However, in the weeks and months after the sarin attack, those of us who criticized the flimsiness of the U.S. "Government Assessment" -- I called it a "dodgy dossier" on the day it was released -- were derided as "Assad apologists." Meanwhile, the mainstream media and leading "human rights" groups sought to enforce a "group think" justifying the launching of an American-led "humanitarian" war in Syria.
In that behavior, the mainstream American news media revealed that it had learned nothing from the Iraq War disaster when virtually all the leading publications and nearly all the esteemed commentators agreed en masse that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD stockpiles and that a U.S. invasion was justified. A decade later, these "journalists" showed no more skepticism when the neocons were pushing another "regime change" in Syria.
Yet, there were plenty of reasons to have doubts. There was the Obama administration's refusal to release any of its supposed proof to support its conclusions and the curious absence of Director of National Intelligence Clapper from the public presentation of the administration's casus belli.
I reported at the time that the reason for keeping the DNI on the sidelines was that he otherwise might have been asked if there was a consensus in the intelligence community supporting the administration's certitude that Assad's regime was responsible. At that point, Clapper would have had to acknowledge the disagreement from rank-and-file analysts (or face the likelihood that they would speak out).
All of that should have been obvious to any professional journalist if he or she had asked a few probing questions or noted how odd it was that Clapper would not play the role that CIA Director George Tenet did in 2003 when Tenet sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to lend credibility to Powell's mendacious U.N. speech regarding Iraq's WMD.
It also made no sense for Assad's forces to use sarin outside Damascus just as U.N. inspectors were arriving to investigate cases of chemical weapons that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Obviously, the attention of the inspectors would be diverted to this sarin attack and American hardliners would use the incident to press Obama to launch a military strike on Assad.
To get any such skepticism from mainstream publications, you had to look abroad. For instance, Robert Fisk, a veteran reporter for London's Independent newspaper, found a lack of consensus about whodunit among U.N. officials and other international observers in Damascus despite the career risks that they faced by deviating from the conventional wisdom regarding Assad's guilt.
"In a country indeed a world where propaganda is more influential than truth, discovering the origin of the chemicals that suffocated so many Syrians a month ago is an investigation fraught with journalistic perils," Fisk wrote. "Nevertheless, it also has to be said that grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad's army.
"While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in?
"Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene, the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations. ... As one Western NGO put it 'if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God's sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?'"
Later, American aeronautical experts calculated that the one U.N.-recovered sarin-laden rocket could only travel about two kilometers, not the nine kilometers that the Assad-did-it crowd was claiming would trace the flight path back to a Syrian military base.
And, then, in 2014, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh cited intelligence sources blaming the attack on jihadist rebels possibly collaborating with Turkish intelligence. But Hersh published his article in the London Review of Books because American mainstream publications wouldn't deviate from the Assad-did-it "group think."
We also now know that if Obama had been baited into another war, the U.S. onslaught might have collapsed Assad's military and led to a victory by the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, creating an even worse humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and across the region.
Yet, despite knowing what he knew and understanding many of the risks, Obama went before the United Nations on Sept. 24, 2013, and declared that no reasonable person could doubt Assad's guilt -- a lie that has now been confirmed by The Atlantic article's recounting of Clapper's doubt.
Obama's falsehood -- expressed to the world community on such a weighty issue of war or peace -- fits with the pattern of deceptions of President George W. Bush's administration on Iraq and his own administration's obsessive use of propaganda (or "strategic communications") on a wide range of topics, including Libya, Ukraine and Russia.