WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a Committee briefing on U.S. policy in Syria:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing. I am proud of our Committee and the work we’ve done together on both sides of the aisle. This is obviously a very, very important hearing.
“I want to thank the witnesses for being here today, particularly Caesar, who is risking his life to appear here at his first public event. Also, Mr. Bassouini, Mr. Crane for their work shining a light on the human rights violations in Syria. And Ambassador Hof, who has served in the Obama Administration, urging from the inside—and now from the outside—for action against the Assad regime.
“I’ve been personally focused on Syria for a long time. In 2003, I passed the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed sanctions on regime of Hafez Assad. And in March of last year, I introduced the Free Syria Act, which authorized the President to provide lethal assistance to carefully vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition. If we had taken that approach a year and a half ago, we may have been able to stem the growth of ISIS and weaken the regime of Bashar Assad. But we didn’t, unfortunately, so we’ll never really know what would have happened if we had acted then.
“Then, last August, gruesome photos and video began to leak out of Syria—images of human suffering and death on a massive scale. What we were seeing was the result of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens, including hundreds of children. In my view, we had a responsibility to send a message to Assad that his criminal behavior would not be tolerated. But we didn’t. Unfortunately, we didn’t.
“Instead, here we are a year later, and we see new evidence of the Assad regime’s torture chambers and death squads. Thanks to Caesar, we will see the unvarnished reality of the Assad regime’s atrocities. Mr. Caesar is a courageous man. He has captured the face of evil through the lens of his camera, putting himself at grave risk. And we are grateful that he is with us today.
“These photos show Muslims, Alawites, and Christians; men and women; young and old, all tortured to death. Bodies piled up on top of one another. Hanged. Eyes gouged out. Limbs torn from their sockets. Bodies ravaged by starvation.
“We want to look away, but we must not. This is happening right now in Syria as we speak, and we can do more to stop it.
“Mr. Chairman, these are war crimes, plain and simple.
“You know, the media unfortunately doesn’t tell the story of Syria anymore. You can’t turn on a radio or television and hear anything about what’s going on in Syria. We hear about Gaza. But the truth of the matter is many more civilians are being killed in Syria each and every day than there are casualties in Gaza. But you don’t hear about that in the media. It’s almost as if Syria ceases to exist. It’s just unbelievable.
“Lastly, let’s remember that these images represent only a small fraction of the suffering endured by the Syrian people. The death toll in Syria has topped 160,000. That’s 160,000 futures left unfulfilled; 160,000 people who will never come home to their families.
“We need to focus and shine a light on the atrocities in Syria happening as we speak.
“So I’m grateful to the Chairman for convening this briefing. Let’s give this issue the focus it deserves. Let’s ensure that the American people and people around the world see the unmitigated horror of the Assad regime.
“And let me finally say as well, the Assad regime could not have kept this up without the help of Iran, without the help of Hezbollah—another terrorist organization just like Hamas. Birds of a feather flock together. The Syrian people unfortunately are the big losers. We have to send a clear message today that we will never forget the Syrian people and we will do everything we can to help.