American attorney calls for Assad’s prosecution

Richard Heideman says Syrian regime must be held accountable for ‘war crimes and crimes against humanity’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Richard D. Heideman (photo credit: courtesy)
Richard D. Heideman (photo credit: courtesy)

A prominent American attorney and legal expert has called for the international community to prosecute Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime for atrocities committed against the Syrian people.

The actions carried out by Assad over the past two years “are war crimes and crimes against humanity and the Syrian regime must be held accountable,” Richard Heideman told The Times of Israel Thursday. “No country has made this statement yet, and it must be done… Voices must be raised to protect the human rights of Syrians and to bring Assad and those responsible to justice.”

Heideman said that the displacement of some one million people, and the deaths of over 100,000 others should have caused the global community to take action long ago. “It’s unclear why Assad got away with it,” he said, while comparing the Syrian case to the rapid and vast intervention by the US, Britain, France and others in Libya during 2011.

In Libya, “not nearly as many people were killed, and the [internal] fighting wasn’t going on for very long” before the world took military action. When the fighting ended, Heideman stated, “legal experts and prosecutors wanted to bring both Muammar Gaddafi and his son before a court of law.” While Gaddafi was killed, his son “Saif al-Islam is being charged in both the international court and Libya’s local court.”

“Last year a report said 40,000 people were killed [in Syria], and no one cared. 50,000 [were killed], and no one cared… 100,000 people were killed and no one cares,” he charged. Asked whether the reported use of chemical weapons last week by Assad’s forces was a significant legal change, Heideman rejected the idea.

In the eyes of international law, he said, “there is no difference between using machine guns, grenades… or chemical weapons” to kill people, even though the chemical weapons are classified as a weapon of mass destruction and therefore considered to be off-limits.

Viewed widely as a legal expert on issues regarding terror and international law, in one case Heideman represented 26 Americans who were killed or maimed by the Abu Nidal terror organization in a US civil law suit against Syria. He called that case a “landmark victory for justice,” after the court awarded over 3.5 billion (USD) in damages to the families, accepting the claim that, as a state funding terror, Syria must be held accountable for its actions.

“Syrian violence and terror didn’t start two years ago,” he said. Rather, the phenomenons “are a result of the ongoing impunity enjoyed by the Syrian Arab republic while conducting terrorist activities stretching back decades,” including activities aiding and sponsoring attacks by Hezbollah and other organizations against Israel, the US and others. What’s changed, he said, is that “as with many tyrants, the terror has been turned internally and used by Assad against Syria’s own citizens.”

The world should have acted long ago “on humanitarian grounds alone,” Heideman responded, when asked about recent statements by Russia. Putin and others in his government have said that any military action against Syria without a UN Security Council resolution would violate international law. The US and UK have charged that there were other legal grounds for a strike besides the UNSC.

Noting that international law isn’t the leading factor being considered by the decision makers, Heideman said it is still important. “Russia is trying to tell the others ‘you don’t have proof, and you don’t have the right [to act],’ while Prime Minister David Cameron is saying the opposite.”

According to Heideman, it is unclear why no one had taken the matter to the UN’s established court of justice, “but it will happen… Assad has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. He must be held accountable for his actions.”

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