Secretary of State John Kerry left no doubt Monday that the United States believes Syria’s Bashar Assad used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians last week and vowed that the United States will respond to that “moral obscenity.”
“Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass,” he said, in a barb likely meant for Syria and its patron Russia. “By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable."
Kerry, speaking to reporters at the State Department, spoke of the attack in very personal terms, describing how he had watched the “gut-wrenching” videos of the dead and dying via social media. But he gave no details about when a decision on whether to use force in response to last week’s massacre might come — or whether it would.
The secretary of state said the United States government and its allies were reviewing nonpublic information about the alleged attack and promised that “we will provide that information in the days ahead.”
“Make no mistake, President (Barack) Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people,” Kerry warned. “Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.”
The top U.S. diplomat offered no new public evidence to back up U.S. charges that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in an attack just outside Damascus that anti-Assad fighters say might have killed more than 1,300. But he made a public case against the Syrian strongman that might underpin a future legal rationale for American military strikes.
"While investigators are gathering additional evidence on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts informed by conscience and guided by common sense," Kerry said. "The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission — these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real, that chemical weapons were used in Syria."
Syria possesses chemical weapons, and the rockets to deliver them, Kerry said. "We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses."
And Kerry shared his personal response to shocking social media videos shared by the opposition.
After a round of telephone diplomacy on Sunday, Kerry said, “I went back and I watched videos — videos that anybody can watch on social media — I watched them one more gut-wrenching time.”
“As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head, of a man who held up his dead child, wailing, while chaos swirled around,” he said.
“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity,” he underlined.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would explain his decision to the American public once he has made it and already has started reaching out to key members of Congress.
Asked whether polls showing weak U.S. public support for intervention would shape the president's decision, Carney replied: "The president makes decisions about military action or potential military action with the national security interests of the United States in mind."
"I am sure that you will hear from him."