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Syria: Assad Regime Accused of 'Systemic' Torture and Killings of 11,000 Detainees

( [email protected] ) Jan 21, 2014 04:34 PM EST
A team of three renowned war crime prosecutors and three forensics experts claim to have found evidence to prove Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad guilty of "systematic torture and killing" of 11,000 detainees, according to a 31-page report by the lawyers on the team. Their report, based on more than 27,000 photographs from a source named "Caesar" will be brought up to the international criminal tribunal, the group says.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waves at supporters during a rare public appearance in Damascus Wednesday in which he vowed to defeat a "conspiracy" against Syria, a day after he blamed foreign interests for stoking months of deadly violence.(Photo: Reuters)

A team of three renowned war crime prosecutors and three forensics experts claim to have found evidence to prove Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad guilty of "systematic torture and killing" of 11,000 detainees, according to a 31-page report by the lawyers on the team. Their report, based on more than 27,000 photographs from a source named "Caesar" will be brought up to the international criminal tribunal, the group says.

"This is a smoking gun," said David Crane, one of the report's authors. "Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence -- the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime's killing machine."

According to the report, the photographs were taken by a Syrian government defector who prefers to be called "Caesar". "Caesar" supposedly worked as a photographer for the military police. When the war broke out, his job was to document "killed detainees." He claimed to have photographed 50 bodies a day, with each body taking 15-30 minutes of work. He and his family fled Syria for safety with the help from members of an Anti-Assad opposition group.

The photographs reveal images of dead bodies, majority of them being men between the ages of 20-40. Out of all the dead bodies, 60% of them are emaciated, having their stomachs, faces, and legs in a concave position. Some of the bodies reveal bruising and bleeding so severe that the victim's skin is a mixture of black, blue, pink, and purple. Other victims have marks that show signs of strangulation and electrocution while others were missing eyes. Those that appeared emaciated and had no marks were suspected to have died from starvation. Each body held a paper with several numbers written on them.

"This evidence could underpin a charge of crimes against humanity -- without any shadow of a doubt," Sir Desmond de Silva, one of the report's authors, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "Of course, it's not for us to make a decision. All we can do is evaluate the evidence and say this evidence is capable of being accepted by a tribunal as genuine."

According to the report, the numbers on each body correspond to the "Branch of security service responsible for his death and detention." The numbers were also used for a bureaucratic record keeping process. The body would enter a military hospital where Caesar, a doctor, and a member of the judiciary would examine the corpses. The doctor would fill out paperwork to prove that he has seen the body and make an official death certificate that gives a fake cause of death to family members such as "heart attack" or "breathing problems." A second number will be assigned to the body to mark the fake cause of death.

Along with Crane and de Silva, the report was authored by Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice. Crane, the first chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, indicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. De Silva was also a former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone and Nice was the former lead prosecutor against former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The investigation team was hired by the British law firm Carter-Ruck, which in turn was funded by the Qatari government. Qatar has been staunch in its support for the anti-Assad opposition, but the lawyers are fully aware of the possible motives behind their hiring.

"Ultimately, the validity of our conclusions turn on the integrity of the people involved," De Silva said. "We, the team, were very conscious of the fact there are competing interests in the Syrian crisis -- both national and international. We were very conscious of that."

"We approached our task with a certain amount of skepticism, bearing that in mind."

There has been much skepticism about evidence provided by a single source since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. However, the lawyers claimed to have interviewed Caesar and found him to be a credible witness, citing that he never saw the executions in person and "revealed no signs of being 'sensational', nor did he seem partisan."

Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court. A referral from the United Nationals Security Council would make a prosecution against someone from Syria possible. But Russia's support for Assad's regime would make such prosecution difficult because it has veto power on the council, making a referral seem unlikely. Yet, if the court were to take up Syria's case, the report would be used as evidence.

"All we can do is put the ammunition in the pistol," said de Silva. "It is for others to aim it and pull the trigger."