By Brian Todd, CNN
The Obama Administration is in the process of deciding how to respond to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people.
The U.S. actually has some experience with the issue. Uncle Sam once had a key ally that also used chemical weapons during wartime.
America's outrage over the alleged Syrian atrocity goes right to the top, but at one time, a key U.S. ally used chemical weapons on the battlefield.
In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein got support from U.S. intelligence in his war against Iran. Specifically, help in pinpointing Iranian positions.
According to a new report in "Foreign Policy" magazine, Saddam's forces fired shells containing sarin and other nerve agents on Iranian troops, in a key series of battles in southern Iraq in 1988.
Retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona, a U.S. military liaison to Iraq at the time, says the "Foreign Policy" article got it wrong when it quoted him as saying U.S. officials knew in advance that Saddam was going to do that.
"We did not know that the Iraqis were going to use chemical weapons in advance," said Francona.
Francona says he didn't find out until he went to the battlefield, and found injectors he says the Iranians used, to treat the effects of sarin gas. He says he confronted his Iraqi counterpart.
Reporter: "What was the Iraqi response?"
"Their answer was, 'We use a lot of smoke. Maybe they were confused,' which is just a deflective answer," said Francona.
But did other U.S. officials know ahead of time that Saddam would use chemical weapons against the Iranians? Neither the CIA nor the defense intelligence agency would comment on the "Foreign Policy" report.
William Webster, who was CIA director at the time of those battles, told CNN the agency knew Saddam had chemical weapons, knew he could use them, but had no specific knowledge beforehand that he'd fire them at the Iranians.
Still, questions of an American connection don't end there. According to a report by the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, five years ago out of an office in Washington, more than 20 companies, including some from the U.S., sent hundreds of metric tons of precursors for chemical weapons to the Iraqi and Iranian regimes in the 1980s. But it's not clear if those companies actually knew those regimes were getting those materials.
Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert, says the companies believed the chemicals were not being used in war.
"At that time, these companies were told that the chemicals were going to textile production in Belgium," said Smithson.
But why did U.S. support for Saddam continue, even after he used chemical weapons?
"We felt we had no choice but to weaken the Ayatollah and the extremist Iranian regime at that time, but I think it was a pretty regrettable way to carry out that policy," said Michael O'Hanlon with the Brookings Institution.
But O'Hanlon says he doesn't believe that undermines America's moral position now on Syria. He says despite America's mistakes at that time, there are still international laws against the use of chemical weapons in war, and the U.S. has to do what it can to bolster them.