Kerry Calls Assad ‘Thug’ and ‘Murderer’ in Deadly Chemical Attacks

More than 1,400 dead, Kerry calls on Congress and allies to help decide response.

John Kerry Calls Syrian leader Bashar al Assad a ‘Thug’ and ‘Murderer’ chemical attacks

Syrian President Bashar al Assad. (Sasha Mordovets/Getty)

TakePart News Editor Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is a journalist who has worked in many corners of the world for major news organizations.

Pressure mounted Friday for the international community to take action in Syria after American officials announced they are confident in intelligence reports that found Syrian leader Bashar al Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons, killing at least 1,429 people—including 426 children.

In a full-throated reproach of the chemical attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Congress and America’s allies to consider action to resolve Syria’s aggression toward its own people, but stopped short of calling for war and echoing the hasty mistakes that led to the Iraq war.

“We will not repeat that moment,” Kerry said of going to war with Iraq on faulty intelligence. “The American intelligence community has high confidence. This is common sense. This is evidence. These are facts.”

Some of Kerry’s key points:

• CAPABILITY: The U.S. knows Assad has the largest chemical program in the region, Kerry said.

• MOTIVE: Assad regime’s goal has been to wipe out opposition in Damascus suburbs.

• PRE-MEDITATION: Assad regime elements were told to prepare for attack by putting on gas masks.

• WITNESSES: Thousands of ordinary Syrians took to social media with reports of the attacks. Videos were gathered from 11 sites where twitching, agonized victims and dead bodies were amassed.

• GEO-TRACKING: The rockets were launched from Assad stronghold areas, into opposition-controlled neighborhoods.

• BLUFF CALLED: When the Syrian government denied responsibility, Kerry said he told their foreign minister that if they have nothing to hide, United Nations inspectors should be allowed in immediately. They weren't...

• COVER-UP: Instead, the neighborhood where the attack took place was shelled for four days “to destroy evidence” and UN inspector access was “restricted and controlled,” Kerry said.

Kerry added that the “indiscriminate, inconceivable horror of chemical weapons” also meant doctors and nurses found themselves gasping for air, suffering as they were trying to treat patients of the chemical attacks.

Kerry told reporters that the real solution will have to be diplomatic to respond to “this crime against conscience, this crime against humanity,” and said there are risks to taking no action.

For starters, it will empower “a thug and a murderer like Bashar al Assad” to believe he “can gas thousands of his own people with impunity.”

Kerry noted the Arab League, France and Australia have criticized the attacks, and powerful allies in the region, including Israel, Turkey and Lebanon are “just a stiff breeze away from Damascus,” so they have security concerns.

An NBC News poll found the United States is evenly divided on whether to engage in military action in Syria, and 80 percent want to hear Congress debate the matter and give approval before the president decides to use force. The two-day survey interviewed 700 adults.

Meanwhile, in Syria, BBC journalists witnessed the aftermath of a gruesome attack that appeared to be napalm, or something like it. The report didn’t make clear when or where the attack took place, but victims suffered severe burns all over their bodies.

Witnesses say it was the end of the school day when the government jet kept making passes over the playground full of teenagers in northern Syria. After the bomb was dropped, it appears to have released some sort of chemical that rained fire and burned children. No shrapnel wounds were reported.

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