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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. DeLAURO. I rise in support of my colleague's bipartisan amendment, which prohibits any funds provided in this act from being used to fulfill the Defense Department's current contract with Rosoboronexport, the Russian state arms dealer currently providing weapons to Syria for Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan security forces.

This amendment builds upon the bipartisan support of the amendment added to the House authorization bill that prohibits future contracts along the same lines and requires future contracts to be competitively bid so that U.S. manufacturers can compete on these taxpayer-funded deals.

For over a year now, we have seen Syrian President Bashar al-Assad respond to peaceful demonstrations by the Syrian people with a brutal crackdown. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 17,000 people have been killed by the regime since violence began there in March 2011. Fighting this week has further intensified in and around Damascus, and there are reports, after similar violence in Houla and Qubair, that more than 100 civilians have been massacred in Tremseh. This is on top of torture, sexual violence, inference with access to medical treatment and many other gross human rights violations perpetrated by the al-Assad regime.

At the same time, Russia continues to provide that regime with the means to perpetrate widespread systemic attacks on its civilians. Last year alone, they reportedly sold Damascus $1 billion in weapons. In January, they signed a deal with Damascus to supply Syria with 36 combat jets.

Last month Secretary of State Clinton expressed concern that Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syria. The New York Times last Saturday, in an article on the defection of Syrian Air Force Captain Akhmed Trad, detailed the use of rocket-equipped Mi-17 helicopters by the regime. Earlier today, Russia, along with China, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have sanctioned the Assad regime for the continued use of heavy weapons.

Yet, incredibly, the U.S. Defense Department has purchased 21 Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan security forces and is reportedly purchasing 10 more through a no-bid with that Russian company, even though it supplies arms to Syria and was, for years, on the U.S. sanctions list for providing illegal nuclear assistance to Iran.

If U.S. taxpayer dollars are going to be spent providing helicopters to the Afghans, those dollars should be spent on American systems that create jobs here at home. There are American companies available to manufacture the aircraft, which would increase interoperability with both the U.S. and NATO forces and support American manufacturing. The Defense Department is reportedly already training the Afghans how to fly and maintain American-made helicopters.

At the very least, there should be an open competition for procurement of these helicopters, a competition we believe superior American manufacturers would win. In any case, the American taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize al-Assad's murderous regime in Syria.

This amendment will end this no-bid contract, stop the use of Federal dollars to subsidize the massacres being perpetrated by the al-Assad regime. I urge you to support this bipartisan amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Ms. DeLAURO. The bipartisan amendment that Congressman Jones and I offer ensures that any security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan will not be legal unless it comes in the form of a treaty or is specifically authorized by a law.

The gentleman's point of order argues that this amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to know the definition of ``any agreement with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that includes security assurances for mutual defense.'' While this definition is not written into statute, it is common sense.

I also believe our responsibility under the Constitution takes precedence over this point of order. As it is, this point would cut into the heart of our constitutional duties as a Congress under article I, section 8. The power to declare war has been entrusted to the Congress and to the Congress alone.

At the recent NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama and NATO leaders announced an end to combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013 and the transition of lead responsibility for security to the Afghan Government by the end of 2014. But even though Bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda has been decimated, the administration has also announced an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan that would keep an untold number of American troops there until 2024, which is 12 years from now.

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Ms. DeLAURO. Whether you agree or disagree with the policy, it is imperative for our form of government that Congress be consulted on any such agreement that maintains our troops abroad or, for that matter, any defense or Status of Forces agreement that is made by the United States. It is our task as representatives of the people to debate the critical issues and to make the ultimate decision of whether to put or keep our troops in harm's way.

This amendment will simply ensure in our relationship with Afghanistan that no defense agreement will be enacted without the ultimate consent of Congress, as is mandated by our Constitution.

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