Hawaii congresswoman and 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard refused on Sunday to say whether Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal.
Gabbard, participating in a town hall hosted by CNN, was asked about contact she's had with Assad in the past.
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"You met Bashar al-Assad in 2017. Do you believe that Assad is a war criminal?" CNN's Dana Bash asked.
Gabbard suggested not enough information is currently available to determine Assad's guilt.
"I think that the evidence needs to be gathered and, as I have said before, if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such," Gabbard responded.
"But you're not sure now?" Bash pressed.
"Everything that I have said requires that we take action based on evidence. The evidence is there, there should be accountability," Gabbard said.
An audience member asked Gabbard if she remained skeptical Assad used chemical warfare against Syrian civilians.
"I want to correct that because there has been some misunderstanding," Gabbard said. "There have been reports showing chemical weapons have been used in Syria, both by the Syrian government as well as different terrorist groups on the ground in Syria. The skepticism and the questions that I raised were very specific around incidents that the Trump administration was trying to use as an excuse to launch a U.S. military attack in Syria."
"Congresswoman, the Defense Department, the United Nations agree that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people," Bash noted. "So as president, would you trust the conclusions of your government?"
"Well, like I said, we have, in our recent past, a situation where our own government told lies to the American people as an—and to the United Nations, for that matter—to launch a war. What I'm saying is it is our responsibility to exercise due diligence, to ask the tough questions, to get the evidence before we make those very costly decisions about how and when and where our military is used," Gabbard said.
Assad is "not the enemy of the United States," Gabbard said last month during an interview with MSNBC. She also dodged when asked to more specifically categorize his relationship to the United States. She admitted it was "possible" Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people, something she has questioned in the past.
United Nations war crime investigators determined in September 2017 that "[g]overnment forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during Syria’s civil war." The "Syrian government has been found responsible for most chemical weapons attacks in Syria," the Arms Control Association notes.
Gabbard has stood by her decision to meet with the Syrian dictator in January 2017. A few months later, Assad was accused of carrying out a chemical attack on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma that prompted U.S. missile strikes in Syria.
A Washington Post opinion article referred to Gabbard as Assad's "mouthpiece in Washington."
In addition to using chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, the Assad regime has employed barrel bombs indiscriminately. Gabbard's campaign released an ad last week that denounces regime change wars while showing a clip of Assad's forces dropping barrel bombs on the city of Daraya.