In a first, two Congressmen — one Democrat and one Republican — have sent a letter to the US Department of Justice asking to open a case against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and his alleged role in targeting American troops.
The letter obtained by The National was coauthored by Congressmen Steve Russell, the Republican representative of Oklahoma, and Seth Moulton, the Democrat representative of Massachusetts. It was submitted to the Department of Justice on December 7 addressed to the office of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It asks for an investigation into the Assad regime's role in killing US soldiers. It would focus on the deaths of American troops not in the Syrian war, but in neighbouring Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
“As combat and military veterans, we understand that from 2003 to 2009 the Assad regime was responsible for assisting terrorist groups to cross from Syria and enter into Iraq specifically seeking to target American troops, resulting in casualties and serious injuries” the letter reads.
It continues to say that to this day US veterans and their families “continue to suffer the consequences of the reprehensible actions of these terrorists supported by Bashar Al Assad.”
After presenting their case, the two Congressmen urged “the United States Department of Justice to open a case against the Assad regime for its role in these crimes and violations of international law.”
It cites evidence from the US intelligence community, the defence department and independent experts who “have confirmed that the Assad regime was directly involved in facilitating the transfer of arms and personnel by Arab, Iranian, and Iranian backed militias who crossed Syria and entered Iraq between 2003 and 2009 specifically to attack American soldiers.”
The letter also references former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki 2009 comments that "ninety percent of terrorists from different Arabic nationalities infiltrated Iraq through Syrian territory.”
The Syrian government had previously denied these accusations. In 2009, Mr Assad called them "immoral." "When Syria is accused of killing Iraqis, while it is housing around 1.2 million Iraqis ... this is considered an immoral accusation" he said.
The Syrian President described the allegations then as "a political accusation that follows no political logic. And when it is accused of terrorism without proof, it is outside any legal logic."
If the Department of Justice opens an investigation and seeks evidence into Assad role in targeting of US military in Iraq, it could open the door into legal routes for those who suffered from such actions.
Mr Russell and Mr Moulton are both former veterans who served in the Iraq war, where they, as outlined in the letter, “personally experienced the effects of Syria's contributions to the Iraq insurgency's emergence and persistence.” They accuse Mr Assad of providing “the critical infrastructure needed to support the replenishment of terrorist fighters and equipment.”
The letter mentions “the Assad regime’s support for Arab and Iranian terrorist fighters in Iraq” and names Hizbollah's Iraq affiliate Kata'ib Hizbollah as operating in a close partnership.
“It is time for the Assad regime to be held accountable for its heinous support of terrorism” the letter concludes, calling the United States Department of Justice to investigate and open a case against the Assad regime “for its role in these terrorist actions on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and for past and continued support for terrorism in clear violation of international law.”
Sources familiar with the drafting of the letter told The National that legal consultations went into place ahead of the writing. They added that if the Department of Justice agrees to opening an investigation and finds evidence proving an Assad role in targeting of US military in Iraq, it could open the door into legal routes against the Syrian regime for those who suffered from such actions.
The letter also comes as the Trump administration debates a Syria strategy, with focus on countering Iran and securing post-ISIL gains.
Mr Moulton served four tours in Iraq and Mr Russell is a decorated veteran who served more than seven years overseas and deployed in Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.