September 6, 2013

Syrian rebels concern Maine delegation

A video, released by The New York Times, shows Syrian rebels executing prisoners from President Assad's military.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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In this screen capture from a video on the New York Times website that was posted on Thursday, Syrian rebel fighters stand over seven Syrian government soldiers with guns near Idlib, Syria in April 2012. The rebel fighters, under orders from commander Abdul Samad Issa, at right, allegedly shot the captured soldiers and put their bodies into a mass grave.

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Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, as she arrives for a closed-door briefing on Syria. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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As two members of the 15-person Senate Intelligence Committee, Collins and King have been heavily involved in closed-door briefings on Syria all week in Washington. Pingree and Michaud plan to attend briefings in Washington next week.

Collins said the evidence is "compelling and convincing" that the Syrian government -- not rebel forces -- was behind the chemical weapons attacks on Aug. 21 that the U.S. claims killed more than 1,400 people. Outside groups have put the death toll in the hundreds.

Collins said questions that she has asked during briefings have only led to more questions. As an example, she said there is clear evidence that Assad is moving his military assets around, making it impossible for even the most targeted military strikes to take out all of his chemical weapons.

"So a key question for me is: What would happen if he decides to prove the military strikes did not eliminate his capability and he decides to launch another attack?" Collins said. "It appears the administration's answer to that is they would likely launch another strike. That is one of my concerns, that we might be drawn further and further into a protracted civil war."

Collins wonders whether international options need further exploration, including responses through the United Nations and NATO. She also said she would like to see Arab nations -- many of which have condemned Assad -- take a larger role in the issue.

Collins, Michaud and Pingree all questioned whether the U.S. should take the role of punishing Assad, especially given the feedback they are receiving from constituents. The vast majority of people who have contacted Maine's four members of Congress have opposed military intervention.

"Nothing I have heard yet really counters the questions that people are raising," Pingree said.

"What is happening over there is just shocking, but I have said all along that we cannot be the police force for the world," Michaud said.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

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