WASHINGTON, D.C. - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could be categorized as a war criminal. The statement came as the United Nations announced today that an estimated 7,500 people have died in the country as a result of Assad's sustained crackdown.
"I think that based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category," Clinton said.
But she emphasized that the international community should not officially seek to charge Assad with the title. Clinton said past experiences in naming heads of state as war criminals has shown it "limits options" in persuading the leaders to step down from power.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., forced the response regarding the United States' stance on the violence as Clinton testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the State Department's budget. Graham and several other Republicans have suggested supplying arms to Syrian opposition forces, as the United States did during the Libyan overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi.
Clinton was before the committee to justify $51.6 billion in funding requested by the Obama administration for the agency in its 2013 budget, a roughly 2 percent increase from last year.
Aside from Syria, the committee also pressed her repeatedly on Afghanistan and Pakistan, given last week's widespread unrest, which resulted in the deaths of four U.S. soldiers at the hands of their Afghan counterparts. She continued to defend the White House's planned drawdown in the country, insisting the United States is not interested in an "endless commitment."
The secretary of state isn't done on Capitol Hill. She will appear later today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.