Some lawmakers are still questioning whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the chemical weapons attack on a rebel area outside Damascus earlier this month despite the Obama administration’s public statements that the Assad regime was responsible.
Hundreds of men, women, and children were killed in a nerve agent attack near Damascus, which the Obama administration said was carried out by the Assad regime.
However, prominent politicians from both parties have voiced skepticism about Assad’s involvement.
"I question right now the evidence of and the inquiry that still is going on by international bodies. There are still people on the United Nations leadership, as well as others, that are saying ‘why are we rushing?’" Democratic Senatorial candidate and Newark Mayor Cory Booker said during an interview with HuffPost Live on Wednesday. "Let’s get the facts straight. Where did this chemical attack necessarily originate from, was it a military attack or a splinter group that did it?"
A spokesperson for Booker’s senatorial campaign attempted to clarify his remarks in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday.
"The mayor said that he didn't have access to all the same information that he would if he was senator and suggested that inspectors be given as much time as possible so that there exists as much international support as possible for military action—action that should be a last resort," said Kevin Griffis.
The Assad regime and its Russian allies have suggested the rebels gassed their own people in a "false flag" operation designed to prompt military action by the international community.
While Obama administration officials echoed these claims in anonymous quotes to the Associated Press, President Barack Obama has publicly said the rebel forces do not possess chemical weapons or the military ability to carry out such an attack.
"We have looked at all the evidence, and we do not believe the opposition possessed nuclear weapons on—or chemical weapons of that sort," said Obama in an interview with PBS on Wednesday, adding that the rebels did not have the ability to carry out such an attack. "We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there needs to be international consequences."
The "false flag" theory has been promoted by "New World Order" radio host Alex Jones, columnist Pat Buchanan, and conspiracist Jerome Corsi.
"The fact that launching indiscriminate biological attacks makes absolutely no sense militarily for Assad means it’s far more likely that such attacks are being staged by rebels—many of whom are being led by bloodthirsty al Qaeda terrorists—with support from the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey," reported Jones’ website InfoWars.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) also floated the "false flag" theory in a Wednesday radio interview, and warned that a U.S. military intervention could spark a war with Russia.
"To whose benefit is this? All of this redounds back to this is to the benefit of the rebels because now it’s bringing other people in on their side. So there is a great incentive for this to actually have been launched by rebels, not the Syrian army," said Paul.
Paul also cited a recent column by Pat Buchanan, who made a similar argument.
"To whose benefit would the use of nerve gas on Syrian women and children redound? Certainly not Assad’s, as we can see from the furor and threats against him that the use of gas has produced," wrote Buchanan. "The sole beneficiary of this apparent use of poison gas against civilians in rebel-held territory appears to be the rebels, who have long sought to have us come in and fight their war."
Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.) went further, arguing that the rebels could have faked the chemical weapon exposure.
"First of all, it's not even clear it was a chemical attack. If it was a chemical attack, then the residue left on the clothing of victims would have poisoned other people. that hasn't happened," Grayson said in a CNN interview on Thursday. "Secondly, it could easily have been the rebels who did it or some disaffected parts of the Syrian military. Third, even if it was a chemical attack and it was the military doing it, there's no evidence it was a deliberate decision on the part of the leadership in Syria."
"I don't like to sit here sounding like I'm an apologist for a dictator," Grayson added. "But if you're going to say it's undeniable, that's the way it ought to be."
Foreign policy experts said there is extensive evidence linking the chemical attack to the Assad regime, and "false flag" claims are based on speculation.
"You’re starting to see opponents of further U.S. involvement in Syria baselessly speculate that anti-Assad rebels were the ones behind the horrific, large-scale chemical weapons attacks in the suburbs of Damascus," said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative. "But no U.S. policymaker or intelligence official has come forward with credible evidence that any rebel group possesses either the sorts of chemical weapons or the means of delivery that were used in Damascus."
"The bottom line is that chemical weapons were used in a large scale in Syria, and Bashar al-Assad is ultimately responsible for that, period," Zarate said.