Air Strikes in Syria Are Illegal: Not A Big Deal, Say The Pundits


I’m a big fan of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a news agency that helps journalists link up with analysts and experts who don’t parrot government talking points. With two decades of work under its belt, IPA is one of the best places to go for information these days now that the mainstream has become largely an echo chamber.

On Saturday, Sam Husseini tweeted out this item run by IPA about how weapons inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were on the ground in Syria, trying to figure out the nature of this latest chemical weapons incident.

Husseini credited Noam Chomsky with bringing the matter to his attention:

Image by DonkeyHotey. License: CC BY 2.0

Civil wars are brutal, monstrous affairs that bring out the absolute worst in the leaders of countries and Bashar al-Assad certainly is no exception to that rule. In a recent interview with Ben Norton on The Real News, Dr. Alfred De Zayas, a professor of law in Geneva and the UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, said “Assad has been winning this war with conventional weapons. Very cruelly. There have been enormous numbers of civilians killed.”

Nonetheless, he added, “whatever activities the United States is having in Syria at present are incompatible, both with the United Nations Charter and with customary international law.”

Maybe IPA, Chomsky and De Zayas are too far outside the mainstream for you?  What’s pretty remarkable is that the illegality of the strikes — which appear to have achieved very little — is not really subject to debate.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, who worked at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, stated the case rather clearly in this tweet:

I believe that the U.S., U.K, & France did the right thing by striking Syria over chemical weapons. It will not stop the war nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors. It is illegal under international law. But it at least draws a line somewhere & says enough. said there was “no apparent domestic or international legal authority for the strikes.” Its article said:

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian claimed that the air strikes were “legitimate” without purporting to defend them as lawful. The “illegal but legitimate” defense has been tossed around since Kosovo. It is often presented as a legal argument, but it is not. It is a claim that illegal behavior can nonetheless, in some circumstances, be legitimate. But legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. If “illegal but legitimate” becomes an accepted principle, then the Charter’s limits become meaningless. Nations that do not share Western conceptions of legitimacy could justify uses of force based on their own conceptions of legitimacy. In short, “illegal but legitimate” implies no legal limits on the use of force.

You’d think this would be a focus of coverage, but unfortunately it’s left to non-mainstream outfits like IPA to call this to attention.

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