tv Inside Story Al Jazeera September 4, 2013 12:30pm-1:01pm EDT
purpose could assert that this did not occur as described or that the regime did not do it. it did happen. bashar al assad's regime did it. i remember iraq, and secretary hagel, who will soon be here, and general dempsey also remember it very well. secretary hagel and i both voted in the united states senate. so both of us are especially sensitive to never again asking any member of congress to vote on faulty intelligence. that is why our intelligence community took time. that's why the president took time, to make certain of the facts and make certain of this case and to declassify unprecedented amounts of information in order to scrub and rescrub the evidence and present the facts to the
american people and especially to the congress. through you to the american people. we have declassified unprecedented amounts of information, some of it, i might add, not because initially that might have been the instinct in the sense of protecting sources and methods, but some leaked. after its leaking, we thought it was important to verify whether it was true or not. so by now you've heard a great deal from me and others in the administration about the comprehensive evidence that we have collected in the days following the attack on august 21st, so i'm not going to go through all of it again right now. i'm happy to discuss it further, if any of you have any questions, but i can tell you beyond a reasonable doubt -- i used to prosecute cases. i ran one of the largest district attorney's offices in america, and i can tell you
beyond a reasonable doubt the evidence proves that the assad regime prepared this attack and that they attacked exclusively opposition-controlled or contested territory. at some point in the appropriate setting, you will learn additional evidence that came to us even today which further documents the acknowledgment of various friends of the assad regime, that they know that this happened. our evidence proves that they used sarin gas that morning, and it proves that they used some of the world's most heinous weapons to kill more than 1400 innocent people including at least 426 children. now, i'm sure that many of you have seen the images yourselves of men and women, the elderly and children sprawled on a hospital floor, no wounds, no blood in chaos and desperation
around them, none of which could possibly have been contrived. all of that was real. we have the evidence. we know what happened. there is no question that this would meet the standard by which we send people to jail for the rest of their lives. so we're here because of what happened, but we're also here not just because of what happened two weeks ago. we're here because of what happened nearly a century ago. in the darkest moments of world war i was over, after the horror of gas warfare, when the ma rt jo -- majority of the world came together to declare chemical weapons crossed the line of conscience and must be banned. over the years that followed, more that 180 countries, i think 184 to be precise including
iran, iraq and russia, all agreed and joined the chemical weapons convention. even countries with whom we agree on very little else agreed on this. now, some have tried to suggest that the debate that we're having today is about this president's red line, that this is about president obama's red line. let me make it as clear as i can to all of you. that is just not true. this is about the world's red line. it's about humanity's red line, a line that anyone with a conscience should draw and a line that was drawn nearly 100 years ago in 1925 when the chemical weapons convention was agreed on. this debate, i might add to you, is also about congress' red line. you agreed to the chemical weapons convention. not all of you were here to vote
for it, but the congress agreed to that. the congress passed the syrian accountability account that congressman engel has authored and referred to. that act says clearly, syria's chemical weapons threaten the security of the middle east and the national security interests of the united states. i think repeatedly members of congress have spoken out about the grave consequences of assad in particular used chemical weapons. both speaker boehner and leader pelosi have stated in recent days that the actions of the assad regime are unacceptable and that the united states has a responsibility to respond. so as we debate, the world is watching and the world is wondering not whether assad's regime actually this. i think that fact is now beyond question. the world is wondering whether the united states of america is going to consent through silence
to stand aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence. in the nearly 100 years since this global commitment against chemical weapons was made, only two tyrants have dared to cross the world's brightest line. bashar al assad has now become the third. in history i think everyone here knows holds nothing but infamy for those criminals, and history also reserves very little sympathy for their enablers. that is the gravity of this moment. that is really what is at stake in the decision that the congress faces. syria, bottom line, is important to america and our security for many reasons. first, you can't overlook the
danger that these weapons, as you said in this syrian accountability act, pose to the middle east, to our allies and friends. you can't overlook the threat that they face even to the united states ultimately if they fall into the wrong hands or if they are used with impunity. since president obama's policy is that assad must go, it is not insignificant that to deprive or degrade assad he's chemical weapons deprives him of a lethal weapon in this ongoing civil war. in addition we have important strategic national security interests not just in preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons but to avoid the creation of a safe haven or a base of operations for extrem t extremists and others to use these chemical weapons either against us or against our friends.
forcing assad to change his calculation about his ability to act without impunity can contribute to his realization that he cannot gas or shoot his way out of his predicament. syria is also important because quite simply -- i can't say this strongly enough to all of you. many of you are parents. you know how lessons are learned by children. many of you at school may have confronted at one point or a time a bully on the block or in the building. i think quite simply common sense and human experience and reality tell us that the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting. if we don't take a stand here today, i guarantee you we are more likely to face far greater risks to our security and a far
greater likelihood of conflict that demands our action in the future. why? because we -- as confidently as we know what happened in damascus on august 21st, we know that assad will read our silence, our unwillingness to act as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity. after all has been said and done, if we don't now knowing that he's already done this at least 11 times that our intelligence community can prove and here in this grotesque larger event, larger than anything that's happened before, if we back down, if the world backs down, we have sent an unmistakable message of permissiveness. iran, i guarantee you, is hoping
we look the other way. surely they will interpret america's unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction as an unwillingness to act against weapons of mass destruction. we will fight for the credibility to make a deterrent against a nuclear weapon as meaningful as it should be without that fight. north korea is hoping for ambivalence from the congress. they're all listening for our silence. so the authorization that president obama seeks is distinctly and clearly in our national interest, in our national security interest. we need to send to syria and to the world to dictators and terrorists, to allies and civilians alike the unmistakable message that when we say never again, we actually don't mean sometimes. we don't mean somewhere. we mean never again.
so this is a vote for accountability. the norms and the laws of the civilized world. that's what this vote is for. if we don't answer assad today, we will have erode the standard that has protected our troops for a century. our troops. our troops in war have been protected by the existence of this prohibition. through world war ii, through korea, through vietnam, through both iraq wars the fact is we have not seen chemical weapons in the battlefield but for the two occasions i mentioned previously. our troops are protected. this is a standard that we need to enforce to stand up for america's interests. i will say to you unequivocalably that our allies and partners are counting on us.
the people of israel, jordan and turkey each look next door, and they see chemical weapons being used. they are one stiff breeze away from the potential of those weapons harming them. they anxiously await our assurance that our word is true and they await the assurance that if the children lined up in those unbloodied barrel shrouds in damascus were their own children, as they might be if this got out of hand, they want to know that we would keep the world's promise. as justice jackson said in the opening argument at nuremburg, the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to the law. if the world's worst despots see
they can flout on the prohibitions, then they're rendered just pieces of paper. that is what we mean by accountability. that is, i say to all of you respectfully, that is why we cannot be silent. let me be very, very clear. when i walked into this room, a person of conscience stood up behind me, as is the ability of people in our country. that person said, please, don't take us to war. don't take us to another war. i think the three of us sitting here understand that plea as well as any people in this country. let me be clear. we are not asking america to go to war. i say that sitting next to two individuals who well know what war is, and there are others here today who know what war is.
they know the difference between going to war and what the president is requesting now. we all agree there will be no american boots on the ground. the president has made crystal clear we have no intention of assuming responsibility for assad's civil war. that is not in the cards. that is not what is here. the president is asking only for the power to make certain that the united states of america means what we say. he is asking for authorization targeted and limited to deter and degrade bashar al assad's capacity to use chemical weapons. now, i will make it clear. for those who feel that more ought to be done or that, you know, in keeping with the policy that assad must go, clearly the degradation of his capacity to use the weapons has an impact on
the lethality of the weapons available to him, and it will have an impact on the battlefield. just today before coming in here i read an e-mail to me about a general, the minister of defense, former minister or assistant minister who has just defected and is now in turkey. there are other defections that we are hearing about the potential of because of the potential that we might take action. so there will be downstream impacts, though that is not the principal purpose of what the president is asking you for. now, some will undoubtedly and understandably ask about the unintended consequences of action. will this drag you in inadvertently? they fear a retaliation could lead to a larger conflict. let me say again unequivocally and bluntly. in assad is arrogant enough and foolish enough to retaliate to the consequences of his own
criminal activity, the united states and on our allies have ample ways to make him regret that decision without going to war. even assad supporters, russia and iran, say publicly that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. guess what? even iran and syria itself acknowledge that these weapons were used. they just pretend that the other guys who don't even have the capacity to do it somehow did it. so some will question the extent of our responsibility to act here. to them i say, when someone kills hundreds of children with a weapon the world has banned, we all are responsible. that's true because of treaties like the geneva convention and the chemical weapons convention, but it's also true because we share a common humanity and a common sense of decency.
this is not the time for armchair isolationism. this is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. this is not the time to give permission to a dictator who has already used these weapons the unfettered ability to continue to use them because we stepped back. neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence or inaction, so we have spoken up. the president of the united states has made his decision. the president has decided we need to do this, but in keeping with our constitution and the full measure of the hopes and articulated aspirations of our founding fathers, the president is coming to the congress of the united states, a decision that the american people agree with, and asking the congress to stand with him and with this
administration to stand up for our security, to protect our values, to lead the world with hagel, who before being appointed secretary of defense served in the united states senate from 1996 until 2009. he is the recipient of two purple hearts for his service in vietnam, and we've been joined by general dempsey from platoon leader to commander. he has served in the united states army for over 40 years, and now he serves as the chairman of the joint chiefs. we will go to our secretary of defense, mr. hagel, first. >> so we're going to take a quick break as chuck hagel has
little bit earlier more directly behind secretary of state john kerry were a lot of red hands. this is the group code pink. if you're familiar with watching hearings like this, you've seen them before. it's a grassroots organization made up of women who are of social justice really anti-war group. they're holding up many hands that are painted red really getting people's attention. yesterday there was a member of the group that was escorted from the hearing in the senate. so far nothing like that that we have seen. let's go ahead and listen now former senator and current secretary of defense chuck hagel address the house committee on foreign affairs. >> we have to be concerned that terrorist groups like hezbollah have has forces fighting in syria supporting the assad regime could acquire them and use them. this risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends and partners and to u.s. personnel
in the region. we cannot afford for hezbollah or any terrorist group determined to strike the united states to have incentives to acquire or use these chemical weapons. the syrian regime's actions risk eroding the nearly century old international norm against the use of chemical weapons, a norm that has helped protect the united states forces and our homeland. weakening this norm could embolden other regimes to acquire or use chemical weapons. for example, north korea maintains a massive stockpile of chemical weapons that threaten our treaty ally, the republic of south korea and the 28,000 u.s. troops stationed on the border. i've just returned from asia where i had a very serious and long conversation with south korea's defense minister about the threat that north korea's
stockpile of chemical weapons presents to them. our allies throughout the world must be assured that the united states will fulfill its security commitments. given these threats to our national security, the united states must demonstrate through our actions that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. the president has made clear that our military objectives in syria would be to hold the assad regime accountable, degrade its ability to carry out these kinds of attacks, and deter the regime from further use of chemical weapons. the department of defense has developed military options to achieve these objectives, and we have positioned u.s. assets throughout the region to successfully execute the mission. we believe we can achieve them with a military action that would be limited in duration and scope. general dempsey and i have assured the president that u.s. forces will be ready to act whenever the president gives the
order. we're also working with our allies and partners in this effort, key participates including france, turkey, saudi arabia and the united arab emirates and other friends in the region have assured us of their strong support for u.s. action. in defining our military objectives, we have made clear we're not seeking to resolve the underlying conflict in syria through direct military force. instead, we are contemplating actions tailored to respond to the use of chemical weapons. a political solution created by the syrian people is the only way to ultimately end the violence in syria. secretary kerry is leading international efforts to help the parties in syria move towards a negotiated transition. we're also committed to doing more to assist the syrian op position but assad must be held
accountable. having defined the military interests and objectives, we also must examine the risks and consequences. as we all know, there are always risks in taking action. there are also risks with inaction. the assad regime under increasing pressure by the syrian opposition could feel empowered to carry out even more devastating chemical weapons attacks. chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians and inflict the worst kind of indiscripple nature suffering as we have seen. a refusal to act would undermine the credibility of america's other security commitments including the president's commitment to prevent iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. the word of the united states must mean something. it is vital currency in foreign
relations and international and allied commitments. every witness here today at this table, secretary kerry, general dempsey and myself, as secretary kerry as noted has served in uniform, fought in war and seen its ugly realities up close. we understand that a country faces few decisions as grave as using military force. we are not unaware of the costs and the ravages of war, but we also understand that america must protect its people and its national interests. that is our highest responsibility. all of us who had the privilege and responsibility of serving this great nation hold the american people and especially those wearing the uniform of our country a vigorous debate on how america should respond to the horrific chemical weapons attack in syria. i know everyone on this
committee agrees and takes their responsibility of office just as seriously as the president and everyone at this table. chairman, thank you. >> thank you, mr. secretary. we also appreciate general dempsey being with us today to answer any members' questions, and if i could go secretary kerry to you for a question, something i referenced in my opening statement. other countries are watching. as i understand it, the administration and you, as a matter of fact, have been in contact with the governments in discussions with south korea, with turkey, with saudi arabia, with israel and i've read several others in the press. i was going to ask you the communications that you're having. what are they communicating to you about this incident, when you talk to these governments?
>> mr. chairman, i'm very happy to share that with you. let me just say at the outset i mentioned an e-mail i got coming in. the same news outlet, reuters, has now said that the syrian government is saying that the defection hasn't taken place, so who knows whether it has or hasn't. what i do know is this. the intelligence is very clear, and in other settings i urge you to go and look at it. there are currently defections taking place. i think there's something like 60 to 100 in the last day or so, officers and enlisted personnel. there are serious questions taking place among the so-called elite of syria about whether or not bashar al assad has kind of
run the table here too far, and that there are serious questions about the future. i just put that on the table for you to think about. >> we understand it, but the views of south korea and the views of government of turkey. >> we have reached out to over 100 countries. we continue to reach out to these countries. 53 countries or organizations have acknowledged that chemical weapons were used, and 37 of them have said so publicly. that will grow as the evidence that we released yesterday becomes more prevalent. i will be meeting with the foreign ministers of europe, 28 foreign ministers on saturday. this will clearly be a topic of discussion. many of them have had reservations waiting for the evidence, so i see many more countries joining.
31 countries or organizations have stated publicly or privately that the assad regime is responsible for this attack, and that was before our evidence package was put together and 34 countries or organizations have indicated that if the allegations prove to be true, they would support some form of action against syria.