One day after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Saturday demanding a truce in the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta to allow for aid access and medical evacuations, Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime had already resumed its saturation bombing of the last major opposition enclave in the Syrian capital. In the week prior to the UNSC vote, the pro-regime camp’s assault had killed hundreds of civilians, using both regular munitions and poison gas. As they have done for years, Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers systematically targeted, in the words of a doctor in Ghouta, “everything: shops, markets, hospitals, schools, mosques, everything.” The images are unspeakably horrific, and the stories chilling.
Eastern Ghouta, readers will recall, was the site of what then-President Barack Obama called a proud moment, a moment when he mustered the “most political courage,” and cut a deal with Vladimir Putin that got Bashar Assad off the hook after he gassed more than 1,300 men, women, and children with sarin in 2013. For Obama, nothing could interfere with his policy of realignment with Iran. Getting the Iran deal meant “respecting Iran’s equities” in Syria. That meant turning a blind eye to the gassing of children and industrial-scale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians.
Obama’s two-step in Syria with Putin, which went all the way back to 2011, paved the way for Russia’s direct intervention in that country in 2015. By then, Obama’s point man on Syria, Robert Malley, had marketed the policy of “de-escalation,” which bestowed a fake humanitarianism on a policy which, in reality, afforded the Russians, Iranians, and Assad the ability to besiege and neutralize towns and reallocate resources in order to more easily brutalize others. In 2016, Obama’s calculated appeasement policy led to the fall of Aleppo, whose handover Malley negotiated directly with Putin’s envoy. Meanwhile, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used her reputation as a humanitarian as a deflect from the White House’s inaction in the face of mass slaughter on an industrial scale, including crematoria.
The author of the following piece, Kassem Eid, is a uniquely credible witness to the unspeakable crimes that Bashar al-Assad and his patrons have committed against the Syrian people, and of the central role played by the Obama administration in abetting those crimes. A survivor of Assad’s chemical attack in 2013, and of the starvation siege of Eid’s hometown of Moadhamiyeh, he is the author of the book My Country: A Syrian Memoir, which chronicles his remarkable story and journey out of Syria. His accusation that the Obama administration hid evidence of the crematorium at the Saydnaya Prison in which the bodies of thousands of Syrians were reduced to ashes is a very serious one.
While Eid lauded President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb Assad last April, his piece also serves as a cautionary tale for the Trump administration against continuing Obama’s shameful policy of purposeful disengagement and deliberate double-speak while the murderers do their work. —Tony Badran
Last month, Samantha Power defended President Obama’s shameless legacy of enabling the Syrian genocide. When asked by [NBC’s Meet the Press anchor] Chuck Todd about what she thought about striking Assad she agreed with [Obama national security adviser] Ben Rhodes in rewriting history and falsely defending President Obama’s decision not to strike Bashar al-Assad after the chemical-weapons massacre in August 2013. According to Power and Rhodes, Obama was right to be cautious and think through the risks of such a strike, which she said could have left the U.S. “isolated.” In fact, it was President Obama who called President François Hollande to stop the French fighter jets from striking President Assad.
Obama made a deal with the Russians after the chemical massacre in August 2013 to completely destroy Assad’s chemical program. But Assad’s chemical weapons attacks according to a recent U.N. investigation kept on going despite President Obama’s claims that removing Assad’s chemical weapons program was successful. But the April 2017 attack proved that Assad still possesses massive stocks of chemical weapons. Assad launched sarin-gas attacks against civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, and President Trump responded by launching strikes against the airport that was used to launch this attack. Trump’s action was supported by leaders all around the world and even both of Obama’s secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and other figures from both parties including 78 senators. Strangely, Ms. Power was silent while her partner on the speaking circuit, Ben Rhodes, even criticized the attack on Twitter.
I first met then-Ambassador Samantha Power in the U.S.-U.N. Mission on April 14, 2014. That was two months after I fled Syria and less than a year after I survived Assad’s sarin-gas attack. When I met Ambassador Power, she told me that she was trying so hard to persuade President Obama to act decisively against the Assad regime and that she was ashamed of Obama’s inaction. She then told me about her personal experience as a journalist and activist while she was covering the Yugoslav wars and the genocide in Bosnia.
I was touched by what I perceived to be Ambassador Power’s sincerity and personal experience that led her to write A Problem From Hell, which explained how politicians lie in order to avoid intervening to stop genocide. I was so honored that she gave me an autographed copy of her famous book, and in return, I gave her a copy of A Book of Syria’s Dead, which contains the names of the first 100,000 Syrians who had been killed up until that time. In that moment, I never thought that a day would come when I would find out that she was just lying to my face. Samantha Power is exactly like the genocide-enabling politicians that she wrote about herself in her book.
In A Problem From Hell, Samantha Power explains how the U.S. administration tried to cover up the genocide in Bosnia by instead labeling it a “civil war.” Yet she and President Obama escaped responsibility for the documented and proven war crimes committed in Syria under the Assad regime’s brutal campaign. If Ambassador Power was telling the truth, she should have resigned just as she chided diplomats at the State Department for not resigning during the genocide in Bosnia.
The Assad regime taught us in schools that there was no Holocaust and hid the truth of the crematoriums and the concentration camps where millions of Jews were brutally killed. But the Obama administration also refused to act on—or reveal—direct eyewitness testimony it received of the crematorium in Saydnaya Prison in Syria, where an estimated 100,000 people were brutally killed and then burned to ashes to hide the truth. I’d begged the U.S. administration during my meetings at the State Department back in 2014 to investigate the Saydnaya Prison and Qasioun mountain because my fellow activists in those areas had repeatedly told me since 2012 how they smelled the awful stench of burning flesh. But all I got were empty promises. If a bunch of Syrian activists knew about the crematorium, there’s no doubt in my mind that Obama knew about it from intelligence reports. I strongly suspect he made sure those reports weren’t made public to avoid having to take action against Assad. It was the Trump administration that finally showed the world this reality last year and publicized the truth that Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and President Obama tried to hide.
Ms. Power and Mr. Rhodes have been going around the country as activists for the truth, decrying “fake news” and dishonesty, which they say is creating an alternative reality. At the same time, it was these two who during the Obama administration created an alternate universe to hide the genocide in Syria. Rhodes is experienced in creative writing, and he used his skills after he was appointed to be deputy national security adviser by President Obama to write an alternative universe to hide the truth of the Syrian genocide and the Iran deal. It should boggle the mind how these two, who were so instrumental in pushing disinformation to mislead the American people, could in any way be activists for the truth.
In the summer of 2014, a defector from the Assad regime codenamed “Caesar” came to Washington, D.C., after he managed to escape from Syria with thousands of photographs of Syrians who were systematically tortured to death by the Assad regime. Caesar’s collection of photographs was yet another indisputable proof of the ongoing genocide in Syria. Caesar met with Ambassador Power, who shed a tear when Caesar described the horrors he had witnessed during his career as an Assad regime military photographer. Caesar also gave Ms. Power a handwritten note to deliver to President Obama, but he never received any response. I also requested a meeting with President Obama as a survivor of the war crimes in Syria on multiple occasions, through the White House, the State Department, and Ambassador Power, but all of my requests were also denied. Neither Ambassador Power nor President Obama wanted to acknowledge the truth.
Ambassador Power, Ben Rhodes, and President Obama owe an apology to the Syrian and the American people for covering up the evidence of war crimes and genocide in Syria and twisting facts to serve their political agenda and public image.
Tony Badran is Tablet’s news editor and Levant analyst.