All In   |  August 26, 2013

Kerry: 'There must be accountability'

Secretary of State John Kerry responded, in the strongest terms, to last week's evident chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on its own people.  Former Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, William Cohen, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut join Chris Hayes to discuss what looks to be inevitable U.S. military action.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening, from new york, i'm chris hayes . tonight on "all in" the white house says there is very little doubt that chemical weapons were used in syria . now the question on everyone's mind is whether the u.s. is on the eve of another war.

>>> also tonight, what happens when a right wing fringe congressman says something patently false and the world takes him seriously?

>>> plus, donald trump has a giant lawsuit on his hands over accusation he scammed thousands of people all over the country. we'll talk to someone who said she was duped out of over $10,000. those stories are ahead.

>>> we begin tonight on the doorstep of another war in the middle east . as secretary of state john kerry responded in the stronger terms to last week's evident chemical weapons attack by the syrian government on its own people.

>> the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children , and innocent bystanders , by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. the reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground like doctors without borders, and the syria human rights commission , these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real. that chemical weapons were used in syria . the president will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons . make no mistake, president obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

>> there must be accountability. earlier today, a six-car convoy carrying u.n. weapons inspectors was attacked by sniper fire. no one was hurt, but thein' te u.n. team was forced to return to a government checkpoint. the team replaced their damaged car, proceeded pop t eed to the damascus suburb to complete their investigation. the team visited two hospitals and interviewed witnesses, survivors and doctors and collected samples. last week's attack killed 355 people and about 3,600 more survivors were treated for neurotoxic symptoms, according to doctors without borders. secretary kerry made clear today the consensus has been achieved among intelligence agencies and allies that chemical weapons were used. they were deployed by the regime and killed hundreds of people. kerry said further information will be provided in the days ahead. kerry also noted syrian government was given a chance to be transparent.

>> instead, for five days, the syrian regime refused to allow the u.n. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. instead, it attacked the area further. shelling it and systemically destroying evidence. that is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide.

>> later today , white house press secretary jay carney underscored the use of chemical weapons is undeniable.

>> and the evidence that chemical weapons was used is undeniable, and the proof comes from sources well beyond the u.s. government . open sources. international organizations . witnesses on the ground.

>> carney would not speculate about a timeline for response. meanwhile, public opinion is still strongly, very strongly opposed to u.s. military intervention, even if syria used chemical weapons . a daily poll finding support of military intervention actually decreasing to 26% in favor, with 49% opposed. the question for policymakers in the white house , the president, members of congress and citizens, is now that you have a massacre in broad daylight using chemical weapons , what do you do about it? joining me is former secretary of defense in the clinton administration , william cone -- actually that's senator chris murphy we have in front of us. senator murphy, thank you -- there is william . thank you. former secretary william cone. how are you?

>> i'm well.

>> secretary cohen, my first question is from a purely technical capacity standpoint, you're in the meeting in which the president is asking you the question, okay, what are possibilities, technically speaking, for what the u.s. could do when we talk about rendering accountability here? what are we talking about? what do those look like?

>> the first question would be -- sorry, i got an echo. first issue would be, what is the mission? if you zee fine the mission clearly, can we execute successfully? what are the costs? not only in terms of money but in terms of bloodshed and also possibility of collateral damage . so these issues have to be settled early on. following that, you say, well, mr. president, you defined the mission to do what? to punish assad ? well how heavy do you want us to go or how light? is it some kind of a goldilocks scenario here? i would also warn the president or caution the president saying, once you take step one, are you prepared to take step two and three and four? because it's not enough simply to launch tomahawk missiles and hit military targets. once you do that, you can't step back and say we wash our hands of it. you're in. the question becomes, what happens if the russians decide they want to support syria more than they are today and iran does the same? and battle plan changes on the ground --

>> secretary --

>> does the united states have to do these things? all of that is involved in this kind of calculation.

>> i want you to explain that. i think that's very important. if we're talking about essentially punishment to enforce an international norm about the prohibition of chemical weapons which i think is probably an international norm we all agree to and are in favor of, what you're saying to me is some kind of distinct act of punishment, if it's a hellfire missile , a cruise missile , that the day after that you can't just do that and stop. why not?

>> well, because there's bound to be a reaction. there will certainly be a reaction by the syrian forces. it may, in fact, stimulate more iranian involvement. not only that, hezbollah coming from lebanon, which is doing today. so the president does not want to change the dynamic on the battlefield by launching any strikes. but by the same token, by launching those strikes and taking out, let's say, airfields, aircraft, air assets and others, does that change the dynamic on the ground? and if that's the case, do the russians sit on the sideline, or the iranians sit on the sideline? do they then intensify their action? so my caution is, let's make sure before you take step one that you have a battle plan involved that takes into account the contingencies and the potential escalation. also take into account that there may be some collateral damage which is a nice word for saying i'm going to kill some innocent civilians in the process.

>> in response to what we just called a moral obscenity, that's an important note as well. former secretary of defense william cohen , thank you for your time tonight.

>> pleasure to be with you.

>>> joining me now, chris murphy , democrat. in may senator murphy was one of three who voted not to arm syrian rebels, now is open to the possibility of u.s. intervention. tell me, senator, where your thinking is on this in the wake of what looks like relatively persuasive evidence we have just seen a fairly ghastly massacre in using chemical weapons ?

>> yeah, i certainly agree with the white house that it seems undeniable there was a pretty massive usage of chemical weapons , and it's absolutely unacceptable. the question here is not whether there is a will to step in and try to stop these actions. it's whether there's a way. and my worry all along has been that we are in the medium term and long term going to make the situation worse, not better. secretary cohen said it very well. a short-term targeted strike from the united states is going to prompt a reaction. possibly the usage of more chemical weapon , which, of course, will then cause us to go in a second time, a third time, and we will very quickly own the battle space there and be involved in yet another quagmire in the middle east , not to mention what comes after a revolution or the fall of assad . which is a long-term civil war . what i want here is for us to just be very sober in our understanding of what a targeted military strike means. it may mean a long-term very expensive, very costly engagement for the united states . and i fear that right now in this issue, our politics are being driven by some very legitimate short-term humanitarian concerns that may belie a much more costly endeavor in the long run.

>> i want to ask you a constitutional and legal question about role of congress in all this and read a statement from speaker john boehner about a conversation he had with the white house . this afternoon the speaker had preliminary communication with the white house about the situation in syria and potential u.s. response. the speaker made clear before any action is taken there must be -- " i'm highlighting this "meaningful consultation with members of congress as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability." is it within the four squares of the war powers act for the white house to unilaterally launch some kind of strike without a vote from congress ?

>> i think the president should come to congress here for a vote. and i think president is right to be very careful in considering his response here and the actions of the united states . but given the fact that he's taking that time, there's no argument that there isn't also enough time to come have a debate before congress . i was on the losing end of a lopsided vote. very clearly the senate is going to weigh in to give the president the ability to strike here. i think that's the wrong move. at the very least, it would be a vote by the united states congress which i think would back up the congress --

>> senator chris murphy of kentucky. thank you very much. i really appreciate it.

>>> joining me, raised in saddam hussein 's inner circle . left iraq and founded women for women international . work in war zones all over the world including in boz knee wra a and other places in the middle east . you're someone who worked in war zones who's a humanitarian, who has seen up close the ravages of war and as we think about when we look at the images which are absolutely horrifying and horrendous, what is going through your head when you look at the images and think about the possibility of increased american activity, interveenntion in the region?

>> i want to take it from a cultural perspective as an arab. this is is the first time in arab history that the arabs are seeing other arabs killing themselves. and chemical weapons and having women and children in such horrible images of that. never in our history is such --

>> the availability of the images.

>> it was kurds and iranians and happened 30 years ago, it was as outrageous, 30 years ago against the kurds and iranians , it was still the other. there's a great deal of anger that has happened in the arab world , because a line you do not touch women and do not touch children has been crossed.

>> and these images --

>> culturally.

>> -- have crossed the nation.

>> absolutely. there's an outrage of that. now, also, everyone doesn't know what to do because you have the opposition to assad 's regime are not united. and they are reflecting another kind of fight in the region. an ideological fight in the region between those who want to return the region to a religious era where everyone is going to traditions and all of these things and between those saying we can maintain our religion within a modern things. the opposition in the syrian war reflect these two tensions. so the intervention in here is not about a strike. this is about a long-term intervention.

>> some kind of kinetic action from the united states government in syria as a punishment for violating this international norm. do you think the odds of that are on the side of this -- that making the situation better and preventing future massacres of this type or making it worse?

>> well, first of all, we still need to wait for the united states to verify all of that. second of all, once the united states verifies this, this is a violation of international law so this is not only about american law , this is about international law . i think it's very important that we abide by international law . and so we have an international coalition to go into syria as opposed to a coalition of the willing as we have done in kosovo which was actually illegal. it's an illegal and international standard . if we want to restore america's image, in my opinion, in the region, we need --

>> the process internationally is important.

>> absolutely. third, we need to make sure this is not about a strike, this is about creating a coalition government on the long term, making sure there's stability in syria , no civil war .

>> the amount of appetite, domestically, politically in the united states