Lawmakers Call for War Crimes Tribunal After Hearing of Atrocities From Syrian Defector

By Penny Starr | July 31, 2014 | 9:44 PM EDT

In this Sunday, March 11, 2012 file photo, a man carries a boy who was severely wounded during heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and Syrian Army forces in Idlib, north Syria. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)

( – Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told reporters the U.S. should take immediate action following a hearing on Thursday where a Syrian defector shared grisly photographs of dead Syrians who he said died at the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

“The president of the United States today can begin working and announce the effort to establish an international war crime tribunal patterned after the three that have been very successful – Rwanda, Sierra Leone's special court, then the Yugoslav court,” Smith said when asked what President Barack Obama should do to address the crisis.

“And begin naming names, to do it aggressively,” Smith said. “It will have, hopefully, a chilling effect on some of these atrocities as we’ve just mentioned, and ‘Cesar’ [the defector] said it earlier – 150,000 prisoners are awaiting the fate of what we just saw; photographic evidence of the people that have been butchered, tortured and, as he said in his testimony today, it doesn’t matter if you’re a child, a senior citizen, a man or a woman, you are tortured in a similar fashion.”

Kinzinger said he agreed “100 percent” with Smith, but said that military action should be used as well.

“In terms of the overall conflict, I believe the United States should begin immediate strikes against ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), both in Iraq and in Syria, as well as arming and emboldening the Free Syrian Army, who’s diverted a lot of resources from the Assad front to fight ISIS,” Kinzinger said.

“And I think then when the time becomes appropriate, the United States should also engage in air power strikes against the Assad regime when it becomes obvious that that degrading of Assad – when the Free Syrian Army is in a position to have a post-governance plan,” Kinzinger said.

One of the experts who testified alongside the defector at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing suggested that Syrians should take military action on their own, with help from the United States and other allies.

Frederic Hof, a Middle East expert, said the U.S. could train the estimated 2.9 million Syrians who have fled the country – including those in the military who oppose Assad – could be trained to be a military force that could “stabilize” the country.

David Crane, a law professor at Syracuse University and chief prosecutor in the Sierra Leone Special Court that led to the 50-year sentence for war crimes of Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor, said a tribunal to indict Assad could be set up “next week.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced an additional $378 million in humanitarian aid to Syria.

“Nearly 11 million Syrians today are struggling to survive one of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory,” Kerry said in a press release distributed by the State Department.

“The brutally indefensible and illegitimate Assad regime continues to pursue its appalling ‘starve or surrender’ tactics against the Syrian people,” Kerry said.

“The regime is asphyxiating half a million Syrians in Aleppo by obstructing deliveries of food, water, and medicine, and dropping dozens of barrel bombs a day on the city and surrounding suburbs,” Kerry said. “Syrians all over the country are being butchered at the hands of a ruthless tyrant.”

“The world must act quickly and decisively to get life-saving assistance to the innocent civilians who are bearing the brunt of this barbaric war,” Kerry said. “That’s why the United States is providing nearly $378 million in additional aid to help those battered by conflict.”

Kerry said the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to Syria has now reached more that $2.4 billion.

The Associated Press reported on May 22 that Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution referring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes.

It marked the fourth time the two countries have used their veto power as permanent council members to prevent action against Assad's government, according to AP.