Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fail Caesar part 2: Re-Considering The Victims

November 16-17, 2014
(updated March 20, 2015
(update December 16)
<-- Fail Caesar: Exposing the Anti-Syria Photo Propaganda {Masterlist}

(This incomplete post will be a large-sized one, with some additions expected in time. It might well need to be split-up into a series of posts, but I'm hoping one big, valuable page can hold it all. Already it's huge and I want to post it, and then finish the main first part in-place)

Note, March 2016: The following post is old, starting thoughts, and largely drives at a point I later made a far better case for in Fail Caesar Part 6: Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government

Intro: Honoring Victims of Genocide?
  The narrative provided by the defector "Caesar" and echoed by so many is quite clear on who the men in his photographs are; primarily or totally prisoners in Syrian government's jails. Specifically, they tended to come from military intelligence prisons in Damascus, especially the ones run by MI branches 215 and 227, and it's quite clear the guilt for all abuses on those jailers alone. All the dead from fighting on both sides, the massacred civilians of Alawi and Christian villages and government loyalist Sunnis, executed hostages simply found by the government, all accidental or natural deaths, were sent elsewhere or at least not included in the thousands of photos "Caesar" claims he smuggled out copies of.

  And so it is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in October, 2014, displayed images of these dead Syrian men to defame their government and further encourage its overthrow as only fair. The UK Guardian - one original media outlet for the Caesar project and guardian of the story - reports the subjects were "honoured" by the display, because it can be known they were "victims of [the] Syrian regime."

  The USHMM display was titled "Genocide: the Threat Continues," and was explained as meant "to remind the world that genocide didn't end with the Holocaust." A government-led "genocide" has been invoked by "Caesar" and his support team, but which "geno" they and the USHMM speak of remains unexplained. Presumably, it's the standard: Assad the Alawite against the Sunni majority of Syria, or more narrowly those Sunnis who rebel against the state. As a group with a family element, there is a genetic dimension to the crackdown. And the museum did chose to highlight - among a reported 12 images total - one that shows a man with his genitals removed, which sort of captures part of the essence of the crime (I don't believe this one is among those I've seen on the Internet).

  It has always remained plausible, if not considered by the gatekeepers, that this story is not accurate, that the victims were actually selected by the anti-government side for being non-Sunni or for supporting the government. This would classify as genocide at least as well as it does the other way around. This has been the motive in some of Syria's most notorious mass killings - acknowledged in some cases like the August 2013 Latakia Massacres and the October 2013 Sadad massacre, while getting glossed over or denied in others like the Houla Massacre (following the Battle of Taldou) and the Al-Bayda massacre of Sunni civilians related to a government loyalist Imam.

  If this is the case to even some extent in the "Caesar" photos, then to that extent it would be fairer to say the USHMM exhibit exploits the victims - and horribly so - instead of honoring them. It would, as others have already done, use their suffering to defame and destroy the government whose only crime was being unable to protect all its citizens anymore ... on account of the outsider-supported uprising, fed by propaganda like this stretching back to day one.

  All regime prisoners, all rebel/terrorist victims, or some mix ... these are the basic possibilities for what's actually shown in these documents of misery. Here I seek not to disprove but to firmly challenge the blindly accepted first option.

General Points: What can be Seen, What can't be Known

Numbers: Caesar provided a large portion of the vaunted 55,000 total images - perhaps exactly the 26,948 delivered to the FBI. The remaining half, the Carter-Ruck report states, were "similar images" gathered from other sources that don't share the "credible" details "Caesar" provides for his. It's estimated the full 55,000 images show 11,000 victims, as each victim in a smaller pool had 4-5 images taken. So just for Caesar's half, it might be only half that, or likely more. The report is based on close examination of 835 victims from a set of 5,500 images they were given. We cannot yet verify any of these numbers, but can proceed on the presumption that this part at least is probably true.

Mixed Types of Dead: The visual facts of the photos suggest mixed types of alleged prisoners, as the sections below show. The most brutally tortured appear "nabbed" and left in original street clothes, finished off horribly but quickly compared to the others we've seen. Those appear to have been shackled somewhere for weeks and neglected totally until they had starved to death. There seem to be a few visible odd samples of other types, and a fuller review would likely clarify the spread of these differences and offer a more useful view. But from the limited view so far, it seems either the prisons in this system used very mixed methods, or the victims simply did not all come from prisons as alleged.

Fighting Age Men: The Carter-Ruck report says there was exactly one woman (clothed, no sign of injury) among the 835 victims the investigators examined closely. The "vast majority" were men who appeared to be aged 20-40, with a very few elderly men ("up to sixty years old") and "no children." But one victim below (#2 in this list) looks more like 70, and what contitutes "children" might be perhaps arbitrary; they don't mention anyone in the crucial category aged 16-20 category, some photo victims appear to be possible teenagers, and "Caesar says (NPR) "there are pictures of children, there are pictures of the elderly, and there's a picture of a woman," all seeming to be the dramatic exceptions to the rule that the report might have over-simplified a bit. (Note: the one woman sounds like in his whole archive, also appearing in the 5,500-image sample given to the investigators) It's not known if this pattern holds over the fuller catalog, but it seems likely enough to describe the victims here as men, and those being primarily of fighting age.
  The identity of punished fighting-age men in Syria would seem clear to the Western public mind: Sunni activists, rebel fighters or people the authorities thought might become that, detained and later killed in a paranoid prevention policy. Such things are a staple accusation in Syria, and not inherently illogical. But on a case-by-case basis, the accusation often fails to hold water.
  Consider the men that kept turning up in the Queiq river in Aleppo in early 2013 - 110 of them at once on January 29. The victims were locals from rebel-administered Bustan al-Qasr district, right by that stretch of river. But opposition claims were they also crossed to the government side for work, and were abducted there. Then they were killed at a military intelligence prison - a strong parallel with the accusations of Team Caesar - and floated down the river to right where they would wind up if local rebels had dumped them a few blocks from home. A lot of clues there point to rebel hostages or perhaps failed recruitment drives - men they thought could and should be rebels, held until they agreed. Those might be executed when they refused to play along, with the killings clustered for effect and to be branded a regime massacre; everyone knew the number was 110, even when they could only find 80 of them right away. These and others found before and after were used as propaganda with a clear recruitment agenda - explicitly boosting the "moderate" FSA but including a welcome to Jabhat al-Nusra - that can be seen in this Guardian video report. The second-biggest Queiq River massacre, of around 50 bodies at once, turned up in that same rebel repository on March 10, the same day that video was published, as if it was a promotional event!
  Added later, an even better and more undeniable example to help put the below in context: Douma Hostage Massacre (the one we have a page on anyway), August 2012. Douma is a northwestern suburb of Damascus, from which a reported 16 local men (later adjusted to 12, maybe still 16 in truth, only six seen for sure) were found executed on August 17. Dressed in civilian street clothes, they had their throats cut to the point of being half-decapitated, and were dumped at the National Hospital in neighboring Harasta. Rebel videos filming the grisly discovery decried the "slaughter of detainees by Assad's soldiers," where "Assad Regime kills 16 Douma youths with knives" in an "extra judicial execution" that's "evidence of crimes against Humanity Committed by Syrian Dictator Bashar Al-Assad."
  But before they were executed, all six visible victims were seen seen in the same distinctive street clothes they were killed in, with other captives and their "Assad regime" captors. This was on a series of videos made a few days earlier and stamped with a local anti-Assad FSA brigade logo. An armed militant explains, perhaps, how they will punish these men (translation still needed). At this time the doomed are described in video titles (translated) as "elements of the Internal Security Forces Armor Brigade for the Capital," captured. These men don't look military, by their clothes or varied levels of fitness and age; they look like random local men of about fighting age is all. But the Harasta rebels claimed they "killed and captured many of the Assad army" on or before August 14, and these 12-16 prisoners were killed three days later, and then filmed by the same people and blatantly turned into (unidentified) innocents "slaughtered by Assad thugs." That's how some of the victims captured in the photos under discussion have been presented...

Morgue/Garage Locale and Loyalty: The location(s) of the photographs is not proven. "Caesar" is clear it's the place he worked, unspecified. It might be an area next to an official morgue, but it isn't one. Le Monde (via Worldcrunch) heard from Caesar project heavyweight Emadeddin Rachid (alt: Emad ad-Din al-Rashid) former deputy head of the Sharia Faculty at the University of Damascus, president of Syrian National Movement, founder of Islamist "Syrian National Current" part of the SNC, directly financing "moderate" Islamist factions. Rashid had the photos on his computer, showed them some, and said of one scene "this is the garage of the military hospital of Mezzeh. ... That's where they throw the corpses when the morgue is full. .. That is, these are just the overflow of a much larger massacre, even just in the Damascus area! This smacks of politicized exaggeration. Wall Street Journal, in their July video report, specify Hospital 601 as where US investigators believe the photos were taken. The location they show (0:10) is the same as comes up for Mezzeh in Google Maps, so that's "confirmation" - or rather someone who believed the Rashid/Caesar story.
  In the "Caesar" photos we've seen, showing around 100 victims total, the bodies appear fresh, seen probably less than a day after death, and perhaps just minutes after. Only the one (#3 below) is very decayed and perhaps another (#6) just starting to bloat. This suggests those processing the bodies are on the same side as the killers and easily transferring bodies from one branch to another. It's less likely, but plausible, that such fresh bodies were dumped by one side and found by the other in a swift manner.
  Prisoner and prison numbers seem correct and realistic enough they could be true, but it would be a trivial effort to fake these. Needed: an impressively big but believable prisoner number and a recognizable prison identifier, written on an index card and in some cases written on the body itself. This can be done by anyone, easily, anywhere. We don't even know if this mimics official procedures, let alone if it is official.

For all we can could tell* the site(s) could be:
- a government-connected facility with these photos being part of the system as we're assured
- a random place where bodies in official channels are slipped away by in-place defectors for these photo shoots, using erasable markers and such to avoid detection
- something more like a rebel-held garage next to a controlled building with a big basement full of hostages - where they took these photos at leisure and simply faked their own murder victims as prisoners of "the Assad regime"
* See my comment below - some photos, maybe a lot, were taken at a garage at Mezzeh.

Obscured Faces: Most faces we see here are obscured, except where it would hide shocking gore. This has a many possible reasons, but no clear exlanation offered by Team Caesar. CNN reported on a reason to obscure victim numbers - "those numbers are obscured in the report released to CNN to protect "Caesar's" identity and to hide the location of the military hospital where the photos were taken." Identity can only be hidden that way if it can be deduced from where he was working. But Team Caesar's Rashid has been telling people the location was Mezzeh military hospital 601, blowing that cover (see above). Further, any government with copies of the same images could compare to the originals and get the numbers there - besides already knowing just who he is and where he worked - if he ever worked there as he claims. Not even CNN offered an explanation why the victims' faces had to be obscured. This censorship might prevent recognition of a victim by a Syrian citizen with a different and provable story about that man's death. But they would claim a different reason, if they claimed one. Maybe the regime is able to "figure out" who Caesar is by recognizing the faces of the men he photographed at the work site they assigned him to, which again could be found from their own copies anyway just like the numbers, the photographer's personnel file and next of kin, etc.

 Unless ... they never had copies, because the photos were taken in a rebel facility, before the victims were buried in still undiscovered mass graves, for example.

Seven for Special Study
  In this morbid photo album, there are some interesting victims to help illustrate how the truth may be different from the Team Caesar narrative. It could be argued I selected these to poke holes in the story, ignoring others that fit it better. That would be true, but these are from among those 33 top picks selected by the team previously, filtering out tens of thousands, from among those chosen to smuggle out in the first place. These 7 cover more than 20% of the published photos, and the bulk of the rest with more victims in them are covered by the next section anyway.

  I feel like not showing the photos here, generally. But the photo numbers refer to the list of 33 known photos here at the ACLOS talk page. There each has a link so you can see it as presented by media and government sources directly involved in the Caesar project, from their servers for now.

1) A Christian (photo 25):
  This alleged Assad victim is, by his several visible crucifix tattoos, a member of one of Syria's many and often ancient Christian communities - not known for rising up en masse against the government, and not connected to the supposed genocide of Sunnis it's claimed the photos document. Islamist terrorists often abduct and kill Christians, but here, Assad's jailers are allegedly to blame. Perhaps one joined the rebels and survived that to be done in by a regime prison. Perhaps the regime is just killing whoever now.
  Luckily, he's one of the rare seen victims with numbers actually written on his body as further proof of what the card says - regime victim. Hidden in one house.gov view and not in another (WSJ video), these says he's victim #2615 from branch 227, with another number seeming to be B/4624 (with the 6 written first like a 9 - suggesting someone more familiar with the the Perso-Arabic variant system - possible clue, real or fake).
  Aside from an apparent stab in the right shoulder, it's not clear if he was simply starved to death or actually executed. The covered eyes here - in both views - could be to hide his identity, or to obscure the fact his eyes were gouged out, as Islamists often do to captive heretics, and as some photo victims had done to them. If one wants to blame the secular government fighting Islamist fanatics, it would not help to let people see crosses and eyes missing on the same body. Just the crosses alone are eyebrow-raising, if not conclusive.

2) Elderly Man, Gouged Eyes (photo 14)
  This bearded, elderly man has no clear indication of sect, but he was abducted, starved, and exposed to smoke inhalation prior to death (the nostrils of his broken nose are black - see the same with the Alawite civilians taken captive by rebels in Aqrab, December 2012, and at least one victim starved in rebel-held Yarmouk in early 2014 for a couple of examples.
  Closer to the end, it looks like his eyeballs were gouged out of their sockets, but left hanging loose. They want us to see this, but not his face in general. Islamists sometimes do that to infidels, whose corpses the government might later find, and whose family might recognize his face (maybe even with the blur). Or as alleged, the government might do this themselves to avoid the wait. He too seems to have a number written across his chest, obscured here.

3) Decayed Victim (photo 13)
  This is another alleged victim of Assad torture, perhaps believed to be some kind of extreme waterboarding (??). It's so severe the person almost looks like the victim of anything, dumped in a creek face-down, and only found a week or two later. Traffic accident on a remote highway, unpaid ransom, who knows? But allegedly, Assad jailers executed him/her, then ... maybe ... dumped the body somewhere moist and retrieved it later? Signs: badly broken jaw, one eye missing, possible hole in throat. It's hard to divorce any one of these from decay/predation and call it a certain feature of torture/execution, but any of them could be.
  This victim is the one known exception to the rule that the shown bodies tend to be fresh - the photographers and their system with "elaborate" numbers might be aligned with the killers, explaining the swift transfers. Again, this dirt-floor garage could be rebel site for all we know.

4) Punctured and Slaughtered (photo 29)
  This Syrian man in civilian street clothes (white t-shirt now torn and soaked red with fresh blood) was abducted by someone who tore up his flesh horribly and then killed him by slicing his throat wide open (partly visible on the right side). Slicing throats is often an Islamist thing, but here allegedly Assad jailers are doing it too. I'm not sure what causes this pitting of peoples' flesh, but this has been seen in some cases (the Daraya massacre at least, and the Mohammed family in Homs during the first rebel reign of terror). The best clues say the victims in both cases were rebel captives, while rebels with access to the bodies insist it was Shabihha or the army who scooped holes in these people, largely in the belly, the arms, and inner thighs. Here' it's Assad jailers allegedly doing it to this guy, and they did get the body in front of a camera quickly. They also gave him a broken left arm and hand, as mentioned a sliced throat, and possible facial trauma under the cloud of blur there.

5) Burned and Eyes Gouged Out (photo 16)
  Lightly-bearded middle-aged man with short hair, stocky build, shown naked with horrible burns in a neat band around his upper torso. These leave his chest all either red or black (charred), with two apparent holes of different size also in the mid-chest. There are odd blurs to the right on his abdomen (a wound too horrible to see? a small victim number?) and near but not at private parts (off-frame here.) Most notably, they show his right eye socket, now devoid of its eye. The rest of his face is blurred away and unrecognizable. It seems his left eye is also scooped out, but for some reason that one's censored.

6) Tortured Belly (photo 15)
  Someone abducted this obese man in street clothes (a dark sweater) and decided to slice up his fat belly, for unclear reasons aside from it being such a big target - but maybe not this big to start. This could the more common "tramline" injuries (beating with thin rod or heavy cable) but to me it looks more like infected cuts. Then he was apparently found face-down in the dirt somewhere, with some of this swelling probably being the start of bloating (maybe 2-3 days dead), brought here and documented. Method of execution unclear (head intact, neck covered). Clearly not starved to death. Maybe fed to death? (appearing in a list of seven, maybe it's the movie Se7en (pronounced "Sesevenen") influencing me here)

7) Mutilated with a Chain (photo 32)
  This bearded, middle-aged Syrian man in civilian street clothes (striped shirt) was abducted by someone who did something unusual and horrible to him. A chain is wrapped tightly around his torso, where he was perhaps hanged or dragged, leaving his rib cage distorted, swollen upwards. Probably after this, two holes were punched in each side of his chest, maybe with bullets. This is an ambiguous type of treatment is another of the especially heinous ones carried out by the "Assad regime," at whichever prison that is where they leave inmates in their street clothes, no uniforms or haircuts, never keep them long enough to starve them to death, and come up with random and extreme torture methods to keep it interesting.

The Victims Starved in Bulk
  The most potent images combine "starved" and "numerous" victims in the same image. That formula is seen three times among those 33 chosen to lead with. Le Monde's reporters who met Emad ad-Din al-Rashid saw the copies of the photo set on his computer. He pointed to one of these and noted what others have: "All these bodies, all skin and bones: It inevitably makes you think about Nazi concentration camps."

  Such photos show a calousness at odds with the image of sword-wielding Islamist hot-heads, and also a scale that naturally evokes the 1940s Holocaust of Jews and others across Europe - which in context means it probably at least had a government behind it. The scale of death - dozens at a time - and the use of warehouses, and "elaborate" numbers that "follow each other" with chilling predictability, all seem beyond insurgents' beard-choked brains. There must be a "killing machine" behind all this, it might seem, of the type only a national government could operate.

Below: one example put in context - aside from the timeline correction, this is how it was employed by the Facebook page "Stand With Caesar" on October 18.

  Whenever the rest came through, either the Branch 215 photo or a similar group shot was staged towards the end of the two-year documentation period, "at the time “Caesar” was planning to defect," according to the Carter-Ruck report (page 14). The report continues: "The excuse he gave for group photographs to his colleagues was that in case they had missed a body they could go back to the group photograph." But really, "he had someone in his section take photographs of a group of bodies to show that the place “looked like a slaughterhouse”." That is, he did it for effect, for a striking scene that would make good propaganda, for which it was recognized later.

  He in fact took at least three such shots (a different one of them shown above). The narrative here suggests the scene he describes was the first time, requiring as it did an explanation. That in turn means the later repetitions of that also came during this later pre-defection span of enhanced creativity. This might well be in August 2013, the month he stopped taking photos and played dead for a bit. Just when in the month would be really helpful to know (see below), but isn't spelled out.

  As noted above, the overall victim array seems quite mixed, challenging the uniform prison system explanation. But there is an overall majority it seems, if slight, that almost gives one face to the "Caesar" photo gallery. It's not the mutilated victims examined above, but the larger numbers of starved captives that came through in at least a few larger batches.

  The Carter-Ruck report explained in their detailed study of "a total of eight hundred and thirty five (835) deceased persons" 42% - or around 350 - "showed emaciation" to the degree they noted it. (p. 17) Presumably, they did this reasonably and a lot of guys were seriously starved by whoever held them captive, as the publicized photos already suggested. Page 28 shows findings for a smaller-yet "dip sample" of 150 individuals. 93 of these, 62%, were emaciated. We could average these and say somewhere around half of the total victims are of this broad group, with the other half being the acute torture victims and unclear other groups we haven't seen much of yet.

  The next most widespread sign in the dip sample is shin problems. 55% of the sample, some 82 individuals had ulceration there, smaller numbers (perhaps overlapping?) had scars, bandages, non-specific or ligature injuries to the shin. The group photos of starved men we've seen show at least some overlap with those starved and suffering raw, traumatized, infected ankles and shins, some looking gangrenous and black. In the larger pool, there might be a huge overlap to approximate the same group sharing these traits.

  My conclusion: whoever held the bulk of these people captive chained them up with some kind of ankle shackles as they failed to feed or care for them. Depending on the type of shackles used, either side seems capable for pulling this together in an area with buildings that they controlled for long enough. So far, we have the word of "Caesar" and of his support team, and the government-blaming numbers written down, to prove any of this is happening on the dirt of an area secured by the Syrian government.

  Otherwise, again, it could be in one of the many areas under one kind or another of rebel administration. That's a 'where' question we can't answer yet. Related to it is the question of 'when'...

Starvation Timeline
  There's a possibly important question about when these men died. Either side could starve captived to death at any time, so the question is not all-important. But there is one period is known for mass starvation with shady explanations, and it's very close to the last of "Caesar's" photos, per the vague, provided timeline. The possibility of overlap between these times of emaciation is worth probing for.

  It's reported "Caesar" took his pictures between March, 2011 and August, 2013, with the time within August not specified. Of course, on August 21 the Ghouta chemical massacre happened in the Damascus suburbs. Unknown hundreds (X-hundred) civilians in rebel-held areas reportedly died from a government Sarin attack, although detailed research shows that at least one batch of about 100 victims including children was gassed by rebels, probably with carbon monoxide, with one man at least finished off in the rebel morgue with a sliced throat. The simplest explanation for such victims is hostages already in their control, with ransoms foregone in an ambitious bid at outside military support.

  But as reported by rebels, the government attack clearly crossed US president Obama's "red line" - exactly one year after he first described it - and led to serious threats of warfare into September. This might well explain the final time "Caesar" decided to flee, hoping Cruise missiles would be coming down soon but prepared to level a backup allegation if the Ghouta news failed, as it did. It was possibly earlier in the month that he cut out, but not likely to be much after. That is, if August really was his last month, and if he actually worked there.

  Just after the alleged Sarin attack, at the end of August, young children started starving to death in one of the allegedly gassed areas, Moadamiyeh, per records of the well-connected Violations Documentation Center (VDC). The reports came with photos to prove what was most likely a problem with how rebels in charge shared the food there. There being no such thing as a human decency embargo, it was most likely intentional that certain children got cut off from food. Children especially started starving to death in small numbers right after this in other rebel-held parts of Damascus under alleged food embargo. By October, numerous civilians of all ages were regularly wasting away in the rebel-held Yarmouk Palestinian camp/district, in a crisis that peaked in January 2014 with several deaths per day reported, all blamed on the external blockade. Throughout, it seems likely rebels were putting some of their own captives on these crash diets, to keep the mindless denunciations of the government coming in.

  It's the starting edge of these dubious crises that's most likely to matter here. Moadamiyeh starving deaths started at the end of August. And in Yarmouk camp, the VDC lists one early case - an infant, back on Aug. 18. Compare that to the likely crush of starved men implicitly documented sometime in August. These do not appear at all in the VDC records, which is actually odd, as they frequently know when someone was tortured to death in a regime prison: just a few random examples of men from all across Syria, detained and taken to Damascus, esp. Branch 215, to die under torture on or before some known date:

Aleppo Central prison doctor who defected, tortured to death in Damascus, Nov. 2012 19-year-old from Daraa, died Dec 18 2012, found dumped "near Air defense battalion between Atman and Tafas" after prison torture - Bus driver from Qarah, Damascus area, died Jan. 14 2013 in a hospital after prison torture - "defected soldier" from Daraa, died Feb 25, 2013 "under torture in a prison after his arrest six days ago by regime forces and his body was thrown on Homs : Damascus road." - 17-year-old, died May 2 after release from prison, with torture. - Harasta resident died June 29, 2013 "Under torture in the prison regime" - Jan. 14 2014, plumber from Rawda, Damascus, arrested July 2013 - "defected soldier" from Daraa died Feb 20 2014 "under torture in the regime`s army prisons in Sednya prison." - From Idlib, died at Branch 215 in Damascus, May 8 2014, over a year after arrest - Latakia man imprisoned at least 2 years, released from Saidnaya prison in bad health, died not on June 25 2014: "date of death is not accurate."

  Maybe there are a lot they miss, but there are many they learn of, especially from careless evidence-dumping. But when hundreds of captive men are allegedly starved to death in these same prisons (or die non-violently at about that point?) the VDC seems to have missed all of them. Maybe some are listed as Detention-Torture like this guy who allegedly starved to death in a prison - which should be listed under "other." But that's a huge list of 3,336 people to comb through.

It seems impossible to do a search for two words anywhere in the notes (prison + malnutrition) - it's too literal, needs the exact phrase. However, All martyrs with "prison" in notes and "other" (incl. starvation) as cause of death = 52 total. Most of these are starvation and disease deaths during the rebel siege of Aleppo central prison in the winter of 2013. At the bottom of the list are two infants at the prison in Raqqah (?) who died from a regime milk embargo. But there's no sign of any of the hundreds of captive men in Damascus anywhere near the middle of 2013.

  A total lack of preview would be a bit suspicious; is it because these deaths were kept so secret, or because the VDC knew more than usual, but wanted it to appear completely "leaked" by the defector they knew was coming? (Or have I just not found the records?)

  The VDC did manage to record alleged prison conditions in the nearby Damascus suburb of Harasta, put into a report published just after "Ceasar" defected, in September 2013. Cited are five recent escapees from Air Force intelligence prison in Harasta: "The witnesses – in their testimonies ... also mentioned the deteriorated health condition in the Branch that caused serious skin diseases to all the detainees, who have been also suffering a malnutrition till they got the "Starvation disease"" But they were careful to hear nothing just yet about masses of deaths from starvation at Branch 215 and wherever else.

  In the absence of the original metadata Team Caesar managed to lose, the question remains open ... do the starved victims come in steadily like a government policy, or in a sudden spurt in, say, mid-to-late August? Wouldn't it be interesting if the regime starved so many in their own controlled prisons, and did it so secretly, at the same time rebels were apparently culling their hostages for Sarin and starvation victims in numerous areas so close by?

  In support of a Summer surge: as noted the 12-man slaughterhouse photo and any others like it were - implicitly in "Caesar's" narrative - staged somewhere in that creative span in or near August. Also, we find a possible support from the defector himself, in the Carter-Ruck report: "It was quite clear from the account given by “Caesar” that the emaciation of the bodies of those in detention was something that he regularly encountered when taking the photographs." His making this "quite clear" suggests the facts themselves don't, or even - like other parts of his story - challenge the regularity, and might instead point to the sudden surge that would be so telling in context.

Update, March 20, 2015: The questions raised here and the suspiciously blurred faces that feed into it are freshly challenged with the biggest-yet release of victim photos on March 5 - this time un-blurred face shots with excited invitations to anyone from any side to go ahead and identify ... the victims in this (randomly-chosen?) set. There have been dozens of claimed identifications so far, all from the opposition side that I've seen. Some come with solid picture matches, none with a back-story that's proven. When I have much to say and time to say it here, that will be readable to those who...

1 comment:

  1. Adding by comment: above I say the location is unknown, but since then (in late November) I decided the one facility seen with about 50 bodies is a good fit for the alleged spot: hospital 601, or Mezzeh military hospital, in Damascus. That was tentative, based on the one photo, darkened. Explained here at ACLOS. As also covered there, a much more useful photo was released in mid-March and used by the geniuses at Bellingcat to finally do what I did four months earlier with much less to go on. So anyway, they blame "Assad" and they get praise as geniuses who are always first to figure out things like that, and in so doing to prove "Assad" did it again (his palace is right up the hill!). This is life.


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