Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s “fact finding” trip to Syria is guaranteed to find only ‘facts’ that benefit the regime of Bashar al-Assad. As guests of Assad’s regime, foreign dignitaries and politicians enjoy neither freedom of movement nor freedom of speech; all of their activities are tightly controlled by the military-security apparatus and so are their interactions with ordinary Syrians. Even people who travel there for the sole purpose of writing pro-government propaganda for Western consumption describe the intensity of regime control over foreign visitors as “scary.”

Here are some facts Gabbard won’t discover at the dog-and-pony shows engineered by her government minders:

  • The Assad regime’s security apparatus tortures and kills children and mutilates their bodies. In fact, it was the arrest and torture of teenagers for the crime of spraying graffiti that sparked the 2011 uprising. Not one child-killer or torturer has been dismissed from their post or brought to justice by Syria government for their crimes.
  • Rape, torture, and murder of civilians by the Assad regime’s security forces is rampant, systematic, and a matter of policy emanating from the top echelons of the regime’s decision-making structures. Even doctors in government custody are routinely tortured and killed.
  • The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the conflict are killed by Assad’s forces.
  • The vast majority of the 697 medical workers killed in the country between April 2011 and November 2015 were killed by Assad’s forces.
  • Assad and his ally Russia deliberately target hospitals for destruction. Together, they have reduced one of the region’s best health care systems to rubble.
  • Gabbard says that ousting Assad will strengthen Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Islamic State (ISIS) but she fails to mention that the Assad regime has a long history of aiding Al-Qaeda and ISIS. During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Assad’s regime funneled Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters across the border into Iraq to kill Gabbard’s fellow servicemen and women. After the 2011 uprising turned into a civil war in 2012, the Assad regime’s open borders policy allowed AQ and ISIS to move back and forth freely between Syria and Iraq while Syria’s security services in border areas were ordered to leave suspected militants alone.

Facts like these are why Bernie Sanders condemned Assad as a “horrendous dictator who has been at war with his own people” and why Gabbard deserves to be condemned for coddling a war criminal and a state sponsor of terrorism — all in the name of being ‘anti-war’! When a 2016 House of Representatives resolution condemning “war crimes and crimes against humanity” by the Syrian regime came up for a vote, she voted against it along with just 2 Republicans. The resolution passed overwhelmingly with 392 yeas, including the yeas of the entire Progressive Caucus.

Gabbard’s anti-progressive positions on Syria-related issues do not stop at Syria’s border. She voted for Republican legislation that would make it nearly impossible for Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States. The bill would have required Syrian refugees to pass background checks conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an impossibility given that most of them fled the war without much (if any) documentation of their identities and the absence of information on Syrians in FBI databases. The few refugees that did manage to get past the FBI’s screening would have to be individually certified by the director of the FBI, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence that they posed no terrorist threat. So the few refugees who miraculously kept all of their paperwork intact with them during their long and arduous exodus and passed FBI screening would be snagged in an endless bureaucratic snafu involving at least one Cabinet-level secretary.

After coming under intense and justified criticism for voting for this fearmongering legislation, Gabbard in classic politician double-speak claimed that “voting for this bill was not a vote against refugees. Rather, it was a vote for bringing refugees into our country safely” as if the current onerous two-year 20-step screening process – which to date enjoys a 100% success rate – is somehow unsafe.

Gabbard’s Trumpian foreign policy, pro-Assad Syria policy, and two-faced hostility to Syrian refugees are good reasons why she is not part of the House Progressive Caucus.

People who are genuinely interested in facts about Syria should look to Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison. Ellison supported the 2011 uprising from day one and stood up to refugee-bashers like Gabbard and her Republican friends. He also participated in a hunger strike as a gesture of solidarity with Syrian dissidents and activists. Ellison’s progressive and consistently internationalist approach to the difficult and complicated problems arising from the Syrian civil war is the polar opposite of Gabbard’s phony ‘anti-war’ posturing designed to obscure her reactionary nativism. It is a good thing that Ellison — not Gabbard — is running to be chair of the Democratic National Committee.


Ellison in 2011


Ellison in 2014