The death toll is rising in Syria as its dictatorship fires on protesters. The Daily Telegraph reports that 54 people were killed Friday, bringing the total to at least 220 since protests began last month. Cyberdissidents.org reproduces a report of 80 killed Friday, while the Washington Post quotes Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer in Damascus, who says 76 people were confirmed dead.
In the face of this, the most the Obama administration has so far offered up, so far as I can tell, is the following exchange between the press corps and a wan White House press secretary:
Q On Syria -- do you have anything to say on Syria today? Lots of violence and --
MR. CARNEY: As we have consistently throughout this period, we deplore the use of violence and we're very concerned about what we've -- the reports we've seen from Syria. We are monitoring it very closely; call on the Syrian government to cease and desist from the use of violence against peaceful protestors; call on all sides to cease and desist from the use of violence; and also call on the Syrian government to follow through on its promises and take action towards the kind of concrete reform that they promised.
Q Jay, even though the U.S. and other countries keep condemning what's happening in Syria, the situation there just gets worse. So is there any discussion in the administration about taking any further action, since the situation there is starting to look like it was in Libya when the U.S. took action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I have no updates on that, except to say that every country is different and every situation is different. And the circumstances that presented themselves in Libya were actually quite unique to Libya in terms of the imminent assault on a town with a sizeable population which Muammar Qaddafi had promised to show no mercy; the opportunity to prevent that kind of slaughter of civilians; the unified international consensus that action should be taken that was not just Western but included Arab League and other support; the request from the opposition there for the kind of assistance that was provided through -- and has been provided through U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
So those circumstances were quite unique.
Here's an alternative proposed text for President Obama, or Mr. Carney, the next time he's asked about Syria:
You know what, whether it was 54 people or 76 or 80 people who were killed in Syria, it's a big deal, because each one of them represents an enormous amount of human potential. Ever heard of Abdulfattah Jandali? That's the father of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Mr. Jandali was born and grew up in Syria, but eventually came to the United States. As an article in Al Hayat recently recounted, "Jandali met Joanne Carole Sciebele by whom he had a boy while they were both still students, but Sciebele's father was conservative and wouldn't agree to them getting married, so she gave her baby boy – Steve Jobs – up for adoption."
What if one of those 54 or 78 or 80 people who was killed was the next Steve Jobs, or the father of the next Steve Jobs? What if they have dreams of being the next Steve Jobs? Maybe the prospect of that was one of the reasons they were willing to protest in the first place.
So we aren't going to talk much publicly in advance in specific about what we are doing, but we're going to do what we can to make the Syrian government, for as long as it remains the Syrian government, feel some painful consequences for its actions.
And since you mentioned Syria, one other point. Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations recently made this observation:
"For those with strong stomachs, the most recent State Department human rights report on Syria describes Syria this way: 'The security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, caused politically motivated disappearances, and tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees with impunity.' That's pretty antiseptic, but the report then acknowledges that this regime is medieval: 'Former prisoners, detainees, and reputable local human rights groups reported that methods of torture and abuse included electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia; forcing objects into the rectum; beatings while the victim is suspended from the ceiling and on the soles of the feet; alternately dousing victims with freezing water and beating them in extremely cold rooms; hyperextending the spine; bending the body into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the spine; and stripping prisoners naked for public view.'"
If all the left-wing advocacy groups, congressmen, and pro bono lawyers that spent their time browbeating the Bush administration and my own administration over Guantanamo, waterboarding, "torture" and the like had spent even a fraction of their time and energy and resources highlighting the conditions in Syria and advocating for change there, the Assad regime might have been gone before Friday's massacre, and the victims of it and their descendants might have instead lived and gone on to bless us all by fulfilling their full potential as inventors, businessmen, creative designers, or entrepreneurial geniuses in peace and freedom.