On April 14th, shortly after the United Kingdom, United States and France bombed the sovereign country of Syria, on the basis of unproven allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7th April, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May made the following comment in her official statement:
“Together we have hit a specific and limited set of targets. They were a chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research centre and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks. Hitting these targets with the force that we have deployed will significantly degrade the Syrian Regime’s ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons” [my emphasis].
It seemed to me when I heard these words – and the passage of time has not altered this impression – that Mrs May was admitting to one of two actions, either of which ought to see her removed from office.
If we take her statement at face value, then it appears that she authorised a cruise missile strike on a number of depots that she believed contained chemical weapons, thus risking the dispersion of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. It hardly needs to be spelled out what this could have led to, especially as some of these sites were close to residential areas.
On the other hand, if she authorised the bombing of these facilities knowing full well that they did not contain chemical weapons, then her public statement made after the bombing was false.
There really are no other options. Either she believed that these facilities contained chemical weapons, in which case her authorisation of the bombing of them was a deeply reckless and irresponsible act, which could have had horrendous consequences for the people near those locations. Or she knew that they did not in fact contain chemical weapons, in which case her statement was deliberately misleading.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been investigating one of the bombed sites, Barzah, and has so far found no evidence of chemical weapons.
But let’s say that you don’t take their word for this. Fine, but you are then faced with two problems:
Firstly, the OPCW, in a report published on 23rd March, just three weeks before the US, UK and French strikes on Syria, stated that their inspectors had found no evidence of chemical weapons at the Barzah site when they last inspected it back in late November:
“In accordance with paragraph 11 of Council decision EC-83/DEC.5, the second round of inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the SSRC was concluded on 22 November 2017. The results of the inspections were reported as an addendum (EC-87/DG.15/Add.1, dated 28 February 2018) to the report entitled “Status of Implementation of Executive Council Decision EC-83/DEC.5 (dated 11 November 2016)” (EC-87/DG.15, dated 23 February 2018). The analysis of samples taken during the inspections did not indicate the presence of scheduled chemicals in the samples, and the inspection team did not observe any activities inconsistent with obligations under the Convention [Chemical Weapons Convention] during the second round of inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities.”
But the second problem you have is this: If the Russian MoD is wrong, or spreading false information, and the OPCW has now found evidence of chemical weapons at Barzah, this would only go to show that Theresa May, along with her US and French counterparts, recklessly bombed a chemical weapons facility, without any certainty that it would not result in catastrophic consequences for people in the neighbourhood.
Unless of course someone can come up with a scenario whereby cruise missiles can be dropped “safely” on a chemical weapons depot with a guarantee that the toxic substances held there would not become a danger to people in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
So its as simple as this: If the OPCW report of 23rd March, and the Russian MoD claims made on 25th April are true, then Theresa May misled the public when she claimed that the missiles she authorised had targeted and hit chemical weapons facilities. If the OPCW report of 23rd March, and the Russian MoD claims made on 25th April are false, then Theresa May knowingly authorised the targeting of chemical weapons storage facilities, which could have had catastrophic consequences for innocent people.
Here’s the question that someone in Parliament needs to ask her:
“Prime Minister, on April 14th you authorised the bombing of three sites in Syria, which you claimed were developing and storing chemical weapons. Had this action caused the release of toxic substances into the atmosphere, would you have taken full responsibility for any resulting fatalities in the area?”