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Jack Goldsmith and Oona Hathaway review the preposterous legal “arguments” in support of yesterday’s illegal attack. Here they address the erroneous claim that the attack was justified under international law because it was a response to the use of banned chemical weapons:
Nowhere does the [Chemical Weapons] Convention provide for unilateral uses of force in response to a breach of the Convention. And if it had, there’s a good chance no state would ever have joined it. And putting the treaty to one side, there is no reason at all to think that any related “norm” prohibiting the use of chemical weapons can be enforced with force outside the Charter framework [bold mine-DL].
Put simply, member states can’t ignore the U.N. Charter’s prohibition against using force against other states in the name of enforcing other international norms. Syria’s violations of its international obligations do not give other states license to disregard their own by launching military attacks against them. The U.S. and its allies don’t have any legal support for what they have done, and they make a mockery of their professed concern for international order when they wantonly undermine one of the core protections of the UN Charter.
The US has once again flagrantly violated international law. Without UN approval, they launched dozens of airstrikes on Syria. Ottawa immediately supported the US bombing. In a statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people."
Over the past week the Trudeau government has helped lay the foundation for the US led attack. 24 hours after the alleged April 7 attack foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming, "the repeated and morally reprehensible use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in the past has been confirmed by independent international investigators…. Canada condemns the Assad regime – and its backers, Russia and Iran – for its repeated, gross violations of human rights and continued, deliberate targeting of civilians.” Without presenting any evidence of the alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Freeland said on Friday "when it comes to this use of chemical weapons, it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime."
In her initial statement Freeland expressed Canada’s "admiration for … the White Helmets." Also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, the White Helmets produced the video purporting to show chemical weapons use in Douma.
On Friday Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed the White Helmets staged the video with help from the UK. Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford largely endorsed Moscow’s position.
Politicians, pundits and activists who’ve routinely denounced President Trump as a tool of Vladimir Putin can now mull over a major indicator of their cumulative impacts. The U.S.-led missile attack on Syria before dawn Saturday is the latest benchmark for gauging the effects of continually baiting Trump as a puppet of Russia’s president.
Heavyweights of U.S. media – whether outlets such as CNN and MSNBC or key newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post – spent most of the last week clamoring for Trump to order air strikes on Syria. Powerful news organizations have led the way in goading Trump to prove that he’s not a Putin lackey after all.
One of the clearest ways that Trump can offer such proof is to recklessly show he’s willing to risk a catastrophic military confrontation with Russia.
In recent months, the profusion of "war hawks, spies and liars" on national television has been part of a media atmosphere that barely acknowledges what’s at stake with games of chicken between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. Meanwhile, the dominant US news media imbue their reporting with a nationalistic sense of impunity.
The illegal attack on Syria that the Trump administration has been threatening for the last week has started:
President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.
The U.S. and its allies have committed a flagrant violation of international law, and Trump has trampled on the Constitution once again. This attack probably won’t succeed on its own terms, and it risks a larger conflagration. It remains to be seen how large and prolonged the latest intervention turns out to be, but whatever happens next it was wholly unnecessary for US security, a breach of the U.N. Charter, and completely illegal according to US law. If Congress does nothing to challenge the president’s illegal attack, they will be accepting own irrelevance in matters of war from now on.
Trump’s statement announcing the attack contained a lot of the usual moralizing rhetoric we have come to expect from presidents when they start unnecessary military interventions. At one point, he even refers to the “righteous power” of the US and its allies without appreciating how ridiculous and pompous this sounds to everyone in the region and most nations around the world. Incredibly, he addressed Syria’s patrons and asked, “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?” Trump should know the answer, since he just hosted one of the chief architects of the war on Yemen that the US has backed to the hilt for the last three years. Britain welcomed the Saudi crown prince earlier on, and France just hosted him in the last few days. All three have been arming and supporting the Saudis and their allies in Yemen no matter how many atrocities they commit. There may be governments that have the moral authority to lecture Syria and its allies over their atrocious conduct, but the Trump administration and our British and French allies aren’t among them.