Syria could finally face official charges of heinous war crimes, according to a military police photographer who defected from Syria with evidence that purportedly proves that the Syrian government was responsible for the organized murder of 11,000 people, most of whom were young men, who were being held by the Syrian government.
The photographer, who asked to be called “Caesar,” smuggled 55,000 files and photographs on flash drives and delivered them to the Syrian National Movement. While in Syria, he was tasked with photographing the bodies of murdered detainees, but denies having seen torture or executions taking place. The photographs were needed by the government to issue death certificates without having to notifying the family to obtain positive identification. When families were notified, they were told that the victim died of “breathing problems” or a “heart attack.” The body would be taken to a military hospital and falsely identified. Once the photographs of the corpses were taken, the bodies were buried in the countryside. The photos also served as proof that orders of execution had been completed.
Three former prosecutors who have experience in war crimes cases, specifically those against Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, were charged with examining the smuggled evidence and interviewing “Caesar.” After three sessions with the photographer, the prosecutors deemed him a credible witness. They further stated that in light of the overwhelming evidence proving the commission of war crimes, they would support charges against Syria. Also aiding in the examination of the evidence were an anthropologist, a forensic pathologist and a digital imaging expert.
The report was commissioned by a law firm on behalf of Qatar, and is available to human rights groups, the UN and governments. Qatar supports Syrian rebel groups in their efforts to overthrow the Syrian government and prosecute Bashir al-Assad, the president of Syria. The timing of the report’s release seems to be based on the Geneva II talks, during which a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war will be sought. Prior to the distribution of the report, al-Assad reiterated that he would not quit his post and that he would not discuss the matter during the talks.
The photographs, which chronicles the deaths of Syrian detainees from March 2011 to August 2013, depict bloody, starving bodies that bear signs of torture. Among the gruesome images are corpses without eyes; others show signs of having been electrocuted or strangled. The gruesome photographs caused one of the lawyers examining the documents to compare the images to those of Holocaust victims.
Al-Assad denies that his regime has committed war crimes. He maintains that any violence committed by his military is necessary in order to fight what he claims are terrorists. Although charges that Syria did, in fact, commit war crimes against its own people have previously been levied by human rights groups as well as the UN, the volume and detail of the smuggled evidence are unprecedented. Photographic evidence surely helps to prove the claims of the United States and its allies that Syria committed war crimes against its people.
By Jennifer Pfalz