Amid mounting evidence of Syrian government atrocities, bipartisan pressure from Capitol Hill is calling on the Obama Administration to take a more assertive stance against President Bashar Assad's Ba'athist regime. At a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers criticized the administration for failing to make clear that Washington stands with the Syrian people against the dictatorship.
"How many more must die before we have the courage to stand up and say that Assad is illegitimate and must go?," said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He noted that more than 1,600 Syrian demonstrators had been killed in the last four months.
Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., blasted the administration for failing to take a strong public stance against Assad until it was clear he might actually fall. "We're hedging our bets here on the odd chance that he's going to be able to hang on," he said.
In prepared testimony, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael Posner denounced "the Iranian and Syrian governments' continuing and worsening abuses against their own people."
They noted that public protests in Syria began in March with Syrian security forces firing on demonstrators calling for the release of children detained for weeks after writing political graffiti.
"That brutal act sparked the collective outrage of the long-oppressed Syrian people. The growing momentum for change, which has drawn people from across Syria to participate in peaceful demonstrations, is now into its fourth month," Feltman and Posner wrote. "Even as the Syrian military and security forces have besieged communities, conducted mass arrests, targeted emergency responders, tortured children, shot protestors with impunity, cut off water, Internet and telephone services, and barred an independent media, people have found ways to get their word out, through reports, images and videos taken by brave demonstrators and smuggled out."
The human-rights situation in Syria may be about to deteriorate further. Since protests began in late March, Friday prayers have been a rallying point for pro-democracy demonstrators in Damascus and other cities. Assad has often responded to protests outside Syrian mosques with brutal force. Ramadan, which begins next week, strings together 30 consecutive days on which prayers can become lead to demonstrations - a troubling prospect for a dictatorship which has been unable to suppress dissent using torture and murder.