The Fist in a Velvet Glove: Hardened Humanitarianism

By David Crane

(Re-published from Jurist | April 21, 2017) The cornerstone to the UN paradigm is to settle disputes peacefully, using force only as a last resort. Yet, restoring international peace and security sometimes requires a hardened approach to ensure that peace and security.

“This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria.”

There are decades of international treaties, custom, and precedent that support what I call hardened humanitarianism. When we have to deal with a tyrant, thug, dictator, or rogue head of state who turns on his own citizens, the international community or a member state of that community should step forward with a clear and firm position—stop it or force will be used.

A tyrant only understands one thing—power. When he feels the sting of consequence for his actions that tyrant begins to focus on that use of force against him. The use of this more hardened approach in using force to stop a tyrant’s actions will cause that tyrant to pause, to consider his next steps.

Appeasement in the face of tyranny never works. History is replete with anecdotal evidence of this from the Armenian genocide to the Sudetenland. A hardened policy of seeking a peaceful dialog with the assurance of a forceful resolution, should that dialog fail, makes for a more meaningful discourse.

Our international legal and policy system has drawn lines related to protecting civilians in a conflict and banning certain type of weapons systems per se. Most, if not all, states parties have signed onto these norms. We don’t have to be histrionic when a tyrant ignores these clear lines beating our chests with empty words. When that tyrant steps over a line hit them hard, use force, show the world there are consequences!

US action against Al Qaeda after they attacked the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are examples of facing down the lawless elements of our society under the international legal concept of reprisal. In 2005 the world came together to create a doctrine that laid down a marker that declared that the international community has a right to step in to block a tyrant or head of state who is turning against his own citizens committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the doctrine was a clarion call to arms should there be alleged violations of international law.

Unfortunately, R2P has fallen short of the ideal based on the political perception that it is a doctrine that can be easily used by various powers against weaker nation states for alleged violations. Despite this the principle idea of this responsibility to protect citizens from their own leaders remains.

The long and tragic kaleidoscopic conflict that is Syria has now gone beyond peaceful resolution. A hardened sense of humanity calls for continued cruise missiles strikes and other military action every time Assad crosses the lines laid out under international norms. Kaleidoscopic conflict is fast becoming a new concept in the dirty little wars of the 21st century. Old doctrines for war fighting and the legal set of rules that surround warfare that have been tested over time are being challenged at all levels. Just when planners think there is a viable course of action developing related to a conflict, such as in Syria, one thing changes and everything changes, hence the term kaleidoscopic. This impacts on what is called the deliberate planning cycle in modern parlance throwing out how international and domestic organizations plan for and deal with conflict on a day to day basis.

At the end of the day we are beginning to face situations where there is no solution under current policy and doctrine. This gives us pause as to how to advise world leaders in dealing with any given conflict. This pause can allow a tragedy, such as in Syria, to go on and on without any foreseeable ending.

These dirty little wars have a direct impact on how parties to a conflict deal with civilians found in and around the battlefield. One of the key cornerstone concepts of the international humanitarian law is that civilians are to be protected and that the intentional targeting of a civilian is a war crime plain and simple. We see around the globe today parties to a conflict flagrantly ignoring this key legal concept. With no apparent repercussion to these attacks on civilians, actors move about the battlefield with impunity. Again this is the conflict in Syria, but can be seen also in the fighting in South Sudan. This is why a more hardened approach to our humanitarian principle of using force where legally appropriate will cause actors to pause and reconsider wholesale destruction in any given conflict.

This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria. States parties who for whatever reason give that tyrant support should also be dealt with for their aiding and abetting of international crimes with legal sanctions …

To read the full article, click here.


Building a Case: CNYCentral Features Syrian Accountability Project

Syrian Accountability Project: Matt’s Memo

(CNYCentral | April 19, 2017) When Syrian President Assad ordered the Sarin Gas attack on his people April 4th word quickly spread around the world of the suffering. The video of children struggling to survive captured America’s attention. The act and those pictures prompted the Trump Administration to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea.

That chemical attack also triggered a protocol set in place by Professor David Crane of the Syrian Accountability Project. He instructed his team of highly engaged graduate students to compile a White Paper that described the Sarin gas attack. The report would gather first hand accounts from Syria. It would sample media coverage, gather official statements. It would cite legal standards such as the Pro Se ban of the use of Sarin gas under the 1925 Geneva accords.

The Syrian Accountability Project is doing work on the Syracuse University campus that is not being done anywhere else in the world. Every day a group of more than 40 students at the Syracuse University College of Law pour through materials related to the fighting, the atrocities and the human struggle in Syria. They have been building a case of crimes against humanity over the last six years …

To read the whole story, click here.

Zachary Lucas (LAW ’17) is Executive Director of the Syrian Accountability Project.

Syrian Accountability Project Releases New Report on April 4 Chemical Attack in Khan Sheikhoun

The Syrian Accountability Project, an initiative at Syracuse College of Law, is unveiling new evidence that the catastrophic gas attack of the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was a crime against humanity and a war crime.

“Our aim is to provide future prosecutors with a database of evidence that will help the Syrian people seek justice for these crimes after the war concludes.”

The 45-member organization, staffed by College of Law students and led by Professor David Crane, a former war crimes prosecutor, has released its latest white paper, Idlib Left Breathless: A Report on the Chemical Attack in Khan Sheikhoun.”

The paper details the April 4, 2017, attack that killed at least 87 people and injured more than 500. The paper offers compelling evidence that the gas used in the attack was the nerve agent sarin, one of the most potent and fast-acting chemical weapons, banned under international law ever since the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

“This white paper continues the Syrian Accountability Project’s careful analysis of war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed by all sides during the six-year-long Syrian Civil War, a list of horrors that beyond the use of chemical weapons also includes the torture of prisoners, siege of cities, denial of humanitarian aid, rape and deliberate targeting of civilian populations,” says Crane. “Our aim is to provide future prosecutors with a database of evidence that will help the Syrian people seek justice for these crimes after the war concludes. To this end, we will send this and other analyses to the newly created United Nations Syrian Accountability Center, which was formed with my help in December 2016.”

The white paper’s sources include first-hand accounts of the chemical attack, subsequent news reports from both local and international news agencies, and other open-source materials. The Syrian government denies that it launched the attack.

The chemical attack happened at 6 a.m. on April 4 when two or three aerial strikes occurred on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, located in northwestern Syria, a stronghold of anti-Assad forces. People reported choking and gasping for air, and first responders reported people lying on the ground and convulsing, symptoms that are consistent with the use of a nerve agent such as sarin.

Specifically, sarin gas targets a body’s neurotransmitters, and even in small doses it can quickly cause respiratory failure due to lung paralysis. Unlike chlorine gas, a powerful irritant that also has been reportedly used during the Syrian Civil War, sarin is lethal even when dispersed outdoors. Images from the attack, including the deaths of young children, shocked the world, and they were the catalyst for the United States government to reverse its current policy toward directly targeting the Assad Regime by launching 59 missiles on April 7 at the Syrian air force base where the attack was unleashed.

The white paper was written by College of Law students Kaitlyn Degnan, Andrew Dieselman, Kseniia Guliaeva, Casey Kooring, Sean Mills, Zachary Lucas and Colin Tansits. Further support for the project came from Newhouse School Associate Professor Ken Harper, first director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement. Margaret Mabie was responsible for the graphic design of the paper.

This is not the first white paper detailing crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Syrian Accountability Project. In 2016, the project released the groundbreaking “Looking Through the Window Darkly, a Snapshot Analysis of Rape in Syria, 2011-2015,” which analyzed 142 sexual crimes perpetrated by all sides in the Syrian Civil War and which revealed that the Syrian Regime perpetrated 62 percent of the total incidents.

INSCT Experts Discuss Syrian Airstrike with The Daily Orange

Experts disagree over implications of recent U.S. airstrike in Syria

(The Daily Orange | April 18, 2017) Experts are at odds over the effectiveness and repercussions of a recent United States airstrike in the war-torn nation of Syria that was ordered by President Donald Trump.

“Elman said this lack of enforcement from the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness around the world.”

Trump ordered the strike in response to a chemical attack that occurred in northern Syria in early April.

The strike has affected the United States’ relations with regional powers in the Middle East such as Iran, and has escalated tensions with Russia. Some experts at Syracuse University have differing stances on how the strike will impact U.S. relations in the coming weeks, as the six-year conflict in Syria continues to drag on.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under international humanitarian law because once the weapons are released on the battlefield, there is the possibility civilians can indiscriminately be killed along with targeted combatants.

Some see the airstrike Trump ordered as a step in the right direction because it is retaliating against chemical attacks, said Corri Zoli, an assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Since World War I, international law has condemned the use of gas in warfare, Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science from the Maxwell School, said in an email.

“In 1919, the Versailles Treaty forbade the use of poison gas; in 1925 the League of Nations approved the Geneva Protocol which bans the use of chemical and biological weapons,” Elman said.

This is the U.S.’s first direct military strike against the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime. Experts agree that the lack of direct military action until now might be due to decisions made by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Zoli said the previous administration had a foreign policy aim of retreating from the Middle East. Even though atrocities were also being committed during that time, Obama had preferred to not intervene against a sovereign state in the region, she said.

Even though Obama had previously said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would lead to serious consequences for the regime, no meaningful actions were taken against the regime, Elman said.

Elman said this lack of enforcement from the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness around the world. It also contributed to the erosion of international laws and norms because people stopped believing that members of the international community would put restraints on chemical warfare, Zoli added.

Zoli said rather than more direct military attacks in the future, she expects to see more work done behind the scenes to get local governments in the nation to help put the “Syrian pieces back together.” She added that the possibility of resettlement for Syrian civilians driven from their homes might more of a priority in the future …

To read the whole article, click here.


Video: Assad’s Chemical Attacks and the US Response: The Operational, Strategic, and Legal Context

On April 10, 2017, three international law and policy experts discussed the operational, strategic, and legal context of the recent Sarin gas attack on his own people by Bashar Assad of Syria and the response by US President Donald J. Trump, a missile strike against a Syrian airfield.

The standing-room-only, interdisciplinary audience heard from William C. Banks, Director, INSCT; Robert B. Murrett, Deputy Director, INSCT; and University Professor James B. Steinberg.

After an overview of the incident’s law, policy, and military aspects, students’ questions ranged from the legality of the action under international law, to what response Russia will choose, to whether or not the US Congress will create a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force to address US humanitarian action in Syria.

Covered in Dust, Veiled by Shadow: Siege & Destruction of Aleppo

Syrian Accountability Project Event
Date: Thursday, April 27, 2017
Time: 10 a.m-12 p.m
Location: Newhouse 3, Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium
A white paper release, information session, and panel discussion on key crimes that happened during the Siege of Aleppo, Syria, and what is next for the city that fell in December 2016 and its people.

Assad Is Under Pressure: Robert B. Murrett Talks to CNY Central

Local national security expert weighs in on the attacks in Syria

(CNY Central | April 7, 2016) Right now, the United States is looking into whether Russia participated in the Syrian chemical weapons attack that provoked the airstrikes Thursday night.

It’s a revelation that could have dramatic implications.

One day after the attacks, CNYCentral is bringing in a new perspective with Vice Admiral Robert Murrett, a former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and a professor at Syracuse University.

CBS5’s Michael Benny asked Murrett some complex questions to give the community a better understanding of what exactly happened.

We started out asking why the Syrian government used a chemical gas attack on Syrians?

Murrett’s response: “There is no excuse for that, we have a responsibility to look after things like that in any country, when the leader of a nation goes after his own people with such a horrific type of weapon, then certainly the international community needs to respond and be aware of that.”

The next question we brought to the table was what is possibly going on in Syria that would cause such a thing to happen?

“The president of Syria is under a lot of pressure from the people, I think he was trying to send a message perhaps that he was still strong,” Murrett responded …

To read the whole story, click here.

Resetting the International Norm: Corri Zoli Analyzes Syrian Missile Strikes With KCBS

Syrian Opposition Leader Hopes US Strike ‘Beginning Of The End’ Of Civil War

(KCBS (San Francisco) | April 7, 2017) A representative for the Syrian opposition says he hopes the cruise missile attack ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump against Syria helps bring about the end of a brutal six-year civil war.

“At its best, this strike resets the international norm against use of Chemical Weapons which the Obama Administration let lapse.”

“We see it as the beginning of the end of the Syrian war,” Najib Ghadbian told CBS San Francisco Friday. Ghadbian is the Syrian National Coalition’s U.S. representative and grew up in Syria before fleeing at the age of 19.

Ghadbian describes his job as a “troublemaker for the Syrian regime.”

The Syrian National Coalition was recognized by the U.S. and others in 2013. Ghadbian is also part of the United Nations High Negotiations Committee.
“Of course we welcome that,” Ghadbian said of the strikes carried out by the U.S. military Thursday (which was early Friday in Syria).

“It’s really the first response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” he said.
“Our hope is that it will not stop there … we hope it will progress into the protection of civilians … and lead to political transition without Assad,” Ghadbian said …

… Academics who have been watching the human rights abuses unfold in Syria for decades were fascinated by what appeared to be a lightning-fast foreign policy decision by the Trump administration …

… Dr. Corri Zoli with the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University told CBS San Francisco that most members of Congress who have been making public statements about the strike have supported the President, even Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-San Francisco)  and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who have been staunch critics of the Trump agenda. She said most U.S. allies have also come out in support of the U.S. missile attacks.

“At its best, this strike resets the international norm against use of Chemical Weapons which the Obama Administration let lapse, gives the beleaguered citizens of the Middle East hope that strong powers will not tolerate these outrageous human rights brutalities against poor civilians … At its worst, this strike could cause larger fights with Russia and Iran …” Zoli said …

To read the whole article, click here.

International Law Allows Syria Reprisal: David M. Crane Speaks to WAER

Syracuse Law Professor Endorses Legality of U.S. Missile Strikes Against Syria

(WAER | April 7, 2017) The chemical attack in Syria is being called a crime on humanity by a Syracuse University International law expert, who says from a moral aspect Bashar al-Assad needs to be stopped. Thursday night, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria as a response to the chemical weapon attack.  Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane says from a legal perspective international law does allow the United States’ reprisal.

“From a practical, political point of view, the U.S. needed to be seen as a player in this part of the world.”

“From a practical, political point of view, the U.S. needed to be seen as a player in this part of the world. It had not been a player for many, many years particularly when President Obama had essentially pulled us out of the situation by drawing that line in the sand and then doing nothing when gas was last used against the Syrian people.”

Crane is also the founder of an international organization that operates out of Syracuse University called the Syrian Accountability Project. He says they have been monitoring war crimes there since 2011. Over 55 law students have been involved in creating a trial packet for a future international prosecutor, an effort recognized by the United Nations.  Crane says they’re drafting indictments for all 13 warring parties, including an indictment against Assad.

 “We have an indictment against President Assad which we modify over time and adjust based on the crimes he’s been committing, and certainly the incident that took place this week will be one of the center points in his indictment.”

Crane says the United States action could break the ice and force Russia and Iran to take action. On the other hand, now that the U.S. has proven to be a player in the region; they might have Russia, Iran, or Assad looking over their shoulders.
”There’s going to be consequences now and even though the U.N. paradigm says that we only use force as a last resort, we try to settle our disputes peacefully; at the end of the day, sometimes the use of force is required to cause another nation state to stop killing their own citizens” …

To read the whole story and listen to segments, click here.


“Not Much of a Legal Explanation”: William C. Banks Speaks to Bloomberg About Syrian Airstrikes

Trump Syria Strikes Could Violate UN Laws, Constitution

(Bloomberg Radio | April 7, 2017) Michael Glennon, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and William Banks, Director or the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University Law School, discuss the constitutionality of President Trump’s attacks on a Syrian airbase, after Syrian forces used chemical weapons in an attack earlier in the week. They speak with Greg Stohr and Michael Best on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law.”