By Steve Weissman. What If the Rebels Spread Some of the Poison Gas in Syria?

"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria," Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote in The New York Times. "But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack, this time against Israel, cannot be ignored." "We know the Assad regime was responsible," American president Barack Obama said in his major speech on Syria. "In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas-masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from as regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad's military machine reviewed the results of the attack, and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed." Which president should we believe? The answer should be obvious. Neither one. We do not need our spiritual mentor I.F. Stone to remind us that "All governments lie." We cannot even take on faith the United Nations weapons inspectors, who will reportedly "point the finger of blame" at the Assad regime for the August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus. According to the Times of London, the inspectors found "spent rocket casings" that look as if they came from the Syrian army. Assad, or at least the Syrian army, turns out to be where their finger points, the inspectors may be right. But hold this in mind: the inspectors never sought to do a full inspection on who used which weapons where. That was never their mission, and anything they find pointing to guilt one way or another will be only incidental. Even with the best will in the world, if inspectors and journalists do not ask the right questions in the right places and truly test the answers they get, they will never provide Putin, POTUS, or the rest of us with a narrative the world can trust. Even with the agreement between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, we are still a long way from knowing the truth about the use of poison gas in Syria. Many conspiracy-minded websites have oversold one cocksure truth or another, Israeli intelligence pushes its anti-Assad slant in unbelievable detail, and many of our own readers offer unsubstantiated claims in their comments on articles here at RSN. From pundits to presidents, let's all speak about the situation on the ground with less certainty and more transparency. President Obama and Secretary Kerry could begin by revealing the intelligence information underlying their bold assertions that Assad made the decisions to use poison gas. Their unclassified four-page white paper is a White House political document remarkably free of any facts that independent investigators could check out, as Robert Parry wrote on August 30. According to Representative Alan Grayson, the 12-page classified summary shown to Congress lacked the underlying intelligence as well, while Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have warned Obama that he is not getting the full truth.

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