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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 6-C: Torturing to Kill Thousands and Trying to Save a Few?

Fail "Caesar" Part 6C
"Torturing to Kill" Thousands and Trying to Save a Few?
February 14, 2016

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

It's said they clearly illustrate the systematic elimination, even "genocide," of people taken priosner by a deranged Syrian government. But one of the stronger points illustrating that the "Caesar" photos do NOT show that is how several victims display signs that a professional medical staff encountered that person, and treated their life-threatening problems, but in the end the person dies. There are two main options for the middle part, and it's contested:

1) as argued by "Caesar" and others: these were tortured detainees or people injured otherwise, who were stabilized, then were arrested or taken back, with devices intact, abused and tortured and caused new problems that were finally fatal.
2)  the abuse was done in unknown (likely terrorist-run) locations, the victims were left for dead with others who were dead, the life-saving measures came after that and just failed.

Hospital Abductions?
The SNHR report, speaking to "Caesar" and others, decided "some bodies  still had medical tubes attached to (them) which proves that the victims were arrested while receiving treatment in a hospital." (p 13, point 17). He says some victims were "treated" at the trauma department of Military Hospital 601 (also called Martyr Youssef Al-Adhma Hospital, at the garage of which the photos were taken),  but not due to abduction from there: "Some detainees died in the Trauma Department while they were being treated." (p. 6)

... the "trauma department" the same report describes as built decades ago and abandoned until 2011, when it was transformed into a detention center of horrors. It had medical aspects, but  doctors were not allowed to do most care, with guards (all security forces members) were left in charge of dressing wounds, installing catheters, and injecting people. This was done "to increase the detainees' torment,"  so many died in the hospital from medical negligence.

Further, they heard, "executions at the trauma hospital happened at night after dinner was served," and through the walls other prisoners they spoke to could "hear the battering sounds" of baton on flesh until the person died. Cleaners would "untangle the detainee from the metal chains..."  and bodies were then stuffed into the bathrooms. (p 6 ) Of the 250-350 bodies total hauled every 3-4 days from the Hospital 601 garage, most were "from different security branches" but there were "two or three victims from the Trauma Department daily." (p. 15)

There's no need to abduct from THIS hospital to kill - it must have been elsewhere there were successful or professional efforts to help people. At least, according to those sources... Their "Trauma Department" sounds like a euphemism for another alleged place in the hospital, and not the actual, functioning center one would expect to handle violent trauma - at a military hospital - in the capitol city of a nation plunged into a brutal sort of conflict.

Outside of opposition activist ... should be a normal medical facility in that it tries to save people, perhaps like the one described by the OPCW's investigators after a visit there. (report PDF via The Trench)  - visited in May and August, 2015 to investigate TEN alleged chemical attacks by rebel forces in the Damascus area against government troops, all using chlorine, and just in a five-month span April-September, 2014 - this hospital treated 92 military casualties (not fatalities), showed the records, and facilitated interviews.

The OPCW report makes no mention specifically of visiting a "trauma department..." maybe that really was the festering pit of human misery the "witnesses" described?

According to the photos ... we see treatment that seems to be recent, and came after the displayed abuses - one set of people harmed these victims, while someone else tried to save them. Being seen after all that at the garage behind  hospital 601, proximity suggests, it was medics at hospital 601 that tried to save them.

Feeding Tubes/Central Venous Catheters
Let's start with one of the more visible indicators one might find, and it's been found in five cases so far. First  j-5063-24-6-2013 (the "j" says he's another AF intelligence victim). I've been trying not to share the SAFMCD photos, but this below is just from a screen grab, preview size, to illustrate this point. Same for any others after that.

He appears moderately starved, but that wasn't the cause of death. He has dried mucous in his mouth and nose, and some redness, but these signs too are mild. And it doesn't seem any of this was totally fatal - a medically knowledgeable source tells me this victim  appears to have a central venous catheter inserted. This (right under the SAFMCD logo on the right side of his neck (our left)) is for intravenous feeding, for those unable to eat the regular way. As the source explains:
"...  In this procedure, a flexible plastic cannula with needle is inserted into a vein  above or below the collarbone, and pushed down (after withdrawing the needle) into the superior vena cava (large vein running from neck to heart).   This is a highly skilled procedure - an anesthesiologist or ICU specialist would probably be the one to carry it out." 
A CV catheter (or cannula) has other uses as well...
Intravenous feeding is only one of several possible indications for a central venous cannula.  It might be their standard procedure for anyone admitted to the intensive care unit (guaranteed access to the circulation, can be left in for a week or more, and allows measurement of the filling pressure in the heart).
For whatever reason, this procedure will be done:
* After starvation or depletion (perhaps by captors) and/or other medical problems.
* After coming into the care, usually, of decent people with medical training and good equipment. The job appears relatively professional, and would usually happen in ICU or perhaps trauma department.
* Before death. You can't feed a corpse.

So for the above example, these are the main logical options:
A) abuse round 1 of starvation, or maybe a fit young man in a siege area unable to feed himself - gets to the hospital somehow, is treated - then is abducted from the hospital and somehow killed, in abuse round 1 or 2 depending - causing no visible wounds or bleeding, and with the tube still in - brought (back?) to this hospital to document and cover up
B) he was starved and mostly-killed in one round, found alive and given the tube here, but died anyway and was documented here as unidentified.

Clearly the second option makes more sense.

My source says other victims seen with such a tube near their neck likely have the same, even if we can't see the connection. Here's a starved man blamed on branch 248 with tubing around his neck. The adjacent entry wears a surgical mask; this might suggest a hospital abduction, or be set up to suggest that.

Two other examples are in the j folder - one is less clear on the connection:  j-8005 (000 folder, possibly Jan. 2013) is a bearded older man, seeming fairly emaciated (right). He also displays skin redness, yellow stains on one side, and eye damage, all consistent with the most common type of chemical exposure seen in the photos. But he was apparently found alive. The tubes out seem to contain blood, but the insertion point is covered with gauze.

 J-1198 (4-6-2013) is a fit, clean-shaven younger man, who has a central venous cannula, but connected to the jugular vein, this time on his left. However he clearly wasn't starved much if at all, so there must have been another reason ... he has dried blood in the nose, traces on the lips, possible cyanosis evident in the eyes, so possibly one of the victims of a mystery chemical that seems to cause this - like 8005 above, he may have suffered acute inhalation injury, as it's properly called, to the mouth and airways. This makes normal feeding difficult. And although he doesn't appear emaciated, everyone need nutrients eventually ...

In other cases, maybe where lesser nutrient loads are required, the feeding tube is attached to the arm instead (could apply above, but ...). Victim 215-1002 seems starved, like many but not all in his stretch. A victim next to him on the left has a feeding tube/catheter, apparently in the left arm.  It's not clear who that is. Adjacent victim 1001 has been badly starved, but 1003 hasn't been located. And it could well be someone else right next to him - as we can see, they don't have to be emaciated.

Breathing Assistance
The bandage round the neck of j-9088 (2-2013) looks as if it might have been holding a tracheotomy tube in place, most likely due to a neck injury that left him unable to breathe well. But when he was found face-down (after some time, dumped), he was still alive enough to bother with this procedure. perhaps to allow keeping the patient on a ventilator.

Who found him and went to all this hassle to correct what would have been a fatal condition? Again, if just by proximity, someone at or connected to Hospital 601 is the most logical guess. So is it injury-hospital-abduction-murder? Or is it just delayed death from the first?

And then ...227-694 (folder: 1-7-2012 - right: cropped, rotated, enhanced a bit) has purple skin and swollen eyes, and blood coming from the mouth and nose, probably related to the breathing problems treated with the tube into his mouth.

The patient's build is solid, perhaps larger than average - the kind who might wind up as the survivor in a pile of bodies. It seems likely he was a victim of acute inhalation injury from breathing toxic material, who survived the initial exposure but later developed pulmonary edema. This was apparently treated, but unsuccessfully - and it was probably in hospital 601. For clarity, this photo - unlike the others - was taken on an operating table in a hospital, but in pretty dark conditions. 

Majid Abu Draa of the contested branch - seen in hospital (SNHR stamped photo, right) has injuries treated as one would for a living person - three bandages, one on the side and one on each shoulder - cream applied to a badly burned right hand - electrodes attached, likely for heart testing - that might be what got them going on the rest. But the tests came back negative before they got to anything as involved as a CV catheter.

Or ... did someone do all this for him, and then he was dragged away and killed, with all these delicate touches left in place, down to the hand cream?

... and finally, the woman victim Rihab Allawi has a tube in her left arm - maybe to administer drugs (she seems in no need of feeding). She also, as noted at the linked profile, seems possibly alive in the photos, if possibly drugged... Anyway, she was reported killed weeks after abduction from her home, not from a hospital.

The Exception, and the Rule
There is at least one case that's a more logical fit with the hospital abduction narrative; as covered ..., 251-3836 - had some bad luck (unclear) but that improved with a cv catheter installed at the collarbone. But then he died anyway, and somewhere along the way his body was taken somewhere less caring, and left rotting in slime.

But that exception and its own questions aside, these signs of medical intervention argue strongly against the victims being government-held prisoners. Instead, they suggest large numbers of recently-killed people were found, a small few of whom were actually not quite dead.

Others that clearly don't appear here might have started in that category, and then pulled through to recovery and a return home. HRW claims to know what they'd say "if the dead could speak." But I bet they never asked officials at hospital 601 ... maybe some of them could speak, and did explain how they and the other got this way... We haven't heard any such news, but of course we probably wouldn't. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Majid Abu Draa: #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile

Majid Abu Draa: #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile
February 13, 2016

Entry 45 on the SHRC list of the first 100 identified "Caesar" photo victims is Majid Abu Draa’(known as Abu Obaidah), from Rural Damascus - Dumar. Abu __ of course means father of __, and is often a fighter name or pseudonym, but can also appear in real family names - named Abu Draa, known as Abu Obaidah? Sure, this can happen. It could also be a clue this isn't his real name, but we don't need specific clues to wonder anyway.

The VDC lists as martyrs a total of 2 men of this name (as Abo Draa - أبو دراع ), both from the same area: Dummar, Damascus (Arabic: دمر  - here on Wikimapia). Both were, it says, killed under detention with torture and both with date of death unknown accurately. Majed was identified from the "Caesar" photos on March 9, 2015 (just before their public release?) and Alaa on March 20. Both entries include a photo. 

Alaa could be hard to match with a SAFMCD entry, with searchable red number cropped off and  forehead writing unclear ... 185? ... oh, lucky break ... 1852/215 is processed and matches. Folder date 3-2013 - not a death date but clue of unknown reliability. He was starved a bit and left mildly emaciated, and with damaged eyes. No obvious similarity to our main subject ... he's younger-seeming than Majed - could be a son, little brother, nephew, other or no relation.

Majed's entry has the photo inset at right, seen in the hospital instead of the garage morgue like Alaa. This seems to be the case mostly with the earliest victims in 2011 and 2012. He displays unusual redness with some yellow patches - possibly a clue, but one of few, to how he died.  No violence is evident above the shoulders.
What's most interesting is his SAFMCD match - there are two of them, in two different military intelligence branch folders, both using their stamped version of the same cropped photo at right.
* photo code 706348 "215 Raids Branch" branch victim# 1075, folder 1-7-2012. The (1) suggests this is photo 1 in a series of him. 
* 480324 "227 area branch (Damascus)" branch victim# 251, folder 3-7-2012, photo (3) (it's the same exact photo, but slightly more zoomed-in, and a different code # attached) 

So he's listed as killed by two distinct branches with two different numbers, but at the same basic time (folder dates may mean start of compiling, end of compiling, or other - and then photos from any time could be inserted if "Caesar" wanted it that way). The SAFMCD could address this by saying they inserted the wrong photo for one - after all, why would views 2 and 3 of the same man be exactly the same? But then why the consistent date? Was he swapped in for someone else in 3-7 folder? So that victim's photo is missing now?
Below is the full photo the above was cropped from, linked from a SNHR report. Supposed to show "tubes" attached to victims, this instead shows electrodes, likely to test his heart - to make sure the torture was as fatal as planned? He's also suffered a burned right hand, with cream applied, and bandages on three injuries or possibly surgery points, to the left side and each shoulder. Most likely, this man did register as alive when he first arrived at what seems to be Hospital 601. Notes on his side (unreadable?).

215-1075 In Context 
(for basics on the number system, different numbers, military intelligence branches, etc. see FC5 - trying to follow the following without that can be confusing - I'll try to summarize and bold the main points)

In the dispute above over which MI branch killed Majed, the above photo helps ... or not. The branch 215 number, 1075, seems to be the one they were staging at the time, written across the card (1075 looks like   ١٠٧٥) - they seem to have him holding the card himself, for an unusual and maybe disrespectful twist.

By this, he was arrested by the same branch as Alaa, but 800 people earlier, and killed nearly a year earlier.

But this is an unusual card - it's not blurred, for one thing. Then it has a single number 1075 with a line underneath, and under that no branch  number. 215 looks like "cIo" but instead we see a curve like maybe the letter  ب  (b sound - used as a suffix in later photos), or like the unseen next letter ث. used on the very last bodies in mid-2013. But enhanced, it looks more like the letter ن with "n" sound and no known meaning here. Or an unknown curve...

Back to 1075: Usually, a single number like that is a hospital/body/medical report number, not a branch victim #. A body # like that would put him ... not many examples, but earlier than these two if that's not a B
* hosp# 2102 (green ink)     215-311-1-11-2012 (3)    extremely starved, Zaman photo face match
* hosp# 2129 (per HRW report)  215-320-1-11-2012 (2)     Ayham Ghazzoul, died Nov. 9, 2012, dentist and human rights activist.
This would put him safely before the November 1 folder, at the slower body rate then, perhaps back around July.
And if that were a B (I don't think so), he'd be near 1127/b - 215-2119-4-6-2013.
This might be a seam of a sloppy effort to backdate a high victim number, forgetting he was already numbered in a different folder. In fact, put in sequence, he seems jammed into it. Below, a section of my partial assembly of screen grabs (in progress), gives a feel for the progression in this span.

He and a few others with close numbers (1071 1072 1074), set a trend of early hospital views dated 1 July like him. But these sit among 1,000 range victims dated December. We know group shots always show consecutive numbers, suggesting the number is just from order of death or discovery. But here two batches in the same range are shown as killed months apart, and intermixed. 

Suggested between "Caesar" and SAFMCD allegations, and this sequence is:
- these victims were arrested whenever in this order
- those few were killed in June or so
- the rest were held six more months before they were killed around December.

Does this apparent timeline glitch actually prove their explanation that this is an ID# based on arrest/arrival date? Usually that means they're being killed off in the same order they arrive after a uniform delay, but these would prove sometimes they were done out-of-order - just enough to barely prove "Caesar's" case?

No. Doesn't it make at least as much sense that these numbers are just made up? Note how even without a complete spread we can see at least 2 carefully-assigned victim numbers were repeated there - 1071 and 1072 were duplicated along the way ... and then 1123 as well, and more may emerge as this fills in. What are the odds they issued these 3 numbers twice, just to help those early hospital victims fit in with this little trick?

Considering the case above where we can see the number, the best explanation is this: those victims were inserted like Majid was - by re-branding the hospital # as a branch victim #. 

Reported at the Time?
Checking the VDC database for detainees for name Abu Draa = 2 or 3 reported, including neither of these. The translation doesn't work well here, so here's all the main info for 3 entries:
* Fadi Abo Draa: He was arrested by regime forces on a bridge (to?) Dummar 2012-9-18
* Khalid Munther Abu Draa: It is the third time that the arrests where the forces of order for his arrest from the first warm in front of the new railway
* Khaled Abu Draa: from rural Dummar, arrest downtown after severe beatings 2011-7-11

The two Khaleds will probably be the same, reflecting 2 of 3 arrests. The search for name in martyrs, linked above, includes neither of these guys. By VDC records, a total of 4 Abu Draa men from Dummar were arrested - two blamed on the government, not killed that anyone knows - and two others were locked away by someone, not mentioned in opposition sources, and then later appeared dead in the "Caesar" photos.

One source has Majed - or a man of his name - arrested and then released on Sunday, April 1, 2012 (in a discussion thread here) - "Released today for some of the detainees from Dummar (30 detainees), and some of these names," including "Majed Abu Draa (Abu Ahmad)" (not Abu Obaidah, but he could have 2 kids or 2 pseudonyms). They don't clarify who was releasing him from what kind of detention on what charges, and if they did it might have been untrue anyway.

Note how Khaled Abu Draa was arrested three times, and got 2 listings. Yet no such notice for Majid; the VDC does not list anyone of that name as arrested - not a first time to be released April 1, nor any second detention before July 1. But he wound up detained, allegedly by the same forces of order, and was somehow killed at least once by them. But that's alleged. And like so many others of these thousands of victims, this lack of early reporting suggests it was actually anti-government forces that were abducting (the bulk of) the "Caesar" photo victims. As we all know, these sources report regime crimes - true or not - and ignore rebel ones, or better yet ... blame them on the regime.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 6: Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government

Fail Caesar Part 6: 
Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government
February 9, 2016 
(very incomplete, in progress)
last edits Feb. 14

Note Feb. 11: many links, text, etc. forthcoming (f/c) and in fact this incomplete draft won't be finished all in this space. The material below will be split up (at least largely) into re-organized sub-posts, with links and summaries here. All these points deserve space to breathe, to be explained, and to be expanded, and more points yet could well emerge. But the overall subject also deserves a readable summary, which will take shape (it won't be very fast, sorry)
From January 2014 to the present, the narrative spun by the defector code-named "Caesar" has enjoyed acceptance by by esteemed professionals, from the Carter-Ruck law firm on hire of the Qatari royal family to Ken Roth's New-York-based Human Rights Watch. "Caesar," his translator/agent Mouaz Moustafa, other alleged defectors and detainees, and alleged family of those killed - all are quite clear the killings were after arrest by by agents of the "Assad regime" and no one else.

However the accounts conveying that story line are nothing but words, of a kind often proven in the past to be complete lies. They aren't proven either way here, and should be taken with skepticism. Even the bereaved family members, as described, could be impostors, or just partisan enough to falsify the story. They could be telling the truth as they know it, but were misled by someone claiming to have seen the whole story ("we were arrested together ... he was so brave ...")

The point is that there are several ways their accounts could be incorrect. But sadly, they've effectively been taken as factual records, albeit with some token displays of skepticism. The alleged family members of identified "Caesar" photo victims almost universally claim the regime never returned their family member's body, having it hidden in a mass grave. But perhaps the truth is they never got the body because they aren't the real family, and therefore probably didn't bother asking for it. Consider also how few of the victims were ever publicly reported as missing (see below...)

The trusted sources are clear that  the thousands of morgue photos "Caesar" smuggled out show nothing but deceased government prisoners (approximately 6,700 of them, it seems), and the numbers on the cards and on their bodies represent them, in a secret code only their captors know.

But this is clearly challenged by many examples. We've already seen (in part 5) clues that the number represent found bodies numbered in order of finding. There was also one victim who looks like a National Defense Forces fighter (aka "Shabih") with Assad tattoos, who was apparently shot by a sniper, but claimed with confidence as detainee of Air Force intelligence. Also covered there was another man credited to the same branch who, by his tattoos, was a Christian (see right), most of whom are known to support the government.

Here I'll attempt a partial summary of further evidence (verbal, visual, logical) that the people seen in these photos did not (probably, generally) die as prisoners of the Syrian government. The truth seems somewhat mixed and not yet certain, and may include some from that category. However to the extent they were imprisoned - which is huge and applies to thousands of victims here, perhaps over 90% of the total - the blame most likely lies with rebels/terrorists and their destructive agenda.

Overview: Coded Prisoners or Unidentified Hostages?
After the Carter-Ruck report first made the news, Syria's Justice Ministry rejected the accusations, explaining:
"The report is a mere gathering of photos of unidentified persons proving that a number of them are foreign terrorists from several nationalities who had been killed when attacking the military checkpoints and civil institutions," [...and] "Part of them are civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups because of their support to the state." 
"Tortured and killed" means they were also, prior to that, abducted and imprisoned by the same "terrorists." That of course is what the Syrian government calls anti-government armed groups - supported by the United States and its allies - who torture and kill the Syrian people. 

"Caesar" says the number suggests the prisoner's identity is a coded secret, but clearly known to the government that locked them up. The numbers do stand in for names, but unidentified bodies might also be cataloged with numbers in lieu of names. Since 2011 Syria has been in conflict, and bodies are often just found, after clashes - as in the early case of Hamza al-Khatib - or otherwise.

(Copied from part 5:) A point that occurred to me later is the similarity of the forehead tape to a system I've seen used before - in rebel areas. This was the Ghouta chemical massacre(s) of August 21, 2013, with hundreds killed allegedly by Sarin rockets (which is also just after "Caesar" fled Syria with his last gathered photos). Below on the right is a boy victim, #86 (see also here), of a purported 865 numbered, unidentified victims, and an unclear, much smaller number that anyone even claimed to know. (source, but still to be verified - there were at least 4-500 dead, but probably well below the 1,429 claimed by some). Signs say that's because they were people held captive by local terrorist groups, who wound up burying them in mass graves somewhere, after a token few were claimed by alleged family on video.

So here the tape records victim of (regime rocket? rebel prisons/gas chambers?). We know rebels/terrorists/activists on the anti-government side use this system, but it could be something that simply everyone does.

In the Caesar photos, we see the killers do the same, but with a branch number added beside it. Unlike the later victims, these were passed through the system as unidentified, or at least coded in a system very similar to that for mystery bodies; they get the official-style card documentation seen with little Hamza (left). Unlike Hamza (identified and then handed back to family) and the Ghouta mass gave burials, the "Caesar" photo victims had to be buried by the government in cemeteries they ran.

Combining those precedents, this happenstance hybrid system could show a Ghouta-style mystery person - a victim of (regime prison/gas chamber? rebel prison/gas chamber? other/unclear?) - numbered like rebels at least do it, and then passed through the official system as well. In the example here, only a hospital number (2212) is shown on the card, as with Hamza (see part 5). In most other cases, the cards "Caesar" or a teammate write up "confirm" the branch number ... which was written there first by local terrorists, for all we know.

6-A: Claimed IDs vs. Major Unreported Abductions
M.K. al-Tout, an unnoted abductee
Not all ID sources are necessarily suspect, but neither are they gospel. I've only closely considered a few cases, with maybe the most telling so far being Mohammed al-Tout - arrested October 2012 while taking his daughter to the hospital, just driving on a street, not even being a rebel fighter - apparently not reported at the time by opposition sources, or for 2 years after, but recognized in the SAFMCD face shots by someone almost immediately in March, 2015 - from Douma, increasingly Islamist-dominated, where people of his rare family name have suffered continued bad luck with abductions and suspicious deaths.

To be fair, there are no known claims on these openly-available photos coming from the other side. The Justice Ministry said the victims included soldiers and civilians killed by "terrorists," but no one has backed this with a single public identification. Sad as it is, the opposition IDs are the best ones publicly offered - so far.

But that's not very re-assuring, as the al-Tout case shows. Consider how few of these masses of snatched people were ever reported at the time they disappeared. With nearly 800 supposedly identified, there are still about 6,000 men and boys without even such a story offered.

SNHR report: "We were able to identify the identity of 772 victims including a woman; [of] which 123 victims were recorded in our database before Caesar’s photos were published." That was in October, 2015 - So the SNHR had - 772 identities offered, 21 months after the photos were released and a mass of identifications came in. Before that, only 123 had been reported to them - and apparently they mean at all, as dead or arrested. 123 out of about 6,700 or even more.

Secret deaths in an allegedly secret prison system only make sense, but what's troubling is how few of the initial arrests were noticed and publicized by the opposition, at the time it allegedly happened. Records of the opposition VDC paint a similar picture - dozens of victims identified from March, 2015 forward, with only a few  now-identified victims (Rihab Allawi, Ayham Ghazoul, Hussam Sureym, Iyad Dabbas, etc.) tended to have some opposition credentials and/or were reported arrested at the time (not missing - it was always known who did it). 

In general, these could be anything, depending on what the better evidence indicates. The lack of timely reporting has two main, possible reasons:
1) the arrest was so secret, or the victim so unknown or disconnected from opposition activist circles, they never heard about it
2) rebels abducted them, a crime category which opposition sources (at least VDC and SNHR) don't regularly note or catalog

6-B: "Caesar": "these pictures also include..." 
The Carter-Ruck report states "The inquiry team was informed by “Caesar” that for the last three years his only job together with others in his section, was to photograph and document bodies of detainees who had been killed." Since then, it's implied, all combat deaths, natural deaths, executed by terrorists and left -to-be found unidentified...all were sent somewhere else.

SNHR report p 4/5 - he told them same, except in some cases, presumably a small few... From their own interview with the defector, their report quotes him so:
"most of those victims were killed under torture while others were massacred. These pictures include victims of 6 massacres who were killed in Damascus suburbs (in Douma, Al Doumair, and Rankous regions), and in Daraa governorate, where entire families were killed their houses." 
So ... did these get the same miltary intelligence branch prisoner number it seems everyone got? even "sporadic views" victims have a unit blamed, just varied. Are they in the pictures of 4,000 implied victims he missed or held back? Or in the "other half" of the entire 53,000? In-home massacre victims should be identifiable to the killers, and so it would not be as unidentified bodies that they were brought here, nor as coded prisoner - IF these were among those released with numbers attached, it would be a clear sign the numbers don't represent prisoners, and might in fact be fake.

Families killed in their homes are usually the result of "Shabiha" attacks, according to rebels and their alleged witnesses. But usually it's odd how the killers left the bodies behind for rebels to scoop up by the truckload. They and civilian helpers broadcast the corpses on Youtube as their own slain kin, but then dump them as if unclaimed in mass graves.

Any massacred families featured in the "Caesar" photos would be different in somehow winding up in government hands. Also, they would include none of the females; everyone agrees only one female appears, and she wasn't killed in a massacre, if at all. (unless these are hidden in one of the unseen sectors...)
Also some of the victims' bodies belonged to armed opposition groups who were killed or injured during clashes with government forces," said Caesar.
He meant some of the bodies are those of fighters, killed in the course of battles they lost. But that would leave fighters and their property - human and otherwise - in government hands, and they would likely be handled as described above.

Although the Justice Ministry and "Caesar" agree on the photos including killed fighters, I can't yet verify it. In scanning the 6,700 available images, a lot appear like possible rebel fighters, but these are as often as not starved and abused like the rest. Combat deaths are hard to make out one way or another from these face shots - only a very, very few who appear shot in the head are included. 

Combat death might be processed elsewhere, with the 601 garage only for unidentified bodies. But maybe it includes those with at least a known death story (killed in combat by the army, brought in by and vouched for by the army, but otherwise unknown, with no papers) as well as the fully unexplained type (found dead with no papers and no one vouching for anything).

Maybe there are more combat deaths than it seems - he's not talking about in the missing 4000 he never got, nor the "other half" he's never show, but about what's in "these pictures." of prisoners the SNHR was reporting on. The difference between none, a few, and many dead rebel clearly matters, but the answer can't be known yet.

I bet the pictures also include a number of soldiers "who tried to defect," but he wisely didn't mention that. Some of the clues for that are below (see Crushing the Resistance?)

Could the thousands of numbered "detainees" actually include fighters from both sides, and massacred families, besides prisoners of whoever? That possibility is solidified by SNHR report "On 9 June, 2015 SNHR documentation team recorded the arbitrary arrest of two families from Damascus city, whose childrens' pictures were published among the Caesar images."  (note: if they noted this publicly, I cannot locate it for more details) "Arrest" suggests taken to a facility, and "published images" are all attributed to MI branch prisons, not in-home massacres. These show only men and boys, so children translates to boys. Were the women and girls arrested too? What became of them after their capture? What about the men? Released, also shown, killed otherwise? How big were these two families? Were they perhaps extended families of several households each, linked by a relative hated by one side or the other? (that's a traditional massacre basis, and these detainees could be yet more massacre victims, and even comprise a big chunk of the total seen. ) 

6-C: "Torturing to Kill" Thousands, and Trying to Save a Few?
Detailed explanation at the link - summary here:

In several instances, the "Caesar" photos show medical devices indicating that a professional medical staff encountered that person, and treated their life-threatening problems, but in the end the patient died anyway. There are two main options for the middle part, and it's contested:
* "Caesar" and others on his wavelength claim patients were arrested from hospitals, and/or detainees died under torturous "treatment" at the "trauma department" of hospital 601
* The life-saving measures at hospital 601 just failed, on a person someone else had probably already left for dead along with a bunch of others who were dead.

Five victim photos at least show feeding tubes or central venous catheters inserted (at right, j-8005). This is a specialized, life-saving procedure useful especially for victims of starvation and/or damaged mouths or throats.

Others were given serious and time-consuming help with their breathing ... after someone (presumably someone else of a different character) created problems in that area - probalem they probably though were already fatal. But not quite yet ... 

It's only done for people considered to be alive. And usually it's done to keep them alive. Why "torture to kill" thousands of men, but then try to save the lives of these few?

Delay and decay: Left to rot, but where?
From a variety of sources and observations, the SNHR decided bodies were routinely left at the garage for days at a time. SNHR heard about 250-350 bodies total hauled every 3-4 days. (p15 ) This match suggests daily average between 62 and 116 bodies, while "Caesar" says it was up to 50 a day and usually less ... but numbers aside, the point is they were piled up for 3-4 days.

Such a delay is entirely possible. But maybe that's just their false explanation for why some bodies seem to be left somewhere for days. As many have noted, most victims appear quite freshly killed, almost as if they were simply trucked from a prison nearby right after execution. But there is a minority of cases that show various levels of decay.

227 "zone" branch has more than most; 227-2478  and 227-2485  are good examples of badly bloated and dead for probably over a week when photographed. The upper 2600s and 2700s (from a 000 folder between 7-7 and 14-8 of 2013) shows a stretch of mostly one type of victim: starved, eyes seemingly gouged out, and older than usual - probably dead 3-5 days but  left dry and dusty (ex: 2687). A few like 2690 and 2691 are turning black with microbes.

Sometimes these are numbered consecutively with more recently killed people. Branch 251 "internal security" branch has in its 3-2013 folder victims 63 (freshly killed), 64, (dead a week) 65, (dead a week and just partly shown (a bloated chin and mouth?)), and 67 (recent kill). I can't find 66 - it seems to be missing.

Much higher in number (but in an earlier folder, 2-2013) are 251 victims 3835, 3837, 3838, and 3839, with a wet and slimy decay otherwise not much seen. 3836 is missing as far as I can see, but is shown in the SAFMCD video in some detail  at 6:54. It's not a face anyone's likely to recognize, with a distorted head and layers of slime (also has a feeding tube inserted at the collarbone - see above). (note: another missing photo released earlier seems to in the same set, and the number 3831 implies another 3 unseen anywhere, for at least 9 victims in this group)

The video claims these victims prove "mutilation with strange materials" but really they suggest: possible chemical exposure,  left oozing mucous, blood, and/or vomit, and then left face-down somewhere wet, muddy, and crawling with germs for several days before being brought in.  The gloves and boots the workers wear are supposed to prove the use of "strange materials")

215 "Raids" branch has at least the bloated and dark purple 215-3665 attributed to it. That's at least 3 branches with supposed prisoners showing advanced decay. These are unlikely to all three let bodies lay around their premises rotting and stinking up the place. And so the delay and decay are presumably happening at the garage. Or maybe elsewhere - like near the highway next to a rebel-held part of Douma, or at the hostage detention center they were killed at in Harasta, etc...

If the hangup is mainly at the garage, then the decay has set in there - before the photo is taken - in these few cases anyway. Why take most pictures right away and wait 'til the end for a few others? So most likely the decay was before the morgue, and not at a security branch prison either. Most likely it reflects a haphazard collection process as with found bodies. In the broad collection most are found with unusual speed, and that's a point of interest. But in some cases it might take weeks for a corpse to be discovered. That would only be natural.

Questions: At least 6 missing photos are in the spans described above. Most gaps aren't yet identified, and the one the was just in a set that didn't seem worth including in a database meant to identify victims by face.But other decayed bodies are likely among those "Caesar" didn't feel "safe" enough to save, or admit to. Was he trying to minimize the issue perhaps, by cutting out bodies dead for even longer? Was it perhaps a significant portion of the missing 40%? Was the swift processing trick not as uniformly achieved as it seems?

Signs of Sympathies
Carter-Ruck report - "Caesar's" contact and in-law told them about the qualifications his (LCC?) had in mind in 2011 in seeking traitors to help reveal Syria's hidden crimes to the world. "We had to look for people working with the regime itself who are sympathetic to our cause,” said the contact. His brother-in-law it seems, now called "Caesar," must have been at least adequate. He photographed bodies officially, or was close to that system anyway - and he sided with the uprising, for either pro-freedom or Sunni extremist reasons. I suspect he said one thing to the Brits, and probably another to the Qataris , and another yet to some of his closer contacts.

If Caesar sympathized with the rebellion, and that's what "Assad" was trying to crush by killing all these mostly innocent and primarily Sunni political prisoners, "Caesar" should - as he claims - have the greatest respect for the victims. He says his main goal is to secure justice for the horrors they and their families suffered.

So ... why do "Caesar" and/or his teammates at the garage so often show disrespect for the bodies they had to document?

The group shot at right shows three examples victims with their pants and/or underwear pulled down, which is usually a sign of disrespect to enemy dead, especially among Islamists. (note: the blurred card should say 2217 and "ج" at the top. SAFMCD entry. We can see the 7 at the end (looks like V))

Pants can slide off when moving bodies, especially on emaciated individuals. But this can also be avoided, I think, much better than was done. And corrected easily enough. But they're left down around the ankles in some cases, and the impression of disrespect is clear. Several examples of boys treated the same can be seen in this disturbing gallery from pro-opposition Lebanese Zaman al-Wasl - source for many photos in this post, including at right).

Was "Caesar" the one doing this or ordering this done? Or were the victims brought in this way, and the poor workers forced to leave them so exposed? If the latter, then who was doing it? Regime captors or terrorist killers?

Another example is shown below - 3770 from branch 215 - sword tattoo said to show the victim was Shia and to prove "Assad" is killing off the Shi'ites now too. Other tattoos seem hard to make out. At one point he was shot twice in the right arm, and at another point, imprisoned and starved. At the end of that he died - not from starvation but not from any visible injury either.  At another time a day or two later, here he is photographed by "Caesar" with his pants down to prove "Assad" is disrespecting the Shi'ites now too. 

There's No SAFMCD face shot yet match for this victim yet, but here's the man arrested and/or killed right before him: 215-3669, same story, strangely complete photo, from the 7-7-2013 folder.

SAFMCD's entry for victim 227-402 from folder 1-11-2012 shows a dark blur on the old man's forehead. A Zaman version of the photo shows that's the boot of someone on the original Team Caesar, seeming not so much to step on the man as to pull his eye open, for no clear reason. It does not seem respectful.

Someone seems to be poking 215-427 (in the 17-12-2012 folder ) in in the face with a stick, not to mutilate it but to make him look a bit funny. This creates about the same effect, same effect as the above. Both of these cases are in late 2012 folders, which is early in that the vast bulk of the dead are in folders dated later. There don't seem to be many later examples of this kind of funny-face engineering.
With all of these little touches, it feels to me like they're trying to say this is the "Assad regime" abusing its own victims. But perhaps in late 2012 anyway they didn't know the story would include a defector who hates "Assad" and who seems to be in charge of this precise corner of "the regime" (or just marginally involved, or not involved at all - this is actually disputed and needs sorted out somewhere).

Anyway, the question stands: is this abuse a reflection of the wicked regime "Caesar" was trapped in, or of the Sunni extremist views of someone skirting the system to create a little propaganda playground at the 601 garage?

Mutilations even? 

It may be this troubling and ambiguous narrative of disrespect to the dead continues into mutilating the bodies on-site at the Hospital 601 garage. Some eye-gouged photos show moderate or large amounts of blood have spilled from the socket into the soil of the garage. This could be a sign that eyes were being poked out right there, but also could be leftover blood that spilled out when they rolled the body on its side. It happens a lot, and at least makes one wonder why they kept rolling those people on their sides.

... some seem to have spit up fresh blood, but this too is suspect. Again, blood can just passively pour out in handling, but some cases seem beyond that. It could easily be engineered by stepping on their abdomen to force out more - when the fluid seems fresh but the people are clearly dead longer than that, this almost has to be the case - disgusting fakery. 

SNHR video cites a couple of examples to claim some victims were broug4:ht into "Caesar's" Morgue alive and actually murdered there. This seems unlikely, and their reason - fresh blood spilled - does nothing to prove the claim It does suggest mutilation of the dead.

At 4: 50 - 215-593-1-2013 (photo code 3961623) The victim is recently dead enough it could be questioned just how long ago that was... and the shoulder injury seems fresh - but not fatal.

235-103-4-6-2013 (736679) chest injuries, possibly old or new (see right) - it seems they squeezed out a lot of new blood, then wondered how much blood his lungs were full of, and they poked two holes to see it oozing out. Or the holes were already there and it came out ... but then wouldn't it have already drained somewhere else? Also, this might be a set of lungs abnormally full of blood, and a possibly clue to how this man died, perhaps without any visible wounds.

Also, his pants are mostly down. That could be subtle, or a coincidence. He looks like a fit and once able-bodied representative of a group "Caesar" and his collaborators did not like. 

Another issue is how in thousands of photos, no kind of prison uniform appears. The vast majority seem to be naked except sometimes for underwear - which doesn't seem uniform but quite varied, sometime just improvised rag loincloths.

By the accepted story these were mainly not proper prisons but improvised detentions in abnormal (or fictional) holding cells in military intel centers, schools, and other places - at least until they were transferred to what they describe as a prison with tiny cells. But  even when held there for months, by reports of visual signs, they're still in street clothes or nothing - same ones they were arrested in, or are there changes of street clothes provided? Some clothes are reduced to filthy rags, while others seem brand-new, and often mis-matched for the person (old man in a Puma t-shirt, etc.) or inside-out, etc.

And of course we don't see any military uniforms either, other than possibly in shredded form. I'm not an expert in what's used in Syria, but a military-color, olive drab burlap-type fabric tied around the neck is seen in several cases, used for improvised collars on the victims.  I've found a few dozen cases of this or another type of scrap material tied around the neck with strips or burlap or various kinds of rope or twine. (6 compiled at right - for full photos, search the red numbers at the SAFMCD site) In some cases it seems to continue over the head like a hood.

In these cases, the improvised neck-head gear was left in place up to photographing time. How many others had this same accessory at some point isn't clear. It's seen cross different blamed branches (215, 220, 227, and j at least), mainly in early folders (1-11-2012, 1-2013). The purpose not clear - basic restraint is logical, but they appear a bit flimsy for that. These tend to be seen on victims with signs of chemical exposure (more on that later), so it could be related to that.

Now,  everyone in the blame frame here could have access to army uniforms to tear up instead of re-using - a military intelligence center, a military hospital, rebel groups with defectors on board, and/or with captured soldiers stripped of their uniforms. But which one of those really makes the most sense?

Conclusion: Crushing the Resistance?
It's widely accepted the people in these photos had been political prisoners, suspected of rebellious intent, usually without evidence. They'd mainly be Sunnis of course, becuase that's who rebels against the "Alawite regime" and also this is "Assad's secret genocide," as the SAFMCD video calls it. The "geno" should be Syrian Sunnis. We can see members of other groups are included, but we're to presume that's a small portion, and whatever the number, the proven regime genocide is supposed to rule out the natural guess there, and proves these too are being killed in Assad's secret ... well, killing a lot of people.

But it's entirely possible that, despite that engineered impression, minority groups, government loyalists, and  fighters for the secular and inclusive government of Syria - and likely their family members - comprise a major portion of the dead. maybe arrested for "trying to defect," or "showing the slightest disloyalty." We've seen the "Shabih" shot by a sniper, the tattoos, and the tendency of most victims to be fighting-age and fit. ....


... a similar selection process at work: Douma or Harasta, mid-August, 2012: men linked to security servcies, but taken from home it seems, are threatened on video by a group using FSA colors (exact group not sure ... ). The six with red xs are clearly matched to 6 bodies shown on video a couple days later with their throats sliced open. That was said to represent a total of 16 local men executed by Assad's forces and dumped where rebels/activists could find them easily.

Later on, captives of this sort were handled in a more careful way, with their inevitable murders not shown right on rebel video like that. How they managed this is unclear, but for all we know most of them were  starved, gassed, labeled with forehead tape as regime victims, and sent over to "Caesar" to photograph and "confirm" as regime victims.


227-2791 (SAFMCD - again, a strangely full photo),  tattoo (of??) - like the older man beside him but less purple, he was lightly burned somehow on the front side, otherwise with no clear sign of injury except maybe it involved breathing problems. Note his pants are a bit low ... maybe being subtle in his case.  The man next to him apparently has his trousers down further.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 5: Questioning the Number System

Fail "Caesar" Part 5: Questioning the Number System
January 16. 2015
(incomplete - last edits Feb. 7)

Please note: this is something of a report on work in progress, only bordering on a readable long article. It's meant more to skim,  to inspire more researchers to look into it,  as a reference and shortcut for them, and - most importantly - to help the general public (those who can follow, and care enough) to think outside the box here. A lot is covered below, from basics to detailed observations and thought exercises. Not every point does much to challenge "Caesar" narrative, but each one matters in considering the whole.
Here is where I will analyze the number system used in the massive catalog of morgue photos presented by the Syrian defector "Caesar," the alleged meaning behind each number, and some consideration of other possible meanings.

According to the partisan defector, all of the 55,000 photos he smuggled out after fleeing in mid-late August, 2013, show killed detainees of the "Assad regime," with all other kinds of deaths in the Damascus area during the conflict apparently documented somewhere else. were  However, as I've previously addressed (see The Other Half of the Caesar Photos), there was a late revelation that almost half of the touted 55,000 images actually showed victims and effects of opposition violence or, at least, something other than detainee deaths. The remaining half, as accepted by Human Rights Watch, suggested close to 7,000 prisoners of the state security system, when it was said to be over 11,000. 

As it turns out after some study, the photos touted as that seem to show nearly 7,000 people who mainly seem to me like clear mid-to-long-term detainees of someone. Also as claimed, the number system implies even more passed through - perhaps just over 11,000 suggested. This is a coincidence (or is it?) The previous 11,000 claim was based on different and flawed reasoning by Carter-Ruck and/or their sources (see the link above for that part and see below for the new stuff.) But a number of interesting points emerge, especially as we consider what the numbers mean.

Reading the Numbers
For anyone wanting to read along, the photographers here used the Eastern Arabic number system. The digits translate:

٩ ٨ ٧ ٦ ٥ ٤ ٣ ٢ ١ ٠
  0 1 2 3 4  5 6 7 8 9

So the 1 and 9 are familiar to us - users of the "Western Arabic" system - while the 4, 5, and 6 are confusing, and their 0 is easy to miss or confuse with a fly. Further, they write the 2 differently than shown here, perhaps to make it more distinct from the three - simpler and almost like the letter C, so 215 looks like CIO, and 227 like CCV.  That's because, while Arab writing reads right-to-left, number blocks read left-to-right like Westerners do it.

I'm not sure how unusual it is to use this more archaic number system. It seems odd, but might be standard and used already (see below: Previous Example: Deraa).

Here's how the system is used on the index cards seen in the photos (at right). As all sources pretty much agree and analysis seems to bear out, they put branch victim and branch number at the top, and a hospital 601 processing number below (due to reading order, I put the /b at the end like they do - it's a suffix, not prefix).

Here, notice an unusual thing; the person first wrote for hospital # 4924/b, and covered  the 9 with a bolder 6. This might suggest (truthfully or not) that the writer normally used the Persian variant number system (compare here - their 6 is more similar to a 9). Or they just thought 9. This victim 227-2615, by the way, is the one tattoo-identifiable Christian I can point to in the photo catalog. What better time (aside from when you've killed a Shia or Alawi) to trot out hints that Iranians did it? That's all highly speculative. "Caesar" could have just forgot where he was, and numbered this one ... off by exactly 300? How do you do that when you're deep in 4600s, just did 4622, and suddenly think this one's 4923? Hm... that's fairly possible. But it's one of the smaller mysteries discovered so far.

The branch number often appears on the victim's forehead, written on the skin directly or on a piece of tape. Both this and the hospital number are often written on their chests or bodies. All seem to use the same system and tend to match up.

Now let's consider each number shown, from the bottom up:

* Hospital 601 processing number, or just hospital number, or bottom number: others use "examination number" or "death number." It seems to be assigned on-site at hospital 601 based on the order bodies are received. SNHR says this bottom number shows "precisely the detainee’s number after his death under torture in the security forces’  branch." My guess on the real purpose is below, under "hospital#: final index for retrieval?")

* Branch number: - the designation of the branch of Syrian military intelligence responsible for this body, allegedly. (see list below under "branch number means what?") The common understanding is that branch held the man prisoner, tortured him, and in the end killed him. But this is open to question (see same section).

* Branch victim #: Aside from the first 999 victims, the top number is usually 4 digits long, resting on the bar over branch number. Just what this represents and how it progresses is disputed, and discussed below ("branch victim#: for prisoners or corpses?").

The Whole System: What's Confirmed and What's in Question?
The nearly 7,000 face-shots were published in March, 2015 by the Syrian Association For Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD), the official guardians of the photos. Their photos - WARNING: GRAPHIC - can be seen here (organized into branch-based folders in Arabic. The numbers are normal here, and 215, 227 etc. are easy to find). I'm not showing them here, since I clicked this agreement. But in the interest of identifying the dead, their method of death, and killers, I've done some serious review of these photos, entry numbers and file names, and previously released photos. Now I can verify the following claims:

* At least several group shots, and likely a vast majority of all photos, were taken at the garage behind military hospital 601 in Damascus, and/or in a hospital setting taken as 601 or one affiliated. (Tishreen military hospital is mentioned). Apparently, this is still a controversial point to some people, but it shouldn't be. See HRW report for graphic explanation, or here at ACLOS, where it's noted Bellingcat also got it right. Well inside the secured core of the capitol and just down the hill from president Assad's home, this is an official place, and these should be official procedures.It's still possible many or even most photos were actually taken somewhere else and slipped in, but I'm not proceeding on that idea.

* The SAFMCD database includes 6,850 photos, mainly face shots. This minus exceptions (several duplicates at least, one tattoo shot, one blank card, etc.) probably is just about the estimated numbers cited. HRW has 6,786 detainees, and the book by Garance Le Caisne reached a count of 6,627. Both sound close to what I'd guess. I'm liking the low one at the moment, but will use a rounded-off middle number of 6,700 as shorthand.

* The SAFMCD decided the hospital number (bottom #) rises to 5,000 (or 4,999?), then switches to restart at 1 but with a suffix - the Arabic letter for b. (I presume that's what they decided, as it seems right - HRW tried to explain it but it came out mangled - see here). I don't know how logical that is. They would most logically use the whole ten digits before re-starting, but whatever the reason, I can see numbers ticking up to near 5,000 (highest seen: 4887), then starting low with a /ب . That's the second letter in their alphabet, like in ours with "b" sound (and the first letter is their "a," but from there it's different). The lowest I've noted is 357/b. And we can see it again climbing to close to 5,000 (highest seen - 4994/b). (See ACLOS table, 2nd column, continues across all boxes, all branches, all victims, and very far from complete).

A full cycle of 1-5,000/nothing and then a cycle up to 5,000/b, gives 10,000 slots to fill, and the SAFMCD says there were at least 11,000 victims. This suggests 5,000/b was passed and they started with another letter, and made it at least 1,000 victims into it before "Caesar" stopped gathering and fled. Presumably the next letter would be ت, the third letter in the normal alphabet system, with a "t" sound. (the first letter,  ا ("a" sound) was skipped, implied by the nothing) I don't think I've seen that last photographed letter just yet, if I ever will, but Le Caisne's book cites it as - strangely - ث, the fourth letter with a "th" sound. (citation forthcoming) The reason for skipping a letter might be to just use even numbered letters, for no clear reason, but whatever. It also seems easy to confuse the letters, but for the author to make an issue of it, it must have been pretty clear)

At right, from an image linked in the SNHR report, is a man spitting blood despite no visible injury. He's also been moderately starved, and suffered burns or irritation to the skin of his shoulders, neck, and perhaps his eyes. On the card, on his shoulder, and on his forehead but now covered in blood, is "detainee" number 215-1289. On the card also is hospital number 4833. That's near the switch to /b numbers, so he should be in the massive folder 3-2013, where that switch happens.

* Considering that implication raises a problem; if about 6,700 faces are shown in the given span, while the body numbers in the same span suggest 11,000 or so passed through ... this means roughly 4,300 of the bodies - about 40% of them - are missing somewhere in the sequence.

This could have a totally innocent explanation, and the missing views could be just more of the same. Maybe those were on Caesar's days off? A fuller number sampling will argue for or against that. But so far it seems some single entries are missing between ones inlcluded. If that's the case widely enough, it suggests a massive filetering of the images to create a certain effect. What's missing? Natural deaths? Foreign terrorists killed in action? Pro-government militants? Identifiable pro-government civilians? Massacred women and girls? Or is it just more of the same 100% tortured detainees?

Human Rights Watch heard "Caesar" explain he only gathered photos when it seemed safe, and apparently some weren't available at those times. That could be, but precedent says when "Caesar" cites safety concerns, he means truth concerns. The photos he didn't include were likely those he feared would damage his story - worse than the ones he did include.

* The chronology between the different numbers over time seems about right so far, suggesting a huge number of detainees/victims - at least 80-90% of those seen - were documented in the periods covered by folders between Nov. 1, 2012 (reaching back how far is unclear) and August 14, 2013. There are however some number/date/folder oddities that need explored more (updates if warranted and I have time)
Despite these technical points seeming to pan out, I'm still not convinced the numbers seen represent a real "regime" system, although it would likely resemble the official system. It could well be the real deal, but the possibilities merit more scrutiny before deciding that. And more importantly, if it is official, the question of just what they're tallying here also deserves more thought and less credulity.

Branch Number Means What?
"Caesar," and all his supporting (alleged) witnesses and experts agree that the branch number shown means exactly one thing; that's who held, abused, and killed this man. But at least one interesting pattern emerges when looking at the branches blamed. These are, as auto-translated from SAFMCD folder names: # of photos there, and minimum range of victim numbers (highest and lowest I've seen so far)

    * 215 - secret raids and intrusions - 3,556 photos (min. victim # range: 178-4089)
    * 227 - Zone Branch (Damascus) - 2,047 photos (min range: 409-2822)
    * Air Force Intelligence Branch - 390 photos (branch number = Arabic letter equating to J - ج) (min range: unclear, perhaps #1, up to 9246 - many victims implied, most of whom were not sent to 601)
    * 216 - periodicals Branch - 297 (HRW gives "patrols branch," which I prefer) (min range: 44-385
    * 235 - Palestine Branch - 128 (no min range yet for this or the rest)
    * "Anonymous branch": 109 (meaning what?)
    * 251 - Internal branch - the state security: 103
    * "Sporadic views": 71 (meaning what?)
    * 248 - military investigation Branch - 54
    * 220 - Sasa branch: 50
    * Military Police Branch: 45

The top 4 are responsible for well over 90% of the photos/victims. Two of these (patrols, raids) sound clearly mobile. I'm not sure what zone means, but it might be mobile. I don't know if AF Intel has a mobile unit, or any of the other branches. But it might be that these are the people called when a pile of emaciated corpses appears, for example, at the edge of a rebel-held town or district where the local terrorists just ditched that many unneeded hostages.

Furthermore, there are other reasons military intelligence might hold bodies that other parties had collected. They might, for example, want to document what the terrorists they're up against do to people, maybe with an eye to court cases against those found responsible.

Otherwise, it's possible "Caesar" and/or collaborators controlling the site managed to re-brand bodies brought in. They could have done this with the upper numbers made up and written in - and kept track of - blaming a systemic range of security agencies, when really they were only tasked with the the hospital number.

Consider: by this spread, branches with apparent reason to interrogate people - the one reasonable if wrong use for torture - seem to be doing very little of it (fatally anyway).  Military investigation and military police branches have only 100 dead between them. Is that realistic, or a way of clarifying that this torture was mainly not about getting information? Like "Caesar" suggests at every turn, it must be about pointless, villainous, regime-change-justifying cruelty.

And then of course it's possible, and well-enough covered elsewhere, that "Caesar" and the others are correct. We're in the business of considering all possibilities here, right?

Some Apparent Combat Deaths,  But Mostly Detainees

Not that this is the most representative example, but it's an example. At right, by the card and body numbers is branch victim #j/9227, hospital # 2441/b, (with a little difficulty again in the hundreds, different ink colors, confusing errors here...). Military intelligence allegedly killed this apparent NDF fighter (aka "Shabih"), maybe for "refusing orders." He has Assad tattoos, a spiderweb on the shoulder, bearded but neat, and strong - not starved or anything, this one. He was shot in the side by a large caliber round, perhaps by a sniper.

Somehow, I suspect, he became unidentified, maybe dumped far from the kill spot, and that's why, for now, he's only identified with a number. "Caesar" would say he's another coded state secret that wound up here. Here's his SAFMCD tortured detainee entry: photo original name j-9227-4-6-2013 (5) (note: I think the 5 suggests there are 5 photos of this guy, or this is #5 of however many - a bit higher than the average seen (2 or 3), which might mean extra views ... to document tattoos, for example).

But again I emphasize, this inclusion of apparent fighters doesn't seem to be the norm. Most of those will be identified, and it seems most don't pass through here. And there's more likely to be a good number of unknown rebel fighters (foreign and domestic) included.  While such inclusions challenge the simple "Caesar" story and should be noted, the majority of photos - at least 80% - seem like hated and abused detainees. They may have been fighters once, but didn't spend their last days or die that way. Starved, tortured, eyes gouged out or damaged, and many apparently gassed to death * - these men were generally treated too poorly to be anything but prisoners.  And again I emphasize - they seem like prisoners of someone.

* Yes, gassed to death. I'll be coming back to this...

Branch Victim #: for Prisoners or Corpses?
Important question: Is the top number the victim's identifier when alive, or is it only assigned after death? The SNHR's report calls this this the victim's "number in the security branch (before his death)," presumably set by arrest or arrival date. Only the bottom number is post-death, and issued in that order.

However, as far as I've seen, branch victim numbers consistently tick up along with the hospital numbers, each one at its own varying speed. And group shots tend to show consecutive and close numbers dying at the same time. We see victims 2348, 2350, and 2355 from branch 215 at least, among a dozen men in one group shot (see here). As covered here, the scene including Rihab Allawi (the one woman in the portfolio) shows more 215 victims numbered 2916, 2920, 2922, 2924, 2925, and 2935 (Rihab), besides others that aren't readable. So even if the jailers know in advance when the prisoners will die and assign numbers that way, still they're numbered by death order, just predicted. Of course, that's not likely, so ... it's probably a simple order of death or perhaps order of counting among found dead

In fact, the SNHR must realize this sequential grouping even as they argued against its implication. When noting how different branch victims were present at the same time, they note one victim each from 215 and 216 are seen in the same photo, along with 227 victims #2076 and 2075. So clearly, it's not their number when alive, as someone told them.

Interestingly, the original Carter-Ruck Qatar report disagrees with them, and is more credible on this point (p 13):
Each murdered detainee was given two numbers with only the intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses. 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. 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.
So the prisoner number they had when alive remains a coded secret. Or maybe it's non-existent.

Human Rights Watch heard both versions. To their credit they noted that fact, and leaned towards agreeing it's a post-death number. Their report (page 34) calls it a "detainee number: a number assigned to each detainee by the security branch that holds him in custody." When is it given? "Given that most of these numbers appear chronologically, it is likely that the number was assigned to the detainee following his death." This plainly evident truth might be why one "defector who served as a guard at a security branch" told them the number was assigned when someone died.

But HRW also heard - from the central expert, "Caesar" himself - the same thing SNHR heard. He was speaking to the UN Congress in July. (HRW was unable to get their own direct interview with the defector, while the SNHR was. He might be going into more of a retirement mode these days.) "Caesar testified that the number was assigned at the time of the detainee’s arrival at the security branch." In all his careful observation, did the heroic whistle-blower never notice how consecutive numbers kept appearing together? Or did he think they were being killed off in the same exact order they came in? If so, why did he never mention that chilling - and fairly absurd - detail?

Update: Now, maybe Caesar himself hasn't made this claim, but others have. One is the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainnes (SAFMCD), the photo curators as linked to here.  A friend alerted me to a SAFMCD video that misreads the clues almost comically, and seems to make just this claim. See:
المعتقلين ليسو أرقام - الصور المسربة (Detainees are not numbers - pictures leaked) uploaded by SAFMCD.Com, June 28, 2015. 
At 2:30, boy victim #216/85 is used to explain how branch victim # is "the number of the detainee in the intelligence branch before his murder." (emphasis in narration). Then they launch immediately into serial error and  the upside of this call - "serial murder." They show yet another group shot with 215 branch victims numbered 2173, 2175, and 2177 (video still at right). The British-accent narrator explains "the numbers of the victims are consecutive or very close in sequence. This confirms the systematic murder process of the detainees." It's not just systematic but hyper-systematic and bizarre - it would confirm they're being killed just about exactly in the order they came in.

The video also considers decay, slimy and otherwise, as caused by torture with "strange materials" (6:48). To them, this may help explain why decayed bodies are often numbered right next to freshly dead people. Here's one example of that: branch 251 victims 63 (freshly killed), 64, 65, (dead a week), and 67 (recent kill). I can't find 66. It might be one of the thousands that are missing, or one of the few in this stretch that's out-of-sequence.

Note: Mouaz Moustafa is a member of this SAFMCD and is also, usually, the public translator for "Caesar" when he appears. No wonder they both seem to believe in this absurd reading. Moustafa is also a Syrian-American, not a Syrian, working in the "Government Relations" industry in Washington DC, a John McCain-affiliated director of the "Syrian Emergency Task Force" team pushing for the overthrow of Syria's government. They do this with reasoning and moral pretexts improvised from truth, lies, or whatever they find. Here he is giving a guided tour of the photos to Dubliners who seem to me more skeptical than he realized.

Hospital #: Final Index for Retrieval?
My guess is that there's a detailed file associated at the branch for each of these unidentified victims, accessible by that number. Or, if the branch part is fake, the file is at the hospital, attached to the bottom number (or the real hospital number if these too are faked).

After the cataloging wherever, I suppose the bodies would be buried in a government-run cemetery, as "Caesar" and the rest claim. If there's even a first stop, then in between I'm guessing there's a last stop and final audit. Bodies would be documented one last time, correlated with any prior numbers, and gathered in sufficient numbers to justify a trip to one of the cemeteries north of town (or wherever exactly they were buried). And this is military hospital 601, where "Caesar" worked.

It must be noted that burial under a number system in a government-run cemetery doesn't necessarily mean mass graves or dumping secrets. In Muslim countries, it's a moral imperative to bury the victims in soil within one day of death if possible, even if they have to be exhumed and re-buried later. When morgues are full, there are hundreds more to refrigerate, families have a hard time crossing battle lines to come identify people, etc. one might have no choice but the proper one of storage in dirt. 

If finally someone comes in and recognizes a photo, they'll have these numbers and photos to follow. The Hospital 601 number should then be correlated with a grave site number, and should lead right to the victim's remains for reclamation, when that's possible.

But that's just my guess. Most people accept that these numbers are to verify the regime's evil plans were carried through, to conceal original prisoner identity, and launder their deaths as "heart attacks" at the hospital. As evidence for that, I believe, "Caesar" produced one or a few death certificates for heart attack victims he swears were actually among these 100% torture victims. And they might well be - several combat death, a couple natural causes, and mainly executed detainees - of someone.

Who Wrote the Numbers?
Considering the observations above, we should see on the victims and their index cards two different death numbers, ostensibly from two different facilities both recording the fact. HRW's report relates on page 9 how the first number is written at the security branch: "Former detainees reported seeing numbers written on the bodies of dead detainees or on cards, before guards removed the bodies from security branches."

This is the supposed detainees - brought forth to confirm Caesar's story - specifying that the numbers were part of the broader system. From things they were lucky enough to see first-hand, they knew the numbers were not something, for example, that "Caesar" made up on his own initiative at the hospital 601 garage. Nor were they something official that was only set at the hospital. Nor, they're clear, does this numbering system document anything other than killed detainees. They're clear it all shows branch-hospital cooperation in mass murder and mass cover-up.

The bottom hospital number would presumably be set at the garage, based on order of body processing there. So if what HRW heard is true, the numbers would be not just assigned but written in two different places.

The blue ink lines on the hand holding the card in this SAFMCD photo from the 4-6-2013 folder.  Cards and/or bodies are being at least partly filled in here, by these guys.  It's probably the same color on that card, although it's hard to be sure with that deep blur. Also note it seems to be the same color of ink on top and bottom. That's consistent with just some writing happening here, and it's consistent with a completely on-site operation, as the witnesses were clear to argue away.
Let's compare this to an unusual but instructive case. As listed in the SAFMCD database, victim 63 from low-kill branch 248 (military investigation Branch), in a folder dated July 26, 2013. This is a teenage boy who's been seriously starved, had his eyes damaged, perhaps chemically, his neck lightly burned/irritated, and has a trace of orange mucous/blood from his nose. Victims 62 and 64 and others listed near him show similar signs but in different combinations. Now see fuller view below (original - direct link, Zaman al-Wasl article).

Seen: an unclear 4-digit number over 215 was first written on his chest, then mostly washed off and written over with 62/248. The card held seems to have agreed, originally, with the second number. But then “Caesar” changed the photo later, painting over the 2 and replacing it with a 3, so 63/248, as listed by SAFMCD (and there is a taken 62 slot, with no body shot to see if that was ever changed). Further, the bottom number was changed from 44??/b to 4450/b.

The same color of blue ink was used on his body and for all numbers on the card, though possibly with two different markers at two different places. On the card, we can see possibly two types of handwriting, but the same color and gauge of marker at least. It's likely but not certain that everything here was written at the same place, perhaps by "Caesar" and an accomplice. In other cases, it may be different.

Some possibilities for this scene:
* Branch 248 wrote ????/215 on the boy's chest in error, forgetting who they were. Caesar corrected them based on the card they wrote saying 62/248, filled in the bottom number in the same color ink - but then decided later on that the original 62 he used to correct his other error was wrong (because??), and he changed it with after effects, besides the bottom number he threw off.
* The branch wrote 62/248 on the card, and nothing on the body. Caesar goofed up the body writing and then changed it to match. The bottom number was filled in then, or was already done – but it was done wrong (?) and so he changed that in the photo, as well as the original 62.
* Nothing was written at 248, if the body was even there. Caesar wrote this out for 215, maybe just by reflex or because that's all they were processing at the time. Then he realized some detail about the boy that, for whatever he knew about 248 and those running it, meant they should be blamed - or they were just short on 248 victims and he would be a perfect fit, or whatever. But he forgot there was already a 62, and had to change it later. And the hospital number, because that was 62's number. Did this boy replace an original 63 perhaps?
* Caesar goofed this up on purpose, hoping someone like me would make a big deal over what actually seems to be an odd an isolated case. Well, I don't see a reason to make a big deal over this, yet - but it's confusing, and maybe eventually it will seem more important. And it was a good excuse to stop and wonder, which has been in short order with regards to “Caesar” and his claims.

Update: An inverse example from the above. This entry does not show any number on the body but instead on forehead tape. It says 2008, with no branch specified. Someone clearly at the morgue and not the security branch goofed up the card to say victim and branch # 2008/b (again, /b was the morgue's running suffix at the time - the bottom number should be xxxx/b)). Only later did "Caesar" or whoever notice the error, and paint 215 over b. That seems reasonable enough, on a bad day...and it means in at least this case, the cards were being entirely written out at the morgue. If that were the case in the example above, if the boy had nothing written on his chest (only logical), nothing on his forehead as we see (or was that removed to aid the transfer? Ha! Look closely - there was tape there once.), and he had no prewritten card (or it was tossed?) ... then what did Caesar use to correct his own /215 body writing error?

Previous Example: Deraa
An old example might help or confuse things here. Hamza al-Khatib was a plump 13-year-old or a plumber-yet full sized man, depending on if you believe activists and media or doctors and photos. He was famously killed back on  the night of April 29, 2011 in Deraa, during torture in a prison or in clashes at the military housing complex, depending who you ask .

He was apparently processed at Deraa's national hospital as an unidentified victim of the clashes, later identified and handed back to his family, according to official sources. But he was examined by coroner Dr. Akram al-Shar, who's mentioned in SNHR report as the head of forensic science at hospital 601 where the "Caesar" photos were taken. Thus they find him among the "most significant" of those "involved in the crimes."

Anyway, it seems Deraa's military hospital used a similar system to that under study, but used for unidentified, found bodies instead of for tortured detainees. Al-Shar's examination should have been secure and official, and it used eastern Arabic numbers, here 23. There's no torture branch indicated, but authorities published these photos, so maybe this is the "clean" version? So who was responsible for this clear ... hole-punching with a huge electric drill I guess, aging to adult, significant fattening, and partial decay of that poor little 13-year-old boy? Hard to say, but they definitely work for Assad, right?</sarcasm>

Note: according to the SNHR report, the biggest portion of identified "Caesar" photo victims - 204 out of 722 - are from Deraa.  So a doctor, a number system, and a lot of victims allegedly link Damascus and Deraa throughout this story.

Official-Rebel Hybrid ID System? 
(added Feb. 7)
A point that occurred to me later is the similarity of the forehead tape to a system I've seen used before - in rebel areas. This was the Ghouta chemical massacre of August 21, 2013, with hundreds killed allegedly by Sarin rockets (which is also just after "Caesar" fled Syria with his last gathered photos). Below is a boy victim, #86 (see also here), of a purported 800 numbered, unidentified victims, and perhaps zero that anyone knew immediately. (source f/c). Signs say that's because they were people held captive by local terrorist groups, who wound up burying them in mass graves somewhere, after a token few were claimed by alleged family on video.

So here the tape records victim of (regime rocket? rebel prisons/gas chambers?). We know reels use this system, but it could be something everyone does.

In the Caesar photos, we see the killers do the same, but with a branch number added beside it. Unlike the later victims, these were passed through the system as un-identified, or at least coded in a system very similar to that for mystery bodies; they get the official-style card documentation seen with little Hamza (left). Unlike Hamza (identified and then handed back to family) and the Ghouta mass gave burials, the "Caesar" photo victims had to be buried by the government in cemeteries they ran.

Combining those precedents, this happenstance hybrid system could show a Ghouta-style mystery person - a victim of (regime prison/gas chamber? rebel prison/gas chamber? other/unclear?) - numbered like rebels at least do it, and then passed through the official system as well. In the example here, only a hospital number is shown, as with Hamza. In most other cases, the cards "Caesar" or a teammate write up "confirm" the branch number ... which was written there first by local terrorists, for all we know. 

The number system doesn't seem, in itself, to contain anything to undo "Caesar's" story. It could go either way in showing a seen 7,000, and implied 11,000+ men and boys killed in or near Damascus since the outsider-supported uprising began in 2011.

(More detailed summary of actual findings, forthcoming...)

The core questions remain when, where, how, and by whom they were actually killed. The answer to that is likely to be mixed, but we can't call it mixed/unknown and walk away, nor can we accept "Caesar's" claim these were all "regime" detainees. On this scale, with the horrible abuses seen, the proportions of the mixture must be carefully considered. And clearly the universal activist story of "tortured to death in a regime prison" has been highly overrated, from the little Hamza story up until now.