[EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 15, Rep. Gabbard’s office announced a change in venue for the Maui Town Hall meeting. Because more than 400 residents have already RSVP’d, they have decided to hold the Town Hall at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater instead of the Maui Tropical Plantation. The time and date of the Town Hall is unchanged.]
So last night President Donald Trump learned that if you lob a few dozen cruise missiles at a Syrian military base without first consulting Congress or forming an international coalition of partners (though he did apparently tip of the Russians ahead of time), then pundits, blowhards and even many Democrats will blather own about how “presidential” he looks even though he continues to put the screws to Syrian refugees trying to escape the hellhole that is their country (read this Slate piece for more but prepare to wretch a lot).
Yes, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a barbarian and a war criminal. He’s repeatedly dropped nerve gas on his own people (Trump’s ostensible reason for last night’s attack) and needs to face justice. But unilateral missile attacks that lack both congressional oversight and authorization aren’t the way the way to do it.
“No one disputes that Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians is illegal, immoral, and unacceptable,” ACLU National Security Project Director Hina Shamsi wrote on April 7. “But Assad’s illegality does not excuse illegality in response… President Trump has unilaterally launched strikes against a country that has not attacked us, and without any authorization from Congress. Doing so violates some of the most important legal constraints on the use of force.”
Not long after Trump launched his missiles, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–Hawaii, who has repeatedly spoken against U.S. military action in Syria and even visited Assad in January, released a very strange statement of her views on the attack. Here it is, in full:
It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
This Administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning. If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court. However, because of our attack on Syria, this investigation may now not even be possible. And without such evidence, a successful prosecution will be much harder.
Whoa. Let’s unpack this a bit. Gabbard opposes Trump’s missile strikes because it could lead to war with Russia–got it. But that bit about how Assad might not be responsible for the recent sarin nerve gas attack is strange. Most governments around the world (but not Russia, of course) are pretty clear in their view that Assad’s regime has used sarin before, and most likely used it again recently.
But then she says this, which is just plain wild: “If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court.”
Does Gabbard have any idea what she’s talking about? The ICC’s charter expressly forbids the court from imposing the death penalty. Here’s an excerpt from a United Nations webpage on what the ICC can and can’t do that makes this pretty clear:
Consistent with international human rights standards, the International Criminal Court has no competence to impose a death penalty. The Court can impose lengthy terms of imprisonment of up to 30 years or life when so justified by the gravity of the case. The Court may, in addition, order a fine, forfeiture of proceeds, property or assets derived from the committed crime.
Deterrence is not just effected by the death penalty. Deterrence is brought about by the entire criminal justice process from investigation, followed by prosecution, trial, delivery of the judgement, sentencing and punishment. The publicity associated with a trial will have an additional deterrent effect.
Thankfully, you’ll soon have a chance to ask Gabbard in person what she was thinking when she issued this statement. On April 3, she announced that she’ll hold a (rare) series of town hall meetings throughout the Second District. Here’s her schedule for Maui County:
• LANAI: Thursday, April 13, 4:45-6:30pm at the Lanai Senior Center (309 Seventh St., Lanai City)
• MOLOKAI: Monday, April 17, 4:30-6pm at the Mitchell Pauole Center (90 Ainoa St., Kaunakakai)
• MAUI: Thursday, April 20, 7:30-9pm at the
Maui Tropical Plantation (1670 Honoapi`ilani Hwy., Waikapu) Maui Arts & Cultural Center Castle Theater (1 Cameron Way, Kahului)
We’re guessing there won’t be a shortage of questions for Gabbard. But keep in mind that if you plan to attend one of these meetings, Gabbard’s office insists that you RSVP at least one day ahead of time at Gabbard.house.gov/townhall.
Photo courtesy Rep. Gabbard’s office