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Monday, December 28, 2015

Rihab Allawi, #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile

Fail Caesar, Part 5: Rihab Allawi, #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile
December 28, 2015 
(last updates 9/29/2018)

Rihab (or Rehab) Mohammed Saaleh Allawi (Arabic: see caption) is the lone female victim, it sounds like, in the whole batch of "Caesar" photos. She was first seen in a picture released by Zaman al-Wasl in March, 2015 (see below), and featured prominently in the December Human Rights Watch report. That said hers was "the only published photograph of a woman, among the Caesar photographs dealing with dead detainees," from among an estimated 6,786 victims.

At the moment, I can't disprove the story told so far by opposition-supporters, but I can note how it has two versions with serious discrepancies. The differences between the 2013 and 2015 versions could be honest errors, but might suggest shifting and thus untrue stories. There are also some questions about when and how she died and the nature of her detention, besides just who was responsible for it. 

The basics are agreed in all opposition sources (and none from the other side so far even mention her). By these, Rihab was born in 1989 in either Deir Ezzour province or Palmyra (Tadmur) in Homs province, to a prison guard at Tadmur prison.  The family lived in both places before they moved to Damascus in 1994. By 2013, Rihab was a 3rd year civil engineering student, and also involved in peaceful anti-government activism. HRW, citing her brother Hamza, reported that "Rehab worked in one of Damascus’s local coordination committees - loose networks of activists - and she assisted internally displaced persons who had fled Homs." The exact type of displaced people isn't explained.

These reports all agree she was arrested from her home in a north Damascus suburb in mid-January 2013 by agents of the Syrian government. She was soon transferred to military intelligence branch 215, the reports agree, and died under torture after a month or two. Her death was reported, denied, etc. for months, as her family followed false leads (HRW relates this in much detail). Finally her death was confirmed with the photo released in 2015, verified by her actual presumed family. Her supposed brothers Hamza and Bassam spoke to Human Rights Watch about all this and had their details believed. Those details may be truthful as presumed. Or, in a possibility HRW doesn't seem to have really considered, they might be untrue. 

Rihab's purported passport, VDC
Minor Discrepancies
One perhaps minor issue is victim age: HRW heard Rihab was "about 25 years old" when arrested, but all older sources and her supposed passport say she was a few days shy of turning 24.

The early version lodged in 2013 at the time of her reported death specify she was arrested on January 16 from her family's home. There are 4 different places named, but a best reading suggests little controversy;  the family home is in Dhahiyat al-Asad (on Wikimapia, north edge of Damascus between Tishreen and Douma), (claimed by VDC - detainee entry, martyr entry, and SyriaSy) She resided in Tishreen (VDC) because she was studying at the university there. Rlcdamascus reports she was from Hama (maybe meaning nearby Haama, next to Jarmraya with the science and engineering, maybe education-related). In 2015, Zaman al-Wasl said the family home was in Harasta, next to D. Al-Assad (simplified). HRW says Damascus, no specific area.

Another fairly minor point is detention date. All the 2013 reports are clear it was January 16, with one 2015 mention I found. An earlier Zaman al-Wasl piece from January 27 says they came on January 16, at night. Their March article doesn't say, and HRW's December report disagrees.  This says "the Raids Brigade, a special raids unit of the military police, arrested her on January 17, 2013. The unit came to the family home in Damascus around 10 p.m. According to Rehab’s brother Hamza, an officer told Rehab’s mother that the matter would be closed within a few hours." This discrepancy may or may not matter.

Death Date
Rihab's reported transfer to the branch 215 prison may have been January 21 (SyriaSy). After this, in the early version, she died  on February 15; VDC, SyriaSy, and rlcdamascus all agree she was held just under one month and then "killed. under torture" on 2-15 at branch 215. SyriaSy says she was buried in a mass grave in Najha. VDC record says her death was reported a month later, on March 16. Indeed, approximately; SyriaSy's post came out March 15 (on my end, early time zone), the others shortly after. This is how it went - first reported then, but said to have happened a month ago.

The 2015 story is different. Zaman al-Wasl's January piece did say she "under torture after less than a month," but the March piece didn't say (short on specifics with the photo released). HRW also didn't specify when she died either, but their evidence strongly points to a much later date. This comes from her brother Bassam and a supposed fellow prisoner, a woman named Hanadi. These agree on the time of her death (see below), but seem to clash on the date.

Hanadi says after Rihab's arrival at branch 215 ("late January or early February", possibly transferred on January 21 - let's say Jan. 18-Feb. 1) they spent 24 days together before Hanadi's transfer (+24 = Feb. 11-25). After that, Hanadi says, they never met again, but she bumped into another woman who was jailed with Rihab afterwards. From her, Hanadi learned how "a month and a half after Hanadi was transferred," (implied: app. March 26-April 11) at "about 11 p.m," a guard told Rihab to pack her belongings, as she was being taken home. She then presumably left, but clearly she was never taken home, or never got there anyway. This is taken as the night she died, late March or April.

HRW also heard a similar story from her brother Bassam, who says he made a "visit to al-Najha cemetery, on the outskirts of Damascus, in March 2013" (date not specified). He said the guard recognized Rihab from a photo and told him, “Yes they brought three girls at 11 p.m. ten days ago.” That would be March 21 at latest, perhaps late February, but an estimate.

So by the 2015 version she died around 11 PM on a night that's hard to call - March 21 or earlier vs. March 26 to early April 11. The best way to make them fit would be to pick a middle date, say March 23.

All this is confusing and vague. With a little fudging, Bassam's version could describe either a mid-February or late March death. Hanadi seems more locked into her story with that month-and-a-half gap involved. Note that if Rihab's transfer was Jan 21 as reported, that +24 days = Feb. 14.  Hanadi might be saying she was transferred out the day before Rihab's original death date, which she says came only a month and a half later. This seems interesting. It could just be her wiggle-room; if it's shown to be February 15, Hanadi can say the other prisoner must have misled her about the six-week delay. She left just in time to not really be sure...

One final point, HRW mentions that on the "Caesar" photo computer, "three photographs that appear to be Rehab were saved in a folder dated June 4, 2013." It sounds like those are the only photos of her they saw. I'm not sure what to make of that, but her family - who would have first word around mid-March - held memorials by displaced members in Saudi Arabia only in June, and in Jordan somewhat earlier (HRW).

Update: June Wins
First,  there's a second, less-seen group photo with Rihab, also released by Zaman al-Wasl, cropped below. This allows a reading of 3 victim (body) numbers. 

Left to right:
* 2920/215 - old man
* Rihab 2935/215 (see below)
* 2922? (seen on forehead, body unclear) starved
* 2916/215 (on belly) - card cropped, bottom number ends in 1, /b or not unclear  old man, starved http://www.safmcd.com/martyr/view.php?id=9413
* 2924/215 (chest) - starved
* 2925/215 (chest) - starved

I've found the SAFMCD entries for Rihab and the second old man. Both say Photo Original Name:215-(victim#)-4-6-2013 (2). That's the folder date HRW was talking about. This suggests the photo of a freshly-dead Rihab was taken June 4. And it's not just a simple case of a mis-labeled folder. Other entries from June have similar and climbing numbers, while those from February, March, and April folders feature much lower victim numbers. So it seems both earlier death dates were incorrect.

* Update 1/20: On reflection and research, it's clear folder date does not  equal photo date. Even if we take the typed-in info as correct, the suggestion is photos in folder 4-6 should be from that date or earlier, probably since the last folder. The last one before this that I've seen cited yet is a huge 3-2013 folder. Even this is scrambled by older photos (lower numbers) appearing in later folders, leaving almost any date open. However, as laid side-by-side here, the above numbers 2916-2935 are about 600 entries above the numbers seen in a February folder and group shot - 2348-2355. This suggests the photos are from later, quite possibly late March or early April, and the either later date might pan out. But it still doesn't seem both of them can, at least not without some wiggling.

Timeline Revisited: Mid-May?
(added 9/29/2018)
An HRW report has a May 24 order to photograph 11 bodies, 215-3003, 3004, and on, but referred to by hospital number, called detainee number: "based on the order of the military general prosecutor, photograph the bodies of detainees 2614/b, 2615/b... " Those numbers on May 24 are not much different from Rihab's, and only a bit later. She was given 215-2935, H# 2487/b. That's 127 bodies earlier than that stretch, 68 of those (about half, normal ratio) linked to branch 215.

How many days is that? I can average the span right after the May 24 order to a June 2 death of possible 227-2040 (HRW report), not certain: presuming an even spread of 227 detainees, he'll be a little over halfway between 227-1904 and 227-2129, so H# prob. between 3040/b and 3070/b.
refining: 1904 and 2129 by their own H#s (2747/b vs. 3246/b), ignoring the ones in between, is better (sorry, referring to my own working file here). This puts the middle lower by a bit, est. range 2970/b - 3030/b. A better middle is 2967-3017. That gives = 346-406 bodies in 9 days = 38-45 bodies per day.

May 24 - June 2 = 9 days. 2967-3017 est. minus 2624 = 346 - 406 bodies in 9 days, so an estimated average of 38-45 bodies per day- well above the overall average of at least 30-33/day in the 9 month span, but again only from a rough estimate of the H# for 227-2040. Likely off by a bit. So 127 bodies is not long = app. 3-4 days earlier, May 20 or 21. Average most likely lower, and/or her number a bit ahead of the times (others seen are numbered slightly lower, or a batch of 15+ 215s is seen at once) broad estimate for that photo with Rihab: May 16-21

This is approximately 3 months, 2 months, and 1 month after the three earlier reported dates of her death(s). For this estimated date and nowhere else near in time, there's a photograph, but no known story. And again, even in this photograph, we lack the usual certainty the victim is even truly dead at photo time. Did she truly live in some form even after mid-May? That would mean defying FOUR death reports, including as a finale the most definite kind of all - morgue photos. The photos are odd, and her prior record kind of suggests "sheesh, how many times we need to report this? Can we get a final answer?" No one reported her dead in mid-May, or at any later time.

Raped at 11pm?
Despite the confusion over the date range, Bassam and Hanadi agree, sort of, on the time of that day she was killed, at the wrong time of year. They say Rihab was taken from her cell at "about 11 p.m" that unclear spring night, and then soldiers brought three dead girls including her to the cemetery "at 11 p.m.” It's interesting how both of them cite the same time frame, as if inspired by true events, as presumed, or as if working off a basic agreed script. 

Presuming the same day, 11pm to 11pm lines up so nothing can happen between. But presuming rounded times like 10:20 to 11:30, or the dump coming at 11 the next night or even later, it's enough time at least for a quick alleged rape session. That's not specified here but implied - probably a party, with 3 young captive women, and perhaps with booze and infidel stuff, Iranians, etc. That implication too sounds scripted.

A possibly related issue is Rihab's weight gain. HRW relates how her family wasn't sure it was her in the photo, she'd seemingly gained so much weight. She doesn't look very heavy at all in the morgue photo (see right), and her puffy face might've made it look like she gained more than she did. But she doesn't look any thinner either, and I can accept she gained some. Hanadi told Rihab's family and HRW "She gained a lot of weight in detention... because we could not move, and from eating potatoes, rice, and bulghur. ... When she arrived she was not sick, her face was not yellow, and she was very thin."

Many male prisoners seem deliberately starved (including those seen naked and degraded on either side of her), and none I've seen seem to have gained weight. Yet  the one female in the batch was fattened up, at least some small bit.

In context, it might matter that in Arabic culture, the ideal of sexual beauty is a bit heavier than in the West (belly-dancer look). So this unusual clue is consistent with her being kept as someone's sex slave, or something along those lines.

How did She Die?
"Caesar" photos: top, HRW closeup. Bottom, Zaman al-Wasl photo
The early reports in 2013 were clear Rihab died from/under torture, without saying how they knew that. Of course, they say the regime lied about this; HRW heard "after a few months, a Syrian brigadier-general told the family Rehab had died of a stroke." Physicians for Human Rights helped HRW analyze the photos  who noted the intravenous line in her left arm (blurred in the released photo) "indicating medical intervention,"  coupled with "no visible evidence  of injuries or blunt force trauma." 

By this, she could almost have died of a stroke. No torture is evident. So how did people back in 2013 know it happened? 

Of course, she could have been killed with the IV, depending, or by other, like suffocation, or strangulation (note how her neck is covered up here).As noted above, her face post-mortem is discolored and puffy, both possible clues to how she died, although I have no opinion on that yet. The odd line across her nose could be consistent with a respirator, more potentially fatal medical intervention.

Update: Finally, I should not it's not clear she's even dead. She's not wounded, no rigor mortis and not decaying, has no flies on her ... of course she could well be dead, and presumably is, but ... in her case and very few others, it's just not certain.

Her color is odd; Hanadi said she was sickly yellow, but that lighter color is mainly on high parts, cheeks and nose, stopping at her eyes, side of face, maybe where the respirator was placed. Is that makeup? It's a similar color to the dust here, but not quite...  Underlying color, hard to say.

Other Clues
Note she's laid out amongst starved men. My previous guess for these was they came in mostly in a short span near the end of Caesar's tenure, likely July or August, 2013, and are related to the other mass of captives people rebels would gas to death on the 21st.  This is the first thing to challenge that, but not too clearly. Either there were starved men earlier, be this February, March, or June. Or she was killed later than everyone says, or maybe a bit of both if the real date is in between.

In time, her victim number might help set a time frame (not sure how, but...) For the record, here are the numbers we see, translated from Eastern Arabic (Wikipedia) (note: numbers read l-r, number blocks read within the overall r-l flow... confusing)
- Forehead:  4935 or 2935 --- 215
- card:  2935-215 (top), 2487/b (bottom)
- chest, in red, seems to be 2935 again.
As noted above, she shares similar numbers with the starved men around her, and these say the photos were taken on June 4.

But She's Opposition!
It must've been the government who took her, most news consumers will presume, since all of Syria's Sunnis reject the Assad regime... since her brothers and whoever else said so, along with saying they were her real brothers and telling the real truth ... Okay, well she in particular was an opposition member of the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC). According to Hamza anyway.

Well, so was lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh, the female director of the VDC cited here, and co-founder of the LCC, kidnapped from VDC headquarters in Douma in December, 2013. She was never killed or dragged away before, but she, her husband, and two co-workers were taken by masked men and never seen again. Unusually, all suspicion in the West points to  Jaish al-Islam, based in Douma and led by the late Zahran Alloush.

Some in the LCC  have opposed foreign intervention, may report on crimes of the Islamists, and might otherwise develop enemies on the complex opposition side. Plus these type of stern, Saudi-sponsored Islamists don't like educated women running free. Even before they took Zaitouneh, Alloush's men may have already been seizing pretty junior members of the LCC, either at home next to Douma as said, or perhaps while inside Douma for some reason.  

Consider also the circumstances and the bizarre, concoted-seeming stories over the death of another female LCC activist in Baniyas, Bayan Jaloul. She worked in safety in a government-held city until the same few-day span (early May, 2013) that murky armed gangs were roaming the area. Described by the LCC and others as "Shabiha," they had just massacred dozens of members of a Sunni but government loyalist family in nearby al-Bayda on May 2. Only at this time, on May 3, did "Assad's Shabiha" finally kill Bayan, along with perhaps hundreds of other locals, and they even "tear her face with knives." If that's her as I've deduced from comparing accounts and photos, indeed her face was sliced open down the middle - no faking in that case (unless that was a stand-in, maybe kidnapped from one of Baniyas' Alawite districts... we have no alive photos to compare).

Rihab's Brother
Activist Adnan Miqdad told Zaman al-Wasl he knew Rihab and her brother, Asim Allawi, who ran the facebook page “Association of Syrian Martyrs of Freedom" who was arrested in May 2011, and "probably died under torture," just like alleged with his sister later but with less certainty.

Also like his sister, the record of his arrest is confusing.  Consistently, the VDC doesn't list him in their martyr's database, but he does appear under detainees. Asem Al-Elawi (Arabic: عاصم محمد العلاوي ) from Deir Ezzor: Mohassan Age 36, Mother's Name Ofeh (matches Rihab). Detention Date 2011-11-17. November 17? The others said he was arrested in May. Detention date is often noted as incorrect. Maybe here they just forgot to note that or didn't know.

But others agree ... with both versions.
* Facebook Post, March 16, 2013 00:40 am Syria time (Note, this was just about when the news of Rihab's death first made the rounds) (auto-translated)
Asim Mohammed Allawi was arrested by Air Force Intelligence Bhrsta dated 05/10/2011 to this day it is in the Sednaya prison and there are reports that he is doomed for 10 years, is an English teacher Graduate Institute of teachers role in 2003. Asim freedom you and for all detainees Syria want them all unharmed us free our detainees to the nation and not for jailer.
Much later, Facebook Post, Oct 21 2014 4:19 pm (Syria time)
(also auto-translated) "Asim Mohammed Alawi of Deir al-Zour / Muhassan / English teacher they took him (sprites/goblins glaucoma?) month 11 _ 2011 (?) Sednaya ... court ... " Date unclear, month specified. VDC had recorded the 17th, perhaps not in error. So was he only arrested in November? Or earlier as well, then released and re-arrested? Either seems possible here.

Oddly, this last linked report seems to say he was no big mystery forever, and had visitors, including from his family at ba crucial time:  "a field visit from his family was the first month in 2013." That's January, presumably before Rihab's reported arrest on the 16th/17th. It was weeks after that, as Rihab's death made the news, that Asim too was declared probably dead under torture. But this later report (sources and reliability unclear)also says "He began to take his wife to visit the month of August 2014 one was converted to a hospital October." However, "And (who?) gave them a death certificate ... and of course (Mo always sufficient evidence)," meaning what I'm not sure. And finally, "Aachaabaab .. Li was flown Besadnaya and safety came up and knows how it tells us Hun Shi .. Veken and pond."

Other Possible Relations
The name Allawi ( العلاوي ) is not uncommon, but it appears more thickly than usual, among dead and detained, in the relevant span and possibly relevant areas, and might be partly of interest.

Majed, sniper, 2-15
2-10      Ahmad Allawi al-Askar AM from Deir Ezzor, Halabiah Square, By shrapnel from an artillery shell has documented on 14/02/2013
2-14      Hamis Allawi al-Khalifa Deir Ezzor Bouqres Town, photo, died from Detention - Torture "He was killed under torture by regime forces in a prison," , the day before they list Rihab dying the same way.
2-15 (same day as Rihab) Majed Solaiman al-Ilawi, age 42, from Jobar, killed by Regime Forces Sniper Bullet." Rebels got the body and took a photo (right) and some videos.

All Allawi dead - note 9-26-12 to 10-07, 12 days - 10 killed in different areas by shelling, shooting, execution. 2013-2-06 10 members of a Abo Zeid al-Allawi family were executed - all adult male as listed, but also unidentified and likely mixed. Location: remote. Aleppo province, Sfeira: Om Amouda, 9 days before Rihab and 8 before Hamis reported dead. May be interesting, may be nothing.

one of these people...
2-18 Haytham Diyab Allawi, FSA, from Jobar, shooting, Martyred during clashes with the regime forces
2-19 Abd al-Bari Mohammed Ali Allawi Jobar, civilian, 30, died in Kafr Batna, Martyred due to mortar shelling
3-6 Jouriah al-Allawi AF Deir Ezzor Mayadeen Martyrdom location Deir Ezzor: Salheih She was martyred due regime forces shelling on the village
4-30 woman and boy killed by shelling in Idlib

Muhammad Alaa Ziad Allawi     2012-04-03  Adult - Male  Damascus Suburbs  Daraya   2013-12-10 
Issa Saleh Al-Allawi     (covered above)
Mohammed Jamil Allawi     2012-06-23  Adult - Male  Damascus Suburbs  Daraya   0000-00-00
Khalil Muhammad Al-Allawi     2013-02-02  Adult - Male  Raqqa    0000-00-00
Detention date is inaccurate, Reported that he was seen in Adre central prison on 07-06-2013. 

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