Michael Ratner: Obama admin's case for attacking Syria deeply flawed - September 8, 13
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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Ratner Report. We're now joined by Michael Ratner. Michael, so we have been talking about, in part one of this two-part interview, we were talking about the legality of a possible U.S. strike on Syria. And I wanted to talk a little bit about Russia's role. Obama and Putin have been meeting in Russia at the G20 summit, and Putin has said, show me the evidence. Obama has thus far refused to do so. And Russia has also come out with a 100-page report which they say proves that it was the Syrian rebels who carried out a sarin gas attack in Aleppo in March. What's your response to these latest developments?MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: You know, my first response--and I just want to say it clearly again--two things. One is it's illegal to make this war without going to the UN, illegal for the U.S. to do that. And secondly, I consider the chemical weapons issue to be a pretext. I think the U.S. has other motives for wanting to, quote, degrade Assad and support the rebels. So I consider it a pretext and that everybody in the world is looking for this evidence or that evidence. It reminds me of--you know, obviously, it reminds me of the Iraq War, and we've talked about that before. But let's focus right on this right now. The Obama administration has claimed that it has proof that the Assad government is using chemical weapons. But it really has failed to convince very many people, with the exception of its own close friends, some members of Congress, some people in its own government, perhaps the new poodle for the United States, France. The British actually, the British Parliament actually was not convinced by the evidence that Assad was using chemical weapons and said, we want more conclusive evidence on this. So let's start from there, that they haven't yet, one, proved that there's chemical weapons having been used, and secondly, they certainly haven't proved that the Assad government was involved in using them or that directed their use. That's not saying they weren't. I don't know the answer to that. But it's certainly saying we haven't proven it yet, and particularly after our experience with the Iraq War, you're going to have to see very hard evidence that this occurred. Even as I said, I don't think that justifies going to war and bombing Syria. I think it justifies perhaps, you know, taking someone to an international criminal court, but it doesn't justify us starting to bomb a country. But then let's put that in the context of Russia and the Russian assertion or claim, for which they have done incredible amount of study, a 100-page report, that on March 19 of this year at a suburb outside of Aleppo, Syria, that the rebels, the rebels may well have used chemical weapons, which killed perhaps not as many people as were killed in this more recent attack in August, but killed, you know, a couple of dozen people with chemical weapons and injured a lot more. The Russians submitted that report to the UN. The UN actually has taken it seriously. Chemical weapons inspectors have been in Syria determining whether that March 19 attack was chemical weapons and who caused it. And, in fact, what's interesting is when on August 21, when the current claim of a chemical weapon attack occurred, the weapons inspectors from the March 19 attack were still in Syria, which makes you question whether Assad would be--you know, would he do something like do a chemical weapons attack at a time when the inspectors from the UN are there. I mean, he may or may not have. I don't know. But it makes you certainly question that. But what it really makes you underline your question--and I think it's an important one--is why didn't the U.S. take seriously the Russian proof that they put forward in a 100-page report, the fact that the UN actually had inspectors there on that March 19--for that March 19 alleged chemical attack. Why was that not taken seriously by the U.S.? But why is this attack that they're now blaming Assad for being taken seriously by the United States? And it makes you question what's going on. What is the motivation of the United States to just do one and not the other? Why didn't the the U.S. take the Russian one seriously? And the conclusion you have to draw is: when it comes to atrocities by the rebels, the U.S. is willing to give them a wink and a nod or look away, support the rebels, but when it comes to admitted atrocities by the government, not particularly--I don't know about the chemical weapons, but others by the Assad government, it's not willing--it's willing to take those to the Security Council--not to the Security Council--willing to go after those and want to bomb Syria. So it just tells you about the utter hypocrisy of this entire issue.NOOR: And so, Michael, for those that oppose intervention at this time, what could the U.S. and Russia be doing right now to stop this ongoing violence, these ongoing atrocities on both sides? Is a diplomatic solution possible? And what can the international community due to further that process?RATNER: You know, I'm not an expert on how to actually do the diplomacy, what's involved here. I do know that the last thing we ought to be doing is bombing the Assad government and killing more civilians. I mean, the pictures of people fleeing Damascus when they thought it was going to happen last weekend were really heartbreaking. The fact is, you know, there's almost 2 million people have been displaced. There's up to 100,000 dead. And there has to be a diplomatic solution. What I fear is, you know, particularly the United States, perhaps Israel, doesn't mind seeing the Assad government, you know, weakened by constant war and people killed, and it's becoming a battleground, you know, for other proxies within the vicinity, whether it's, you know, Saudi Arabia and Israel on one side, Iran on another, Russia and the U.S., you know, as two other sides. But it has to be, has to be a diplomatic solution. One question that people ask or that you may ask next, actually, is about the UN. Well, if the UN isn't going to give authority, can't the U.S. do it on its own? Well, let's first start by going to the UN, see what the UN does. But secondly, when people say, well, isn't Russia just holding up and holding up the Security Council, not allowing it to go forward, well, let's have the U.S. ask first. But secondly, we don't seem to ask that question when it comes to the dozens of resolutions that have been put before the Security Council and actually been passed in a number of cases about Israel and Palestine. It's the U.S. that vetoed the one on calling the settlements illegal in the occupied territories. But no one asked the question, well, what do we do about the United States, why doesn't Russia just go in and, you know, kick the Israelis out of the occupied territories. For some reason, our commentators only ask the question when the veto might be exercised by China Russia, they don't ask the question when the veto or the--the veto or the refusal of the Security Council to act is being carried out by the United States. So it's utterly hypocritical. In fact, when I look at the Security Council, as unfair as it is in many ways--look it, it's what's left from the victors, really, essentially, from the second world war. It doesn't have Germany on it, doesn't have Brazil. It doesn't have India, doesn't have other powerful countries. So it is, you know, certainly, a biased Security Council in a certain sense. But if I think about it, war should be very hard to make. War should not be something you simply take into a body that essentially rubberstamps. You want to force countries to take a diplomatic solution. And by having a Russian veto or a U.S. veto on its occasion, perhaps more in the case of Israel or any other country that's vetoes, you want to have countries forced to a diplomatic solution. And that's what you want to see happen here. Certainly, bombing Assad is not going to lead to peace in the Middle East. It's going to lead to consequences that are probably unknowable, as they are in every war--the Iraq War, of course, being the last one in which, of course, it was knowable that a lot of people were going to be killed. But the destruction that the U.S. has wrought in Iraq, not just in terms of people but in the future that country, is horrendous, and it was done on false pretenses. And that is what we should think about before any country decides that it should intervene in Syria.NOOR: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for joining us.RATNER: Thank you for having me on The Real News.NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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