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Friday, April 29, 2016

Re-Considering Hamza al-Khatib and the Events of April 29, 2011

Re-Considering Hamza al-Khatib
and the Events of April 29, 2011
April 29, 2016
(incomplete)
(last edits April 30)

Today marks five years, I suspect, since the death of child martyr Hamza al-Khatib. His supposed killing under torture by Syrian security services sparked widespread condemnation of the Syrian government when it first made the news in late May, 2011. I had never looked closely at this case, but was recently spurred to, and started the page April 29, 2011 in Deraa at A Closer Look On Syria.

That will expand, but what I've gathered so far is sufficient for this post on some issues of contention: the victim's age, the castration/mutilation claims, death time and detention duration (possibly never detained at all), and finally, assessing the conflicting narratives for what happened on April 29, 2011. 5-year re-visitations of the story will be in late May, so this marking of the true anniversary of his death puts the reader weeks ahead in terms of a counter-argument (so be sure to bookmark this).

To meet the obscure anniversary, I'm posting this incomplete, and will be adding to it.  As it stands, it's too long and wordy, but I'm too tired to finish slimming it down. Some parts left undone for now, etc.

Basics
Ham'za's Ali Al-Khatib  (Arabic: حمزة علي الخطيب ) was reportedly aged 13, from Deraa province, in the town of Jizah (Jeezah on Wikimapia). That's a bit southeast of Deraa city (alt. Dara'a, etc.), the site of some of the earliest violence of the uprising. The surrounding countryside was even harder hit starting this early.

Hamza's father, Ali Al-Khatib, is said to be aged 60, with Hamza the youngest of his 20 children from his two wives. This often means the family was prosperous (or would be, etc.), and as such would likely be approached to support the uprising with money and sons.

Opposition sources say Hamza was first arrested on Friday, April 29, 2011 when he joined "peaceful marches towards the city (of Deraa) in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade" said to be imposed there (Amnesty International report). (the theme of that Friday's protests was "break the blockade.")  According to activists but with no proof, the hundreds of protesters came under unprovoked fire along the way, several were shot dead, and Hamza and several others (20-51 total) were arrested by security forces. Among those, Hamza and at least two others were what we would class as children - Thamer Al-Sharei, age 15, and Hussam Al-Zoubi, age 17.

The bodies of Hamza and others were delivered to their families by the government weeks later in brutalized form. Hamza alone made the news as the youngest victim. On May 24 or 25, video surfaced on the Internet of  the darkened, swollen body of the 13-year-old after it was returned to his family, reportedly on May 24 (rotated screen-grab at right).As they said, he bore signs of "torture" from his month-long detention, and had his penis hacked off by his regime captors. That would be some unforgettable, unforgivable crime.

This is ultra-famous footage, seen by millions, who expressed brain-dead shock and poorly-directed rage and indignation. Syrian protesters and their supporters used his image heavily to underline their case why "Assad must go." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was typical in calling Hamza's murder a "turning point" - when simple protests were repressed with the torture and castration of harmless, pudgy 13-year-olds, of course the people would have to fight instead. People helped the rebels get better at fighting, more areas were "liberated" but started suffering daily deaths and weekly massacres, and here we are five years into that, and probably past half a million people killed, including tens of thousands of children. 

No one really asked any questions about the reported story, or hinted there might even be a reason to do so. But here are my top questions to start, and my best answers so far.

Age - A Man in His Twenties? 13? 12? Other?
I had previously decided the dead Hamza was adult-sized and well over 13 years-old. Looking closer, I can only say it's a little ambiguous. The best views (morgue photos, see below) show he seems to lack body hair which points to 13 or even younger, or older with slow puberty. But he also seems pretty large, in weight and stature, likely a bit older and two bits heavier than in the circulated portrait photo.

I was originally slanted in my thinking by trusting the coroner, Dr. Akram al-Shaar, as widely reported; by this, he saw "a plump young man in his twenties." This is taken as conflicting badly with the usually claimed 13, and so was embraced by some supporters of Syria's government and derided by the other side. The Atlantic Wire's article was titled "On Syrian State TV Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb Is No 'Child Martyr,'" This cited "in his twenties" along with other points of their version of events, in a mildly dismissive way. But to its credit, the Wire noted a comment pointing out the original Arabic better translates "in his second decade." That means between 10 and 20, or vaguely just a teenager. (cited SANA report, dead link) Thus, by the end the leading point of the article was moot. It remains a decent read.

In fact ... this video of Al-Shaar's presentation (English captions via CC) specifies "second decade," "the teenager Hamza," and notes his lack of body hair, all suggesting something like 13. (also "plump" is put as "too fat," or maybe should be "overweight.") So there seems little to no conflict after all on age. But hardly anyone has noticed that; critics of the opposition narrative might remain fixated on this being a man aged 20+, a different Hamza than presented or an imposter, and those on the other side might continue to roll their eyes at that nonsense. But in fact, "second decade" seems like the best shorthand, and the "regime" doctor has more credibility that some thought. He might need that (see below).
It seems such a famous person as Hamza al-Khatib should have a tragically recent birth date shared somewhere to specify his age. The Wikipedia page for Hamza and his death currently gives a birth date of October 24, 1997. That would be 5 months shy of turning 14, but that's under challenge by me on the talk page there. It's not cited, and I can't find a source that agrees - just one that disagrees.

Beneath Zaman al-Wasl's posting of the morgue photos, there's a painted gravestone with readable dates (image link, crop at right). Even this may not be trustworthy, despite being painted in what appears to be cemetery. But that seems to be his name in green, and below it says his birth date, or first date anyway is 1998/5/6, or May 6, 1998. By this, he was only 12 years old on April 29, and might well have died before reaching 13, or been killed on his birthday or after, depending. (apparent death date below - 2011/5/25 must be wrong or mean burial date - see below)

Why be so certain he was 13? I Don't know. What was the Jihadists' fatwa-based age limit at the time for boy (off-limits) vs man (okay to kill)? Was it 13? If so, that might be a clue as to why they say he had definitely reached that age ... even though they're blaming someone else.

Castration claims and denials, considered
Universally, opposition and sympathetic sources claim that Hamza had his penis cut off, severed, removed. That's supported by everyone who says they've seen non-blurred morgue photos or later videos. The available imagery is unclear to me at the moment (more forthcoming on that).

The Amnesty report for one is sure this happened, having seen it, and describes random and crude abuses they heard about and/or saw on video with other returned bodies. 15-year-old Thamer Al-Sharei is one of these, with an alleged eyewitness to part of it (dubious), and video for the aftermath. His morgue photos (see below) bear out their expert's description of a video, looking even worse than it sounds - his cheek is cut open and mouth broken apart by some tool or weapon. In general, these people were abused and mutilated, hopefully after death. Castrating the youngest victim sounds like it would fit right in with such brutal killers, whoever they were.

So far, I'm finding this claim far more credible than I first expected (I didn't even know there were other detainees before!). But the Syrian official story, read straight as I had been reading it, seems to deny it outright, again skewing my thinking. Coroner Dr. Akram Al-Shaar told state TV “there weren’t any traces of violence, resistance or torture or any kinds of bruises, fractures, joint displacements or cuts," backing the claim of the judge presiding over the case.

However, in the video of his presentation, Al-Shaar emphasizes pre-death and post-death injuries, and seemingly includes decay as a type of the latter (a dubious classification). In this way, he seems to suggest anything that looks like torture or mutilation is just from decay, mentioning that a swollen scrotum is one sign of it. That whole portion seems odd and illogical. If this was meant as side-stepping, it didn't come through well, and seems more like clumsy avoidance. 

It could be Al-Shaar's assemment is true, and the others are somehow wrong. But I doubt it. The very morgue photos he's speaking about are said to be as clear as anything on the point, and the way he says everything seems carefully considered, besides strange, only underlining my doubts. I also note he prefaces his account by citing a specific legal code. That rule might include a reason for his speaking in this way.

Avoidance/denial. What would that mean? Obviously, a cover-up is one possibility. But this is a moment for the thinking cap. Ben Taub writes about "a doctor who had reported that the boy’s penis had been cut off," and who was dismissed by the official investigation as having “misjudged the situation.”  What is this "situation?" Is it medical, or political? These are the options officials would be faced with if they had a castrated 12/13-year-old boy on their hands:
  1. Acknowledge the torture/mutilation and take the credit,
  2. Acknowledge it but claim they found the boy that way, and their "terrorists" must have done it
  3. Try to somehow side-step the issue 
Can you imagine Damascus claiming its "terrorist" boogeymen were not only shooting at soldiers and such, but herding crowds of human shields along with them, and then murdering, castrating, and mutilating even boys during their "mostly peaceful protests"? That would be the peak of absurdity for dictator propaganda, worse than Muammar Gaddafi's ridiculous claims of Captagon-popping Al-Qaeda terrorists behind the killing of protesters and defecting soldiers in Libya, or that NATO intervention would lead to a failed state in Libya and a haven for extremists ... silly dictators. </sarcasm>

No, no one who needs to be convinced would have been. I think the Syrians would rather not make this claim, or have the situation on their hands to begin with. So quite likely, they would choose the last option. It could be they're playing with semantics, for the sake of his family, or to limit public outrage and stoking of tensions, or for whatever reason. The exam says cause of death was gunshots. However it happened, Al-Shaar is careful to say Hamza was alive when this happened. It could be he meant to say there were no other injuries when he was shot. Re-assembled, he'd be saying the boy died quickly and suffered no torture. If his body had any cuts, it was mutilation after the fact. But verbally, he's quite clear it didn't have any cuts prior to his exam.

That seems possibly deceptive. But we should note this is for the general public inside Syria and to the world outside - people who, it could be said, didn't need to know all these details. Who really would need to know? The legal authorities investigating the case, and boy's family. Maybe it was under duress, but Hamza's uncle said on state TV (see here, subtitles via CC), after meeting with President Assad: 
"We do not care about foreign media. What we care about is to get the truth, and to get it correct and complete. We have received martyr Hamza's body from the national hospital in Daraa and everything has been documented in the doctor (medical) report, which is now in the attorney general's office, and we have a copy of it." 
Hamza's father, Ali al-Khatib, is present and seems to agree with all that's said. They don't seem to feel that any relevant details were omitted in this report that actually matters to them.

(note: some explain statements like these as created by regime pressure - an activist told Al-Jazeera how Ali's wife (Hamza's mother or maybe the second wife) told him they were threatened to blame Jihadists or else - but I haven't seen anywhere he did blame jihadists, or anyone ... nonetheless, the activist might be onto something there.)

Date of Death and the Dubious Reality of Hamza's Detention
This is the most important part and closely related to the troubling questions above. Officially, he died on April 29, before the government touched his body. The opposition claims are he was killed later but the time is unclear, probably alive and suffering up to the very end, the 24th of May or so, is consistently implied. As noted, his alleged gravestone at least gives a date of May 25 (perhaps meaning burial date).  His VDC entry gives April 29, but they probably don't mean it (it usually means date of identification, but here they'd say it's date of arrest). The morgue photos are available now for visual clues, but like any images that pass through the hands of "Caesar," the meta-data proving the date should be vanished (and could be fake if it was there anyway).

So ... April 29 at least remains in the frame of possibilities. In fact, no half of that day is ruled out. It remains possible he was never arrested, just found that day already dead.

The main proof most people need that Hamza was ever a prisoner is that the government possessed his body last before returning it to his parents. "Returned" is taken to mean he was first taken away by the government, but there are actually other options for the people trying to manage a sovereign nation here. Just in case someone might realize that and wonder, there were also unverified claims that Hamza, along with others, was actually arrested in broad daylight by a certain branch of Syria's Mukhabarat, or intelligence services. People saw these arrests and can say how many there were, but as far as I know none of it was videotaped, and we're left with verbal stories.

About 25 detainees, as expected 
It's said up to 51 civilian captives from the Saida protest were all detained by Air Force Intelligence, who are alleged to be notorious torturers and killers, apparently even of kids and old men. Al-Jazeera's activist claims there were 51 total people taken by them as prisoners, all of them alive. But to him, only about 25 total were returned or expected to be. He wailed "we received 13 bodies back this week" (up to May 31) and "we're expecting another dozen bodies back in the coming days." That would about 25, and the other half of that 51 total .... no particular expectations.

In the end, about 20-25 wound up killed and handed back; see this VDC query that lists 24 identified victims (may not all belong, will check...), and Amnesty's report names 20 taken, killed, and identified. So was that really a guess, or did this activist know in advance roughly how many people the "Mukhabarat" would be killing, or had already killed? He even might have known what tortures were committed. This raises questions about the supposed detention. 
 
One man was only returned June 30 and notes "His family could not identify his corpse because of the mutilation, and had to request DNA testing." Decay might have played in as well by then. Another returned on 4 July is shown, black with decay. Hamza was in better shape than these, but that was a month earlier. In all cases, time has passed since they disappeared on April 29. Some of that was perhaps time since arrest, some of it definitely time after death.In fact, and it might all be after death.

Caesar photo detainees?
In mid-March, 2015. the Syrian defector code-named Caesar and his allied activist group Syrian National Movement / SAFMCD,  released to the public thousands of facial ID photos from the infamous "Caesar torture photos" files (analysis ongoing in the Fail, Caesar series and important report forthcoming.) This is said to include the photos of Hamza and of child victim Thamer al-Sharei, whose well-known detention helped prove the others, and who in turn were borne out as early prisoner in this massive system. Their morgue photos were first released through the "Caesar" channel, at the same time (March 16) in an exclusive by the well-connected Lebanese daily Zaman al-Wasl, (with sub-links below to fuller photos for each boy)

But as I explain here, they aren't part of the app. 6,700 tortured Mukhabarat prisoners presented at the SAFMCD site. They lack the full code number system, and were not kept secret like those supposedly are - their bodies were handed back, and Hamza's morgue photos were already shown on Syrian state TV in 2011. And having scoured the whole site, I can also say they just don't appear.

Thus, if we take these as part of Caesar's collection at all, they would be part of the "other half" of the photos, including killed soldiers, victims of various attacks, etc. If so, they would seem to be the first examples we've seen.

It seems quite likely the numbers here aren't prisoner numbers, and mean what the bottom number of the SAFMCD victim cards mean - these kids are unidentified bodies #12 and #23, or have medical reports numbered so, as processed at that hospital  (for numbers explained, see FC5). It would suggest at least 12 bodies were processed in the span including these boys, which by Syrian official sources should be the same night of April 29.

Detention vs. Delay
As for the nearly month-long "detention," it could just be a long delay in identifying the body and/or getting it to the family. Dr. al-Shaar claims on state TV that it was simply from being unable to identify the body, with no further explanation why it took so long. As he puts it, the delay was a bit shorter than reported - in the video (1:51) he says Hamza's body was delivered "by Judicial orders" on May 21, 2011 - three days before the opposition side claims. This would follow on an established ID and claim by a family member probably a day or so prior.

But still, that's just 22 vs. 25 days since he was arrested or killed, a rather long delay either way. As noted, it seems it took just about as long with the others. Were they waiting for DNA results? Tring to figure out who even to ask? The exact nature of the ID process and the delay in it remain unclear to me.

This could possibly be engineered on the opposition side, somehow misdirecting the investigation or convincing people not to claim the bodies. It could also just be a more natural delay. But it helped create an impression of Hamza and the others being held for that time, and who wants to just hold onto decaying bodies? Prisoners are what you keep as long as possible, so we're to presume they remained alive for all or most of that time.

And consider this: after the furor over Hamza's killing in late May, what did authorities do? Denied it, tried to limit the damage ... and kept on torturing the rest of the 20-25 victims to death, including 15-year-old Thamer in June, and kept handing the bodies back to the families. It's been said this is their way of advertising the terror message to the families, hoping to terrorize the rebellion into submission. But little could their regime pea-brains predict, or ever learn ... this would only spark more protests or, actually by then, more fighting as well. 

Why such a late death?
The rebel story is a bit unclear or illogical on Hamza's date of death - and thus length of detention. They imply it was as long and torturous a captivity as possible, with the murder only near the end, just before hand-over on May 21-24 (disputed). Someone made it so the Wikipedia page has for a long time said  he died on May 25, 2011 - 1-4 days after his family received the body. Even his alleged grave marker cites May 25 as the final date. His burial date should be the 25th. But he was clearly dead some days at least by then. 

For an unknown like this, a range is appropriate, and that range would have to include back to the start of May, April 30, and April 29 - day and night. The opposition's "activists" say he was detained that afternoon, and everything from there should be unknown. But they've excluded that evening, and every day for weeks after, as a time when he was killed. So how did they rule that out? They couldn't. I think they were just reflexively pushing the date as far away as possible from their last contact with Hamza. 

Why? Maybe because at their last contact, they shot him dead, along with some others, hastily mutilated their bodies, and then fled.  

This is what the Syrian government would probably have said if they didn't have to be so careful about what they say. From all I've seen in my studies so far, I suspect this is what happened. What the other side says could be paraphrased "No way could Hamza have been killed, died, or even been injured at all on that day. He was chubby, couldn't run, and clearly was just nabbed, and every bit of this abuse was done deliberately, by those guys, way later on ..."

video-photo comparative analysis 
(noting any differences in injuries, state of decay, or otherwise that constitutes a clue - not done yet, but I think we'll find the videos first shown all over the world show a significant degree of decay relative to the morgue photos.)

A crop from Zaman al-Wasl's compiled graphic for Hamza. As seen on (???)
#23, underline, nothing. Notes later.


Again, as famously seen in late May:


a less-seen video shows  clearer color... actual green decay, probably from his chest wound - a little unsettling how the same exact 23 card, or a perfect forgery, is plastered to the boy's side with what seems his own blood - more notes later)

First thoughts, to be refined: If this body had been left out in the elements in the spring or summer, I'd say about 2-3 days has passed between the photos and the videos. But with refrigeration involved, as it would be, I don't know ... death could stretch a week further, 2-3 weeks, back to April 29 (not an expert). There's no reason to put it any earlier, but if there were some reason, even a bit earlier might be possible.

So far it seems hard to prove, but I suspect the Syrian official story is true on this point - those morgue photos Hamza was already dead before were taken the night of the 29th. All abuse were prior to these photos, or any contact with the authorities.

The Day's Events
(Extremist) Oppositon vs. Government Version vs. Mine

The set-up for the murky events
As usual, there are two broad narratives of events, but they both agree the incident was at least near to the military housing complex on the east edge of the town of Saida (as labeled, here on Wikimapia).

So far, I know of verbal accounts of the events. I'll dig later to see if any of it was captured on video by the hundreds of activists, and see if anything can be learned from that. 
...
Amnesty International's 2011 report Deadly Detention (PDF link) PDF report, explains from activists and "people close to the family" of Hamza al-Khatib how he "joined many hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages around Dera’a in peaceful marches towards the city (of Deraa) in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade". As they happened to pass what seems like one random spot along the way, the report continues, "the protesters" paused and demonstrated there and "were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them near the Saida military compound and arrested several hundred people." [2]

(To check: several hundred vs. 51 vs. 20... general arrests vs. AF Intel special ones?)

An eyewitness in another group told Amnesty that he and some 20 others, including 72-year-old Mahmoud al-Zoubi (al-Zu’bi), were in a van that happened to find itself "in the middle of the protest" as it was forming near "an area called Saida Military Residences, a housing complex for military personnel." For whatever unexplained reason, the protest had slowed up here, or come to a stop - was this the actual destination? It was never specified as the last stop, or the site of the "blockade" they wanted to break. But it could be related - they might have signs and messages directed at servicemembers' family: "ask your dad why...".

People were waving olive branches, Amnesty heard, and chanting "peaceful, peaceful." None of them ever opened fire or had any weapons, but then some chanted “Allahu akhbar!” and "a soldier called back “Chant for your own souls” and a minute later shooting suddenly began." 

The other version... Syrian state TV reports explained how people began to gather in different villages of Daraa province after Friday Prayer on the 29th, in response to "calls for Jihad," and the collected people than "set off toward the military housing compound in Said (Saida) area," apparently as the planned destination. “At that time, armed members showed up among the crowd and succeeded in misleading many young children into going with them to fire at the compound’s guards whose chief was martyred,” the report continues. The opposition VDC cites pro-government dampress.net to list what's likely this chief guard - corporal Rawad Mohsen Deeb, age 26, from Tartous, killed by shooting in Daraa.

State TV aired the account of Abdel Aziz Al-Khateeb, who claimed to be a close friend (not relative) of Hamza's (video: appears a bit old to be close buddies with a 13-year-old, but okay, maybe). Al-Khateeb says he joined Hamza and some others, including people from al-Mseifra and Bosra/Busrah. "We headed to the military residences in Saida accompanied by armed men," he says (as translated). He also mentions they had been equipped with "sharp arms" handed out by a local blacksmith. "As we reached there, some demonstrators opened fire toward the compound injuring one soldier. Later, there was a heavy fire exchange and we had to hide behind trees." 

Opposition members showing up at military housing with guns and custom-crafted blades would be an extremely provocative move, in context. Twelve days earlier and a ways north, in Homs, a brigadier-general of the Alawite faith was stopped on the road, where he was driving his teenage son and his two teenage nephews (all around 15-17, by the way, not 12.) All four were murdered, the son's head perhaps run over, and the bodies were mutilated with blades. (see Tellawi Family Massacre, April 17, 2011)

Military Alawites at least, and their civilian kin, were considered by some as fair game for killing. And here were others who might be operating on those rules ... near houses where military families of all faiths were headquartered, with wives and daughters included. This plus shooting at the guards fatally, and threatening to perhaps overrun the place, is a good way to get shot. And of course this is the Syrian official narrative, which might that even if it weren't true.

The fatal round-up
The middle part is unclear. In the opposition story, we have some people (mostly men, possible attackers) killed by army gunfire, and other protesters being chased, cornered, maybe shot down, and somehow arrested. It seems at least 25 men and boys total wound up secretly detained/disappeared at this time, and just that many came back later as murdered. Hamza's cousin told al-Jazeera "People were killed and wounded, some were arrested. It was chaotic we didn't know at that point what had happened to Hamza. He just disappeared." 

Amnesty's van witness says everyone jumped out when shooting started, and took cover. Maybe the van was disabled, so they tried to run, but the elderly Mahmoud al-Zoubi at least was too slow and was arrested (later, he was ofcourse brutally killed. In fact, seven al-Zoubis, aged 17-72, were among the 20 captured this day and then murdered, according to the Amnesty report. Was Mahmoud's slowness from age, or just something that runs in the family? What do we really know about these families?)

In the government's version, it's just about as murky, other than to say there was a clash and Hamza's body at least was found inside the housing complex, in just the shape they handed it over, except way fresher. All else, they seem fairly quiet about. So to help show how it might have happened, here's one scenario I have to propose myself:

Amid the intense and confusing gunfire, Hamza and other innocent and vulnerable types were urged to follow certain strangers among the armed men to safety, maybe in one group or in 2-4 smaller groups. Instead they were led to somewhere out of view, behind some abandoned building nearby, where they were somehow murdered, perhaps just gunned down, tied up first, or whatever, depending on the evidence.

The shots would blend in to what I imagine was insanely loud and prolonged gunfire someone decided should keep going. A guard at each end would help keep witnesses away. And then, most likely, the killers mutilated the bodies before they left the scene. The "regime torture" was done, and now it was just a wait for the "secret detention" to play out and the proof to be handed back and revealed to the world.

Perhaps the killers brought the victims in and killed them there, but most likely, the killing spot would be outside the guarded compound. Either they somehow weaseled inside dumped the bodies there, or they were actually just found nearby, with that part of the official story added for some reason (for example, to prove an intent to enter the compound, they say everyone who was shot shot in fact did enter).  

Or simpler yet, in a sense ... these people were pre-selected, abducted that morning or whenever, murdered and hastily mutilated, driven to the "protest" site in one of their vans, and simply dumped at the best spot. That sounds less plausible to me, but who knows? 

The clean-up
Later in the day, in the opposition's version, the 20-51 detainees were trucked to the prison at Mezzeh airport, presumably, and booked with the ID numbers, to start their final weeks of hell.

In the other version(s), the scene of the incident was secured, all armed men had fled, and a number of murdered and mutilated bodies were discovered. Judge Samer Abbas told Syrian TV “At a late hour on Friday 29/4/2011, we were informed by the (coroner's office) that body (of an) unidentified boy was in the hospital.” By morgue photos leaked in 2015, child victim Thamer al-Sharei was ascribed number 12, and Hamza was given #23, perhaps meaning unidentified bodies, and suggesting at least 12 bodies were processed in this same evening.

I definitely lean towards the official story for this part. I suspect they had about 25 such bodies on their hands that night.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dr. Mohammed Zakariya Naddaf: #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile

Dr. Mohammed Zakariya Naddaf:
#CaesarPhotos Victim Profile
April 22, 2016
last edits April 23

Dr. Mohammed Zakariya Naddaf ( محمد زكريا النداف ) was a professor of Sharia law (Islamic law) at Damascus University, until he was abducted and wound up a fatality of "torture" in whatever system the "Caesar photos" document. 
 
As presented: "Regime Kills Damascus University Professor," by  All4Syria (Opposition website) via Syrian Oberver, June 26th, 2014. This says he was recently killed, about a year after his arrest, which happened "about a year ago." He was detained with family (unsure number) for revolutionary activities, it says, and his wife was released 6 months later. The fate of any others is left unclear. What this is based on is also unclear. For his death, they cite "a short note" recently recieved by his family - ostensibly from the government - "saying that he had died in the prison, without giving any further information."

VDC martyr entry #1 : Date of death:  2014-06-24, detention-torture.
Notes: "Known as (Abo Omran), Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after a year in detention, date of death is not accurate, the body was not received by the family" The date is noted, as it usually is, 'not accurate.' But it should be close, per the reports. The 24th sounds like a good guess.

Arrest Went Unnoticed?
What strikes me as especially interesting here is the record and reports of his arrest - apparently non-existent. A prominent Islamic scholar in Syria is arrested by the government for plotting against it, with family members including at least his wife, sometime in early-mid 2013. There should be some news reports about the arrest, some comments that he should be freed, etc. If not from Amnesty International, at least somewhere on Facebook, etc.

But so far in English and Arabic I can't find any note of his arrest or even missing status. For the first six months, as far as I can see, there was no news. Then his wife was released, and might have alerted someone that Mohammed remained behind bars. But still no one remembered or spoke of the story Then all opposition people seemingly forgot about it, if they ever knew, for another six months. Then suddenly they say he's dead, after a year in jail that sounds like it was well-known. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

There's no clear VDC detainee entry to mark a report of it. The closest is a Mohammed Khear Naddaf, which is pretty close, in a few ways - detained early-mid 2013 in the Damascus area. If so, a shady Facebook post names him and a few others allegedly seen inside an AF intel prison, in Harasta, by April 23, 2013. The location is interesting: detained in Harasata could explain why someone disappeared when he drove near or in Douma (or lived in Zamalka, as this guy allegedly did). In case it matters (most likely not but maybe), these are:
- Qusai Doumani ( قصي دوماني ) from Saqba
- Mohammad Khair Naddaf ( محمد خير النداف ) of Zamalka (far from Kisweh)
- Wael Sraqba (وائل سراقبي) from al-Amara (in the Old City?)  - VDC entry
- Taleb al-Nahas ( طالب النحاس ) from Douma - VDC entry
- Nour al-Shaouiya ( نور الشاوي  ) (a female name) from al-Tal (north of Damascus)

I tried finding any of these other names among likely "Caesar photo" victims, but so far they don't seem to match. So likely, neither should he. But that is quite a similar name, and again it's odd how he would just vanish without any mention... unless he was someone the opposition wanted gone.

His Wife?
As said, Dr. Naddaf's unnamed wife was released (in an exchange?) six months after she was arrested with him. There is a  Mariam Naddaf listed by VDC, with detention Date 2013-06-29 - but that's inaccurate, as always. Says she was released on Sept. 29, 2013 after questioning, not after 6 months. However, she's one on this list of 13 women with this detention date - 9 share the note "Questioned by the investigating judges at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus on 2013-09-29 and d" (incomplete) Arrest date here is a basic '3 months before' the release date - standard rounding-off. Area from is unknown for all these, Damascus area is most likely.

Besides, that shouldn't be his wife, who would usually have her maiden (father's) name, not her husband's. She could be an adult daughter, another relation, or unrelated. But the timing stands out.

Death Confirmed - But A Year Earlier
When the Caesar photos were released in March, 2015, his photo was recognized - proving that he had died long before reported (Caesar stopped collecting photos in August, 2013). This was reported wherever and noted by the VDC with martyr entry #2 (post-mortem photo now, at right). This adds that he was from Kesweh (southwest of Damascus, between Daraya and Deraa). Date of death  (meaning date of ID): 2015-03-16. It's not a certain match, but good enough to presume as genuine.   

SAFMCD photo code # 796842, prisoner 3350 of branch 215. The tape is pretty unreadable, but a card with that prisoner number (in E.Arabic numerals) is visible in the fuller photo there. It's from the folder dated 24-6-2013 (photo #2 in the sequence).  The date suggests it should be between June 24 and July 7. He's probably been dead one day or less.

We can see he was not starved, perhaps no time for that, if he was abducted in late June. No torture is evident here. But he is purple (cyanotic) and might have moderate eye damage. Like most victims of this 'torture,' I think it was something like chlorine gas that actually killed him. 

Included in Amnesty Deal?
Scandal! All4Syria had reported the news of professor Naddaf's death "came just fifteen days after a presidential amnesty was issued for detainees who were arrested on the background of the revolution. The martyr was supposed to be included in the amnesty." But instead, his family got that note. This makes it sound like the Mukhabarat killed him then, to make doubly sure he wouldn't be released. They also planned to not release anyone, it was presumed. 

But it turns out he was dead just about one year earlier. The "Assad regime" allegedly killed him, and at least it seems his body passed through their hospital 601. Most likely, I think, he was documented as an unidentified body they found, along with so many others - he would be numbered between #8,300 and 8,350, just at Hospital 601.

It might take a while, but his family, or anyone willing and able to dig, could identify that body as the missing professor. In fact, he most likely would be identified, not long after this ID photo was taken. Most likely, everyone involved knew long before this 2014 announcement, and long before the same-time amnesty offer.

Yet, they say the government was offering to release a man who was dead a year. Was there an actual amnesty list circulated? If so, was it authentic or fake? Did it contain his name, or any names? Or is his inclusion simply as a prisoner, and they thought all were set to be freed? Or was this just the thing to say as that was in the news - at the same time someone decided the news of the doctor's death needed to be broken, but claimed as just then.

This story put a negative spin on president Assad's amnesty deal, which Rebels didn't like or trust. He offered it as a goodwill gesture following his overwhelming victory in the presidential election. This news report gives some details of what was offered, and it mentions no names or even classes of people slated for release. Some would get shortened sentences, and maybe some would become short enough to be freed right away, but it wasn't promised. Importantly, they offered a total lack of arrest for some fighters who surrendered. "Those behind taking hostages will also be pardoned, SANA said, if they “release their captives safely and without any ransom or hand (hostages) over to the authorities” within a month."

Is Dr. Naddaf one of those refused amnesty by Assad, or one of those hostages 'released' by terrorists with no interest in the offer? They didn't wait the full month if so, but about 2 weeks.This "note saying that he had died in the prison, without giving any further information" - if they really did receive such a note, who really put that in their mailbox? 


Who would want him Dead?
In general, agents of chaos are the first suspect for brutish acts like these. But All4Syria said kin 2014 he was arrested for "revolutionary activities." But they also described him as "a moderate man of science and religion," not the sound of a natural supporter of the Sunni extremist uprising. He was known for his gentle nature and eloquence, they say. And we can note he was at least tolerated at Damascus University until his murky abduction.

What was his area of emphasis in sharia law? Shia or Sunni versions? A supporter of it, or critic of it? Or a bit of both? For Saudi-Taliban-ISIS style Sharia, or some kind of "moderate" infidel version like Muammar Gaddafi's?

No sectarian statements, even mild ones, are cited. No anti-government statements, even mild ones, are cited. His revolutionary activities must have all been secret or - of course - non-existent. Not that it would be proof either way if these existed; it might be seen as reason for the government to arrest him, but it would not be reason enough to shield him from Islamists. In fact,any motive for "Assad" might put him in their targets (easier to blame on "Assad" that way),

So ... for what it's worth, some raw material an Arabic speaker with more background in religion and politics in the region might make something of (from my first pass with this guy at ACLOS): a thing he wrote in 2011 on Shia and "twelver" beliefs or the intro, didn't try to read it (could not form a great opinion anyway). video posted July 23, 2014 of Dr, Naddaf speaking. posted by Omar Ndaf, likely relation. trans: D. Mohammed Zakaria النداف the mercy of God - the city of good Damascus countryside - a brilliant speech in defense of the messenger of Allah. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fail "Caesar" Part 6-F: Arrested on the Road

Fail "Caesar" Part 6-F: Arrested on the Road
April 17, 2016
(incomplete)
last edits April 23

<< Part 6: Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government

Some victims shown in the "Caesar  torture photos" were said to be taken from home; Rihab Allawi, Khaled Hadla, and Mohammed Tariq Majid from the Human Rights Watch report were nabbed from home (or a hotel), two of them by branch 215, dedicated to "secret raids and intrusions." That could be true or, I suspect, untrue.

We could likewise question the many who were reportedly nabbed while mobile, passing through a government checkpoint, or out on the road and presumed to have vanished at a checkpoint. This too might be false, but there's a compelling logic to it; in Syria under Assad, the activist sources imply, only the unsecured stretches of road between checkpoints are safe. There are zones of freedom there, especially further from the center of Damascus, where armed anti-government men could, if they wanted, park a truck across the road - or just limp from the bushes with a wounded leg and a rifle - seize a car, load up the hostages, and drive off. And it's only in places like this do people not get abducted, to read the opposition's "activist" record.

It must be checkpoints behind cases like taxi driver Feras Sabbagh al-Omar from Hama (VDC) who was "forced to drive to Rabea village and was killed there and his body was mutilated," on or around June 22, 2014. Is this how a collapsing regime's thugs drive around these days? There's a Rabea in Latakia, near the Turkish border.

So far I've compiled these these 35 fairly clear cases of people who allegedly entered the torture prison system via checkpoints and/or driving. (many with Caesar photo shown, the rest likely inclusions by various clues) That's not a large proportion of all killed - probably about 6,700 alleged detainees. But this is a larger chunk of those identified (said to be 7-800, perhaps higher now). And this list is not complete - or guaranteed true, or anything really.

And again, there are less than 800 who've been identified with any story - another 6,000 or so remain totally unclaimed and unexplained. So we can suspect these few identified cases have the best stories among them. And they aren't so good. Now, just going by the ones arrested while trying to get somewhere... First, three cases are featured among the eight included in the Human Rights Watch report.

Ahmad al-Musalmani, child: - SAFMCD, j-1129 - His uncle Dahi says the 14-year-old was taken off the bus at a checkpoint as he was returning from Lebanon for his mother's funeral. Found to have an anti-Assad song on his device, he was the only one who never got back on.That info was from other who say they were on that bus. Wound up held by Air Force Intelligence. The data suggests he was one of the first bodies entered in the folder starting August 1. It's said he was arrested on August 2.

Osama Hussein Salim - SAFMCD, ja-001 - VDC - A Palestinian living in the Yarmouk Camp, worked as an accountant at Damascus University. "Officers of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a Palestinian armed group allied with the Syrian government, arrested him around 10 a.m. on February 24, 2013 from a checkpoint at the entrance to Yarmouk, while he was trying to enter the camp." Info source: "A friend of the family saw Osama’s arrest and informed them what had happened." Wound up held by Air Force Intelligence, with an odd ID number (only ja there is, so ja-001).

Oqba al-Mashaan - SAFMCD: j-8025 - VDC - from MouHassan, in Deir al-Zor governorate, where he worked as a government employee at the local agricultural department office. "Pro-government armed men arrested Oqba on March 28, 2012 as he was on his way home and turned him over to the local Air Force Intelligence branch." Info source: "Several onlookers saw the arrest and informed the family what had happened." (did they witness the transfer to AF Intel?) Wound up held by Air Force Intelligence, per SAFMCD data.

The others are mostly from the VDC - note: date of death is usually noted "not known accurately." A date is given but usually it's the date they logged an identification, based on Caesar photos math-ups. These come after January 2014, some later in the year, perhaps coordinated with the photo holders, and more in and after March, 2015 when the face-shots were publicized.Here just listed as ID date.

Driving
Mohammad Khaled al-Tout - VDC entry - SAFMCD: 227-2620, 7-7-2013 - from Douma - See also profile here: "Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons where he was arrested in the 10'th month in 2012 while he was taking his daughter to Jeroud hospital for treatment." Identified March 10, 2015. Jairud is a ways NE of Adra, further NE of Douma (Wikimapia) - well outside of town in the desert. The area seems likely to be government-secured. Was he nabbed there, or a bit closer to home? What happened to his daughter?

Nidal Abdul Aziz al-Khalaf al-Haj Ali - SAFMCD:227-2648, 7-7-203 - VDC Age: 37. From: Daraa, Khirbet Ghazaleh. , Married with Children. Mother's Name: Yosra al-Haj Ali (why not maiden name like usual?)  Civil Engineer. "He is a resident of Yarmuk camp, Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons, date of death is not accurate, he was detained by regime's checkpoint when he was with his family heading to Damascus University to receive his Doctorate certificate on 2-7-2013 and they also took his car." ID on 2015-3-19. What happened to the family he was in the car with?


Eisa al-Khateib - SAFMCD j-9080, 1-2013 - VDC - from Damascus, "sha". Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons after being detained at the Airport highway near the fourth bridge on May 2013. ID 2015-03-22 (photo at right)

Morad Ahmad al-Khateeb - VDC - (no photo to match) Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons after being detained by a regime's checkpoint on the road to Damascus international airport, ID 2014-05-12. Also arrested May, 2013 seems a good guess. Anoy women and children with them?

Probably not Caesar photo victims, but related: Two brothers share the notes "Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons, he was arrested with his father and brothers from their car on the highway after the Mezzeh first massacre in 22-07-2012, his father martyred due to deterioration of his health as a result of the arrest0. Documented in 20/04/2013."
Video of the martyr     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FN5wp87f_8
Video of the martyr     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QngFsi_lMvM&feature=youtu.be
(not reviewed, prob. dead) They show a still with Salim's entry, seeming freshly killed and stiff (dead for several hours, and less than a day). Leaked  video from inside the prison? Early return to 'family' and swift documentation? These shouldn't appear in the secret Caesar photos ... but what if they did?

Bus drivers:
Note: Frequently, buses are waylaid by terrorists, passengers screened for religion, with Alawites, other non-Sunnis, and the driver executed (especially if Alawite) after the rest are sent along. In other cases here, the "Alawite regime" stops buses at checkpoints, takes the driver prisoner, and does whatever with the passengers.

Mohammad Rakad - SAFMCD:215-2112, 4-6-2013 - VDC - from Damascus, Dummar. Bus Driver. "Palestinian nationality, Known as Abo Lafi, Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons, Date of death unknown accurately." ID-15-03-2015. (photo at right)

Waddah al-Nahtan - SAFMCD: 227-1551, 4-6-2013 VDC - (match pending)  Idlib Bus Driver. "Works as a driver on Maara-Damascus line, Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after that he was detained by Qutaifeh checkpoint with his brother two years ago, date of death is not accurately." ID date: 03-29-2015 So abducted March-April, 2013.



Maysour Mohammad Farhan Fares - VDC -  (SAFMCD match pending)  from Daraa, Khirbet Ghazaleh - Mother's Name Mila al-Homsi - age 31, married, 3 children - bus driver - Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons where he was arrested on 12 -12-2012 ,According to the medical report, he died on 15.04.2013. ID: 2014-08-09 (photo at right, match pending)

Taxi Drivers
Shadi Hassan, Jordanian taxi driver, only non-Syrian I know of to be claimed - SAFMCD, j-9151 - VDC entry - activist 'eulogy': Hasan was "tortured to death as part of the scandal of the age" ... "Two years ago, Assad’s mukhabarat (intelligence services) abducted him from al-Soumarriyah Station with his white Camry (with Jordanian plates), which he used to support his three children." The station is question is West Damascus, near Daraya (Wikimapia), between some army bases. That might not be quite where he lost his freedoms.

Ahmad Ehsan Jamal el-Dein -  SAFMCD: 215-746, 2-2013 - VDC - Dummar, taxi driver ID 2015-03-11 (photo at left)

Firas al-Daeif - VDC - (no photo to match) taxi driver, Homs, returnee's camp  ID 2014-08-21

Mahmoud Abdulqader al-Tallawi - VDC (no photo to match) - 41 taxi driver, Homs, Karam al-Shami. "He was kidnapped about two months ago when he was driving his car, today his family know that he was tortured to death by regime forces at prison"

3 taxi drivers (no photos to match) from Artouz or Jdaidet Artouz IDd early, in June 2013. 2 named Khateeb, IDd 6-6, one Marbia, 6-20. Notes for all say:
"Military's police office in Qaboon handed His personal belongings to his family through municipality
office and the mayor of the neighborhood, and gave then a paper that reads: This is an official document in which we inform you on his death, the document also states that the cause of death was : A disease that he has picked up while being detained in the Military security branch # 227 in Damascus"
This note appears with 10 men of 7 names, reported June 5-20, 2013.

Qassem mohammad Amein al-Baqli "al-Awaji" - VDC - (no photo to match) Daraa taxi driver ID 2015-08-19

Other Drivers
Jamil al-Aswad - SAFMCD: 215-367, 1-11-2012   VDC - Damascus Dummar Driver. (one entry number before M. Rakad) ID 03-14-2015 (photo at right)

Yaser Abo Naser - SAFMCD (no photo to match) - VDC - Status: Non-Civilian. Rank: Soldier. From Damascus, Khan al-Sheih Camp. " of Palestinian nationality, worked as a driver in Palestinian Liberation Army, Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons in the 248th directorate, date of death is not accurate" ID: 2015-03-20.

Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Tamer - VDC - Daraa truck driver, age 42 but looking older. Detained late 2011, thought killed by branch 215 around 2-2013 but no SAFMCD match.

General 'Checkpoint'
There are many more examples that likely fit - those below are just a sampling. First, one that's unlikely to be an area match, but might provide insight: Elwan Faisal Elwan - VDC - Idlib, Khan Sheikhoun 2014-05-28 - "Executed by regime's army forces that are stationed in Khazanat checkpoint after detaining him, the death was mentioned in the documents found after that taking over the checkpoint by FSA." Or "Executed in Khazanat checkpoint after taking over the checkpoint by FSA. " 

But in most cases this isn't even needed to question the claim - there's no proof they were arrested at a checkpoint.

Ahmad ISsa Mehsen al-Khateeb - VDC - from: Daraa Giza Pharmacist.  "Martyred under torture in regime prisons after a year and a half in detention knowing that he was detained when was passing by a regime checkpoint." ID: 2015-5-24

Mohammad Manhal Abo Hassan - VDC - age 17 Damascus Yarmuk Camp. Martyred under torture in regime prisons in Palestine Directorate after being detained by Yarmuk camp's checkpoint on July 2013, his family received his ID. ID: 2015-08-07

Ahmad Amin al-Atmeh -VDC- age 24, from Daraa: Sanamein - Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons after five moths of being detained by Sumariyeh regime's checkpoint  ID 2014-11-11
Awad Khaleel al-Etme - VDC -  from Daraa: Sanamein - 3rd year college student, Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after being detained by a checkpoint in Damascus city while heading to Lebanon for work about a month earlier, date of death is not accurate" ID: 29-07-2014

Abdullah Jamal al-Deen - VDC - from Ghouta. "Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons after being detained by an army checkpoint then was transported to the military security prison, Date of death unknown accurately." ID 2014-10-28

Emran Hammad - VDC - from Qalamoon: Ruhaiba  Martyred under torture in the air forces intelligence prisons after being detained by the Masaken checkpoint on 26-9-2012, ID date: 2014 11-18

Walid al-Asaad - VDC - age 60, engineer, from Jeroud. died May 14, 2013. "He was tortured to death by regime forces after being arrested at a checkpoint about one month ago, and his body is still with them"

Imad Yosef al-Bazzal - VDC - From Damascus Suburbs, Mqelibeh. died 2013-02-27 "He was martyred under torture by regime forces after being arrested by one of the Kesweh checkpoints"

Abdo al-Bazzal - VDC - From Damascus Suburbs, Mqelibeh. died 2013-02-27. "He was martyred under torture by regime forces after being arrested by one of the Kesweh checkpoints"

Saleem Hasan Abas - VDC - From Damascus Suburbs, Wadi Barada: Efra. Died 2014-05-12. "Martyred under torture in the regime`s prisons after being detained by a checkpoint in Rukneddin neighborhood in Damascus a year earlier, Date of death unknown accurately"

Sbaina Checkpoint
one especially prolific checkpoint with at least 4 entries

Haitham Musallam Hammad - VDC - from Bebila ID 7-24-2014  arr. July 2013? "Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after being detained by Sbaina checkpoint about a year ago, date of death is not accurate"

Khaldoun Akram al-Khabbaz - VDC - ID 7-24 "Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after being detained by Sbaina checkpoint about a year ago, date of death is not accurate"

Mohammad al-Sarsawi - VDC -age 50, from Yarmuk Camp. "Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after several months of being detained by Sbaine checkpoint during the distrubution of the food baskets, Palestinian nationality, date of death is not accurate, his wife received his personal belongings without a death certificate" ID: 2014-08-05

Nazeer Mohammad Abdul Moati - VDC - Relief Activist, from Yarmuk Camp. "Known as (Abo al-Abd), Palestinian nationality, Martyred under torture in the regime's army prisons after being detained on Rama street during the distribution of food baskets, date of death is not accurate" ID: 2014-07-10

Husain Dahouk - VDC - from Sbeineih, died: 2013-01-01. "He was martyred due to wounds sustained when he was tortured by regime forces at the checkpoint at Sbeineh junction."

Inverse Checkpoint
Victims killed under torture in regime prison, then taken to a checkpoint, and found there by rebels (clearly won't be secretly-documented "Caesar photos" victims, just of interest):
- Osama Mohammad Abdow Hamdan - VDC - from Mouadamiyeh, 2013-02-03. "He was killed under torture in the prison by regime's forces , his body was found at al-Arbe'in checkpoint" Rebels got imagery.

Analysis
There are many patterns between names, nationalities, politics, time and area, etc.  I'll leave alone for now. But a few things to note:
 
- The prevalence of family arrest. Brothers get arrested together a lot, both taken as guilty of the same unexplained or ridiculous crime. Female and child relatives might be arrested with them too, but ... these don't wind up in the Caesar photos anyway.

- How many of "Assad's" identified victims are identifiable Palestinians, mostly from Yarmouk camp (as I've highlighed here). This is now in tatters, long occupied by ISIS, and long before that in the middle of numerous rebel groups' targets, but long held out because of solid loyalty from the strongest groups like PFLP-GC, PLA, etc. These, not the plotting Islamists, are blamed for the arrests listed here but are sometimes the victims (after "defecting," perhaps...) The narrow detention-torture category in the VDC martyrs database includes 280 noted as Palestinains, almost all from Yarmouk. It seems maybe half to 90% of these will be in the Caesar photos, whether that's shown or not (unclear at the moment).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Regarding Those "Assad Files"

Regarding Those "Assad Files" - What Ties What to What?
April 13, 2016
(last edits April 16)

Here I will turn on:
The Assad Files: Capturing the top-secret documents that tie the Syrian regime to mass torture and killings By Ben Taub, The New Yorker, April 18 edition, posted (Monday the 11th?). http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/bashar-al-assads-war-crimes-exposed
Also citing a PBS Newshour interview with the author.

Going over Taub's article, I appreciate the forthrightness of its mission. There's no subtlety or room for doubt here - this is a propaganda piece through and through, demonizing the Syrian government at every chance. Note the timing of this article, as the Geneva 'peace talks' - between people from the Syrian government and the political leader of the "Army of Islam" terrorist group - are set to (hopefully?) resume this week. Those of course seek a stop to the fighting and especially to Syrian advances in reclaiming its territory.

That's why I had to get FC8 up at about the same time - everyone wants to complicate negotiations. But unlike mine, Taub's piece will be read and believed by tens of thousands, and adds to a string of other well-timed allegations and attack articles that casts one side (the Syrian government) as the devil you just can't talk to anyway.

Talk ... relative peace come when one side finally wins and the other gives up. Not in every case, but in the Syria case for sure. Everyone knows this, yet they insist on naive stall tactics as the death toll approaches half a million, or probably passed it months ago. That's deliberate torture there on a national level.

The Documents and the Investicutors
So anyway ... the article is long, horrible, and mostly about the smuggled documents story, which I don't know much about. This is actually the closest I've looked at that story so far. These come through two different main channels, and are supposed to show regime orders behind alleged crimes, with points of line-up noted in the article. Broadly, there are 3 main possibilities for these:
  1. genuine documents truly connected to the abuses alleged
  2. genuine, but selectively quoted and re-mixed with various claims, maybe custom-made allegations, to create some pastiche to maintain the "Assad must go" narrative
  3. forged documents to the same effect.
I lean to option 2, and the reader should too before we're done here.

The guys in charge of analyzing the documents, to whom Taub spoke:

- US lawyer Chris Engels, who "now leads the regime-crimes unit of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body founded in 2012, in response to the Syrian war." (read: privately-funded think-tank/whatever they want)

- Bill Wiley, a Canadian, prosecution-minded "investigator" (investicutor?) of "war crimes" involved in international tribunals, and not averse to getting the defendant convicted in advance in courts of public opinion.

Like the experts hired by Carter-Ruck to support the allegations of "Caesar" in 2014, they're hired professionals in getting certain "regimes" accused of things. They're most likely soaking up Persian Gulf monarch money as they try to line up Syria's secular and inclusive government for a jail sentence.

They have accusations and evidence, and expressed confidence that those line up right, and would hold up in a fair trial. That could be so, as most will presume. But I straight-up question it. They're just doing their job and have some deliverable product they say is of the highest caliber. I'm not impressed. That's not to say it's wrong, but the concerns brought up in 2014 by Dan Murphy - at the least - also apply here.
War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qaddafi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.  

Assessing the "Lynchpin" 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) 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. It's not mentioned here (dimmed background), but this was just a few days after militants overran parts of Hama city on July 31 and killed dozens of policemen and soldiers, dumping some in the river, throats sliced. But Syria was under growing pressure for killing over 100 protesters in Hama the same day, as the outside world heard the events from "activists." The US was making its first overt calls for Assad to step down over such crimes.

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," he writes, "all security branches were to launch daily raids against protest organizers and “those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media.” Next," maybe they would move against some other "categories" of people (maybe members of armed gangs who attack police stations, etc.) But Taub doesn't specify any other target types. (that's a spotlight on one part and more dimming to the background for the rest).

Then, “once each sector has been cleansed of wanted people,” - protesters and image-tarnishers, maybe others - "security agents would coördinate with Baathist loyalists, neighborhood militias, and community leaders to insure that opposition activists could not return to those areas." Dissent: shut-down. Militants: ignored? Non-existent?

There was also a plan aired that night for a joint investigation committee for region of the country, "which would interrogate detainees," Taub writes. He doesn't say if mass torture or extermination of the peaceful activists was mentioned, so apparently it wasn't. But they could see the orders being sent, and the committees formed. Surely the bland "interrogations" would follow. And on the other end, they had people describing what the orders meant - the kind of hideous abuses seen in the Caesar photos. That's the other and major spotlight here used to cast the orders in an ominous light.

Taub says the investicutors could also see reports back, showing that "the leadership in Damascus remained informed of the abuses in detention facilities." But there aren't any cited examples of anything criminal being admitted to and approved. He probably means they kept up on the crisis response plan, which he equates with abuse.

War crimes trials, here we come.

Documented Talk of Prison Torture Located: But it's a Lie
The CIJA are trying to connect central orders to prison abuses described to them by activist-supplied alleged witnesses. Those relate insane cruelty like that seen in the Caesar photos, which clearly did happen - somewhere. But they would want supporting orders for these things to strengthen the bond, and these, it seems, never turned up.

From all the files they've pored over, there's not one mention that comes through of a dated, quoted order to deny holding prisoners, delay or forgo court trials, assign code numbers, or in any way disappear people, as alleged. There's no instance they share of orders to abuse or torture the secret detainees or to extract false confessions. No quotes illustrate intent to starve the prisoners, hang them upside-down, deny all medical treatment, gouge out their eyes, burn their skin with acids, or exterminate them with the mystery death.

That's a lot of smoking guns they never found. Was all of this just read in between the lines by local overseers at all these different torture branches? Maybe ... they point out Damascus is still culpable, for not finding out and stopping the abuse, in case they weren't aware. But of course, they were keeping up closely - with something.

There is at least one document the CIJA cites and Taub passes on speaking of torture in the prisons - cigarette burns, electrocution, brutal beatings, and soda bottle sodomy. These are on a different level from what needs support, but do go beyond the pale and would set a precedent. But the context was something Brigadier General Jameh Jameh ("the head of Deir Ezzor’s military-intelligence branch") heard some interrogators were doing there, and he was "expressing his outrage."

Other documents show Jameh's orders “You are requested to instruct your agents to strictly refrain from opening fire indiscriminately and killing people.” Taub intends to suggest this was being done until he said stop, and he meant continue for real, just stop on paper. But the order to start wasn't mentioned. Of course it wasn't needed I suppose; they communicate these things psychically or with pheromones, like ants, right?

Perhaps Jameh was hearing reports they were shooting at random, or his bosses were concerned, because others were hearing that ... Perhaps they weren't sure if the reports were true, or just re-iterating the order for good form because they were told to. It might be the same with the torture claims, and a full quote might help clear that up. Was he outraged to learn for a fact that was happening, or to learn that others were making up such lies? Or was he upset the torture wasn't harsh enough? Maybe the reader should imagine that.

But it's made to sound like torture - much more mild than what we see in the photos - was at least mentioned, and it was ordered NOT to be done. The original order telling them to do it in the first place, to start again or ignore the abstention demand - that's more crucial evidence the CIJA didn't locate yet, but it surely must exist somewhere.

But they did dig up some dirt that suggests director Jameh is a liar in these documented expressions of "outrage." Other "evidence" collected by CIJA, probably verbal accounts collected from alleged former prisoners, is clear; Jameh approved the torture, and was himself there beating some witnesses along with his men. There's apparently no report back to Damascus verifying he helped abuse detainees. But still, they have ... documentary evidence ... that's undermined by witness verbal jib-jab evidence ... and they would have you prefer the latter.

War crimes trials, here we come.

Anyone who really studies the Caesar photos and attached info (allegations) can see much of the abuse had to be centralized. Most alleged branches seem to have a policy of killing maybe 90-100% of the prisoners, and doing it mainly in the same order they were arrested - at a combined average rate of about 1,000 per month in 2013 (to be explained in upcoming report, or see this ACLOS page).

Would they all agree to do these tings on such a huge scale without orders or approval? Probably not. But no orders or approval have been found. So maybe ... they didn't do it?

According to the photos, all the military intelligence branches starve some detainees but not others, let some rot before sending them over to the hospital, hang people upside down for long periods, and more ... Every oddity appears with every alleged Mukhabarat branch, and the alleged ID numbers in fact slide around like the distinction means nothing. Every branch at once is gouging-out eyes - maybe on order of Assad the eye doctor, not because they're Islamists. They're so gung-ho in this genocide (against mainly Sunnis, we presume) they sweep up and lots of Shi'ites and Alawites and some Christians, going by tattoos - like fishermen with blind nets and dolphins flopping on deck, but these were humans, starved slowly and abused like the rest ... who ... also might not be quite as presented so far.

Luckily Caesar and the CIJA witnesses put this all inside of regime prisons and plans. Otherwise, some local Islamist factions with open genocide/ethnic cleansing policies - like the "Army of Islam" - might look like suspects here. But it sounds like the smuggled documents add nothing much to the picture the activists are painting - these most-damning alleged orders must have been transmitted another way, or not at all.

If the documents had been faked, they would probably be made to order and would illustrate the case better; there would be a top official ordering everyone to stop feeding their prisoners, etc.But they apparently don't say any such thing, and so - in at least this regard - these are most likely be legitimate documents. To bolster the politicized case they're employed in, they would be selectively mined and re-combined with the less credible evidence.
The Central Witness
As suggested above, Taub's understanding of the photos, the prison/hospital torture system, and their relationship, seems to come mainly from an alleged prisoner of the Mukhabarat secret prison system, backed with claims from a UN report. Those in turn were probably from talking to similar activists claiming to be prisoners - maybe even the same guy.

Most details moved to - witness assessment: Mazen Hamada. In summary:

He was apparently selected by the CIJA as a best case for Taub to meet, and that's not a good sign. He's not the most obviously false witness I've seen, but fares pretty poorly on my scale of propaganda-to-plausibility ratios. He claims he never lifted a gun and was arrested with his nephew for trying to smuggle baby formula past some regime blockade of the stuff. For that alone he says he was accused of "terrorism" and plunged into the hell of Assad prisons where, over a disputed 15-month ordeal, he saw many of the crimes in the Caesar photos, all in true context.  Hamada claims his nephew remains there 4 years later, if he's still alive, but he himself was released to tell the world.

Caesar Photos as "Forensic" Proof
The alleged Mukhabarat-Hospital 601 torture system, as supposedly documented in the "Caesar" photos is something I can say more about. It's presented here as the crucial proof of the other end of their evidence chain, which runs:
- vague orders to arrest unspecified classes of people
- lurid accounts from the supposed detainees of abuses done per those orders
- the photos of the same abuses described, with supposed prisoner #s attached even.
Those were presented as tortured detainees of the government, some of them cellmates of Ben Taub's central witness, Mazen Hamada. But quite likely they were NOT that. Whatever the photos show clearly did happen - people were starved down and mysteriously killed, with frequent torture and total inhumane neglect. This happened in Syria, Damascus area, during the conflict, so by someone relevant against someone relevant. Most are led to see no question mark over that last part, and that's the problem - there is one.

The horror stories Taub were handed, mainly by Hamada, are linked to points from the smuggled documents, with prior allegations lodged in a UN report, and most importantly were " later corroborated by approximately fifty-five thousand photographs, smuggled out of Syria by a military-police officer known by the name Caesar, an alias."
... "Caesar’s team sometimes catalogued more than fifty corpses a day—emaciated, mutilated, cut, burned, shot, beaten, strangled, broken, melted."

The PBS Newshour host Hari Sreenivasan, after hearing the story about the bathroom bodies (see below), asks a good question: "How do we verify his version of events is true?"
BEN TAUB: So, after he was released, he spoke to a group of activists and gave his full testimony in detail with a published dateline back in October 2013 in Arabic.
A few months after that, a military police photographer who had defected, he spoke to investigators and forensic analysts, and a report was leaked. And he had this collection of 55,000 pictures with 11,000 bodies in it. And he was photographing them at the hospital where Mazen was staying, and Mazen’s testimony came out first. And so his account lines up with — it was later corroborated by a huge quantity of material.
Okay, Mazen spoke to "activists" in October ... was the account published or does he just mean recorded date?

Before this, Caesar had defected in August, apparently on the 20th (according to the SNHR report, based on an interview with him). This is interesting - less than a day prior to the Ghouta incident. He was already, long before that, hooked up "activists" (apparently the Syrian National Movement, and/or the Local Coordinating Committees). It might be the same group(s) who would have all Caesar's photos, location, and allegations - plus Hamada's account, possibly tailored to support it, lined up by October. They had time to learn US air strikes were not coming, and the backup intervention propaganda needed to be arranged and sown.

And then in January the European/American investicutors were brought in, hired by the monarch of Qatar, to beef-up the photo end of this likely choreographed package of evidence. Their commissioned work was then "leaked" just in time to disrupt peace talks in Geneva ... and the fact that this happened after Mazen spoke - in Arabic! ... that's supposed to boost the credibility of his part somehow? In Ben Taub's peace-talks-shadowing propaganda piece here?