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Al-Monitor: US lawmakers push sanctions for Syria's Tadamon massacre

Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) called on the Biden administration to sanction four Syrians linked to the 2013 murder of 41 unarmed civilians.

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Washington, June 3, 2022 | comments

A pair of lawmakers are calling for the Biden administration to sanction a group of Syrians believed to be responsible for a near decade-old massacre of civilians in the Damascus suburb of Tadamon. 

“Even as we struggle to cope with our own national tragedies, as co-chairs of the Friends of a Free, Stable, and Democratic Syria Caucus here in Congress, we write to call your attention to another horrific massacre that occurred thousands of miles away,” read the letter from Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) sent to President Joe Biden on Wednesday. 

Leaked video obtained by researchers at the University of Amsterdam's Holocaust and Genocide Center and recently published by The Guardian newspaper offers the latest evidence of sweeping war crimes carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the country’s 11-year-long civil war. 

The newly released footage from Tadamon documents the April 2013 killing of at least 41 unarmed civilians who were rounded up by officers in the notorious Branch 227 of the military intelligence service. The video shows blindfolded and handcuffed detainees marched toward an execution pit and shot dead by a nearby Syrian officer. The bodies in the mass grave were then set on fire. 

The US State Department has condemned the atrocities depicted in the video. 

In the letter provided to Al-Monitor, the lawmakers urged Biden to sanction Branch 227 commander Jamal al-Ismail and his commanding officer Shafiq Massa as well as the two unit members alleged to have carried out the gruesome massacre, Jamal al-Khatib and Amjad Youssef. 

“We are highlighting the information collected and developed at the University of Amsterdam’s Holocaust and Genocide Center with our deep-seated hope that your administration impose sanctions under E.O.13572 against the individuals who have been documented to have participated in this heinous act of inhumanity,” Kinzinger and Boyle wrote. 

“While Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad bears ultimate responsibility for all war crimes committed against the Syrian people, his allies continue to act on his behalf and must be held accountable,” they said. 

Why it matters:  Their call for sanctions comes as some Arab states who long shunned the regime for its crimes are gradually resuming ties with Damascus. Some lawmakers say Biden could be doing more to discourage Syria’s neighbors from rehabilitating Assad, including by expanding economic sanctions under the Caesar Act. 

Last year, the administration announced largely symbolic designations of a number of Syrian detention centers and prison officials accused of perpetrating human rights abuses. Branch 227 was among the military intelligence bodies sanctioned by the Biden administration. 

What’s next:  The perpetrators of Syria’s atrocities have largely evaded justice despite a trove of evidence collected by the United Nations and human rights groups.  

The University of Amsterdam researchers who investigated the 2013 massacre have turned over their videos and notes to prosecutors in the Netherlands, Germany and France. The three countries have broad universal jurisdiction laws, which allow for the prosecution of grave crimes committed in another country. 

The White Helmets and other Syrian groups have also urged US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield to address the 2013 killings with the UN Security Council. 

The entire article can be found on the Al-Monitor website here.

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