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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 4: The Other Half of the Photos

Fail Caesar Part 4: The Other Half of the Photos
December 19, 2015
last edits Jan. 18, 2016

After skipping a couple of possible entries, it's clearly time for Fail Caesar part four. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has finally investigated the alleged defector's dubious claims. Of course, they credit them, or the gist, and blame the government of Bashar al-Assad for systematic torture and killing of mainly non-violent detainees. Their December 16 press release, filed from Moscow at the start of Syria peace talks there, links to the PDF report (download page).

The HRW investigation adds at least one useful detail to the emerging subject of the "Caesar" photos. I have yet to read the report, but thanks to the quick work of Human Rights Investigations (HRI, no relation) (see here), I can see what seems to be a major shift in the story that  could and should alter the mainstream's understanding - but probably won't, at least without some prodding.

This comes from HRI comparing the report to the early 2014 original "Caesar" report, done by Carter-Ruck law firm (C-R) on order of the Qatari royal family. This first report claimed "some 55,000" photos (rounded off), in two halves. They say "twenty-six thousand nine hundred and forty eight (26,948) images were present in various folders on the computer where the images were examined." These were Caesar's stash, that his story applies to.

The rest of the photos they call "similar images" (20,000+, exact number not specified) that were smuggled out by "other people," added with some more (unclear number) they felt were also from "Caesar." ("The inquiry team was satisfied that all of those twenty-six thousand nine hundred and forty eight (26,948) were provided by “Caesar”, as were some of the other twenty thousand plus images.") It's not clear if they even saw these others or reviewed them, but they were included in a grand total of around 55,000. These were all interpreted by the patterns in the first half, as the C-R team presumed the same story for all:
In all, approximately fifty-five thousand (55,000) images have, to date, been made available outside Syria by these processes. ... As there were some four or five photographs taken of each body this approximates to there being images of about eleven thousand (11,000) dead detainees.
Hence, the oft-repeated 11,000 killed prisoners claim.

Now, HRW says they reviewed 53,275 photos. If this is the same number as C-R's rounded 55,000, it suggests their remaining half of "similar images" totaled 26,327. That's a pretty even split. HRW also has a half-and-half split that's similar but different. It's tempting to think the two halves are roughly the same - "Caesar" vs. "other." And that could be; the half they attribute to "Caesar" and his story is 28,707 - 1,759 higher than CR's main number. (maybe this is his "other" images included, leaving the "other" category smaller?). From the press release:
The report focuses on 28,707 of the photographs that, based on all available information, show at least 6,786 detainees who died in detention or after being transferred from detention to a military hospital. 
So C-R's estimated 11,000 detainees becomes around 7,000, using a different formula on a number about half the size. That's because the other half of the photos - not specified but implicitly 24,568 of them - are of a different kind. Again, from the press release:
The remaining photographs are of attack sites or of bodies identified by name as of government soldiers, other armed fighters, or civilians killed in attacks, explosions, or assassination attempts.
Wow. Half the "Caesar" photos, according to Human Rights Watch, show -  basically - victims of outsider-sponsored anti-government armed groups. They think the other half show what "Caesar" claimed all of them showed. But if he lied about half of them...

Consider Michael D. Weiss, who tweeted "Here is @hrw's report on systematic torture in Assad's dungeons, corroborating some of Caesar's evidence." (emphasis mine) As I responded there " Just a bit over half of it, huh?" And the other half still sits beneath all the questions raised so far about "Caesar" and his explanation for all these deaths around Damascus. Now it sits with the knowledge the other half of the big lie is already proven (or so it seems, review pending...). The question then: is "Caesar's" story half true, or is it all lie?

HRI (who first noted the discrepancy), asked the Carter-Ruck report's authors about this, but got no immediate response, naturally. Even given all the time in the world, they will likely not bother responding. They did their job and caused more problems for Syria, they got paid, and now they're done with it.

First Additions
I'll start here with the issue in graphic form.
First note: it's not clear how HRW learned what C-R's "similar images" show, who told them, who they asked, etc. Maybe most important, it's not clear (yet) whether that's a final answer or an "at least" number from an ongoing process bound to get worse for "Caesar's" credibility. 

I'll have more text at least to add soon, related thoughts, observations, maybe news or new facts. I also intend to review the report, and I'm accepting comments.

Earlier Clues
So HRW finds nearly half the photographs show of "attack sites ... or civilians killed in attacks, explosions, or assassination attempts" and of "bodies identified by name as of government soldiers" or "other armed fighters" (probably meaning NDF or "Shabiha"). This sounds like a system documenting mortar attacks and assassination attempts, at sites across the city, and blown-up victims, and slain pro-government fighters, likely also killed policemen, etc. This half, if not the other, sounds like a morgue documenting all the dead in a complex war situation than a holocaust machine snuffing out prisoners in the thousands.

And both sides in the "Caesar" photos debate have previous hints this is how it would at least partly turn out. "Caesar" himself had said ... "I had the job of taking pictures of all the deaths ... before and after the revolution.” (al-Arabiya) But we were to understand he only smuggled out photos of bodies in the secret prisoner-elimination program, and avoided the temptation to pad it with pictures that didn't belong.

The Syrian Ministry of Justice provided the one specific official refutation I know of, early on is 2014. As China's Xinhua reported, a MoJ statement called the report "baseless," and said it was "politicized and lacks objectivity and professionalism" and that Carter-Ruck "is clearly linked to hostile sides to the Syrian Arab Republic since the beginning of the crisis in Syria." Further, "The ministry added that the report was published two days before the Geneva II conference, undoubtedly proving that it has a political aim and tried to undermine the efforts exerted to realize peace in Syria and end terrorism in the country."

But we knew all that. What the statement adds for victim details remains the clearest word from Damascus (which isn't saying much - we could use more from their side). The ministry, charged with running the prison system "Caesar" implicated, explained:
"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," the statement said.
"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," it added.
- Clearly, a mere gathering of unidentified people can't include the second group of identified victims. He means a mix of foreign fighters and their victims. Also, un-mentioned, Syrian fighters should be in there too.
- I haven't seen any proof or good evidence any of these are rebel fighters, Syrian or foreign. It could be, but maybe MoJ was just making a general propaganda point and not a specific claim.
- Or maybe he was speaking from knowledge not of what "Caesar's" batch showed but from what was normally documented there (and then maybe "Caesar" filtered out most fighter photos before passing it off)
- Iit's odd how people being unidentified can prove they're from several nations - though it might suggest they're foreign.
- The same goes for the other part - "civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups" for being patriotic citizens. That could be, but this is also a frequent talking point; it requires no new facts to bring it up again.

But note HRW is clear all "other half" civilians were killed in attacks and blasts, not after any kind of detention or torture. They want us to understand all of that happens only in security forces prisons.

Update 1: Half of the Main Half Missing!
Update, January 18, 2016: After some serious review of the numbering system, I can verify about 6,700 victims seem to be shown (6,850 photos - how many duplicates is unclear, but seems low). And I agree with SAFMCD and HRW that the increase and re-set of hospital numbers seem to support the claim that more than 11,000 bodies passed through hospital 601 That is, if they're legitimate numbers, which isn't certain.

Now that I can see that, it's worth pointing out the obvious implication of that. The main half of bodies - allegedly 100% tortured detainees - is only half shown (app. 60%), while approximately 4,300 images - 40% of the implied total - are missing somewhere in the sequence. Just where might become clear enough to call, in time.

Were these just the 4,000+ detainees that came through on "Caesar's" days off? Or filtered-out pictures that didn't fit his story?  We don't know what's missing. Famous civilian opposition leaders? Famous government supporters, retired officers, etc.? Soldiers and rebel fighters and foreign terrorists killed in battle? Massacred women and girls? Or as we're to presume, is it more of the same - 100% tortured male detainees of the Syrian government?

The mentioned "other" half of the photos, showing the aftermath of rebel violence, have apparently not been shown. All unusual photos seem to connect back to entries in the main half of abused prisoners. That even includes this victim, an apparent NDF fighter ("Shabih"). He's tortured prisoner # j-9227 from the folder 4-6-2013. The numbers here agree. He's body #6441/b in the sequence of 10,000+ passing "Caesar's" camera. The "j" branch suggests he was taken out by Air Force intelligence, 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 apparently shot in the side by a large caliber round, perhaps by a sniper. Somehow he wound up here, identified just by a number. Does this mean he's another a coded state secret, or just that somehow he was hard to identify at the moment?

However, the vast majority shown appear to not be combat deaths but captives - of someone. Several victims have pro-Assad tattoos, ones suggesting they're Shia (Shi'ite), or Palestinians (mixed loyalty there) and in one at least one case that the victim was a Christian. These and others are possible fighters for the government, but mainly they were not killed that way. They were captured first, allegedly by "the Assad regime" but often sporting half-healed wounds from the process. Then they were largely starved, and then finished off ... in ways that deserve more scrutiny. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome. Stay civil and on or near-topic. If you're at all stumped about how to comment, please see this post.