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The Turkish government has strictly ruled out Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s claims that Ankara was behind the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria, while particularly referring to an earlier statement of denial on the issue by the White House. 

“It is completely lie and slander,” Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said late on April 7 in response to a question at a press conference held after a Cabinet meeting. Arınç, also the spokesperson for the government, rushed to respond the question when he noticed that it referred to Hersh’s report, without even waiting for the journalist to finish her question sentence.

Apparently prepared for the question, Arınç said he would like to read a statement on the issue which he received from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. “It is definitely not true,” Arınç quoted the statement which referred to a White House statement which was issued earlier.

Arınç cited the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s statement as underlining that, in addition to denying the claims by Hersh, the White House statement has actually confirmed the Syrian regime was behind the August 21 attack. The report is solely based on information and hearsays the sources of which could not be named by Hersh, Arınç added.

Earlier, the White House had reacted. “We have seen Mr. Hersh’s latest story, which is based solely on information from unnamed sources and which reaches conclusions about the Aug. 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack in Syria that are completely off-base,” National Security Council (NSC) Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said April 6.

In an article published by the London Review of Books, Hersh suggested the sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21 was actually carried out by Syrian rebels, acting at the behest of Turkey, for the purpose of providing a pretext for a U.S. attack on Syria. “We now know it was a covert action planned by [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s people to push [U.S. President Barack] Obama over the red line,” Hersh quoted a former intelligence official.

“Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing sarin and handling it.” the official reportedly said.

When the chemical attack took place in Syria on Aug. 21, Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing Syria, Hersh quoted a former intelligence official. “The White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as being insufficiently ‘painful’ to the al-Assad regime.”

But, Obama changed his mind and relied on Congress approval over concerns among some U.S. military and intelligence officials that the Turkish government could have supported “dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria—and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.”

The veteran journalist also suggested the attack on a U.S. consulate and CIA mission in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, which killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, is linked to the infighting over Syria.

He suggested the CIA organized the shipment of weapons stockpiles from Benghazi to the Syrian opposition.

Citing a “highly classified annex” of a report by the Senate committee that investigated the Benghazi attack, he said the document referred to “a secret agreement” reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations.

“By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for bringing arms from Gadhafi’s arsenals into Syria,” reportedly read the document.

According to the report, after the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, “The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,” the former intelligence official said, according to the report.

The White House referred to on-record rebuttals they provided to Hersh’s fact checker in advance of the publication from the ODNI Director of Communications and Spokesperson Shawn Turner and National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden.

Elaborating on the weapons moving from Libya and the suggestion that others could have been responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack which Hersh suggested, a statement by Shawn Turner refuted the claims as follows.

“We’re not going to comment on every inaccurate aspect of this narrative, but to be clear: the al-Assad regime, and only the al-Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on Aug. 21. We have made that judgment based upon intelligence collected by the United States and by our partners and allies. It is a view that is shared overwhelmingly by the international community and has led to unprecedented cooperation in the dismantling of al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  The suggestion that there was an effort to suppress or alter intelligence is simply false. Likewise, the idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.”

Turner dismissed the suggestion about a classified paper on the Syrian rebels’ chemical weapons capabilities. “No such paper was ever requested or produced by Intelligence Community analysts,” Turner stated.

Caitlin Hayden also refuted Hersh’s claims about a military plan regarding Syria.

“The notion that the President ordered our military to undertake action in Syria by a fixed deadline of Sept. 2, 2013 is completely fabricated.”

April/07/2014

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