Prosecutors Detail Tortures & Murder in Syria
(CN) - Bashar Assad's Syrian regime has tortured and killed 11,000 people in the past two years, war crimes prosecutors say in a confidential report based on testimony of a military defector whose job it was to photograph the victims.
"A Report into the credibility of certain evidence with regard to Torture and Execution of Persons Incarcerated by the current Syrian regime," 31 pages, all marked "Confidential" was obtained by several news organizations and posted on the Internet.
The defector, code named "Caesar" in the report, "for many years ... had been in the military police and in that role it fell to him to photograph scenes of crimes," according to the document. "With the onset of the civil war the nature of his occupation changed. His duties, and those of his colleagues, now were to photograph and document the bodies of those brought from their places of detention to a military hospital.
"The bodies he photographed since the civil war began, showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing."
The authors say they were assigned to determine the credibility of Caesar, and that they did find him "a truthful and credible witness."
They say he smuggled out of Syria roughly 55,000 images of victims of torture and murder, taken by colleagues and him. Four or five images were taken of each body, so there were photos of "about eleven thousand (11,000) dead detainees," according to the report.
The authors said they saw no signs that Caesar was either "sensational" or "partisan." They say he sympathizes with the opposition, but, for example, "made it quite plain that he never witnessed a single execution," a claim "it would have been very easy for him to say". For this and other reasons, including, presumably, the 55,000 photographs, the inquiry team concluded "that his evidence was reliable and could safely be acted upon in any subsequent judicial proceedings."
The report was written by Sir Desmond de Silva, a former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who "brought about the arrest of President Charles Taylor of Liberia"; Sir Geoffrey Nice, former lead prosecutor of ex-President Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and Professor David Crane, who indicted Charles Taylor and was first chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
They worked with a three-member forensics team.
All the information in this article, including the quotations, unless otherwise indicated, comes from the report.
The photos were contained on a flash drive, or memory stick.
They showed prisoners extremely emaciated, with "convincing evidence of inflicted trauma," including "beating, binding, restraint or other physical assault," and "many bodies that showed bloodstaining."
"These photographs also included those who appeared to have been starved to death, some with signs of torture prior to death. Indeed, there were marks of beatings and burns even upon those emaciated bodies. In some cases the bodies had no eyes."
"Each murdered detainee was given two numbers with only the intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses."
The corpses were taken to a military hospital, where they were given a third number, "so as to document, falsely, that death had occurred in the hospital. Once the bodies were photographed they were taken for burial in a rural area."
As Caesar planned to defect, he had a colleague "take photographs of a group of bodies to show that the place 'looked like a slaughterhouse.' The excuse he gave for group photographs to his colleagues was that in case they had missed a body they could go back to the group photograph."
Caesar told the inquiry team that he did it "for the sake of Syrian and the Syrian people so that the killers could be prosecuted to achieve justice."
The inquiry team interviewed Caesar on Jan. 12, 13 and 18.
Caesar and his team "often" had to photograph as many as 50 bodies a day, "telling evidence that the killings were systematic."
The numbering system also indicated "an organized form of killing."
The photographic evidence indicated that starvation was used as a mean of torture.
"(U)nmistakable marks of ligature strangulation" also indicated torture.
Some bodies showed signs of electrocution. The large number of young corpses also is evidence of unnatural death. The "vast majority" of corpses were men between the ages of 20 and 40.
The forensics team "evaluated in detail" the photos of 835 bodies.
Of those, 42 percent showed emaciation, 20 percent showed evidence of inflicted trauma and 30 percent showed "equivocal" signs of inflicted trauma.
The inquiry team reached three conclusions:
"The inquiry team is satisfied that upon the material it has reviewed there is clear evidence, capable of being believed by a tribunal of fact in a court of law, of systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government.
"Such evidence would support findings of crimes against humanity against the current Syrian regime.
"Such evidence could also support findings of war crimes against the current Syrian regime."
The report was prepared for Carter-Ruck and Co. Solicitors of London.
The forensics team was Dr. Stuart Hamilton, a British forensic pathologist; Professor Susan Black, Ph.D., a professor of anatomy and forensic anthropology and a certified forensic anthropologist; and Stephen Cole, a forensic imaging expert.
The rest of this article is not based upon the report.
Governments that systematically use torture often want their citizens to know it, as a means of instilling fear and social paralysis.
In Iraq, this was documented by Kanan Makiya's in his book "Republic of Fear."
The technique was used in El Salvador and Guatemala during those countries' civil wars in the 1970s and '80s, as well as in Nazi Germany.
Many news reports today (Tuesday) compare the results of the Syria inquiry to Nazi Germany, though the authors never make such a comparison in the report.
With Iraq weakened and destabilized by the U.S. invasion and occupation, Iran has become vastly more powerful in the region. The Iranian regime supports Assad, whose country borders Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Turkey.
Jordan is overwhelmed with refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Lebanon-based Hezbollah is a de facto client army for Iran.
Syria therefore is strategically of enormous importance to Iran, though it does not have the oil riches of many other Mideast nations. Should Assad's regime fall, it would give breathing space to Israel and Lebanon. Should it remain, Iran's hegemony would extend from the Afghanistan border to the Persian Gulf, across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.