The brokered peace deal in Syria may be faltering, but the White
House isn't waiting to add new sanctions on the Assad regime.
According to the Washington
Post, the President is set to issue an executive order today, which will
allow the U.S. to impose sanctions on foreign nationals--not
nation-states--found to have used cell phone tracking technology, internet
surveillance tools and other technologies to locate--and detain--protesters and
The move comes in the wake of a series of widely publicized
accounts involving Syrian security forces use of Western-made surveillance
technology to track, locate--and in many cases kill--dissidents who previously
thought of themselves as immune from the kind of blanket surveillance
commonplace in authoritarian regimes. The connection only came to light when
about 54 gigabytes of log files were released to the public by Telecomix--one
of the companies implicated in the accounts--released them in October 2011.
A separate bill pending in the Senate, S. 2034, would also
impose sanctions on imports of surveillance technology to Syria--including
contractors who do business in the country. The Syrian Human Rights
Accountability Act of 2012, was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
(D-NY), and sponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH),
although the full chamber has yet to take up the proposal.
While both the White House and Senate proposals impose
sanctions on persons who are found to be responsible for, complicit in
censorship, surveillance, and human rights abuses in the Levant-based country, the
President’s executive order would take effect immediately, while S. 2034 would
not kick in until 90 days if the bill becomes law--enough time for Syrian
security forces to tidy up any bloody messes far from the prying eyes of the
The President isn't stopping there. In addition to the
executive order, the Washington Post reports that President Obama has also
authorized a first ever National Intelligence Estimate by the CIA and other
intelligence agencies focusing specifically on the issue of genocide around the
"This unprecedented direction from the President, and
the development of a comprehensive strategy, sends a clear message that we are
committed to combating atrocities, an old threat that regularly takes grim and
modern new forms" Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior
director for multilateral affairs and human rights said in a statement.
Power--the author of A
Problem From Hell, a study of genocide in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and
elsewhere--will also serve as chairwoman of the Atrocities Prevention Board, a
newly created panel that was announced by the administration in August.
Previous attempts by the President to address genocide have
not come without some criticism. When the President decided to intervene in
Libya last year citing human rights abuses by Ghadafi loyalists in Misrata and
other cities, Republicans derided the move as attempt to distract the public
from his unpopular approval ratings at home. The "wag the dog" theory
didn't gain much traction when U.S-led NATO air-strikes on Tripoli and other
Ghadafi strongholds weakened the North African despot's hold on the country,
and the matter was quickly forgotten when Ghadafi was killed by Libyan rebels
in August 2011.
What is different about the Libyan uprising then--and the
Syrian crackdown on dissidents now--is that the U.S. policy toward Syria is
currently seen by both conservatives and human rights activists as feckless,
inefficient--and more likely to do harm than good.
"For the United States to sit idly by and watch this
wanton massacre is a betrayal of everything we stand for and believe in"
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said in a speech last week.
Obama--who has publically called for the removal of Bashar
Al-Assad and imposed economic sanctions against Assad's government--has not
been shy about his disapproval of the Syrian crackdown. Yet as of press time,
nearly 11,000 people have been estimated by human rights groups to have been
slaughtered at the hands of the Syrian regime. Many more have fled to Turkey, Lebanon--and even Iraq--to
escape the violence there.
According to The New
York Times, Syrian troops have reportedly fired at refugees crossing along
the Turkey-Syrian border--killing civilians inside Turkey's borders and further
angering Syria's former partner in the region. As calls for military intervention
escalate, the pressure on the United States to respond--as it did in Libya--is
According to Power, the new Atrocities Prevention Board will
hold its first session Monday afternoon--the first-time a panel has officially
met to discuss the issue of genocide.
Power and other senior administration officials are expected to meet
with representatives from over 200 NGOs, university chapters of anti-genocide
groups like Amnesty International, and other individuals.
As memories of Srebrenica, Sarajevo, the Great Lakes refugee
crisis in Rwanda and the current famine in Somalia loom large in the minds of
seasoned activists all eyes are on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to make sure that
the inaction that composed most of the White House's response to genocide in
the 1990s and early 2000s--never happens again.
"This won't make genocide go away," Power insists.
"but it does give us a new set of tools and should prevent presidents from
ever saying again that they don't have options to prevent mass killings."