Renowned American investigative reporter Seymour Hersh carried out a meticulous investigation into the cruise missile strike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase ordered by President Trump on April 6, in retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, which was reported to have killed over 70 people, and injured more than 550, many of them civilians. The jihadist forces and their allies in that town claimed the attack with chemical weapons had been ordered by President Assad, a claim massively spread by international media and on the basis of which Trump ordered the cruise missile attack.
But the conclusion of Hersh’s investigation, published in English and German by Die Welt on June 25, is that “the U.S. intelligence community” had found “no evidence that the Syrians [the regular army] had used a chemical weapon,” and they presented their findings to the White House, which then apparently ignored them.
Hersh reports that the Russians had passed on intelligence that there would be a high-level jihadi meeting in a particular building in Khan Sheikhoun on that particular day, and that they were working with the Syrian air force to destroy that site while the meeting was underway, including with the use of guided weapons. The Americans involved in that coordination effort ridiculed the notion that the Russians would help the Syrians drop a chemical weapon on the town. If sarin were loaded on the plane, people at the air base would have been wearing protective gear.
After the attack, a team from Médecins sans Frontière said that alleged victims at different hospitals far from Khan Sheikhoun showed symptoms of exposure to a range of chemicals, including those consistent with chemicals used in pesticides and fertilizers. That would indicate that the jihadists had stored various chemicals in the warehouse cum meeting room, which the attackers were unaware of.
Seymour Hersh was unable to get his lengthy expose published anywhere, until Die Welt finally agreed to do so. No American publication would touch it and not even the London Review of Books, which had published his last two exposes on the Syrian and Iraq wars. This time, although the Review financed Hersh’s work and fact-checked the article, they would not publish it “because of concerns that the magazine would be vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments when it came to the April 4th bombing in Khan Sheikhoun.”
While the OPCW released a report June 30 claiming that sarin was the agent used in the attack, the only evidence it had was collected after the fact and examined in Turkey, i.e., far from the alleged scene of the attack. Moreover, photos reportedly on the scene show that people are wearing no protective clothing.
The primary motivation of Seymour Hersh in conducting the investigation, as he himself explains, was to prevent any future unwarranted attack on Syrian government forces, who would be wrongly accused of carrying out a chemical attack that was in fact done by jihadi forces to provoke retaliation. Indeed, on the very day after Hersh’s expose was published, White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed the Administration had evidence that Assad was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, and again threatened a “red line” would be crossed. “The salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” a senior intelligence advisor told Hersh.