Syria is ruled by an authoritative regime which does not hesitate to use force against its citizens if it feels threatened.
Threatened is how the Syrian regime must have felt when it arrested and convicted 14 Syrian human rights monitors in December of last year.
The defendants were charged `with vague, broadly worded offenses', according to their defense lawyers, based on a 1965 decree that bans any subversive or disorderly acts that could undermine the authority of the ruling socialist Ba'ath party. Sources have added that international standards for fair trial procedures were violated at every stage of the proceedings, including the harassment and intimidation of the defendant's attorneys. Six of the defendants were sentenced to terms ranging from 5 to 10 years hard labor. Sadly, this is not an isolated case of unacceptable behavior on the part of Syria. Under the control of Hafiz Assad, Syria has a long and consistent history of repression, occupation, drug trafficking, and terrorism.
In 1982, Hafiz Assad demonstrated to the international community how ruthless his regime could be by his brutal attacks on the northern cities of Hama and Aleppo. At these locations an uprising developed, led by a group called the Muslim Brotherhood, which resulted in an enormous use of force by Assad's security forces. When the insurrection was finally subdued, between 10,000 to 20,000 people were dead. The city of Hama was literally bulldozed. But it is not only his own people that President Assad treats in such an appalling fashion.
In 1976, Syrian troops marched into Lebanon and aided in the destabilization of this already war-torn nation. Through its continued occupation of Lebanon, Syria further complicates the extraordinarily difficult Middle East peace process. In May 1989, Hafiz Assad told me personally he believed that Lebanon was a part of Syria because the people were one and the same. To enforce this distortion of brotherhood between the two nations, the Syrians maintain an army of about 40,000 troops inside Lebanon.
Lebanon also provides Syria with much needed infusions of hard currency from its drug trafficking operations. The State Department has estimated that 49 metric tons of opium came from the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon last year. An article in the New Republic in January of this year reported that, `Between 20 percent and 35 percent of heroin imported into the United States comes from Syrian-occupied Lebanon.' In fact, the drug business has become so important to President Assad that the Washington Post reported in January 26 of this year that `to a large extent, the glue that keeps the Syrian machinery together is the personal enrichment of Assad's military from narcotics trafficking.'
Terrorism is another nefarious international activity in which Syria continues to be involved. At times Syrian drug
trafficking and support for terrorism appear to run hand in hand. According to an April 27 Time magazine article, it was Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian drug dealer, who planted the bomb on Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. Time's assertions have been supported by Vincent Cannistraro, the former head of the CIA's investigation of the bombing. He was quoted in a New York Times article as saying it was outrageous that Libya could have been fully responsible for the bombing. If this report is true, it is not the first time that Syria has been responsible for the loss of American life.
Published reports have linked Syria to the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine barracks which killed over 200 soldiers. Syrian intelligence has also been implicated in the unsuccessful 1986 bombing of a El Al airliner in London. In addition to its individual acts of terrorism, Syria has been used as a safe haven and training ground for other terrorist organizations.
The Islamic fundamentalist group, Hezbollah, has been receiving its training in Syria. Upon completion of training in Syria, the Hezbollah have their weapons escorted by the Syrians into Lebanon. Hezbollah is the same group that has declared its purpose to be to destroy the cancerous Zionist entity. It also has made more than a dozen attacks on Israeli civilians between 1990 and 1991. Last October, Syrian Vice President Khaddam described the Hezbollah attacks against Israel as brave actions.
Recently, the Bush administration has applauded Syria's role in the new world order. Combined with its cooperation in the Persian Gulf war and its help in freeing American hostages, some Bush officials would say that Syria has demonstrated a new willingness to behave according to international norms. However, former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who headed the State Department's Office For Combating Terrorism from 1986 to 1989, has been quoted as saying:
As far as the release of the hostages [is] concerned, Syria has operated a taxi-service: Ghazi Kanaan (chief of intelligence for Syria) is told where to pick up the hostages by Tehran and the hostages are picked up and delivered to Damascus.
Can one really believe that Syria played a significant role in the release of our Lebanese hostages?
Syria has also failed to expel terrorists, close down their training camps, or even pay lip service to any renunciation of terrorism. The revelation of this information places serious doubt about the credibility of suggestions that Hafiz Assad has, in any way, truly helped the United States in the freeing of the hostages or moderated his policies on terrorism.
A recent Amnesty International report also disputes the proposition that Syria is mitigating its behavior. In its 1991 report, Amnesty stated that it has received descriptions of no less than 35 different methods of torture and has accounted for more than 600 executions in 1990 alone. Reports estimate that as many as 25,000 Syrians have been executed since Assad assumed power.
With Syria spending almost $2 billion last year on arms purchases, this dangerous country seeks only to become more powerful and disruptive. Terrorism, drug trafficking, human rights abuses, and occupation of foreign lands--that is what Syria stands for. The Bush administration seems to be engaged in a dangerous game of ignoring Syria's appalling behavior in the hopes of including them in some sort of new world order. In a region so vital and so fraught with tension, we cannot afford to allow Syria's actions to go unnoticed and unchallenged.