Editor’s note: This story contains extremely graphic images of dead children.
She stares off into the distance as she gasps for air, her tiny chest heaving desperately to take in more oxygen. Her eyes are wide and unflinching, her pupils constricted, the panic behind them clear.
The little girl looks confused: she doesn’t understand why she is dying, why she is lying in the back of a truck with other small children, some foaming at the mouth, others motionless, the life already gone from them.
The ground all around her is strewn with bodies, some wracked with convulsions, thrashing around in the mud as rescue workers attempt in vain to hose off the chemical agent that has blanketed them.
Minutes earlier it had been a typically cool morning in northern Syria. The people of Khan Sheikhoun would have been eating their breakfast, getting ready for school, playing outside or still sleeping.
But shortly before 7:00 a.m. on the first Tuesday in April, witnesses say government jets bombed the town, the strikes releasing a poisonous gas that would kill 92 people in all.
Video footage of the aftermath of the attack, obtained by CNN, reveals the unsanitized view of what happened that day, and it is extremely difficult to watch.
Terms like “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” are bandied about on an almost weekly basis when it comes to Syria, abstract concepts that are often weighed down with convoluted language related to the geopolitical machinations of the conflict.
Yet when you watch these children choking on what were likely their last breaths, you understand what evil is.
I have traveled to Syria roughly a dozen times since the civil war began in 2011, and every trip brings with it fresh images of death and destruction that leave an imprint on the brain. The petrifying thud of artillery landing late into the night. The sickening wake-up call of fighter jets wheeling overhead. The frantic search for survivors in the rubble. Women wailing over their dead brothers and husbands. The blank eyes of a young boy killed in the crossfire. The solemn march of a casket to the graveyard.