August 27th, 2013
02:02 PM ET

What justifies intervening if Syria uses chemical weapons?

By Tim Lister

Why does the use of chemical weapons justify international retribution with military force, in a way that two years of brutal repression with tanks and planes does not? And where in international law is the legal "cover" for such action?

If the Obama administration is planning for limited military strikes against Syria to hold the regime "accountable" - in the words of senior officials - for using chemical weapons, it is probably drafting some answers to those questions.

The president put it like this in his CNN interview last week: "If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?"

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'Red line' debate: Are chemical weapons in Syria worse than conventional attacks?
August 27th, 2013
01:58 PM ET

'Red line' debate: Are chemical weapons in Syria worse than conventional attacks?

By Josh Levs

The U.S. and international effort to respond to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria begs the question: Why intervene now, and not earlier in the civil war?

More than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, which has raged for more than two years.

There have been massacres. Populated areas have been bombed. Blasts have targeted people lining up for food at bakeries. People have been decapitated.

Millions of Syrians are displaced.

But a single, horrifying attack has crossed what U.S. President Barack Obama called a "red line." Rebel officials say more than 1,300 people, including many women and children, died recently as a result of chemical weapons.

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August 27th, 2013
10:51 AM ET

Hagel: 'We're ready to go' if order comes on Syria response

By Chris Lawrence, Jill Dougherty and Tom Cohen

With a flurry of diplomatic signals and activity, U.S. officials sought Tuesday to lay the groundwork for a possible military attack on Syria in response to last week's suspected chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry both consulted allies and indicated potential imminent action by a coalition likely to include key NATO partners and regional powers.

Days after the United States moved warships armed with cruise missiles into the region, Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that forces were ready to carry out a strike if ordered. A senior Defense Department official told CNN that any strike could be completed "within several days."

"We are ready to go, like that," Hagel told the BBC reporter.

Senior administration official:  “This one is a lot easier to figure out”
August 26th, 2013
10:09 PM ET

Senior administration official: “This one is a lot easier to figure out”

By Jim Acosta and Brianna Keilar

A senior administration official stressed U.S. President Barack Obama is on an “abbreviated timeline” for making a decision on whether to launch a military strike against Syria over its suspected use of chemical weapons.

“We see this with some urgency,” the official said.

After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that chemical weapon use by the Syrian regime was “undeniable,” the senior administration official said the United States no longer requires confirmation from United Nations weapons inspectors.

“This one is a lot easier to figure out,” the official said. “This is really obvious.” FULL POST

As it weighs options and partners, U.S. mulls legal options
August 26th, 2013
09:49 PM ET

As it weighs options and partners, U.S. mulls legal options

By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter

Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks on Syria Monday left little doubt the United States would deliver a punishing response to Syria's use of chemical weapons, calling the facts "undeniable" and warning the regime of President Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable.

Laying out a moral case for eventual military intervention, Kerry called Assad's attacks against civilians "a moral obscenity" that "should shock the conscience of the world." What is happening on the ground in Syria, Kerry said, "is real and it is compelling" and demanded a response from the international community. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Indonesia Monday, said "if there is any action taken, it will be in concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification."

The United States is examining a variety of potential legal justifications for any type of military action. While three United Nations Security Council resolutions have failed to pass because of Russian veto power, officials say some in the administration believe it may be worth it to make the effort. But with Moscow already promising to declare any military intervention illegal, the United States and its allies would likely have to act without a U.N. mandate. FULL POST

August 26th, 2013
02:59 PM ET

Missile strikes on Syria likely response to chemical attack

By Chris Lawrence, Elise Labott and Tom Cohen

Few question that there was a major chemical attack in Syria last week, and the United States has made clear that it blames the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Now, the question is how President Barack Obama will respond.

For almost two years, Obama has avoided direct military involvement in Syria's civil war, only escalating aid to rebel fighters in June after suspected smaller-scale chemical weapons attacks by Syrian government forces.

However, last week's attack on a Damascus suburb that reportedly killed and wounded more than 3,000 people obliterated the "red line" Obama set just over a year ago against the use of Syria's chemical weapons stocks.

Key U.S. lawmakers: Expect strike in Syria
August 25th, 2013
12:03 PM ET

Key U.S. lawmakers: Expect strike in Syria

Two key members of congressional foreign affairs panels say they expect the United States to strike Syria following reports of chemical weapons attacks in that country last week, though other lawmakers interviewed Sunday cautioned that unilateral action would be misguided.

"I think we will respond in a surgical way and I hope the president, as soon as we get back to Washington, will ask for authorization from Congress to do something in a very surgical and proportional way. Something that gets their attention, that causes them to understand that we are not going to put up with that kind of activity," Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday."

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Syria to allow inspectors to site of suspected chemical weapons attack
August 25th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Syria to allow inspectors to site of suspected chemical weapons attack

By Frederik Pleitgen, Hamdi Alkhshali and Josh Levs, CNN

Syria will allow U.N. inspectors full access to any site of a purported chemical weapons attack, a top Syrian official told CNN on Sunday.

The agreement is effective immediately, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said.

And inspectors hope to begin their probe Monday at the suspected chemical attack site, the U.N. secretary-general's office said.

Full Story

August 24th, 2013
08:17 PM ET

Competing claims on chemical weapons use in Syria

By Frederik Pleitgen and David Simpson

As Western powers try to verify claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons this week in a northeastern suburb of Damascus, the Syrian government is accusing rebel forces of doing the same.

State-run television reported Saturday that Syrian armed forces had surrounded Jobar, the opposition-held district on the edge of Damascus that saw some of the 1,300 reported dead in Wednesday's early morning attack. Several of the soldiers were "suffocating" from exposure to gases as they entered the city, according to state TV.

"It is believed that the terrorists have used chemical weapons in the area," Syrian TV reporting, citing anonymous source. The government uses the term "terrorists" to describe rebel forces.

It showed video of a room containing gas masks and gas canisters that the Army said were discovered in a storage facility in Jobar. CNN could not independently confirm the veracity of the claims or the authenticity of the video.

Opposition leaders deny involvement in the attack, which they say killed hundreds near the capital.

August 23rd, 2013
04:08 PM ET

Bradley Manning wants to live as a woman

Convicted spy Bradley Manning wants to get hormone therapy in prison. CNN's Chris Lawrence reports.

RELATED STORY: Bradley Manning wants to live as a woman, be known as Chelsea

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