Six months ago on December 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary School, leaving 26 dead, including 20 young children. Reuters photographers share their experience covering the story that devastated Newtown, Connecticut and the rest of the country. Photography by Lucas Jackson, Adrees Latif, Joshua Lott, Michelle McLoughlin, Mike Segar, Shannon Stapleton and Eric Thayer.
The White House concluded on Thursday that, based on intelligence reports, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons on a “small scale” against rebel fighters.
Syria’s civil war has caused the deaths of more than 93,000 people, if not up to 120,000 people, according to many humanitarian groups monitoring the situation. 1.5 million people are considered refugees of the war.
Meanwhile, the White House estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Chemical weapons were considered the “red line” that Assad would need to cross before the White House promised to considerably increase military support for rebel groups.
President Obama is expected to discuss the Syria crisis at G8 meetings next week; Syria peace talks are scheduled for July.
“Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year” — Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser
“This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the Supreme Military Council (SMC) than what we have provided before” — Rhodes
The Supreme Military Council is the military wing of the main civilian opposition group.
Photo: boys walk in Deir al-Zor, Syria, on May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Statement by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes on Syrian Chemical Weapons Use
U.S. White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 13, 2013
At the President’s direction, the United States Government has been closely monitoring the potential use of chemical weapons within Syria. Following the assessment made by our intelligence community in April, the President directed the intelligence community to seek credible and corroborated information to build on that assessment and establish the facts with some degree of certainty. Today, we are providing an updated version of our assessment to Congress and to the public.
The Syrian government’s refusal to grant access to the United Nations to investigate any and all credible allegations of chemical weapons use has prevented a comprehensive investigation as called for by the international community. The Assad regime could prove that its request for an investigation was not just a diversionary tactic by granting the UN fact finding mission immediate and unfettered access to conduct on-site investigations to help reveal the truth about chemical weapons use in Syria. While pushing for a UN investigation, the United States has also been working urgently with our partners and allies as well as individuals inside Syria, including the Syrian opposition, to procure, share, and evaluate information associated with reports of chemical weapons use so that we can establish the facts and determine what took place.
Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year. Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information. The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete. While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades. We believe that the Assad regime maintains control of these weapons. We have no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.
The body of information used to make this intelligence assessment includes reporting regarding Syrian officials planning and executing regime chemical weapons attacks; reporting that includes descriptions of the time, location, and means of attack; and descriptions of physiological symptoms that are consistent with exposure to a chemical weapons agent. Some open source reports from social media outlets from Syrian opposition groups and other media sources are consistent with the information we have obtained regarding chemical weapons use and exposure. The assessment is further supported by laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. Each positive result indicates that an individual was exposed to sarin, but it does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination.
We are working with allies to present a credible, evidentiary case to share with the international community and the public. Since the creation of the UN fact finding mission, we have provided two briefings to Dr. Åke Sellström, the head of the mission. We will also be providing a letter to UN Secretary General Ban, calling the UN’s attention to our updated intelligence assessment and specific incidents of alleged chemical weapons use. We request that the UN mission include these incidents in its ongoing investigation and report, as appropriate, on its findings. We will present additional information and continue to update Dr. Sellström as new developments emerge.
The President has been clear that the use of chemical weapons – or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups – is a red line for the United States, as there has long been an established norm within the international community against the use of chemical weapons. Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria. The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has. Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime’s escalation of horrific violence against its citizens. Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC), and we will be consulting with Congress on these matters in the coming weeks. This effort is aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the SMC, and helping to coordinate the provision of assistance by the United States and other partners and allies. Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the SMC. These efforts will increase going forward.
The United States and the international community have a number of other legal, financial, diplomatic, and military responses available. We are prepared for all contingencies, and we will make decisions on our own timeline. Any future action we take will be consistent with our national interest, and must advance our objectives, which include achieving a negotiated political settlement to establish an authority that can provide basic stability and administer state institutions; protecting the rights of all Syrians; securing unconventional and advanced conventional weapons; and countering terrorist activity.
An explosion tore through a chemical plant in Geismar, Louisiana on Thursday, injuring 33 people. The blast created a huge fireball and column of smoke when it hit. About 600 people were working at the plant at the time; the fire was still burning three hours later, state police said.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities.
Photos: Helicopter photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman; blast picture by Ryan Meador via Reuters
Speaking at a hearing before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on government surveillance programs and training, Alexander warned that the U.S. infrastructure is highly vulnerable to attack.
Alexander stated that top-secret U.S. surveillance programs have helped to prevent “dozens” of potential terrorist events.
(Photo REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
Rescued: Mexico’s army announced it rescued 165 kidnapped people last week. The kidnapped persons are mostly Central Americans, and include children and pregnant women. They were held captive in a house less than a mile from the U.S. border.
“Everything indicates that these migrants were contacted by human traffickers … and these criminals handed them over to criminal gangs instead of taking them to the border,” Mexico government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said.
The group was rescued on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.
The state of Tamaulipas has been plagued by kidnappings and violence in recent years. It is the site of a turf war between two major drug cartels.
In 2010, Mexico’s Marines found 72 bodies in a ranch near the U.S. border, thought to be the remains of murdered migrant workers. Mexico’s drug war has killed an estimated nearly 75,000 people since 2006.
Drug cartels are kidnapping migrants and extorting money from them or forcing them to carry drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gun crime plunges, though most Americans think it has risen
Some 11,101 gun-related homicides were reported in the United States in 2011, a figure that is down 39 percent from the 1993 peak, the Justice Department reported. Nonfatal firearm crimes declined by 69 percent to 467,300 in the same period.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for two gay marriage cases, DOMA and Prop 8, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Join us today for a live Q&A chat, 12PM - 1PM ET. You can also join us tomorrow and Wednesday for live coverage outside the steps of the Supreme Court.
Photo: REUTERS/Allison Joyce
U.S. court of appeals agrees to remove judge who had been overseeing case against accused mobster James “Whitey” Bulgerove judge who had been overseeing case against accused mobster James “Whitey” Bulger
You may better know Bulger from the movie “The Departed” which was loosely based on Whitey, with Jack Nicholson playing the part of Bulger.