U.N. team takes samples from Syria gas victims

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
August 26, 2013

Western powers consider military strikes on Syria, jury to decide Fort Hood shooter’s fate, and a German paper reports more U.S. spying. Today is Monday, August 26, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.


United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transport a team of U.N. chemical weapons experts to the scene of a reported poison gas attack outside the Syrian capital last week, in Damascus, August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

U.N. team on the scene of reported chemical attack – five days later. Chemical weapons inspectors drove through sniper fire on Monday to collect samples from victims of last week’s apparent poison gas attack in Syria. The team on Sunday received permission from the Syrian government to enter the site, but the U.S. said evidence was likely to have been destroyed already by shelling. However, the U.N.’s findings could be pivotal in determining whether international forces take military action against Syria:

With Western powers considering military strikes, despite vocal opposition from Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies, any evidence to support rebel claims that government forces fired gas-laden rockets five days ago that killed hundreds of civilians will be a key element in arguments for peace or war… With speculation mounting that NATO powers might fire cruise missiles to satisfy calls for action to protect Syrian civilians, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said any operation would be coordinated with allies… “The United States is looking at all options regarding the situation in Syria. We’re working with our allies and the international community,” Hagel told a news conference. “We are analyzing the intelligence. And we will get the facts. And if there is any action taken, it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification.”

A diplomat from the U.S. State Department is scheduled to meet with a Russian delegation in The Hague next week to discuss plans for a Syria peace conference that was proposed months ago. Russia has backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s claim that his government did not carry out gas attacks, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today warned Western powers against using military force, adding that Russia has “no plans to go to war with anyone.” A Reuters/Ipsos poll also found 60 percent of U.S. citizens opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria.

U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan is pictured in court in Fort Hood, Texas in this August 23, 2013, court sketch. REUTERS/ Brigitte Woosley

Fort Hood shooter faces fate. After convicting a U.S. Army psychiatrist of killing 13 soldiers and injuring another 31  in a 2009 shooting spree, a military jury will determine whether to sentence him to death:

The same jury of 13 military officers on Friday convicted Major Nidal Hasan on all 45 charges of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder and will now consider his punishment. Prosecutors are due to put on evidence in the penalty phase of the trial starting at 9 a.m. CDT (1400 GMT). More than a dozen witnesses are expected to testify. If the jury is unanimous, Hasan could face the death penalty by lethal injection, possibly making him the first U.S. soldier to be executed by the U.S. military since 1961.

Hasan confessed to the murders, saying he wanted to be a martyr and that he had switched sides in what he called a U.S. war on Islam. He is acting as his own defense lawyer.

A delegate leaves the United Nations Building in New York, July 29, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Espionage, “yay!” German newspaper Der Spiegel reported on Sunday that the NSA bugged U.N. headquarters in New York, spying on the EU and the IAEA, among other groups, according to secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden:

In the summer of 2012, NSA experts succeeded in getting into the U.N. video conferencing system and cracking its coding system, according one of the documents cited by Der Spiegel. “The data traffic gives us internal video teleconferences of the United Nations (yay!),” Der Spiegel quoted one document as saying, adding that within three weeks the number of decoded communications rose to 458 from 12. Internal files also show the NSA spied on the EU delegation in New York after it moved to new rooms in autumn 2012. Among the documents copied by Snowden from NSA computers are plans of the EU mission, its IT infrastructure and servers.

The documents show the NSA runs a “Special Collection Service” that keeps secret tabs on more than 80 embassies and consulates throughout the world. According to Der Spiegel, the information is “intensive and well organized and has little or nothing to do with warding off terrorists.” The revelation could further damage ties between Washington and its allies, already strained by Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s spying tactics.

Nota Bene: Japan may dip into its reserve budget to fight Fukushima’s toxic leak.

Standouts:

Swiss “sex boxes” - Drive-through prostitution parks hit Zurich. (Associated Press)

Pick or pay - A British report says first-time eligible voters who skip their civic duty should pay a fine. (The Guardian)

Bo-wled over - Eurasia Group’s David Gordon and Nicholas Consonery explain Bo Xilai’s real legacy. (Reuters)

All’s fair - Two Kenyan men sign an agreement to “marry” the same woman. (BBC)

Say cheese - People pose before a fake skyline in Hong Kong to avoid hazy shots. (The Atlantic Cities)

From the File:

  • Italy’s center left rejects Berlusconi “blackmail.”
  • Prosecutors demand severe punishment for Bo Xilai.
  • Chinese government says economy shows signs of stabilization.
  • Karzai stresses need for Pakistan’s help in Taliban peace talks.
  • Ex-Maoist fighters join army in Nepal.
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