May 30th, 2013
01:45 PM ET
11 months ago

McCain responds to Syria photo controversy

(CNN) – It would be "regrettable" if the identities of the men photographed with Sen. John McCain in Syria this week are confirmed to be individuals responsible for a year-old kidnapping, the Arizona senator's office said in a statement Thursday.

There has been confusion and conflicting reports about who exactly the men pictured with McCain are, and whether or not they were involved in last year's kidnapping. CNN has been unable to confirm the identities of the men in the photograph. Nonetheless, McCain's office was quick to reject speculation the Republican knowingly met with men accused of the abduction.

McCain entered the war-torn country on Monday and met with commanders of the Free Syrian Army, who are fighting forces loyal to Bashar al Assad for control of the country. He was the first U.S. senator to travel to Syria since the civil war broke out there two years ago, and told CNN after leaving that his conviction the U.S. must become more involved in the country's conflict had intensified.

Opponents of a greater U.S. role in Syria say the presence of terrorists among the rebels should prevent lethal aid from being delivered to opposition forces.

A report in the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper suggested a photo released by McCain's office from the trip showed the Arizona senator standing alongside two men accused of kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in May 2012.

The paper cited family members of the kidnapped pilgrims – along with one pilgrim who was kidnapped himself and later released – identifying Mohamad Nour and Abu Ibrahim in one of the handout photos from McCain, which the Republican also posted to Twitter.

But on Thursday, McCain's communications director Brian Rogers strongly denied that McCain would knowingly pose next to men he knew were responsible for kidnapping pilgrims.

"None of the individuals the Senator planned to meet with was named Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim," Rogers wrote in a statement. "A number of other Syrian commanders joined the meeting, but none of them identified himself as Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim."

The Washington-based group Syrian Emergency Task Force, which helped coordinate the trip, did not arrange any meetings with the men named as kidnappers, Rogers said.

"A number of the Syrians who greeted Senator McCain upon his arrival in Syria asked to take pictures with him, and as always, the Senator complied," he continued. "If the individual photographed with Senator McCain is in fact Mohamed Nour, that is regrettable. But it would be ludicrous to suggest that the Senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible. Senator McCain condemns such heinous actions in the strongest possible terms."

The kidnapping in question took place in May 2012. The pilgrims - all men - were detained by an armed group in northern Syria after crossing the border from Turkey. They were on their way back from visiting holy sites in Iran.

The pilgrims' wives were not detained but sent to the city of Aleppo; from there they returned to Lebanon.

McCain's trip to Syria underscored a long-standing debate among U.S. lawmakers over whether the U.S. should provide arms and other lethal aid to rebels in Syria.

McCain has been the leading voice in Congress calling on President Barack Obama to ramp up support for Syrian rebels, who now receive nonlethal aid like food and medicine from the United States. In early April that aid was stepped up to include equipment such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment that is considered defensive in nature.

In their meeting with McCain, leaders of the Syrian rebel forces pressed the United States to provide them with weapons to continue their fight against Assad. They specifically said they need ammunition, as well as antitank and antiaircraft weapons, McCain said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

"They do not understand why we won't help them," he told Anderson Cooper.

A bipartisan measure that would allow lethal weaponry to "vetted Syrian groups" passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. The "Syria Transition Support Act" also calls for military training and both lethal and non-lethal arms for vetted groups; a $250 million "transition fund each year" through fiscal year 2015, and sanctions on oil sales to al-Assad.

But dissenters from both parties have expressed concerns about lethal arms ending up in the hands of terrorists, who could later use them against Americans or other allies of the United States. Republican Sen. Rand Paul has been outspoken about his opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria, part of his broader anti-interventionist stance. In an opinion article for CNN.com, Paul wrote Wednesday that arming the rebels would be "complicated and dangerous" and "could actually help the extremists."

He also took subtle jabs at McCain, pointing to the senator's switch in support from former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the rebels seeking his demise.

Among the groups that worry U.S. leaders is the al-Nusra Front, which is designated by the United States as a pro-al Qaeda terrorist group. Members of the organization have joined the rebels in their fight against Assad.

McCain told CNN Wednesday that members of the extremist group currently represent only 7% of the 100,000 total rebel forces.

"We can help the right people," he said. "Is there some risk involved? Absolutely. But is the status quo acceptable?"

CNN's Ted Barrett and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.


Filed under: John McCain • Syria
soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. Steve, New York City

    Didn't we try this in Afghanistan in the early 1980s – sending arms to the Mujhadeen (sp?) as part of our proxy war against the Soviet Union? Wow – that didn't work so well, did it. People like McCain seem tempted to repeat the same stupid historical mistakes. Really a shame, especially as I had liked the John McCain of the 1990s.

    May 30, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  2. Thomas

    @sonny chapman
    Did America pick the "right" side in Vietnam ?
    ========

    No ,
    we went with the side of French Colonialism after world war two. I was asking myself the same question . would john McCain of today have more compassion for the Vietnamese peoples fight for independence and freedom ?

    Russia will suffer the most after the defeat of Bashar al Assad , they continue to feed weapons to the regime .

    Nato needs to provide intelligence , medicine and no fly zones , nothing more .

    May 30, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    The Washington-based group Syrian Emergency Task Force, which helped coordinate the trip, did not arrange any meetings with the men named as kidnappers, Rogers said.
    -------------------–
    That's not the point. I'm accusing McCain of unknowingly meeting with people, of whom he knows absolutely nothing about.

    May 30, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. integrity66

    Now if this was Obama seen in a photo with kidnappers, fauxnews would have a 5 day special broadcast and the witch-hunt would be on ! The House would demand emails, phone calls, and a special investigator. It would be grounds for impeachment !!!!!

    Rational "normal" Americans now completely understand the vengeful irrational ignorant hate that breeds in today's republican party, that is why the ROC is on the way to irrelevancy.

    Then the irrational nutters scream "why aren't you up in arms about Benghazi? where is the media fury?

    Well it's because the story the fauxnews is spinning is complete BS. and, ANY intelligent person knows it is.

    Yes, we'll still hear the nut-jobs for quite awhile longer but they are nothing more than little tiny barking dogs, which are ignored.

    Unfortunately, they will still continue to make yapping noises disturbing everybody else's peace.

    May 30, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    just askin

    obama would meet with people too but he can't find time to do it with all the campaign fund raisers, disaster photo ops and golf games he has scheduled. busy, busy, busy....
    --------------
    Never mind the fact that the folks McCain secretly met in Benghazi could have been part of the mob that attacked us.

    May 30, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Lloyd

    He said we can help the right one. Just how in hell can you tell which are the right ones?
    -------------------------------------------------
    Correct Lloyd which begs the question: Why the hell would he WASTE taxpayers money and go to Syria to talk to people he can't say for certain are the people that we should even be talking to? I mean, really Lloyd, what idiot would do something like that? Let me answere my own question: Somebody looking to inject himself into the scheme of things and make himself look important when in fact what he really is is IMPOTENT. That's who. Your John McCain. He could've been President....yikes!

    May 30, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. rs

    just more baseless smear tactics (nothing new) from the leftist democrats because they have a president that refuses to lead and are envious of john mccains leadership on syria
    ___________________________________
    Just more Right-wing delusional thought when the GOP's stupidityon foreign affairs is demonstrated yet again. You really want a war in a nation that is supported by Russia?

    May 30, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  8. NonLemmingHuman

    John McCain is just another GOP idiot. In 2008 they made him their king idiot and Sarah Palin was their queen idiot. Those Republicans love a good idiot.

    May 30, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  9. rs

    obama would meet with people too but he can't find time to do it with all the campaign fund raisers, disaster photo ops and golf games he has scheduled. busy, busy, busy....
    _______________________
    It is called being the leader of the United States- remeber us? Not injecting our soldiers and tax dollars into every conflict on the globe. BTW- you sound utterly foolish inferring no other President ever played golf or raised funds- especially after the vacationer-in chief GW Bush. 3.5 years on vacation.

    May 30, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  10. E. Correia

    America did good on Libya by not involving too much – look at Libya now, its a mess of extremist and central government has no control on any of those lawless groups. US is doing much better than Britain and France, that forced a EU lifting of the lethal assistance to Syria, my guess is the weapons we put there will turn against us, only a matter of time. They love the west as much as they love Bashar al Assad. Penguin, you forgot to mention Saddan Hussein, he was one of the major ally of the US during the 80s, So we don't need to look that far back to see how this can bite the west eventually!

    May 30, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  11. sonny chapman

    ATTENTION NO FLY ZONE SUPPORTERS : If Russia gives Assad Surface To Air Missiles, we could lose some planes & people(humans) creating & enforcing a No Fly Zone OR we can threaten to go to War w/Russia if they do supply the missiles.

    May 30, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  12. Lynda/Minnesota

    TheObserver

    "So if the situation was reversed and it was Obama posing with Syrians who might be criminals, how would you react Republicans? How would you react? You know exactly what you would do. You would gather the lynch mob and start the media witch hunt and demonize the man unmercifully."

    As evidenced by this past few weeks GOPerville talking points, there can be no doubt to the truth of your statement. Indeed. We could actually rewind back January 2008 and move forward from then for further analysis on your "WWGD" (What Would GOPers Do) message.

    May 30, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Wake up People!

    There needs to be an investigation into this right now!!

    Rudy, I have always believed the republikkkans were behind Benghazi......

    May 30, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. Lynsey Pug

    McCain is absolutely right! It's not that difficult to identify which rebels are 'good guys' and which ones are 'bad guys' and then arm the good guys. Or umm...wait...

    What a stupid old fool...

    May 30, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    Well, at least GOPers/Teatrolls are consistent: no background checks EVER...not for Americans and not for foreign armies we're giving guns to.

    You just know that McCain was stomping his feet and yelling at the corner in his office because he had hoped Obama would end up giving these people guns BEFORE it came out that they were kidnappers so it could be used as another scandal and excuse for an investigation.

    May 30, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    " People like McCain seem tempted to repeat the same stupid historical mistakes."

    Of course. It will make the same stupid people a lot of money.

    May 30, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  17. The Real Tom Paine

    -just sayin

    just more baseless smear tactics (nothing new) from the leftist democrats because they have a president that refuses to lead and are envious of john mccains leadership on syria.
    *********************
    McCain could not have made the trip without WH approval. He was using State Department security ( which your people underfunded for the last few years, remember?) for a 1 kilometer trip inside Syria. Can anyone point to polls that call for armed US intervention in Syria? Nope, the numbers are not there. Most likely, the policy will be to support the Europeans and Arab states in armed intervetion with logistics, LIKE WE DD IN LIBYA. Libya was an action McCain opposed, and yet you want to give arms to a region where we know there are Jihadists already fighting Assad? Twisted, reflexive, rightie logic.

    May 30, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  18. truth hurts but reality bites

    rs
    just more baseless smear tactics (nothing new) from the leftist democrats because they have a president that refuses to lead and are envious of john mccains leadership on syria
    ___________________________________
    Just more Right-wing delusional thought when the GOP's stupidityon foreign affairs is demonstrated yet again. You really want a war in a nation that is supported by Russia?
    -–

    Are we supposed to be quaking in our boots because Russia supports Syria?! The old Soviet Union used to support others that we helped trounce. Stop wetting your pants little one and let the adults sort it out.

    May 30, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  19. Supercatholic

    This is Afghanistan 2. And this time the Russians aren't going to give it up.

    May 31, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. spence

    McCain should just stay in Syria. He doesn't even do his job in Arizona. He's got "tiger blood' from being in the tiger cage too long, and his mind is warped. He wants America to be involved in ALL conflicts so that it can perpetuate endless wars.

    May 31, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. cathstar

    John McCain has turned into a war monger. He has also suggested that we send ground troops to Libya. When will we learn not to get involved in other country's affairs/conflicts? We certainly should have learned that lesson from our latest two useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We haven't won a war since WW II. There are plenty of problems in our own country that need to be addressed and we should focus on them.

    May 31, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  22. Carl

    Steve, New York City:
    "Didn't we try this in Afghanistan in the early 1980s – sending arms to the Mujhadeen
    (sp?) as part of our proxy war against the Soviet Union? Wow – that didn't work so well, did it."

    It worked just fine. The Russians were booted out. It was not just the muj-whatevers who didn't want to be a communist dictatorship. NOBODY there wanted that.

    The problem came later when the bad guys and the good guys in Afghanistan were fighting (a pretty clear case of a progressive religious monement vs. a backward terrorist movement), and Pakistan came in and helped the bad guys. THAT was the origin of Taliban rule in Afhhanistan. Anyone can read about the history of Afghanistan and find this stuff.

    And by the way, our fake smiling buddy Pervez Musharraf was running the Pakistani military operation which did that. Big shock that he was dragging his feet a bit when the terrorists ran over to hide in his country?

    I don't know why the US was willing to help defeat the russians, but unwilling to help them defeat the Taliban. As it happens, the Russian rebuff was under Reagan, and the Taliban takeover happened under Bill Clinton.

    May 31, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. chalee

    The Manchurian Candidate is out wandering around again....looking for anything to get him noticed. The admirals son was a POW, not a war hero but the brainwashing has made him think he's important.

    May 31, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  24. John McShame

    Gotta love the party that always screams for spending cuts but is ready to rush into any country with civil unrest like they are God deciding who should stay and who should go, by use of lethal force. Yes, let's cut back on our education funding so we can move some of that money into our war fund and enter yet another country for 5-10 years and then leave them with a puppet government and a population that hates us even more. Why don't we just put all these little pawns aside and just go toe to toe with Russia and get it over with. Isn't that what this is what you all ultimately want?

    May 31, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  25. aspblom

    He went to meet with those who want to drive out or kill the Shi'ites and the Christians. But, why?

    May 31, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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