BuzzFeed reports: Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich doesn’t want to say whether or not Syria is a democracy. He’d prefer not to comment on just what Russia’s role in the bombing of Eastern Aleppo was. And he’d really just rather the world focus on peace in Syria, rather than what to do with President Bashar al-Assad.
That was the best that could be drawn from Kucinich in a half-hour phone interview with BuzzFeed News, given days after his return from what he repeatedly referred to as a “fact-finding mission” to Syria alongside Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. While there, both he and Gabbard met with Assad, who has refused to yield power as a precondition for the halt of the civil war that has ground on for more than five years.
Gabbard first revealed officially that she had not only been in Syria but sat down with Assad in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. She denied initial reports that said hers was a secret mission, saying that both the House Ethics Committee and leadership were notified.
(Gabbard’s office has declined to give further comments on her trip beyond her CNN interview and the press release it sent around shortly after.)
Kucinich backed that up, saying that the State Department was also informed as soon as they learned that it would be possible for them to cross from Lebanon into Syria. The trip was funded and arranged by ACCESS-Ohio, a local Arab-American support group that Kucinich has known and worked with as Cleveland’s congressman since shortly after their founding in 1993 until he left Congress in 2012. “If they had a political agenda, I wouldn’t go,” he said. “I’ve had a lifetime in politics, I don’t need more politics.” [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Almost no information exists in the public domain about AACCESS—Ohio. Ohio Secretary of State records indicate it was founded in 1991, and has been in and out of existence ever since. It has sponsored just one other Congressional trip, one that brought Kucinich to Syria in 2006 and in 2011.
Its website is out of action. It has no identifiable social media presence.
However, a 2006 article refers to “Sam Khawam,” an alias of Bassam Khawam’s, as the “chairman of the Arab American Community Center for Social and Economic Services.” It would suggest, then, despite the slight naming discrepancy (“Social and Economic” rather than “Economic and Social”), that the Messrs. Khawam are part of AACCESS. On Thursday, The Guardian reported that Bassam Khawam was the executive director of the organization.
Contacted Thursday by The Daily Beast and asked about the delegation, Bassam Khawam said he was on another call and, requesting a contact number, pledged to phone back. He had not done so at the time of writing.
Who, then, are the Khawams? Gabbard’s press release described the pair as “longtime peace advocates.” The reality is, to put it as politely as possible, more complicated.
In truth, Bassam and Elie Khawam are both officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a political party and paramilitary organization founded in Lebanon in 1932, and currently actively engaged in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime. [Continue reading…]