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Syria chemical weapons - no questions asked

Journalists silent about whether Obama administration has "proof" that Assad's regime used chemical weapons.
Last modified: 15 Jun 2013 01:04
The US intelligence community believes the Assad regime used chemical weapons [AFP]

I think there are two kinds of people in this world. You have to think back to find out which one you are, to a time when tiny desks seemed really big and very important.

When you are in elementary school you have the realisation, you are either the kind of person who always raises their hand as if stretching for the heavens, or you don't. I was never the kid who would experience physical pain to get the teacher's attention, but I turned into one today at the White House briefing.

One of President Barack Obama's most influential advisors, Ben Rhodes, was briefing the assembled media to talk about the President's upcoming trip to the G8 summit.

Of course, you might expect all of the questions would be about Syria and the announcement on Thursday that the United States would increase military aid to the Supreme Military Council. There were a few questions about student loan rates, tax avoidance, and other assorted non-pressing issues.

But there was one question that was never asked. I am so surprised about it, I just have to write this.

Chemical weapons

No one, not one person asked if the Obama administration would make public any of its "proof" that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.

Think about that for a moment. An American administration is being allowed to say "trust us" on the issue of chemical weapons use and its consequences.

I'm not an expert, I don't know what they have or if it would prove what they say. What I'm wondering is if they should have to share something.

I think it takes on an added importance when you hear the scepticism from other countries and what seem to be flaws in the US explanation.

From the moment word first came out that some believed chemical weapons were used; President Barack Obama has consistently used the phrase, "chain of custody". This is what the President said on April 30th:

"And what we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don't know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don't have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America's national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I've got to make sure I've got the facts. That's what the American people would expect."

I listened intently to the President's aide today; you know what he didn't talk about – a "chain of custody". Instead of that, Rhodes basically said we know the Assad regime still controls the chemical weapons, we know they were used; therefore the Assad regime used chemical weapons. That doesn't seem to live up to the standard that the President set out, what he said the American people would expect, perhaps it just doesn't apply to the press.

There is another hole in this logic that should be questioned. Rhodes went on to say that the US can't say for certain it knows where all of the chemical weapons stock piles are. If they can't say that, how can they definitively say no one else could possibly have used chemical weapons? I think it is a good question that couldn't be answered, because it wasn't asked.

This is not to say people didn't die a horrible painful death from the use of a weapon most people worldwide rightfully fear. I don't know what happened, but I think I should know why the White House is so convinced it did especially when they start using "fuzzy phrases".

The allegations of chemical weapons being used and any kind of military response require a serious discussion, and questioning. I didn't get a chance to ask – but if you look in the way back of the room – you'll see my hand held high – I couldn't get the White House’s attention that way, maybe this will work instead – couldn't do that in grade school – we didn't have the internet.

Follow Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane on Twitter: @pattyculhane