Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) today took to the House floor to speak in support of an amendment to the Department of Defense (DOD) funding bill that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to purchase helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the Russian state arms dealer. DeLauro is a leading voice in this effort, having written to Defense Secretary Panetta and introduced a similar amendment to the defense policy bill, which was included in the House-passed version.
The DOD continues to buy Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan Security Forces from Rosoboronexport, despite the fact Russia is still selling billions of dollars of weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supporting his government's brutal crackdown on their own people.
The remarks below are prepared for delivery:
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-supported amendment added to the House authorization bill that prohibits future contracts along the same lines and requires future contracts to be competitively bid, so US 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 one hundred civilians have been massacred in Tremseh.
This is on top of torture, sexual violence, interference 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 and systematic 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 UN 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 ten more, through a no-bid contract 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 U.S. and NATO forces and support American manufacturing.
And 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 the procurement of these helicopters -- a competition we believe superior American manufacturers would win.
And in any case, American taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize Al-Assad's murderous regime in Syria. This amendment will end this no-bid contract and 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.