Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson was peppered with questions on Russia’s alleged war crimes in Syria from multiple senators of both parties during his confirmation hearing Wednesday.
Sen. Marco Rubio started the ball rolling, taking a hard line of questioning with Tillerson regarding Russia’s bombing of civilian targets in Syria. He was also pressed by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Chairman Bob Corker himself.
“Let me ask you this question, is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” asked Rubio.
“I would not use that term,” responded Tillerson.
Rubio went on to describe the allegations against Russia in Syria, specifically its attacks on civilian targets in Aleppo, which was recently surrendered to the Syrian government. After Rubio again pushed on Russia, Tillerson noted he would have to engage in a comprehensive review of Russia’s actions before making a judgment on whether or not Putin is a war criminal.
Menendez took a similar line of questioning with Tillerson on Russia. Tillerson acknowledged that Russia violated international norms and laws when it invaded and annexed Crimean in 2014 from Ukraine.
“Does Russia and Syria’s targeted bombing campaign in Aleppo on hospitals for example, violate this international order?” asked Menendez.
“Yes, that is not acceptable behavior,” said Tillerson, in response.
“Do you believe these actions constitute war crimes?” asked Menendez in a follow-up.
“Again Senator … I do not have sufficient information to make that type of a [serious] conclusion,” said Tillerson. “Coming to that conclusion is going to require me to have additional, specific facts.”
Chairman Corker then stepped in and asked Tillerson if he would be willing to admit Russia engaged in war crimes if he was presented with the proper information.
“If you had sufficient evidence though, in looking at classified information that that had taken place, would that not be a war crime?” asked Corker.
“Yes, sir,” replied Tillerson.
Russia, along with its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, engaged in a wide-spread bombing campaign against various civilian targets in Aleppo and other cities, including hospitals. Aleppo was subsequently surrendered in December, after several failed attempts to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria involving Secretary of State Kerry.
More than 400,000 people have died in the five-year-long Syrian civil war, according to reports.
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