U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford today described what he called “atrocious” and “ghastly” abuses of Syrian opposition figures, protesters, and even bystanders at the hands of President Assad’s security forces. He said almost 2,000 people have been killed so far as the regime continues to crack down on an uprising that threatens to oust Assad from power.
“In general, their behavior has been atrocious. And their recent actions that we read about the newspaper these days only underline again that the Syrian government is unwilling to lead the democratic transition that the Syrian people themselves demand,” he said.
Ford, who arrived in Damascus in January only after a recess appointment, sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing this afternoon.
“With respect to the violence, it’s getting worse — the Syrian government’s constant brutality; its refusal to allow peaceful marches; its insistence on widespread arrest campaigns; and its atrocious torture — the reports you read about the detention conditions are just ghastly,” he told the panel.
Ford veered from his prepared remarks to describe the extent of the bloodshed.
“The government’s response has been brutal; it has been outrageous. Nearly 2,000 people have been killed by the Syrian security forces and thousands more arrested and held in barbaric conditions,” he said.
He said that compared to the dramatic crackdown on protestors in Egypt, which were broadcast around the world, the clamp down in Syria. There 900 people died, compared to 2,000 so far in Syria, yet Egypt has a population four times larger.
Ambassador Ford also described his controversial trip to the restive city of Hama, which sparked protests in front of the US embassy.
“The Syrian government was saying there are armed groups up in Hama. I went there. I didn’t see a single gun. The most dangerous weapon I saw was a slingshot. We need to be clear about what the nature of the violence is and where it comes from. The responsibility lies with President Assad and his government,” he said.
“When we came up to the first checkpoint, very frankly — the locals’ checkpoint, not a government checkpoint — we weren’t sure if they were going to be armed or not, and we were a little nervous. But the second point I came with was they are not against foreigners. We told them we were American diplomats. They said, “Oh, America, great. Go ahead. Please pass,” you know, whatever,” Ford recalled.
“We got kind of lost in Hama. We should have had a map, but we didn’t. So we had to stop and ask for directions, and they actually got in the car and took us to where we wanted to go. They were very nice, invited us to lunch, et cetera,” he said, adding that he didn’t sense any anti-American sentiment.
“In fact, I think they appreciated the attention that the United States showed to their cause and that they were peaceful. They asked who I was. When I said, “I’m the American ambassador,” several of them said, “Oh, come on. Who are you really?” So they didn’t believe me till I gave them some business cards,” he added.