As Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Are Readied ...
As Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Are Readied, Qassim Soleimani Instructs Assad And Iran’s Militia: “No terrorist bodies; no evidence; no evidence; no crime; no crime; no Tribunals. Disappear terrorist bodies!”
by Franklin Lamb
At the site of one of more than two dozen Syrian government’s secret ‘slaughterhouse’ prison body dump sites. This one in Najha, Syria, ten miles south of Damascus Syria and approximately 50 yards north of the burial site of East Ghouta’s conjoined twins Nawras & Mou’az Al-Hashash.
One of Bashar al-Assads’ Vladmir Putins’ and Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ali Khameini’s growing problems is that an assortment of Syrian War Crimes Tribunals are finalizing their cases, sooner than many of us thought probable, is the fact that millions of vetted documents gathered from countless sources within the Syrian government are being prepared for trial including several hundred Syrian and Iranian war crimes cases. Unlike many previous International War Crimes Tribunals once jurisdiction is passed to a body like the ICC or a Special International Tribunal for Syria (SITS), the approaching trials can proceed quite quickly because of all the preparatory work that has been done and there will not be the need for such long case preparation lag time as in the past.
U.S. and European officials allege that Assad’s regime and its allies have committed war crimes on an industrial scale. They contend that rarely in the annals of international justice has the evidence of such actions been as voluminous. These invaluable photographic and documental resources in addition to more than a dozen other current reliable professional forensic evidence gathering undertakings constitute a massive amount of probative evidence. Once Syria’s Hobbesian nightmare of massive crimes against humanity dissipates somewhat, and the day of justice draws near, the prosecuting global community will have much more dispositive evidence to secure convictions than we’ve had anywhere or at any time since Nuremberg.
For reasons perhaps known only to Assad and his inner circle, hospital functionaries, working closely with Syrian intelligence agents, have been carefully documenting the regime’s handiwork, using a distinctive numbering scheme to track victims and keep records of the killings that contain fictitious death certificates. The paper trail shows that Assad himself “reviewed the proposals [of the cell], signed them, and returned them for implementation,” according to the New Yorker, adding: “Sometimes he made revisions, crossing out directives and adding new ones.”
One regime investigator, Mr Salem Barak (assume name to protect his family in Syria) reported to investigators in Europe that he was “certain that no security decision, no matter how small, was made without Assad’s approval.”
One group of highly experienced specialized international war crimes lawyers has already drafted a 400-hundred page legal-brief, which traces the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coordinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported on the success of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus. Acts of torture, murder, and detention under inhumane conditions in Syria have been widely reported by survivors but never linked to signed orders by Bashar al-Assad. Now they have been.
Many of these documents come from Syrian government security and intelligence facilities taken over by government defectors or anti-Assad groups. Other documents were stolen by others who worked as moles within Assad’s top security committee and secreted scores of thousands of documents out of Syria to investigators.
The most striking evidence concerns Assad’s response to the mass protests his rule that swept Syria from 2011 onwards. He appointed a “Central Crisis Management Cell” and gave the security chiefs on this committee supreme responsibility for suppressing the unrest.
Amnesty International, working on this case with a former government employee of the Al-Assad appointed “Central Management Crisis Cell.” The cell held daily meetings in Damascus, chaired by Mohammad Said Bekheitan, the second most senior member of the ruling Ba’ath party. The government employee reported that an average of 20 to 50 people were hanged each week at the Sednaya military prison north of Damascus. Between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed at Sednaya in a four-year period since a popular uprising descended into war. Today the number has been estimated to total more than 50,000.
In another "Crimes Documentation Center", for two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever deadlier, one government employee, later using the code name, “Caesar” downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer fled Syria country for Europe.
The Syrian intelligence images that Caesar secreted out of Syria continue to be thoroughly studied by western specialists and intelligence agencies and judged to be indictable evidence of massive war crimes. The photos, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range - one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all the tens of thousands of bodies show clear signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. “Caesar” took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit, at the Damascus area “Horror Hospitals” Tisreen, Messeh (“Hospital 601”) where, in addition to three other Syrian hospitals this observer visited when searching for conjoined twins Nawras & Mou’az Al-Hashash in late summer 2016. Both “hospitals” seemed “normal” to me with friendly doctors, smiling nurses and busy arrival and departure hospital lobbies. I never gave of thought about what might be happening several floors down.
Some relevant key dates:
August 2013: Syrian police photographer “Caesar” presented clear evidence to the global community of the Syrian regimes war crimes. “Caesar” smuggled out more than 57,000 photographs, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals Tisreen and Messeh (Hospital 601) among other locals. Both Mezzeh and Tishreen are run by Syria’s Military Medical Services. The authenticated photos show corpses photographed by “Caesar” and his colleagues at close range with all of the bodies show signing of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. “Caesar” worked with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit.
Mid-2015 and forward: More than 600,000 documents exposing crimes against humanity and war crimes by the government of Syria, some bearing the stamp and signature of Bashar al-Assad are smuggled out of Syria and transported to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) for analysis and trial preparation.
May of 2017: Based on US and EU monitoring of Sednaya prison north of Damascus, the Trump administration announced that the Al-Assad regime has set up many crematoria and is incinerating thousands of corpses in order to destroy evidence that could be used to prosecute war crimes. Some Syrian opposition supporters asked why, if the US had satellite pictures suggesting the existence of the Syrian crematoria why they were only now being made public. Others accused the Obama administration for sitting on the satellite images and continuing and indeed intensifying, are Syrian, regional and international crimes against humanity evidence collection campaigns documenting in detail, often with consultation from specialized international criminal lawyers, the massive accelerating war crimes in Syria these past nearly eight years. This painstaking evidence gathering became a major secret project in late 1212. Today it is dramatically intensifying with the increased involvement of former and current government employees including Baath party officials, current high-ranking members of the military, security services, and reportedly includes members of the regimes inner circle.
Dear reader may have seen earlier reports by this observer the past couple of years from Syria about the short life and homicide of East Ghouta conjoined twins, Nawras and Moaz Al-Hashash. A few days after the boys’ death, I was allowed by the Syrian government to visit their gravesite and add a stone but no name. Next to the boy’s small concrete slab, the Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) left the boys, their grieving family and the Syrian public a copy of the original one drawn by Syrian artist Akram Abo Alfoz.
I personally failed the boys. Surely there was more this observer could have done to help save them. And as Syria’s civil war enters its 8th year, without any end in sight, another generation of Syrian children face ever increasing ruin, with child deaths doubling last year and the number of child soldiers tripling since 2015. A new report by UNICEF found 2017 was the worst yet of the war for young Syrians, with more than 1,100 killed this past year that has taken a vastly disproportionate toll on the country’s most vulnerable people.
Near the end of my visit with the boys and sitting at their gravesite and telling them about Gulliver’s Travels, it began to get dark. A security guard approached and warned me that the area was not safe at night and that I should leave quickly. Only later was I to learn his real motive. After singing softly to the boys, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” which I like to think is their favorite song, I told them another story and planning to return to Damascus, I dozed off instead after a long day.
The time was approximately 3 a.m. on 9/14/2016 when I was awakened by the sound of a roaring dump truck entering the large field perhaps 50 yards behind the boys grave site. (see photo below). I had no idea what it was doing and tried to ignore the noise. When it did not leave for about half an hour and I heard yelling, I carefully looked up and was shocked to see what looked like bodies being pulled off of the truck and then dragged and thrown into a large freshly dug pit. I wondered what that was about but then recalled having been told that the area of Najha was considered my locals as “the land of government cemeteries given the air force cemetery complex a few miles north including this one. When it started to get light, I spoke with the boys for a few minutes and headed back to Damascus.
At this point I had heard gossip and rumors but I knew little of the regimes ‘horror hospitals”, “slaughterhouses” or crematoria but upon learning more I reported what I saw and was assured that the site would be monitored by UN specialized agencies to acquire evidence of war crimes and crime against humanity. A week later I was informed that given the disclosure of events at the Najha cemetery that no bodies would likely be removed from or added to the site on orders from Soleimani or Al-Assad but if any were they would be photographed via satellites and drones and would be available for examination by the relevant UN agencies pursuant to criminal indictment and prosecution of all concerned.
Mr. Solemani and those he instructs with respect to “no bodies, no evidence, equals no crimes” misses the point and methodology of forensic investigations. In addition of thousands of bodies, the governments will not be able to locate and “disappear” there are countless additional sources of proof of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria, not least of which being literally hundreds of thousands of eye-witnesses including thousands from within the higher echelons of the Assad regime and increasing numbers of regime loyalists defect. Many are gathering probative, relevant, material and admissible evidence which is not a major problem and Soleimani’s instructions to ‘disappear” damaged terrorist bodies’ will not solve the Al-Assad regimes legal problems before the approaching Special Tribunal for Syria (STS).
P. Lamb, LLB, LLM, PhD.
Founder & Legal Adviser, The Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) Shatila Camp, Beirut and Yarmouk Camp, Damascus