State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf let the “cat out of the bag” Wednesday when she admitted to reporters that the U.S. government is not sure whether President Bashar Assad ordered the chemical attack that led to the deaths of hundreds of people last week.
United Nations inspectors had arrived in Syria just days before the chemical attack took place, leaving many foreign affairs experts and intelligence officials perplexed as to why Assad would order such an attack and face the wrath of the international community.
Harf staunchly defended any impending U.S. airstrikes on Syria as she was being grilled by reporters.
When asked by a reporter, “Do you believe (Assad) ordered this attack?” Harf responded, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
She noted that it is Assad who is essentially responsible for his regime, regardless of whether a rogue officer ordered the attack or not.
Foreign Policy’s The Cable reported Tuesday that U.S. officials are basing their assessment that the Assad regime is responsible for the attack off a phone call intercepted by U.S. intelligence. According to the report, a Ministry of Defense official was demanding answers of a commander in charge of a chemical weapons site about the attack.
Other U.S. officials told TheBlaze that the rockets and delivery systems used in the chemical strike and the location from which the attacks were launched “point to Assad’s regime.”
Read Harf’s full exchange with reporters at Wednesday’s briefing below:
QUESTION: I wonder if you could flesh that out for us a bit, because as you know, in the deployment of a chemical weapons or a chemical weapon or munitions armed with chemical weapons, there are several layers through which an order has to proceed. And I wonder if you are telling us that you believe that President Assad himself maintains full control, command and control, over the chemical weapons arsenal, or whether you think that that control is exercised at some mid level. Tell us what you mean when you say you think the regime maintains full control.
MS. HARF: It’s a good question, and I don’t have a lot of information about that for you. If I can share more about that, I will. I think I’d make a few points, that we ultimately, of course, hold President Assad responsible for the use of chemical weapons by his regime against his own people, regardless of where the command and control lies. I don’t have more details for you on that specifically. Obviously, we’ve said that the regime maintains control of these weapons and that the opposition, of course, doesn’t have the capability to use them. And if I have more to share with you about the specific command and control, I will. I just don’t at this time.
QUESTION: Do you believe that he ordered this attack?
MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.
QUESTION: If he – but if he or his people didn’t have anything – I don’t understand how you can say it doesn’t matter where the command and control lies.
MS. HARF: I didn’t say it doesn’t matter. He is ultimately held responsible for the actions of his regime.
QUESTION: Of his regime.
QUESTION: Regardless –
MS. HARF: Regardless.
QUESTION: Regardless of whether he –
MS. HARF: Right.
QUESTION: — said –
MS. HARF: Not that it doesn’t matter.
QUESTION: How can you hold him accountable regardless of where the command and control is? If the command and control doesn’t rest within him or his people below him in the food chain, how do you hold him responsible?
MS. HARF: Well, let’s be clear. The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if command and control – he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, “Go,” on this. And again, I don’t know what the facts are here. I’m just, broadly speaking, saying that he is responsible for the actions of his regime. I’m not intimately familiar with the command and control structure of the Syrian military. I’m just not. But again, he is responsible ultimately for the decisions that are made.
QUESTION: So it doesn’t matter to you whether he personally gave the order? It doesn’t –
MS. HARF: He is responsible at the same level –
QUESTION: It doesn’t matter –
MS. HARF: — either way.
QUESTION: It doesn’t – either way, depending on –
MS. HARF: And again, I just actually don’t know the facts here.
QUESTION: Just let me make sure I understand.
QUESTION: What do you mean by “either way”?
QUESTION: Just let me make sure I understand. It does not matter whether President Assad himself gave an order to use chemical weapons?
MS. HARF: He is responsible for their use.
QUESTION: It doesn’t matter; is that correct?
MS. HARF: He is responsible either way, yes.
QUESTION: So if some rogue officer did this, it’s still his responsibility?
MS. HARF: That’s – well, (a) yes. But that’s also a wildly conjecturous question that I think in no way there’s –
QUESTION: I’ll stick with –
MS. HARF: — evidence that’s supporting it right now.
QUESTION: I’ll stick with (a), but thank you.
(H/T: Foreign Policy)