by Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker, Washington Post, 9/5/13
“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.”
— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, remarks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Sept. 4, 2013
In making the case for missile attacks on Syria over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, the secretary of state sought to place Syrian President Assad in a rare category: “tyrants” who have used chemical weapons.
We might quibble with the phrase “brightest line,” as some might argue that nuclear weapons would be even more heinous. And, though we unsuccessfully sought clarification from the State Department, we presume the other two “tyrants” are Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (who used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and Kurdish villagers) and Adolf Hitler (who used gas in concentration camps, but notably not on the battlefield, during World War II.) As Kerry put it, ”history — I think everyone here knows — holds nothing but infamy for those criminals.”
But Kerry’s claim is incomplete. There are at least three more instances of chemical weapons use since the signing of the Geneva Protocol in 1925 — a treaty spurred by the horrors of chemical weapons use during World War I, when nearly 100,000 soldiers were killed and 1 million wounded through such weapons.
We consulted with Jeffery K. Smart, a military historian who has written extensively on the use of chemical weapons. “There have definitely been chemical weapons used in other instances,” he said.
First, in 1934, Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia and used chemical weapons, such as mustard bombs, despite having signed and ratified the Geneva Accord. Emperor Haile Selassie told the League of Nations that there were “tens of thousands” of victims, including women and children, but the League did nothing and the Ethiopian forces were routed….
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See also at The Fact Checker “History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons,” 9/4/13