Accenting the confused and ever-shifting political and military landscape of Syria, The New York Times reports Thursday that as Congress begins lining up behind Obama’s push to punish Syria for using chemical weapons, rebel groups have been committing their own atrocities and war crimes.

In graphic detail, Times’ veteran war correspondent C.J. Chivers describes a video depicting rebels executing seven Syrian military prisoners, five of them bound, and all shirtless and kneeling with their faces to the dirt. After the commander, known as “the Uncle,” reads a poem of revenge, he fires a bullet into the back of the skull of the soldier at his feet. His colleagues do the same.

The scene wasn’t a one-off aberration. There have been persistent reports of rebel abuses nearly since the uprising began. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that rebels were routinely kidnapping, torturing and killing those loyal to the Assad regime. A month ago — and notably 17 months after the Human Rights Watch report — the United Nations began an investigation into rebel atrocities, including the executions of captured Syrian soldiers. According to CBS News:

While abuses by troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have been systematic and widespread throughout the two-year conflict, human rights groups have said the frequency and scale of rebel abuses also has increased in recent months. Specific allegations against opposition fighters include claims that rebels have routinely killed captured soldiers and suspected regime informers.

Rebels say any such violations are condemned and an unfortunate result of the brutal regime crackdown.

So the rebels’ position is that Assad’s atrocities made them commit their own?

The issue has, as you might imagine, complicated the politics and diplomacy from Washington. As the Times reports, the issue came up this week during a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the issue of radicalized rebels in an exchange with Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. Mr. Kerry insisted, “There is a real moderate opposition that exists.”

Mr. Kerry said that there were 70,000 to 100,000 “oppositionists.” Of these, he said, some 15 percent to 20 percent were “bad guys” or extremists.

Mr. McCaul responded by saying he had been told in briefings that half of the opposition fighters were extremists.

Much of the concern among American officials has focused on two groups that acknowledge ties to Al Qaeda. These groups — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — have attracted foreign jihadis, used terrorist tactics and vowed to create a society in Syria ruled by their severe interpretation of Islamic law.

More chilling, and missed in the hearing exchange, is that the atrocities aren’t necessarily being committed by the Islamic extremists. Some, it seems, are committed by poets.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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