- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2017

Senators from both parties urged Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Thursday to crack down on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies amid reports that up to 13,000 detainees were “methodically executed” at a Damascus prison for opposing the regime.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin, joined a dozen other senators in condemning the actions outlined in an Amnesty International report, which comes three years after a similar report about the “systematic killing” of 11,000 other detainees.

“Taken together with credible, clear, and convincing previous reports of Assad’s actions — including the confirmed use of chemical weapons, the use of barrel bombs against noncombatants, as well as the use of torture and starvation against civilians — sufficient documentation exists to charge Bashar al-Assad with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has lost legitimacy as Syria’s leader,” the senators wrote.

They asked the secretary to explain how the U.S. is working to document crimes against humanity and factor them into any negotiations to end the Syrian civil war.

They also said Mr. Tillerson should take Russia’s support for Mr. Assad into account as it evaluates the U.S.’s relationship with President Vladimir Putin.

Already, members of Congress are uneasy about President Trump’s penchant for warm comments about Russia, particularly as it relates to any plans to lift economic sanctions.

The president fired his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last week after Vice President Mike Pence expressed “disappointment” that Mr. Flynn had misled him about the extent of conversations that he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. prior to the inauguration.

“As you review U.S. policy toward Russia and participate in the Administration’s planning to defeat ISIS, Russia’s role in the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians must be considered,” the senators wrote. “Russia must join the international community in seeking to hold Assad accountable, stop enabling the slaughter of the Syrian people, and undertake efforts to remove Iran-affiliated fighters from Syria.”

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