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”