(CBS News) President Barack Obama called his national security team together Saturday to talk about the next move in Syria. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper led off the three-hour White House meeting with detailed analysis of the evidence about the chemical weapons attack, the disposition of victims and what the administration now believes is a near air-tight circumstantial case that the Syrian regime was behind it.
Obama ordered a declassified report be prepared for public release before any military strike commences. That report, top advisers tell CBS News, is due to be released in a day or two.
There was no debate at the Saturday meeting that a military response is necessary. Obama ordered up legal justifications for a military strike, should he order one, outside of the United Nations Security Council. That process is well underway, and particular emphasis is being placed on alleged violations of the Geneva Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the evidence "is screaming at us" that chemical weapons were used in Syria, and he said President Obama believes "there must be accountability" -- the latest sign that the administration is getting ready for a possible military strike against the Assad regime.
Kerry said he had looked again at the pictures we all saw last week of the victims of the attack -- many of them children -- and can't get them out of his head.
"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world," Kerry said. "It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable and -- despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured -- it is undeniable."
The words Kerry used and the force with which he delivered them left little doubt the U.S. will soon strike Syria.
"President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who used the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people," he said.
Four U.S. Navy warships are already in position in the eastern Mediterranean, ready to launch cruise missiles within hours of receiving the order from Obama. A British submarine is also reported to be in position.
They would almost certainly fire their weapons in the middle of the night, the time when the U.S. military prefers to strike and when most civilians would be off the streets and less likely to be injured.
An attack limited to cruise missiles would fall well short of the shock and awe campaign on the opening night of the Iraq War, but officials said it would be large enough to damage the Syrian military's ability to launch future chemical weapons attacks.
The U.S. has huge military advantage, so there is little doubt cruise missiles could destroy targets ranging from command centers to launchers used to fire chemical weapons.
Obama wants to send a message about the consequences of using chemical weapons, but the Syrian regime is playing for much bigger stakes: it is fighting for its life.
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