Secretary of State John Kerry raised eyebrows over the weekend with his comments about negotiating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and now key senators wants Kerry’s department to properly document Assad’s war crimes.
“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome. Why? Because everybody agrees there is no military solution. There is only a political solution,” Kerry told CBS in an interview aired Sunday.
“We’re going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating,” Kerry told CBS. “That’s underway right now. And — and I am convinced that with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.”
Asked if he’d be willing to negotiate with Assad, Kerry replied, “Well, we have to negotiate in the end.”
The administration scrambled to say its “Assad must go” position hadn’t changed, and Syrian activists wryly noted the administration’s past change of heart on the chemical weapons “red line” it drew for Assad.
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Kerry was just “shorthanding” the regime by referring to Assad. “And that would be by mutual consent, which is both sides would need to agree who would be at the table. Unfortunately, there is no process happening right now. That’s the biggest concern to us. But, no, that’s consistently been our position,” Psaki told CNN. “The opposition could talk to themselves and that certainly wouldn’t produce an outcome that would bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) just introduced the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2015 to require the administration to document every dirty detail of the dictator’s crimes.
The senators note that the actions of Assad and violent extremist groups in the country require both special documenting and reaction from the administration on what it plans to do to hold human-rights violators accountable.
“For four years the Assad regime and violent extremists in Syria have committed horrific human rights violations at the expense of millions of innocent Syrians,” Rubio said in a statement. “These brutal crimes against civilians are appalling. The perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice, and this bill is a first step towards ensuring those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.”
Congress has been presented with some of the grisly evidence of Assad’s crimes. Last summer, a defector wearing a disguise and going by the pseudonym Caesar showed the House Foreign Affairs Committee some of the cache of 55,000 photos he gathered of the regime’s torture and murder of Syrians young and old, men and women — the 11,000 documented deaths just a fraction of 150,000 in Assad’s prisons.
Cardin said “tactics employed in Syria by both government and opposition forces fly in the face of the rules of war.”
“Ignoring these violations sends a message to the global community that war crimes and crimes against humanity are tolerable,” the Maryland senator said. “The Syrian people deserve much more. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow the gross violation of human rights in Syria to go unchallenged. We remain firmly committed to bringing all perpetrators of international crimes in Syria to justice.”
Menendez, known for reminding the leader of his party about human-rights violations in Iran and Cuba, stressed we have “a moral obligation to the Syrian people to do everything possible to ensure that the heinous crimes committed by the Assad regime and terrorist organizations over the past four years are documented and do not go unpunished.”
“As the Assad regime continues to use deadly force and indiscriminate weapons, like barrel bombs, killing and maiming thousands of men, women and children, ISIS and al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria have perpetrated massive human rights violation against innocent people,” Menendez said. “These brutal and horrific crimes are appalling.”
Some quarter of a million Syrians have been killed in the past four years, with 2014 the deadliest year. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled Syria, while 12.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
On Aug. 21, 2013, Assad used chemical weapons on the Damascus suburbs, killing 1,400 civilians. That crossed the White House’s “red line,” but they negotiated a chemical weapons disposal deal with the help of Assad ally Russia that has been impossible to verify in the war-torn country.
Assad continues to use chlorine gas on the population, as recently as yesterday.
“The United States is aware of these reports and the videos that are circulating on social media. We are seeking additional information and cannot at this point confirm the details, but if these allegations are confirmed, this would tragically be only the latest example of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today.
“The regime continues to inflict daily terror through airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, murder, starvation and the use of chemical weapons. We continue to take all allegations of chemical weapons use, and in particular, these recent allegations regarding the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon very seriously and we have long held that any credible allegations of chemical weapons use must be investigated and we support the OPCW fact-finding mission in this pursuit.”