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Thursday, August 29, 2013

UK: Legal Case For Action In Syria Clearly Met

People take part in a protest organized by the Stop the War coalition calling for no military attack on Syria from the U.S., Britain or France, across the road from the entrance of Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (Matt Dunham/AP)

People take part in a protest organized by the Stop the War coalition calling for no military attack on Syria from the U.S., Britain or France, across the road from the entrance of Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. (Matt Dunham/AP)

Britain’s government says the legal conditions have been clearly met for taking action against Syria for allegedly launching a chemical attack against its people.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s office released two documents Thursday meant to bolster the case that chemical weapons were used by Syria. In addition to the legal summary, Downing Street released the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment that concludes it was “highly likely” that the regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21.

The committee says there was no credible intelligence to suggest the attack was faked by opposition forces.

The documents were released ahead of a parliamentary debate on Syria. The opposition Labour Party has indicated it may not support even a watered down version of a resolution on Syria.


  • Rob Watson, UK political correspondent for the BBC World Service, He tweets @robwatsonbbc.



Well, the British Parliament is having the debate that some members of Congress here in the U.S. want. Members of Parliament were called back from vacation, and the House of Commons is considering whether Britain should support a military strike against Syria. Here's Prime Minister David Cameron speaking today.


PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: The case I'm making is that the House of Commons needs to consider, purely and simply, this issue of a massive chemical weapons use by this regime. I'm not arguing we should get more involved in this conflict. I'm not arguing we should arm the rebels. I'm not making any of those arguments.

HOBSON: Well, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, on the other hand, says regardless of Cameron's arguments, military action would change the nature of the conflict.


ED MILIBAND: I don't think anybody in this House or anybody in the country should be under any illusions about the effect of our relationship to the conflict in Syria if we were to militarily intervene.

HOBSON: The BBC's Rob Watson joins us from London now. And Rob, clearly David Cameron believes there should be airstrikes against Syria. Tell us more about how he is making that case. What are his arguments?

ROB WATSON: Well, he's having to make the case quite clearly in the great shadow of the legacy of public and political skepticism over Iraq. In order to do that, the kind of pitch he was trying to make to Parliament - and, of course, beyond Parliament the watching punters - was that, look, this isn't going to be like Iraq in the sense that it's much more limited.

We're not talking about putting British troops on the ground. We're not talking about Britain somehow getting involved in a Middle East war, taking sides, but that it was specifically about Britain standing up against the use of chemical weapons - in other words, trying to say this would be very, very limited.

And he did something else, as well - which, again, it was an acknowledgement of the skepticism there is about Iraq. And that was to say that, look, he didn't possess some smoking piece of intelligence about Syria. We're not trying to - he wasn't trying to tell the British people this was a slam dunk on the intelligence front, but it was a judgment, and a judgment that he believed was correct.

HOBSON: But he is still facing a lot of pushback. We heard some of it from the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, a moment ago. What are the big questions being asked, or the arguments against strikes in Syria that are going on in Britain right now?

WATSON: You could sort of lump them all together under one heading of people who just think that it would just be a thoroughly bad idea to get involved. But I guess you could sort of divide them up a bit. And, again, this is a lot to do with the legacy of Iraq.

I guess one group of objections - and we heard a little bit of this from some in the opposition Labour Party - is this idea that we don't have enough evidence. So, again, it's about the intelligence. Could it be wrong? Maybe it wasn't Assad's regime. Maybe it wasn't chemical weapons. So those are the - those are, if you like, the people who want more information.

There are others who think that the idea of a limited intervention is just impossible. I mean, how could it be limited? If it doesn't work, would you have to do it again if President Assad used chemical weapons? How could you be sure that there wouldn't be wider regional consequences?

There are really a whole group of people who, whatever evidence was presented to them, whatever intelligence, they've just made up their minds that Western intervention in that part of the world would only make things worse, not better.

HOBSON: Well, you mentioned Iraq. I remember, back during the buildup to the Iraq War, the leader of the House of Commons, the late Robin Cook, actually resigned from his position in protest of what his party was doing. We haven't seen any drama like that yet.

WATSON: No, we haven't. There's no doubt that this has been pretty high-octane, but it's true that it hasn't been quite as sensational or as dramatic or as politically divisive as Iraq. I mean, I think that's in part because what's being talked about is on a much smaller scale. There haven't been the level of protests, of huge, public protests that you saw on the streets of London before the run-up to the war in Iraq.

It may also be something to do with the fact that the United States has Barack Obama as president and not George W. Bush. So it hasn't been quite as highly charged. But that's not to say that there aren't elements of political partisanship creeping in here.

HOBSON: Yeah, I think there were 2 million people that hit the streets of London to protest the Iraq War. Do we have a sense of public opinion in the U.K.? Are there polls about what people think should be done?

WATSON: You bet. Of course there are. The most recent polls suggested that two-to-one against the use of intervention, specifically the kind of intervention of missiles against Syria. And if you go further and you say what about British troops, boots on the ground, you're getting over 70 percent against. And it's not just from opinion polls. And, again, this has been what's been feeding into the debate here at Westminster.

You know, I this era of social media, MPs ask their constituents: Well, what do you think about this? And so they get an awful lot of emails and tweets and other stuff back, and what they've been getting back is very negative.

HOBSON: So, Rob Watson, what happens here? Does Cameron win Parliament's approval for strikes against Syria?

WATSON: Well, I think what may happen is that he'll win the votes that will happen later in the U.K., but that's not quite the same thing. Can he, over the next couple of days, persuade the wider public that this is worth doing? And I think the jury is out on that. And just one other point: No one knows, of course, whether, in the intervening period, the United States might have taken unilateral action, in some way rendering this debate somewhat moot.


HOBSON: The BBC's Rob Watson, in London. Rob, thanks so much.

WATSON: Good to be with you.


Well, up next, a New Jersey court rules that it's not just drivers who can get in trouble for texting. The person who sends a driver a text can be sued if they know the recipient is behind the wheel. Well, how do you know someone knows that a driver who gets a text is driving? We'll have that in about a minute.

HOBSON: And some other stories we're following: Scientists have discovered a huge canyon buried under the Greenland Glacier. It's about half as deep as the Grand Canyon. And, Robin, some rattlesnakes in South Dakota's Black Hills have apparently lost their ability to rattle.

YOUNG: Oh, no.

HOBSON: Which would mean, I guess, there would be no warning sound from the snake that's about to attack you.

YOUNG: Something more to worry about.

HOBSON: Exactly. Good fodder for your nightmares tonight. These stories and more on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED today, from NPR News. We're back in a minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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