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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Assad Files-Caesar Photo Line-Ups: Genuine or Phony?

Assad Files 2018, part 4
Caesar Photo Line-Ups: Genuine or Phony?
October 14, 2018
(slightly rough)

In general, I've found these damning documents the "Assad Files" to be innocuous records of a government's response to the terrorist proxy war called the Syrian uprising. And that's upon careful review of the best examples provided by those trying to convince us of their value in proving regime atrocities. But in part 1 of this 2018 series, I was thrown for a bit of a loop by a relatively strong-seeming 2-point pattern. Two apparent line-up between detainees who died and bodies photographed at the right time among the Caesar photos - both detainees of MI (military intelligence) branch 227, both matching roughly for date with photo of alleged 227 detainees sporting the same 4-digit numbers.

It might seem impressive, but that's two cases of apparent line-up, in a narrow class (just one branch of military intelligence, in a certain 2-month span), between an enormous set of photos with sub-numbers, and a pool of dead prisoners of a less certain size (allegedly the same thousands in the photos, but maybe just a relative handful of different people). Far below is a section to explain the scale of numbers of likelihood of random line-ups.

It's presumed these two cases are just examples out of thousands of the same kind of paperwork-to-photo matches we'd expect if the stories of mass prisoner extermination were true. But it might be there are just these 2, or just a few more than that, which would mean almost nothing but chance can be at work.

For now and maybe forever, we cannot settle that with certainty. But with a little more analysis requiring this new post, I'm less impressed than I was at first. I still can't be certain what the truth here is, or prove anything, but I'll make the case that this might have been another carefully-framed illusion.

First, a visual summary of my timeline analysis suggesting a mismatch. In the graphic below are the alleged 2 matches (each with photo and linked memo, all in more detail below).

The green boxes here are what should line up, if these are the same men, and my photo date estimate, and understanding of collection dates are right. None of that is certain. I think this all refers to 4 men, not 2. But I can only offer a suggestion of mismatch, far from definitive. The rest of this post mainly explains how I decided this, and raises some notes on the way, adding up to some decent basis to doubt the matches.

Below is long, will take a while to clean-up fully. No one probably should read this end-to-end. But it can be skimmed, and should be by some people. It's organized so:

- first each detainee / pair / alleged match is explained with a section: basics and some case details considered, emphasis on timeline match (many numbers, averages, estimations involved)
- then my theory about how there may be 2 different number systems that happened to almost line-up and match pace for this 2 month span to explain both cases.
- then some related concluding thoughts, especially on how these alleged line-ups clash with an earlier explanation offered by "Caesar" himself.

Deceased Detainee 2040/0
We'll start with the earlier of the two apparent matches, not explained much previously. He enters the record via a document shown by Human Rights Watch in their December, 2015 report If the Dead Could Speak. There it's shared in photographed form (atop a portrait of Bashar al-Assad) and marked © 2013 “Caesar” collection. The summary of its content, as given there:

A note from the head of the 227 Branch noting: “During the investigation with [DETAINEE], his health conditions declined and he was given emergency treatment in the 601 Military Hospital. On June 2, 2013, the [DETAINEE] died after his heart and breathing stopped. He was placed in the morgue refrigerator, with the number ‘2040.’ Please bury his corpse…in coordination with the Burial Office in accordance with the written [DECISION] of the National Security Office.” With copies to three security branches. 

In the report, they cite a total of three such documents they were shown, all three claiming heart or breathing failure as cause of death. Of course, three isn't very many to support the claim this is used to explain thousands of deliberate murders. But it is consistent with such a system, and might just be a tiny sampling. Of those three reports, only this one is shown to be verified.

Here's the full letter, cropped from the photo, enhanced and sharpened, with minor redactions added (black boxes). In the spirit of hiding the victim's name (the only thing blurred out in the original), I blacked out also his mother's name, and possible identification numbers, all in the first paragraph. We couldn't do much with this information right now anyway. Translation etc. in more detail at ACLOS posting.

In short, HRW's translation was accurate enough, and didn't seem to skip anything relevant, except that he was stored "under the number 2040/0." They missed the zero, which is easy to do.

It's dated 9 June. It requests photography and then burial of the body "in a known place," in accordance with cited codes. "Attachment: A ‎Sealed envelope with the ID of the Mentioned person" Official-seeming stamp, and Amin 2511 notes "signed by the head of section/branch 227 also Head of the Intelligence Division "per procuration""

This document doesn't offer an obvious problem. It sounds like that is a detainee of theirs, and with all text present it's clearly the same man who dies after problems during an "investigation with him." But there's no mention of torture as the cause. If it did happen they took care not to mention it, even in this top-secret internal memo.

So for whatever reason, they say he died on the 2nd, and exactly a week later, on the 9th, the order is put out to photograph and bury him. There's one other to compare it to (see below), and he's held 6 days. Why wait a week to bury your secret detainees? Maybe they have a policy of waiting a week to try and contact family and get the body back to them. Maybe if there's no luck after that, they document and bury the guy. If so, all such cases should be 7 days later. So far it's just two for two.

Assessing HRW's Match With (Terrorist Hostage?) "227-2040" In their report, Human Rights Watch matches the deceased detainee with a "Caesar photo" victim labeled 227-2040. That's reasonable, in that the he's the only option if one were to find an exact match in the photos, for the 227 part and/or for the basic date. But the match is not certain, maybe because the photos simply don't show detainees in actual Syrian security centers, but someone else's prisoners.

Here is the person they refer to as the same one in that memo. SAFMCD cropped face-shot (a bit blurry) - 227-2040 (3) 7-6-2013. This is just one of the several better photos HRW will have seen (cropped from #3 in a sequence of however many).

Age: born 1976 as the memo says, so the detainee 2040/0 would be 36 or 37 in mid-2013. That could be the age of this man who - as usual - is in bad shape and hard to read. Many will look older than they really are, and some people started out looking young for their age. Totally inconclusive.

I notice his eyes are sunken, and teeth are in bad shape, maybe missing some. These are consistent with malnutrition seen in most photo victims. His face and shoulders don't evidence much wasting, but we don't see his ribs or hips, and he still may have been poorly fed, just for a shorter time than some, or with peculiar effects. It's alleged branch 227 and the rest starve most detainees...

HRW: "His body shows purple bruising in the throat, abdomen and lower legs, cuts on his lower legs, and a cut on his forehead."

I can't see a cut on the forehead, but maybe it's too high up. Lower body details unknown. As for the purple neck bruising, he may show a different and milder form of some common neck injury - bruising/burning/unclear, worth more study. But mostly rather, his body shows a purple tint all over in the parts we see, and likely the rest. The lips especially are deep purple. That means cyanosis, from prolonged lack of oxygen in the blood. Most of the victims in the "Caesar photos" display this to some degree, and often to the extreme. It's not something "torture" usually causes.

Anyway, we refer to the same person here, but we don't agree that he's the same man described in the memo. I don't suppose I can prove this, but …

Date Mismatch?
HRW's report stated "Photographs of Detainee 2040 reveal that his body was photographed on June 7, 2013." If so, then why is an order to take the photo only issued on June 9?

Rather, the photos they identified as relevant were put in a folder dated June 7 (7-6). This will usually be the date of photo collection, of photos taken earlier, since last collection. This would mean a photo taken June 9 or 10 is simply too late to be included.

But the basic logic of the system isn't totally clear yet, it seems to change at points, and might have exceptions. Here's my big timeline of seen "hospital numbers" compared to photo folder dates, for the final and heaviest 9 months (not the whole span back to 2011).  (hospital number explained here - it means  either false heart-attack-death-report # or, I think, unidentified found body #). This case and some others with dates are pinned on at the bottom (new window for readable-size view). I'm looking for any more dated entries I can place to help fill this in, but they're pretty rare.

See below, on the left in the span under 1-11-2012 (purple) that includes entries (allegedly) from days later than that, and many others after it. There, 1 Nov. seems like a start date for collection, in a folder named first and added to on later dates. The same seems to apply to 1-8-2012, off-frame here. But that's not well-illustrated yet, and both dates are far from gospel. 

Patterns in mid-2013 will be more relevant, and it seems like the MO changed somewhere before that. The same Dec. HRW report shows a May 24 order to photograph 11 bodies that came out as numbered 2614/b-2624/b on this timeline. As we can see here, a whole lot of bodies dated June 4 (about 1,800-1,900) were photographed before that, running back - it seems - to March, when the last folder was compiled. It should probably run up to the collection date, including photo taken on or just before 4 June - unless perhaps the gathering session was cut short, with the last few days still to grab, for example.

So the photos put in a 7-6 folder should be gathered three days later, and cover just those three days, plus any missed before. How it seems to cover app. 250-300+ bodies suggests it might cover more than 3 days, likely including quite a few entries from June 4 and earlier, because the last session was not completely current. 

But more than likely, 7-6 brought things current, and none of the photos in it was taken after the 7th. Anyone snapped on the 9th or 10th would then have to wait for the sizeable 24-6 folder, the next one compiled. So, just by the apparent logic of folder dates, the provided "Caesar" photo was taken some days too early to match with that memo. 

there's another even less certain way to check for a likely date. I estimate 227-2040's hospital number at around 3000/b (proportionally between the two closest 227 bodies with seen H#s, and presuming an even distribution of 227-stamped bodies). That would be in the middle of the smaller 7-6 folder's span (whatever days that actually ran).

With an overall average of 33 bodies a day, some 350-400 bodies before 3,000/b = 10-12 days after the May 24 memo, or June 4-6 is the most likely span for the 227 photo - 3-5 days too early to match with the June 9 memo. But this remains uncertain, not a very reliable estimate (but better than nothing, at least). Maybe the rate here was slower, or this folder was added to after its start date so it's a match. But suggested line-up and the apparent logic of folder dates agree in their uncertain indication that the memo comes a bit too late to match the photo.

That would present this coincidence: 2 different dead men wound up stamped 2040, at Hospital 601, within a few days of each other. That might sound unlikely on first blush, but see below for the scale of things to realize it's not so unlikely at all.

The Other Case: Detainee(s) 2668
2668/0 = (Terrorist Hostage?) "227-2668'?
Another case from two months later was covered in more detail in part 1. It was published by the CIJA (Committee for International Justice and Accountability) via an August, 2018 Channel 4 program. The relevant document they shared has very similar content. In this case, a "terrorist" detainee (different wording) of branch 227, is most likely the "he" who died of heart and breathing failure at hospital 601, after questioning. There's some ambiguity from 95% of the text preceding "he" being redacted (whoever was referred to last in that black box). But comparing to this earlier case, it's likely the same story, maybe with some extra details not worth seeing on just how this bad state finally came about.

It says he died on July 31,and was ordered photographed and buried in an August 6 report.  In between, he was put in the cooler with a number 2668/0. That (minus the zero) was matched by Channel 4 investigators with a starved guy with eyes gouged out, 227-2668, date not clear but (as I found) pretty current with the memo. That's two cases where 227's numbers ate least are current with two dead detainees - are they just the same thing then? 

To me it seemed likely the dead man was another character introduced, one of the mostly-dead people dumped by the terrorist, one of whom was caught in the act and became the "terrorist" under questioning. Maybe one dumped body still had a pulse, but then died in this hospital, and was documented as unidentified. But the 2040 case weakens that option - a dead 227 detainee with the same kind of number has details, an ID card, he clearly dies, still gets held a week, and processed the same way. Most logical; the same story happened twice.

This memo is clearly a different format, some kind of fax, not the stamped official form seen for 2040. The requested forwarding is similar for both, but not exact: 2040's form in June is forward to: division/branch 291 (in "reference to your letter No. 56122 dated 7/6/2013, for view"), 248, 294. This one has: something 248, 294, 217, and a shorter entry blacked out. (291?)  

As with the first case, there's a delay here - not 7 days, but 6. So maybe the rule is try to contact his family for about a week, then document and bury the body, or to get the whole thing done within a week.

So if this all refers to one man - there he was under questioning, already weak from starvation, and they gouged his eyes out … and if the blacked out parts explained any of this, it would be odd to black it out. In this case, there's no purple, coughing blood and mucous, or any other chemical signs. That all remains super-common from Nov. 2012 on, but becomes less common in the final stretch. Instead, eye-gouging appears suddenly with most victims, closer to the end in mid-August 2013. 
But anyway, they then rush his to the ER as if to keep him alive? And he wound up displaying no signs of medical intervention, like washing the wounded eyes, etc.?

There are hundreds in this span with eyes gouged out. It looks extermination-oriented, but maybe it was a whole lot of interrogations gone overboard, like with this guy? No, I doubt that - for the rest and for him.

Time Mismatch?

Aug. 6 order, photo presumably that day or the next, compared to folder 000. That's not obvious. But I can say 000 is somewhere between July 27 and what seems to be a folder dated August 6 (just called 6, but containing body numbers running up to those in a final 14-8-2013 folder, so I take it as meaning 6-8, or Aug. 6). The folder sizes here (from my hard-to-assemble and 99% complete database):
- 000 = 143 photos
- 6(-8) = 62 photos
- 14-8 = 126 photos. 
He comes just a bit earlier another entry that's in Aug. 6, so late in his span of 143.

When was 000? Considering just 62 photo gathered on 6-8, that's like 2 days worth of bodies in the usual flow. So the last collection (000) might be about August 4. Otherwise, right between the dated folders makes most sense. That would be August 1 or so. 000 by usual rates = 4-5 days' worth of bodies. From July 27/28, that should be Aug. 1. Some implied entries missing photos are mixed in somewhere... So we could say best estimate for 000 is Aug. 2-3, give or take a day or so.

Best single-day guess: photo on July 31. As usual, he appears dead perhaps 1-2 days at most, or longer if under refrigeration. Now, to be the body in that memo, he has to die on the 31st and only pass under the lens 6-7 days later, august 6 or 7. He would have his photo collected later yet - too late for the 000 folder, and maybe even for the Aug. 6 one. He would likely end up in the final August 14 folder instead.

The date of 000 remains unclear, and if that's the date of last collection... the numbers might also line up better, or even be the same number and same man entirely, as alleged. But again, his body/ hospital number and the folder date both suggest the photo is too early to match the memo, and here by a bit longer, more like 5-6 days. 

And both clues agreed in the same direction in the other case above. Hm.

Two Number Systems?
A Hypothesized /0 System
Both documents add an unmentioned /0 to the body number. It looks like a /. and coming at the end of sentence, it looks like the end of the sentence. This is a traditional "Eastern Arabic" number system commonly used in the region, with its easily-missed zero. 

There's also a slash before the number, but I'm inclined to ignore that as marking a number here: it's worthwhile, as the order of reading changes at each slash. The usual right-to-left order is maintained, but within the slashes, number blocks are read left-to-right. So "number / 2040 / 0" and "number / 2668 / 0" is how it's given in both cases. 

Those numbers seem to be issued in the same system, but does it really link to those men in the Caesar photos? If so, it seems 0 is the hospital's code for 227's share of the body flow, and they just use the branch's own ID number. Maybe 215 gets their dead prisoners stored with their current detainee/body number with the suffix /1, and so on. That's the implication of the CIJA case 

One other option I held out from the start was two different number systems happening to line up, at least roughly. Seeing that happen twice about 2 months apart did seem a challenge, but not a great one. I've come back around to this theory as my best explanation, for now at least.

A number system that could explain the pattern under study is one for all deaths IN military hospital 601, as opposed to those special cases logged out back. It would include the occasional prisoner who dies after a struggle in the ER (not ones found dead, or meant to die), delayed combat deaths from both sides (but mainly the government side), civilians mortally killed in shelling, etc. Maybe a few are "Caesar photo" victims who were found dumped among the dead but with a faint pulse, but then died in the ER. 

In all but the latter case, the number wouldn't usually replace a name, as the victims are identified or likely to be, only stored short term with bodies claimed by family, ideally. The number might just be for reference, a running death toll. It would probably refer to crisis-related and not natural deaths, starting at 1 around March 2011. (this is how the unidentified body numbers work; they start low at the conflict's start) 

Why 0? Could mean detainee deaths, with others given numbers like /1 for killed civilians, /2 for killed security forces, and /3 for killed militants. /4 would probably be better for prisoners than the non-number 0.  Maybe it just means hospital 601, the one that did all the counting at first (hence 0, the original0? The zero would be redundant in-house, but useful when combining the tolls at each hospital (others using the same numbers but getting suffixes /1, /2, etc.)  

In such a system, body #2039 might have been a girl who died at hospital 601 after her school was hit by a terrorist mortar shell, for example. She might be 2039/1 for example, or /0, depending - but there would be just one number per body, with the right suffix (so if 2039/1, there would be no 2039/0, etc.).  

I'm just hypothesizing here, but as far as I see, the speculation has to be about correct. Otherwise, it would seem the CIJA matches are genuine, despite the doubts and counter-clues and their shady track record. Everything else to me says these things do not connect, but if not, then something else would have to explain those 2 numbers emerging then, and I don't see much alternative to something like this.

How It Would Kind-Of Line Up With "Caesar's" System
So let's say this system - that really might and probably should exist - would happen to reach death number 2040, with a detainee of branch 227, at about the same time the "Caesar photos" unidentified bodies credited to branch 227 also reached 2040.

So we'd have 2040 deaths logged at hospital 601 by June 2 of 2013. The rate of deaths in that time would start slow and then accelerate as the militancy expanded. Quite likely a smaller half of these deaths were in the first half of 2013, while the slight majority took the first 22 months to accumulate. That's just a guess, but would yield a 2013 average of around 160-170 a month. It might be low in the winter, like 90/month, and extra-heavy in June and July, like 250/month, amid escalated fighting, especially over Jobar and east Ghouta.

The second coincidence about two months later (span June 9 to August 6) just means the two systems didn't happen to pass briefly, but stayed roughly synchronized for several weeks - the same basic pace was kept between the 227 bodies and everyone who died at the hospital. Their system would log 628 fatalities of all classes combined in app. 2 months (2040 - 2668), an unusually high rate of about 300-320 a month at this time. Considering the above, the uptick in deaths could be even sharper than that rough guess.

as for the "Casear photos," likely unidentified found bodies of immense number, which seem to directed totally to the garage behind  Hospital 601 - In this same span, my H# timeline suggests that system documents more like (est. 3000/b - 4738/b) 1,750 unidentified bodies As it happens, the minority stamped 227 also rose by about 600 in the same 2 months (comparing 2040's estimated H# and 2668's seen H#). At close to 1/3, that's a pretty normal ratio for 227. In total, the photos at the SAFMCD site break down so by (alleged) MI branch:

* 215 = 3,556
* 227 = 2,047
* next 3:
** Air Force Intel - 350
** 216 - 297
** 235 - 128
* the other folders/branches hardly count or don't (misplaced 215s, unknown branch, etc.)

So 215 = 56% - 227 = 32% - next 3 combined = 12%

Now this, used to project the expected number and proportions of dead in the span between our two deceased detainees in the hypothesized Hospital 601 /0 number system. Nothing exact, but useful in showing the rough correlation of the red bars (est. 560 vs. 628), and likelihood of many matches here - if very many of those who died inside the hospital were 227 detainees. And it might be just the two.

Both photos seeming to come too early to match suggests the hospital's system of total deaths passed the current 227 number just a few days behind it, and kept approximate pace for about two months, staying about as far behind then. Therefore, it would keep pace for a bit before and after this span as well, but would get increasingly out of sync further from this zone..

Here it seems the hospital's number grew faster (628 to 560), so the second entry should line up better, but things just aren't precise enough yet on any end to settle points like that. Likely there are more 227s than average in this span. In fact:

The 7-6 folder includes 160 from 227, and only 73 from branch 215, of 256 total. The other folders are less 227 heavy or have none, but tend higher than average.

24-6 folder, total: 544, includes: 215: 267 - 227: 213

7-7 folder, total 439, includes: 215: 279 - 227: 117

26-7 , total 218, includes: 215: 78 - 227 = 106

later 000 (Aug. 1?) folder, total 143, includes: 215: 0 - 227: 117

6(-8)-2013, total 62, includes: 215: 62 - 227: 0?

14-8-2013, total 126, includes: 215: 55 - 227: 45

The two prisoners who die happen to be 227 - in two cases, maybe more. Is that a lucky break? (and how lucky?) Or, perhaps, 215 and someone else had a couple detainees die in this span as well, but they were put in the hospital's cooler under numbers in the same sequence with these 227 guys and whoever else, and NOT based on their branch 215 etc. ID. That is, maybe others were found but didn't line up, so the CIJA et al. didn't mention it... this would be par for the course if those investicutors (prosecution-minded fake investigators) did find such a thing.

If this scenario were true, it means compared to the large number of people dying in hospital 601 in this span - a bit over 300 a month on average, from all causes combined as I propose - three times as many starved and purple found bodies were photographed in the garage area during the same span. And it did this constantly through late 2012 and 2013, to the tune of about 1,000/month on average. Whatever crime system is behind that stream of death, this gives an idea of the scale of it.

The sheer number of bodies with their attached numbers makes it likely enough that  two men stamped 2040 and two stamped 2667 passed through the same hospital within a few days of each other. Virtually every number prior to that had already been used in the hospital's inner system, and several times among the victims out back. The hospital number there is debatably relevant, but it too gets linked to false detainee death reports, and might be used in the same way - see below. Every number up to 5,000 gets used twice here, and a few lower numbers get used a third time (it runs 1-4,999 first plain, then again with /b, then with /another letter(unclear - s?), allegedly running up past 1,000). And then each alleged MI branch responsible for killing their prisoners on such a scale issues virtually every number up to whatever. And there are nine branches to issue numbers. 

For example, over the whole span, the number 458 would be passed seven times between all sources in that graphic above. Once in the "/0 system" and six times in the "Caesar photos" system:
as unidentified body number three times, and also with photo victims 215-458, 216-458, 227-458. So there are 6 chances for the /0 system's body #458 to line up with one of those.

Lower number should be repeated more time with the lower-killing branches included, but 215 and 227 are missing a lot of lower / early entries, so the most common numbers come out at best like 59:
Branches 227, 216, 251, 220, 235, and 248 each have a "detainee" #59. 215 does not (that's included as such). These six plus 59 used 3x as body number in this system, and once in the hospital's inner system = ten bodies logged as #59, one way or another, at one point or another, just at this one place.

Other numbers like 1441 just get repeated five times total (just twice as hospital number, once each for 227 and 215, the only two huge-yield branches, and once in the /0 system). The numbers in question here (2040, 2668) are of this kind - only 5 instances. And numbers 5,000 or past are used maybe zero times. I've seen a number past 5,000 written on a card with a body once, but it seemed odd, out-of-place, and everything else says they stop just before that and re-start with a new letter suffix for body numbers, and no other system is seen ticking that high. 215's detainee/body numbers stop in the low 4,000s, and everyone else's stop far lower than that (except the stray, misplaced-seeming high numbers found here and there).

Usually, the 4-9 outer repetitions of a given number won't come close at all to lining up, on the calendar, with the same number on the one system running inside the hospital. But with that many systems running at once, it's likely at least 2, and even "several" cases will. They probably wouldn't line up down to the day, but close enough to explain the two cases of possible or near-matches we've seen. And so I propose something very much like this does in fact explain it.

Some Closing Thoughts and Overview
If this is the kind of coincidental line-up I propose, it could be tested against the documents by anyone with access. There wouldn't be any non-227 "detainees" that roughly match with the hospital's /0 system in this span (e.g. branch 215 bodies were numbered in the 3100s at this time, and no one else issued number so high, except AF intel, but just a few and sporadically, and at random times -allegedly. Let's skip that for now). And even 227s will fail to line-up outside this time-span. Investigators well be able to find a couple more detainees who died around the time their own numbers line up the same way with some branch of the bodies out back, even if these are two different systems. One with enough data may could test that against the hypothesized /0 system for logical consistency - is the number too small or too large to make sense at that date? Or does my theory still make sense even with that added point? 

But if this is just a trick here, one could not locate the thousands of death reports suggested by the December order to document every death in custody see part 2), to show in thousands of cases heart attack claimed, body held with current branch number regardless of the date, that lines up with the numbers on those starved bodies ... I suspect there are only dozens, not thousands, of such reports, because there was no systematic killing. and it's probably just these 2 and possibly a couple more that have that convenient feature  of seeming to line up with photo victims.

The later case is said to be just one of at least "several" shown the Channel 4, each with "matching Caesar photos." How well these others matched is unclear. As noted, every number from 1 to whatever was used 5-10 times here, so it means nothing that they found a matching number in several cases. If their interpretation is right, there should be thousands of these matches, all being number AND date matches. But maybe all but 2 or 3 of these "several" are just some random rare detainee death that has a best of 1-3 matches in the photo set, but the dates don't even come close to matching, so the CIJA don't give out any details, even to Channel 4

As shown, that "several" might be the few sheets on top of some binder, or maybe the whole binder as well - that's unclear. The two we see (one presumably being the one included on the show) are both 95% redacted. 

But no, we'd need more information - more examples with clearer matching details, a better sense of the timeline that winds up a true match, etc. - before it would be wise to link these benign-seeming documents to that horrific crime spree.

Also consider how these 227 matches fly in the face of - or combine awkwardly with - a previous explanation offered by the central witness in all this, "the Defector code-named Caesar."

As the 2014 Carter-Ruck report was paid by the Qatari royal family to explain "the procedure for documentation was that when a detainee was killed each body was given a reference number which related to that branch of the security service responsible for his detention and death." That's the top dual-number in this card shown at right, as a refresher. "Caesar" himself later claimed it was a prisoner number issued on order of arrest. But noting how every prisoner would then be killed in their order of arrest, the Carter-Ruck report, Human Rights Watch, and others have overlooked that claim to decide this number is issued only upon death. It's a branch-specific dead body number. But opinions differ, even among those blaming "Assad."

Then, the Carter-Ruck report continues, "When the corpse was taken to the military hospital it was given a further number so as to document, falsely, that death had occurred in the hospital." They were citing the explanation provided by "Caesar." (p. 13, under "V. The Evidence of “Caesar”") This will be the hospital number as seen above, the number used for the big timeline further above, that runs to 5,000, then re-starts with a /b. HRW and others have repeated this over the years, and it seemed like the evident truth. 

But in these specific cases considered in this long post, the CIJA now propose hospital storage number is adopted from the responsible MI branch # (issued at death? So only then?). So their detainee/body # 227-xxx becomes xxx/0, maybe with other branches swapped out with 1s and whatever. The bottom number has no clear use in that scenario. If it had much value like Carter-Ruck heard, it should be sent back to MI leadership for their reference, as the new thing added at the hospital. But only their own alleged prisoner number (already known) is re-affirmed here. That seems pointless.

So "Caesar" and the CIJA may contradict each other here - or not. The logical way they might correlate that so no one is wrong: there's  a number for the prisoner/stored body (top), and one for the covering paperwork (bottom). A card shows them together for correlation. So the late case is stored under 2667/0, and then given a false death report numbered 4738/b. Why not file the paperwork conveniently under the number used for storage? Who cares? It's going to the Hague!

And it's not the biggest or clearest deal I've seen. But it does seem like both numbers are cited for the same basic purpose because too many people are trying too hard to take these heart attack reports (alleged thousands of them, at least a few proven) and connect them to those thousands of very real dead bodies. Different people link them randomly to every number they see, at different times, making short-circuits likely. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Painting Vs. Reality in Syria Crisis Response

Assad Files 2018, Part 3
September 10, 2018
updates Sept. 28, Oct. 13

Note, October 13: a better, more readable version at 21st Century Wire, that more fully explains the context and implications. with the help of Patrick Henningsen, who added a few points, provided the space, and has promoted it as the important find it is.
In Assad Files 2018 part 2, we looked at three more documents shared in a recent channel 4 program, that offered further insights into how banal and non-criminal Syria's prison system really operated back in 2012-13, amidst this horrendous crisis and endless cartoonish allegations. In summary, we learned of these orders suggesting the "Caesar photo" victims probably died somewhere less normal:

Now we go further back to the allegedly brutal response to peaceful protests that sparked armed resistance ...

August 5, 2011 Crisis Cell Meeting: A Picture Was Painted
I'll start with a re-write of some points raised back in 2016, in my first analysis of the so-called "Assad Files," building off of an ambitious piece of propaganda by Ben Taub at the New Yorker.

Assessing the "Linchpin" of the CIJA Case
In the article, Taub paints fairly benign statements from government officials as deeply ominous - suggesting this is about what the guys informing him (the CIJA [committee for international justice and accountability]) are also doing. These quotes can seem that way - with lights from below on either side and the background dimmed. For example, Taub explains, there was a crucial meeting of the Central Crisis Management Cell in Damascus on August 5, 2011, worried about “the laxness in handling the crisis,” which was getting bigger.

Aug. 1, Hama: a bit of that "crisis" they talk about
It's not mentioned here (dimmed background), but this was just a few days after militants overran parts of Hama city on July 31. They killed dozens of policemen and soldiers, dumping some in the river early on August 1, throats sliced, cursing the dead "soldiers" and shouting Allahu Akbar. One man asks people not to film, but at least 3 do, and the one vide was published. An opposition activist confirmed this incident to CNN, warning there were Al-Qaeda elements involved after returning from the fight in Iraq, and it might turn their rebellion ugly (or might already have, depending).

Already back in early June, 2011, there was a massacre by the "Free Syrian Army" in Jisr al-Shughour, claiming the lives of around 120 security members and an unknown number of civilians. Theories were floated that this was a regime crime against those who "refused to shoot protesters," perhaps involving Hezbollah extremists… but it wasn't as clear on that as Hama a couple months later.

Hama is the city most-associated with alleged regime massacres by the president's father Hafez Al-Assad, and was recently inspected by US ambassador Robert Ford in early July and found to be totally militant-free. So we can be pretty clear who's responsible for the deaths of July 31: 24 members of the security forces, and around 80 men and older boys, allegedly all civilian. The 80 almost has to include some fighters killed in their ambitious coordinated attacks on different areas. That toll also might also include civilians killed by Islamists for their support to the government, or just at random in order to blame the government for the biggest death toll possible. It might also include innocents killed by the government, but their motive remains unclear...

Over 100 dead in a day was a minor milestone in the public mind. That third digit was more in the interest of the opposition seeking help than in the government trying to prevent that. Because as it was reported and widely accepted, the Syrian government killed over 100 "people" in Hama that day in an unprovoked massacre, crushing the protests with snipers and tanks in a senseless, one-sided slaughter. It seems the events of July 31 left president Obama "appalled," and seeing the "true nature" of the "Assad regime," starting a process that led to the statements of August 18 demanding the Syrian president step down in some unclear "transition." (NYT)

This would the standard toxic situation over the following years. Naturally, authorities hoped to shut it down as early as possible. "[S]o as to speed up putting an end to the crisis,” the intercepted dispatches say, authorities hatched a unified plan that night, and in fact, Taub writes:
"This policy became the linchpin of the CIJA’s case against officials in the Syrian regime. ... For the CIJA, identifying suspects was easy, Wiley said, because “their names are all over those documents.”
So let's take a look at what they were able to get out of this August 5 centerpiece. as Taub writes, the idea was "to target specific categories of people." "First," it was "protest organizers and “those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media.”" Next and finally, it was whoever else, if anyone; Taub doesn't specify any other target types. Here's just how he wrote it:
Emma Reynolds wrote for news.com.au about this in a similar vein, citing Taub:
By August 2011, Syria’s shadowy Central Crisis Management Cell revealed that they were concerned about “laxness” and poor coordination from the authorities dealing with insubordinates. They arranged for regular raids on opposition activists and critics of Syria in foreign media. Their coordination messages paint a clear picture of how orders for what happened to people like Mazen al-Hamada came all the way from the top.
Al-Hamada was one such activist, arrested while smuggling baby formula to a woman in Damascus in March 2012 and bundled into a car....

They weren't going after any armed groups or anyone else, just people struggling for freedom or smuggling food. Dissent, humanity: shut-down. Militants: ignored? Non-existent?

My suspicion then was the parts about demonstrations were really in there, but alongside the real worries about militants running amok, and the two classes might even be linked in a way that makes sense. That's totally not what the memos said, according to the CIJA via Ben Taub and the New Yorker. But I never did trust those assurances.

What They Were Saying the Next Day
We've still never been allowed a view of any original documents from that August 5 meeting of the Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC). But now we can see a memo dated the next day and referring to the CCMC meeting in question. Demonstrators, foreign media, wanted persons, clearing and holding areas, and then explanation of the regional investigative committees are all included - and so are all the surrounding parts left out of the painting shown to millions back in 2016. Thanks to an online video from Spanish paper El País, we can see the whole page translated to English, and the Arabic original to a lesser degree, and do some comparison.

Building the case against Assad’s regime
El País, June 15, 2018
This is apparently a September fax of an August 18 (forwarding?) of an August 6 memo, discussing the previous day's crisis cell meeting. It was directed, on the 6th, to regional Ba'ath party branches in the governorate of Hama (listed first), and also of rural Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Homs, Idlib, and Daraa (in that order) - the places the Islamist insurgency had taken root at the time. It also tried hard in Baniyas, but was contained already. Aleppo remained mostly peaceful at this time. But the first one listed here is Hama, which had witnessed the massacre of soldiers and police a week earlier.

Yellow highlighted by El País, about the same points early shared all alone. The red underlining added by me shows important points they left out in that process.

The relevant paragraph (middle, with highlighting) does mention demonstrations and demonstrators 4 times - at least per the provided translation. But this memo also mentions - as I suspected - "armed gangs" that cause "human and material losses" by vandalism, looting, pillaging, attacking state institutions, and "killing and terrorizing citizens." This all required so-called "security operations" that were expected to incur "losses," perhaps related to the weapons they hoped to seize some of.

They also decided some soldiers had a way of losing their weapons to the militants, or being "reluctant" to fully face the "armed groups." These might even be sympathizers, people willing to defect, sabotage things, or kill their fellow soldiers. This is probably the "laxness" referred to in Taub's painted version, but there seems to be a bit more we still can't see.

Arrest THEM = people wanted for violent offenses. "Especially those" is a subset of THEM, so violent offenders who also incite demonstrations, etc. However much sense that makes, it's what this translation says. The wording is odd, and raises questions about the translation, which we'll return to shortly. But it does not say go after people who just organize peaceful protests or just talk smack about Damascus.

"Clean every sector of those wanted persons" starts the next paragraph by referring to the same - violent militants, and "especially" those organizing demonstrations and smear campaigns as well.

So the earlier presentation cut all the red parts above, in their selective quotation of the yellow, just as I suspected. Officials were worried about the militants like they should have been, and it was the main issue. But tt didn't come through in the painted picture of a calm crackdown on peaceful dissent, inviting outsiders to arm the emergent "Free Syrian Army" to "defend the protesters."

2 More Docs, More on the Violent Demonstrators
A total of three documents at least are partly shown in the El País video: the other two have dates and document numbers redacted (why?), but may be contemporaneous supporting documents.

One is an undated request for information, from interrogations and potentially involving torture. Methods aren't explained, but they sought more information from "detainees who incited demonstrations" and also those "who had contacts with foreign bodies," perhaps including "plotters" and/or "bodies which took part in funding and arming demonstrators." Here again, the kind of "demonstrations" they're concerned with involve weapons. They also wondered about the "volume of funding and armaments" going to those "demonstrators" and their origins. So they mean weapons supply, not "arming them with knowledge" or something.

The other shared document is an undated arrest warrant, directed to local commanders in Daraa governorate, asking for the arrest of six people (names removed), as soon as possible. This adds nothing - it's the reason they were wanted that matters. Are they armed militants, or demonstrators and image tarnishers? Above, and left out of news stories, the people were wanted for the crimes of vandalism, killing, and assault on the citizenry and government institutions, and some of THOSE were "especially" wanted for additional media-type activities. Are these 6 just regular wanted, or "especially" so?

And even that question doesn't matter totally;
demonstrations, propaganda, media and "human rights NGO" contacts, and weapons and sectarian mayhem, are all seen with good reason as part of a unified package, a coordinated attack on their country seeking a repeat of the Iraq and Libya regime-change scenarios. Unauthorized demonstrations, at which unauthorized gunmen shoot people and blame the government, was a serious problem. All aspect of such a machine would need shut down.

The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) is named. Publicly, they organize, promote, track peaceful street protests, but they also work with military groups and disseminate their reports, and had nearly every martyr of regime brutality reported with video of the body, as if they had a direct line with the angel of death. The Syrian authorities will have rightly pegged the LCC as organizing both military and propaganda activities. Such people were tarnishing the image of Syria, by committing crimes - often hideous ones -that were being video-recorded and blamed on Syria with great frequency and alarming success.

The main translation issue is with what the LCC organize: protests as implied, or a more vague type of "events." See below.

There's no mention of arresting baby food smugglers like Mazen Hamada, and no order to implement a baby food embargo in the first place. And still nowhere have we seen any orders to enforce the inhumane conditions on detainees Hamada and others describe, or to systematically exterminate thousands of them, as the "Caesar photos" claim to show.

Translation Issues?
I don't usually presume translation issues without a specific reason - it's quite possible, but the main issue seems to be what's edited out - redacted or just not shared. I found one Arabic translator so far on Twitter with time to help.

First, a minor issue: a partial view of undated request is visible enough
"the detainees who incited demonstrations and had contacts with ... plotters, and bodies which took part in funding..." In the translation, the "and" becomes an "or" for a more inclusive reading of who's "especially" wanted.  But either way, it's the class of crimes they were detained over, and information was sought.

More importantly, we get some decent views of the (ostensible) Arabic original of that August 18 fax of the August 6 memo. Below is a full-page view, but small and, as it happens, the important paragraph in the middle is underneath the animated titling for "ARREST WARRANTS." That paragraph is also shown scrolling by larger in such a way all 8 lines can be taken and reassembled (below). 

An "Arab Ba'ath Communist Party" is mentioned at the top - as Amin251 explains, should be Socialist
"الاشتراكي = Socialist. "Communist"  would be written "شيوعي " The name of Syria's ruling party is Ba'ath Arab Socialist, and that's who the memos and translators refer to, so there's no real contention, and it's not a directly important issue. It might show a right-wing bias on the part of the translator, inserting "socialist = commie tyrant" messages in the translation. That might lead to further distortions, but hopefully we can see these directly. 

With tips from Amin and my own careful looking... here are the words in play for those odd instances of "demonstrations."

phonetic: almuzaharat:
The usual word for public demonstrations (plural). Also translates like manifestation, display, etc. It does similar in English. It appears zero times in the memo. The singular form is about the same, doesn't appear either.

مظاهرة الاحتجاج
ph: muzaharat alaihtijaj
A phrase for protest demonstration (singular - plural is barely different). This also doesn't appear (that I caught)

ph: almutazahirin
The usual word for demonstrators and/or protesters, ones who participate in the above. This appears where it should, being translated as "demonstrators." Good there.

tazahar - to demonstrate. this appears twice, suggesting a bit of paraphrasing for 2 instances (rather than "demonstrations" it says "?? demonstrate(ing/ed)." I'll see about the exact wording for each, if possible 

with one loose quote-mark attached, Google Translate gives "demonstrations" with alternates readings: feint, simulation, pretense. Hmmm. With the quote mark cut, it's just "events" and no hints provided. Amin251 notes the usual word for "events" in a general, and maybe military sense, is:
الأحداث (al'ahdath).
But this word doesn't seem to appear. This other word is unusual, but apparently valid, maybe a regional thing, or personal choice of the author. Its exact meaning here isn't totally clear, but the context involves weapons, death, and crisis. It happens to look like the usual word for demonstrations, and it can also mean the same thing. In context of the other words, it likely does, but perhaps not...

Here's where these words appear in the paragraph. Translated paragraph repeated below for comparison.

So far, it appears the translation is ok, despite the appearance. But I still have questions about the wording around the 2 cases of demonstrate, and the LCC's "events", the "especially those..." part, and how the whole run-on sentence here suggests lumping that might be inaccurate (and/or issues, etc.).

Such things can tweak the wording to support the reading you want. But mainly, the only way to make this document fit the agenda of the day is to just quote the parts about "demonstrations" and pretend there was no talk of militants at all. Every nation has a right to defend itself from armed insurgency, and the point of this exercise is to prove the Syrian state was way past its rights and had to know that. So the CIJA just cut the parts that disprove their case before they offer a couple stray lines they like as supposed proof. Clearly showing it with minor redactions isn't a good idea (see my effort below). The best plan they took was to present just the yellow lines and pretend that's all that mattered.

Follow-Up (Sept. 28)
This point deserves some. I finally asked the author, after noticing he is on Twitter, and how he won the Pulitzer Center's RFK prize for journalism in 2017 for this work "chronicling a team of international investigators who smuggled secret Assad regime files documenting torture and other war crimes out of Syria." It was a dramatic read, but too bad it relies on a dubious alleged witness and grossly mischaracterized documents.

So I asked him "any idea how the red-underlined parts here went missing in your article's version of this "linchpin"? It seems to be a plan to stop "armed groups" killing people." (follow-on tweet to correct to "armed gangs.") No response expected, but expectations can be interestingly dashed.

Update, October 13: Even with another nudge added, I still received no response prior to drafting the 21st Century Wire version of this story, where I conclude: "I asked Ben Taub about the details missing in his article, but so far he has not responded. It’s not clear if he or – more likely – the CIJA made the decision to delete the militants and distort this evidence. But someone did."