WASHINGTON — From Stalin to Kim Jong-un, no dictator has ever been too brutal to find a few high-profile American friends, and Syria's Bashar al-Assad is finding his this week: Former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is on a trip to Damascus this week with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, where she praised the country's free health care.
"I am in Syria now with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, where residents enjoy free education and free healthcare," McKinney wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. "Visited a Damascus hospital, the Grand Mufti, a school that has been turned into residences for Internally Displaced Persons. Ended the Day with Ogarit Dandash who founded "Over Our Dead Bodies," a group of young people who climbed atop Mount Qasioun and dared U.S. bombs to target them. They are still there in defiant resistance to any war against Syria. Mount Qasioun should be the site of a peace party, not bombing strikes."
The trip was organized by Clark's group, the International Action Center, and included Dedon Kamathi of the All African People's Revolutionary Party, and a Syrian-American activist, Johnny Achi, of a pro-Assad group called Arab Americans 4 Syria.
Clark, who served as attorney general in the 1960s, has since become a hard-left antiwar activist who has defended dictators and war criminals like Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
McKinney has been in the news for her support of dictators before. In 2011 she appeared on Libyan state TV and spoke out against the NATO airstrikes taking place at the time as Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi attempted to crush a popular revolt against his decades-long rule, saying that "I want to say categorically and very clearly that these policies of war ... are not what the people of the United States stand for, and it's not what African-Americans stand for."
Sara Flounders, a longtime anti-war activist who helped organize and went on the trip, said in an interview on Thursday that "if anything, support for the government is much stronger now" and that "People in Syria know they face what happened in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Libya."
According to the write-up of the Flounders interview on globalresearch.ca, a conspiracy theory website, the delegation attended a forum called the Arab International Forum Against U.S. Aggression on Syria organized by a group called the Arab International Centre for Communication and Solidarity. The Anti-Defamation League has described the Arab International Centre for Communication and Solidarity as an "international anti-Israel organization" and detailed a similar 2010 forum in which Hezbollah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah addressed the audience via video.
This forum included British member of Parliament and Assad apologist George Galloway as well as "ambassadors of Russia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Nicaragua and many leading organizations from Europe, North Africa and Western Asia," according to globalresearch.ca.
According to a spokesperson for McKinney, the group is still in Syria.
"The congresswoman has not returned yet," said David Josue, a spokesperson for McKinney. "Upon her return I will let you know about your request."
Other members of the delegation, including organizer Flounders, did not immediately return requests for comment and clarification about who is paying for the trip and whether the Assad regime invited the participants.
A volunteer who picked up the phone at the International Action Center (IAC) said that Flounders would be speaking at the group's New York headquarters about the trip on Friday.
Caleb Maupin, an IAC representative and an activist with the Workers World Party, said the group believed that the Syrian rebels, and not the Assad regime, carried out the August 21 chemical attack that prompted threats of U.S. military strikes against the country.
"We see this potential attack on Syria as disastrous policy," he said, speaking of hte IAC.
"It seems clear that the Assad government did not carry out this chemical attack," Maupin said, citing Russia's stance on the issue as proof and claiming that a notorious video from August 21 was a fake.
"These rebels are doing horrific things, they're doing some pretty horrendous things in Syria," Maupin said. "Our tax dollars are supporting them. Syria was a peaceful country for a long time."
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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