Washington, DC—Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) returned to Washington, DC after a week-long visit to Damascus, Aleppo, and Beirut to see and hear firsthand the impact of the war in Syria directly from the Syrian people. She heard stories of suffering, pain, courage and hope from people all across the country. She met with refugees, Syrian opposition leaders who led protests in 2011, widows and family members of Syrians fighting alongside groups like al-Qaeda, as well as those fighting on the side of the government. The Congresswoman also met with Lebanon’s newly-elected President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Syrian President Assad, Grand Mufti Hassoun, Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, humanitarian workers, students, small business owners, and more.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard released the following statement upon her return:
“My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear: Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.
“As I visited with people from across the country, and heard heartbreaking stories of how this war has devastated their lives, I was asked, ‘Why is the United States and its allies helping al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups try to take over Syria? Syria did not attack the United States. Al-Qaeda did.’ I had no answer.
“I return to Washington, DC with even greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government. I call upon Congress and the new Administration to answer the pleas of the Syrian people immediately and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists—directly by providing weapons, training and logistical support to rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS; and indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey, who, in turn, support these terrorist groups. We must end our war to overthrow the Syrian government and focus our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS.
“From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has waged wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it. I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering.
“The U.S. must stop supporting terrorists who are destroying Syria and her people. The U.S. and other countries fueling this war must stop immediately. We must allow the Syrian people to try to recover from this terrible war.”
Above: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met these children at a shelter in Aleppo. Their families fled the eastern part of the city. Many of these children have only known war, loss and hardship. Their families’ only wish is for peace. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.
Above: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard meets with Syrian religious leaders in Aleppo, led by Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of the Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, and joined by Archbishop Joseph Tabji of Maronite Church of Aleppo, Rev. Ibrahim Nseir of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Aleppo, and others. Each called for peace, and an end to foreign support of terrorists who are trying to rid Syria of its secular, pluralistic, free society. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.
Above: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard met these women at the Barzi Community Center. Many of these women have husbands who are fighting on opposite sides of the war, but who find friendship and empowerment together in their daily sewing classes. They have hope to be able to provide for their family and take care of their children. When asked, “Where is your husband?” many reply, “He is lost.” Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.
Above: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visits with Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other humanitarian workers at the Jibreen shelter, housing nearly 1,400 families who fled mostly the eastern part of Aleppo City. Photo courtesy of Abraham Williams.
Background: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) is a twice-deployed combat veteran who has served as the United States Representative for Hawaiʻi’s 2nd congressional district since 2013. As a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard traveled to Lebanon and Syria as part of a delegation led and sponsored by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS)–Ohio. The 7-day trip was approved by the House Ethics Committee, as required by House rules, and was not taxpayer funded. The trip included visits to Aleppo, Damascus, and Beirut from January 14-22, 2017. Other members of the delegation included former Congressman and Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and his wife, longtime peace advocates Elie and Bassam Khawam, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s husband, Abraham Williams.
Earlier this year, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (H.R.608), legislation that would prohibit U.S. government funds from being used to support al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups. In the same way that Congress passed the Boland Amendment to prohibit the funding and support to CIA backed-Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980’s, this bill would stop CIA or other Federal government activities in places like Syria by ensuring U.S. funds are not used to support al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, ISIS, or other terrorist groups working with them. It would also prohibit the Federal government from funding assistance to countries that are directly or indirectly supporting those terrorist groups. The bill achieves this by:
- Making it illegal for any U.S. Federal government funds to be used to provide assistance covered in this bill to terrorists. The assistance covered includes weapons, munitions, weapons platforms, intelligence, logistics, training, and cash.
- Making it illegal for the U.S. government to provide assistance covered in the bill to any nation that has given or continues to give such assistance to terrorists.
- Requiring the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to determine the individual and groups that should be considered terrorists, for the purposes of this bill, by determining: (a) the individuals and groups that are associated with, affiliated with, adherents to or cooperating with al-Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or ISIS; (b) the countries that are providing assistance covered in this bill to those individuals or groups.
- Requiring the DNI to review and update the list of countries and groups to which assistance is prohibited every six months, in consultation with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
- Requiring the DNI to brief Congress on the determination