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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dr. Mohammed Zakariya Naddaf: #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Regarding Those "Assad Files"

Regarding Those "Assad Files" - What Ties What to What?
April 13, 2016
edits April 16, Dec. 9

Add Dec. 9: This keeps coming up - in fact, every 7-11 months. I've written a few more related posts, and will use this spot as a hub for all. Below is the original article.
* Witness Assessment: Mazen Hamada (tacked-on star witness specializing in tying together the Assad Files and Caesar Photos stories)
* The Case Against "Syria's Disappeared" 3-31-2017: includes "How Bill Wiley Found Nothing and Spun It"
* Assad Files Paper Recycling Continues 12-3-2017
Here I will turn on:
The Assad Files: Capturing the top-secret documents that tie the Syrian regime to mass torture and killings By Ben Taub, The New Yorker, April 18 edition, posted (Monday the 11th?). http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/bashar-al-assads-war-crimes-exposed
Also citing a PBS Newshour interview with the author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessing the "Lynchpin" of the CIJA Case
In the article, Taub paints fairly benign statements from government officials as deeply ominous - suggesting this is about what the guys informing him (the CIJA) are also doing. These quotes can seem that way - with lights from below on either side and the background dimmed.

For example, Taub explains, there was a crucial meeting of the Central Crisis Management Cell in Damascus on August 5, 2011, worried about “the laxness in handling the crisis,” which was getting bigger. It's not mentioned here (dimmed background), but this was just a few days after militants overran parts of Hama city on July 31 and killed dozens of policemen and soldiers, dumping some in the river, throats sliced. But Syria was under growing pressure for killing over 100 protesters in Hama the same day, as the outside world heard the events from "activists." The US was making its first overt calls for Assad to step down over such crimes.

This would the standard toxic situation over the following years. Naturally, authorities hoped to shut it down as early as possible. "[S]o as to speed up putting an end to the crisis,” the intercepted dispatches say, authorities hatched a unified plan that night, and in fact, Taub writes:
 "This policy became the linchpin of the CIJA’s case against officials in the Syrian regime. ... For the CIJA, identifying suspects was easy, Wiley said, because “their names are all over those documents.” 
So let's take a look at what they were able to get out of this August 5 centerpiece. as Taub writes, the idea was "to target specific categories of people." "First," he writes, "all security branches were to launch daily raids against protest organizers and “those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media.” Next," maybe they would move against some other "categories" of people (maybe members of armed gangs who attack police stations, etc.) But Taub doesn't specify any other target types. (that's a spotlight on one part and more dimming to the background for the rest).

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

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

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

War crimes trials, here we come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War crimes trials, here we come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witness Assessment: Mazen Hamada

Witness Assessment: Mazen Hamada
April 15, 2016
(incomplete, rough)
last edits 3/20/2017

Ben Taub's horrendous article on the "Caesar Assad Files" (slip, they're related - see my review) tries to connect government documents to hideous abuses allegedly committed  in a secret prison system of the Mukhabarat (intelligence services) - Taub's inside info on life within that system, and he seems to think it's all factual, comes mainly from an alleged prisoner named Mazen al-Hamada, from Deir Ezzour. Age 38 (at time of interview, 2016?), a professional in the oil industry (a field specialist at Schlumberger). Apparently a star witness for the private investigators They met in the Netherlands, where Hamada lives with his sister, after fleeing Syria  in 2013.

Background: A Peaceful "Terrorist" Becomes a Secret Detainee
The article explains Mazen Hamada is the youngest of 17 kids from a "middle class" family there, largely professional, with a non-violent anti-government attitude, driven by their concerns about financial and social inequality and lack of political freedoms. It's suggested this is why they've suffered harassment and arrests. Mazen was taken in on charges of terrorism, according to official documents Taub was shown. But they seem to agree that's a lie, and the liars even deny his very real first 15 months of captivity.

My guess; they family is modern, moderate Salfist (if the women are getting degrees as well), wealthy with foreign business contacts, and with most education done in Saudi Arabia. With 17 children, I kind of hope there's more than one wife in this semi-modern family.

Mazen was likely working with the armed opposition when arrested, in activities (about 15 months worth) that he now denies. If so, everything he describes from that span is fictional, probably designed to support some politically-motivated narrative

But Taub heard he was a peaceful activist, who promoted and filmed protests, slept in "safe-houses," etc. There were some armed guys around attacking government forces, but he wasn't one of those. Mazen and his brothers appeared on wanted lists for their activism, but he says he was finally nabbed only after he drove halfway across the country trying to "smuggle baby formula to a woman in Darayya, a rebellious suburb of Damascus." 

This, Hamada says, was in March, 2012 (so he would be about age 34), along with his nephew Fahad (presumably young, likely teen-aged). It was apparently a sting - it reads like the "man" who asked them to do it tricked them into smuggling baby formula ... It's something so brazen one had to be entrapped into it. Everyone knows no baby can eat in Daraya in March, 2012! So the scumbag tricked them, and then had them arrested in Damascus. The government was apparently fond of this plan to end protests by starving infants, and its agents hated anyone who violated it; as they were driven away, Hamada says “The whole way, they were telling us, ‘We’re going to execute you.’”

My best guess: he wasn't carrying baby formula. Rather, I would guess he smuggled weapons and fighters. He might have started from Daraya, in March 2012 and then went underground, maybe around Deraa to the south and the border with Jordan. And this arrest might be about as described except it was a weapons shipment they were busted trying to secure, and it was in mid-2013 as the papers say.

Account of Prison Life
Briefly, the overall ordeal is reported as: arrested March 2012, held at Mazzeh, with a brief stint at Hospital 601,  'til June, 2013 when he was transferred to Adra prison. After trial (after early September, 2013), his case was dismissed and he was released, returned to Deir Ezzour, then fled through Turkey to join his sister in the Netherlands.

Taub was apparently shown official documents Hamada had saying he was arrested only in June, 2013, “for the crime of terrorism." He says this was after he was already locked up and witnessing all kinds of crazy evil for more than a year. "Officially, his fifteen months in the Air Force-intelligence branch at al-Mezzeh Military Airport didn’t exist." Clearly, the reader presumes, the regime lies.

VDC detainee entry, perhaps: Mazen Hammar, from (or arrested in?) Daraya, Detention Date 2013-03-30, except as usual "Detention date is inaccurate Reported on 30-05-2013, he was seen in Mazzah Military Airport - Air Force Intelligence He was seen in 21-08-2013 in Adra central prison." Both places he says he was, at times he was. First word on detention is a sighting about a week before Syria's alleged arrest date. 

But maybe ... the man arrested June 5 on terrorism-related charges (true or not)  is lying. Maybe ... it's in reality, not officialdom, where his surreal 15 month ordeal doesn't exist. Where was he really? Maybe off fighting with Islamist rebels. If so, he would want to deny that now to clarify he and the others did nothing to warrant being arrested. Eliminating little hitches like this helps craft a snag-free alibi and purify the core narrative...

I'm not saying that's the case, just that either possibility could make sense, depending. Do his allegations sound like the kind of thing an anti-rational, Saudi-influenced Islamist might dream up when drafting an alibi? If so, that's a point for the option Taub never thought of.

After they were busted trying to save the doomed babies of Daraya, the baby-starving regime thugs drove him and Fahad, heads covered with their shirts, to a place. They were stuffed into a holding cell with dozens, and then an even more crowded jail cell where people were rotting and tearing themselves up with long fingernails. He learned this was the air force intelligence branch HQ in al-Mezzeh Military Airport, Damascus - "one of the most notorious detention facilities in the country," Taub notes. 

The interrogators would beat him daily, hang him by his writsts, burn him with cigarettes, electrocute him, and threatened to castrate him with a clamp - extract confessions in an absurdly Orwellian style - he never had even a hunting rifle, but confessed to that - then a Kalashnikov - then ammunition, and finally he admitted to attacking checkpoints and killing soldiers, according to the official charges.    

Along the way, Mazen described a slide deeper yet into a hell similar to the one the Caesar photo victims must have gone through.  

One nightmarish night from his 4 night stay at the "slaughterhouse" of Hospital 601 in "early 2013" - and it was the first night there - Hamada says he witnessed:
- "a pile of corpses, battered and blue" in a toilet stall
- 2 bodies "emaciated and missing their eyes" in another stall
- was told to pee on the bodies but couldn't. 
- A drunk soldier dubbed "Azrael" came by and hacked a man's head partly off.

It's said this "Azrael" was allowed to do things like this regularly. This guy might explain apparent victims of Islamist execution with blades that sometimes appear in the Caesar photos. 

One day, at Mezzeh, in front of everyone - including Mazen's nephew, Fahad - he says a guard attacked a 17 year-old boy from Daraya, just because of where he was from. He was allowed to burn the boy across the neck and then the face with a welding torch that happened to be there. (hands bound isn't mentioned, but makes the most sense) His face was melted off and he slowly died under the care of Mazen and others. Taub writes: "Recalling the event, Hamada’s eyes grew damp and red. His voice faltered, and he sobbed desperately." Hm.

There is no such victim shown, however, for AF intelligence prisoners (I've processed all 350 SAFMCD entries). There are 6 possible teenagers shown, none with burned necks or faces. But this does sound a lot like 227-1347, from 2-2013. Many, many, victims have mysterious burned necks (most are like this, linked to blood from the mouth and nose, coming from all branches pretty much the whole time). But only a few have this extreme and unusual kind spreading up the face as well (and with him, across the chest), and perhaps none but him makes such a moving image. Hands-bound, no defense makes the most sense here. It wasn't a welding torch, I think, but some kind of liquid or gaseous acid burn, apparently a couple rounds of it, or serious preceding injuries ... unclear. It may have run down his face, if he were hanged upside down, as very many were...

The time-frame (February 2013) might be right, but that would have happened wherever branch 227 kept its doomed prisoners, which isn't clear. Hamada says he was moved a lot by his AF intel captors, and maybe they could be at the same facility. Furthermore, it seems both branches killed detainees in this same number range in 2-2013, so some kind of mix-up of the kind I've already seen at such spots is likely - that could be a "j" AF intel victim after all (that is, that could be the original allegation). 

So ... Is Hamada accurately describing what he saw? Or is this just research-based fiction, designed to tie in with and explain the photo evidence? Is that even what a welding torch would do? (or is it just a coincidence these line up so well?) It seems much of what he claims is designed to line up with the visual record, or explain oddities in it that have far better explanations I'm working out at the moment. So I may go into more detail later.

A couple other parts I wonder about:

- After the Ghouta incident and threats of war, he and others were moved from Adra prison to a hangar on the airbase as human shields. The guards said that was why, and they jeered. Baby-formula smugglers...

- His nephew Fahad, maybe a teenage boy at the start, is still inside the prison hell as of March 2016, Mazen tells Taub. Four years after he was arrested for nothing more than smuggling baby formula, they still have that kid locked up? How much torture can he take before he admits to being a foreign agent and terrorist? Perhaps not enough to survive ...the junior partner might've been tortured to death. but hope remains, and it is beautiful. The world should now be invested in toppling the Assad regime and emptying the prisons, as happened in Libya. That's the only to way to get sure answers to burning questions like these, planted in our minds by the likes of this Mazen Hamada.

Forensic Proof of Torture?
Hamada draws credibility from scars he shows as proof of torture - cigarette burns on his legs. He says he was electrocuted as well. These things are mentioned in the documents. Again, 3 main possibilities for the scars:
  1. As he says, part of the true story he tells
  2. Part of real torture in the government's prison, but mixed into a primarily false narrative
  3. Minor abuses he volunteered for, to line up with the documents and give 'physical proof' to stories that could be entirely untrue.
He says the injuries required rehabilitation, which he got in the Netherlands. So, it must be real regime torture, crippling stuff, and clearly not something one could volunteer for...
He told Taub that the judge hearing his case in 2013 dismissed all charges when he saw the torture marks. That suggests Syria still has good people, some are judges, and one of those confirms the marks were probably from prison,  in extracting the confession - if that story is correct. It should be noted judges have much power - if he had the luck of seeing a sympathetic one, pre-fabricated injuries or nothing at all could convince him. And it might be another reason he was released - if he was ever really held. Nothing is proven to my satisfaction here - every part of what he says could possibly be false.  

Detainee # Considered, Compared to Marwan Abdul Wahab
Hamada is clear it was Air Force intelligence who held him. This branch has more identified prisoners than usual, both alive and dead. Of the 8 victims profiled in HRW's report, 4 are AF intel - weird patterns suggest less killed than usual, or a lot of ID numbers weren't used, and the sequential logic of the numbers is confusing (see graphic at right, branch profile here at ACLOS.)- some have to be altered to be in this esteemed section - Ahmad Musalmani, one of HRW's 4,  is a hospital number insertion altered to be one - everyone says AF intel held him, but his ID# there at least seems made-up. (see FC7)

Mazen Hamada (not shown in the older graphic at right) says he had a detainee number 1858, and that makes some sense - it might be truthful, or a fiction based on research. As usually listed for the dead at SAFMCD, would be j-1858 if there were an entry to show he's dead -but there isn't one. His number is in a span - #1311-2025 that doesn't appear - prisoners killed but sent elsewhere, killed and sent here but not included, or not killed, or numbers never assigned. Hamad says 1858 at least was issued to him, and he wasn't killed.

This case is quite similar to that of Marwan Abdul-Wahab, from Homs, as cited in the SNHR report . He says he was arrested May 23, 2012 (a bit later than Mazen) transferred to AF Intel at Mazzeh (maybe swift transfer, but not specified when), and finally released Sept. 2, 2012 (a year before Mazen). He says his detainee number was 1958 - exactly 1,000 entries higher than Hamada, - also might be just an effect of research or coordination.  but strange how both survivors have numbers just one digit different

At least the order seems chronological, and would suggest AF intel alone took in 1,000 prisoners between March and late May. With most MI branches, that would be the way to read it, but actually with AF intel it's a problem if anything - according to the SAFMCD's info, the J branch already issued #8025 around March 28, 2012, and would issue #1129 only in early August. They also don't kill sequentially - the clusters killed are at all different times -  the span with Marwan and Mazen
1310 and lower killed 4-6-2013, 2-2013, 3-2013, etc.
2026, 2083, etc. killed 1-11-2012, 000, 3-2013, etc.

This could mean a non-chronological, maybe "encrypted," number system, or a mix of laundering methods (as #1129 and other Hospital number insertions show).

In early 2013, after nearly a year of detention, Hamada was very ill - The head of interrogation told him he was being sent to Hospital 601, and "also told Hamada to forget his own name: “Your name is 1858.”"
This was assigned at the branch, maybe just then or earlier, but it only seems to matter as he's moved to the hospital.

Abdul Wahab says he fell ill after 45 days, and a week later (should be mid-July, 2012), he was "transferred to Air Force Intelligence branch in Teshreen Military Hospital after he was given 1958 as a number." As with Marwan, the number was issued at the branch, but only given (or only mentioned to the prisoner) before being sent to a hospital - and not the same one. It's not by hospital-visit order - Marwan was sick in September, 2012, Mazen in early 2013. In this case, 1858 and 1958 would seem to be order-of-transfer numbers, for some reason only told to the prisoners when they had to leave for a time, like it was some kind of informational leash. But as noted, this is actually unusual in context.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Upside-Down Terrorist Crimes on Display in Geneva?

Fail Caesar Part 8: 
Upside-Down Terrorist Crimes on Display in Geneva?
April 9, 2016
(last edits April 10)

This article is modified from a forthcoming report: Do the Caesar Photos Show Rebel Crimes in Syria? This preview raises a few interrelated points I'd like people to see before 'peace talks' in Geneva resume this week. Even though, no sooner had I put this up, than Jaish al-Islam took credit for a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, spurring calls for their political leader to be permanently barred from negotiations (emerging on RT to start)

On the verge of 'peace talks' in Geneva in late March, 2016, the Caesar photos were put on display there, to help clarify why the Syrian government – one party to the talks - had to go. The exhibit was hosted by the Swiss Press Club, at a site near the Palace of Nations where diplomats swarm.   UK Special Representative for Syria Gareth Bayley spoke there, saying “The Caesar photos are compelling evidence, brutally and forensically documented, of the Assad regime's calculated widespread attack on the Syrian people,” adding that “accountability must be central to a settlement in Syria.” A woman presenter, claiming to be a former prisoner in this system, “told a hushed room full of journalists and diplomats that she had a message to those at the Palace of Nations,” MiddleEastEye reports, “from her experience “under the criminal Assad regime”.” Exhibition organizer Yahya Al Aridhi said the victims were Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians killed in “a non-stop Holocaust in Syria” committed by its government.

But the photos may actually show a genocidal murder spree by Islamist opposition fighters against their own captive enemies. The photo displayed at right (Photograph: Philippe Desmazes/ AFP/ Getty Images, via The Guardian) is placed upside-down, which might in itself be interesting. This photo depicts alleged detainee #63, as listed, from small-time branch 248, from the July 27, 2013 folder. Here in Geneva, they've blurred: his eyes, numbers on a card and on his chest, and his left forearm.
This teenage boy is better seen in several fuller photos in a gallery for child victims published by Zaman al-Wasl. The same one is shown here, right-side-up. Between all these, we can see he was starved, suffered mild neck burns but no evident body torture, and had his eyes damaged – they seem raw but present. He has a little blood or orange fluid from the nose.

The photo has clearly been altered in a paint program, which is unusual but not not unprecedented. It seems this is usually done to clarify a number, but this paints over and changes both the hospital and detainee numbers. The hospital number (bottom) is now 4450/b. The top probably matched the chest writing before, which says he's #62 from 248. And stranger yet, before that his body had said unclear number, for branch 215. This was partly washed off and overwritten, but still faintly visible (a simplified 3 at the end, and the 215, are fairly clear - see below). And it seems like his forehead, coated with a thin layer of soot or dirt, had its identifying tape removed along the way.

The original number – on tape or on the body - is supposedly written at the MI branch prison. But they wouldn't do the correction there, unless they briefly forgot which branch they worked for. That's unlikely, so it seems to be Caesar who knew better and corrected them, and then corrected himself later. (see FC5 who's doing the writing?)

Or perhaps he corrected himself twice. The following graphic draws on further views of the same boy in the Zaman al-Wasl photo gallery. These include the body next to his, starved to almost the same exact degree and with eye damage, but by a different division, and left more of a purple color. By number and face, that's 215-3879 as listed by SAFMCD, with the 215 left off here and that 9 looking strange. Comparing this to the boy's traces, I think they were 215-3871 and 215-3873 (see graphic, lower middle – gold writing is offset, original marks are to the left and a bit above).

It's really hard to say just what happened here, let alone why. But having such questions lying around is certainly not a good sign. However sloppy the work, who's calls did Caesar alter here, and based on what? How quickly does that ink dry? And why does the blamed branch seems so flexible and arbitrary? It doesn't seem to matter just who killed him, so long as it was Mukhabarat.

Note for holocaust/genocide-watchers: the top photo shows the the boy 248-63 has on his left forearm a clear curved sword tattoo usually taken as meaning he was Shi'ite, (lower right corner above) with unclear writing above it. The older victim may have a small simplified sword on his left arm. Was this the regime's 'kill the starved Shi'ite prisoners day' at both 215 and 248 branches? There are several other cases of Shia-suggestive tattoos, besides Alawi and Christian and various clues the captives were partly captured soldiers of the SAA or allied militias, as the report will explain (for now see FC6).

But the boy's telltale tattoo is blurred away in Geneva, along with his mess of conflicting “Mukhabarat prisoner ID numbers.” It didn't matter just who killed him, so long as it was someone inside “the criminal regime.”

Sitting atop the possibly misdirected photo furor and seeking “accountability” is the US-Saudi-backed opposition group, the High Negotiating Committee (HNC), who made the call to show the Caesar photos there, perhaps to influence negotiations. As the Guardian reported:
The High Negotiating Committee has so far failed to lift the issue of political detainees to the same level of importance as humanitarian access. To underline their position, the opposition exhibited a selection of the “Caesar” photographs – images of hundreds [sic] of detainees held in Syrian jails that were smuggled out Syria in 2013. The event was attended by many western envoys in a show of solidarity.
And sitting atop the HNC as it leverages this dubious evidence is their chief negotiator Mohammed Alloush (right, using a photo of suffering to make a point). He has promised “we will consider the resumption of negotiations for an effective transfer of power,” as soon as “the United States is able to force [the Syrian government] to stop the bombing, free prisoners and allow the entry of aid” (in other words, once foreign military intervention finally tips the balance in their favor). He earlier dictated, also from Geneva, that “the transitional period should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad” and “those with blood on their hands can have no part in a reconstituted Syrian army,” or likely in much of anything.

Syria is not prepared to negotiate with a leader of a terrorist group currently barred from talks anyway. Alloush is a proud and founding member of Jaish al-Islam (JaI, Army of Islam, logo at right), and a close relative of recently-killed JaI leader Zahran Alloush (reportedly his brother, or cousin, and/or brother-in-law – reports conflict).

Based in Douma, about 10km northeast of Damascus, Jaish al-Islam is a leading faction within the Syrian Islamic Front, pursuing a Wahabbi-inspired Islamism for Syria, and is saddled with a slew of of credibly alleged crimes including the sectarian beheading massacre in Adra, in December, 2013 (partly detailed in a longer article here). Zahran Alloush in his time he promoted Islamism, denounced democracy and secularism, admired Osama bin Laden, and often worked with Syria's al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in a “brotherly” way.

He advocated Sunni supremacy and genocide against Alawi and Shia citizens, vowing “the mujahedin of Sham (Damascus/Syria/Levant)” would “crush the heads” of the “enemies of God” (people of the Shia and Alawi faiths, and the Persians/Iranian ethnic group). He promised his holy warriors would “wash the filth” of Shi'ism from Syria “forever, if Allah wills it,” and promised to re-establish the ancient Umayyid Caliphate (see Landis, Alloush himself on video).

As far as we know, Jaish al-Islam committed the murders shown in the Caesar photos. This isn't proven, but the report will explain some compelling evidence I've discovered that they in fact are to blame. Zahran promised the "enemies of God" that they would "taste “the evil of torture in this world before Allah will make you taste it on the Day of Resurrection.” At right are two more victims from a starved-Shia-killing day, 215-3669 (cropped) from the 7-7-2013 folder, and 215-3670 (strangely, listed by SAFMCD as 227-3670, way out of their usual sequence but also dated 7-7 - see the shoulder scars and patch of light on the collarbone).

Also, JaI wants to help overthrow Syria's government. They're formally designated as a terrorist group only by Syria, Iran, Russia, and Egypt, while enjoying active support from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and ambivalence from allies of those nations; they're considered part of the “moderate Islamist” alternative "to both Assad and ISIS" sponsored by the West and the Gulf monarchies.

JaI's wikipedia page lists Zahran's close relative and fellow thinker Mohammed Alloush as their current “political leader.” Gulf News says he studied Islamic law, Islamic banking, and marketing, and started with Zahran's JaI in 2012 (then called Liwa al-Islam) founding "underground cells" in Douma. Note: the Caesar photo marketed massacre started slow in late 2011, and only came in heavy from November, 2012 and forward, about 1,000 per month on average. Now he's in Geneva pushing for “accountability” and deciding who is “the terrorist” in Syria. He's doing that sitting on a throne of accusations, including these thousands of photos of people like 248-63, 215-3669, 3670, and 3879, as labeled - probably by their killers. These are victims of a massive crime that Alloush himself might know all about, from the inside.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Jaish al-Islam, Protecting the Syrian People

Jaish al-Islam, Protecting the Syrian People
April 3, 2016
Modified from upcoming report

"Cages of Protection"
It wasn't long ago that Jaish al-Islam recieved some unfavorable publicity for apparently caging captured men and women “believed to be Alawite officers and their families,” in some 50 tiger cages, paraded around Douma in late October, 2015. They promoted the idea with the slogan “cages of protection,” deploying the captives as human shields claiming to to believe it might stop indiscriminate bombing by the “Alawite regime.”

The move was widely denounced in normal channels, but an activist told Al-Jazeera this was more JaI democracy and the locals supported it; “most people decided to place those prisoners from the Alawite sect and high-ranking regime officers in cages so they can taste our misery.” This disgusting display, compared to the stated reason for it, and where they got the people, does much to reveal the twisted management style of JaI that no decent person could support.

Al-Jazeera heard quickly, and predictably, how the alleged regime airstrikes continued (the “Army of Islam” might say this is because “Assad” doesn't even care about his own people). They heard JaI was “moving the prisoners to the rooftops of homes as a supposed deterrent,” but still activists told them “that 250 civilians, including 50 children and 20 women, were killed by government forces in attacks during the last three days alone.”

But this is a nationwide total: The VDC records 256 total "martyrs" from 10-30 to 11-1 (and less in all other spans they might refer to), including 26 women, 51 children, 139 civilian men, and 49 rebels, killed by all causes across all of Syria. Douma's share was sizable – 71 . There's no word whether any of their human shields were among those killed. But the VDC records 4 local but unidentified women killed November 1, all at once with a mortar shell, presumably of regime origin, as they say “while they were heading to a medical point in the city” for some prior reason. That makes little sense. Four women is, of course, about one cage's worth.

Reason: to Prevent (Their Own False-Flag) Attacks

One of those deadly attack the cages failed to stop, as common in Douma, was at a public market. Many such attacks have been reported, blamed on cruel regime shelling, sometimes with “barrel bombs.” These events have killed many hundreds total, in addition to other alleged shelling, bombing, snipers, etc. in an area (Douma) that's fairly depopulated.

But these "market attacks" are odd, and tend to kill almost totally men and older boys, suggesting the victims were segregated like captives before they died. The early November attacks were said to kill 71 civilians in Douma. 56 share the note “market,” and of those, 48 are men. This is pretty standard. Some presume this means rebels are laundering their battle deaths, and it could be. But as with the Caesar photos victims, much evidence says these – at least partly - really were civilians, just split-up by age and sex; the men are killed in huge numbers, with far less women and children taken captive, or perhaps taken but saved for other fates.

The only Douma market attack I've studied closely - and it was very closely - was the one on August 16, 2015, and this will shed some light on the rest of them (see investigation review for more). Perhaps the most famous and widely-decried example, this had about 120 civilians reportedly killed when a fighter jet hit the market district with four fuel-air or "vacuum" missiles at mid-day. There are 4 such impacts in the market strip, with some injured and dead seen at each site. But most deaths seem to be unrelated; lists show at least 110 men, about 12 boys (mostly older, so “fighting age men”), 3 women, and no girls (the lists seem to be incomplete). Two key findings:

1) Analysis shows at least 40 of the men and boys were dead, fairly dry, and gathered for burial at roughly the same time as the impact of the rockets blamed for killing them. The attack was probably around 1:20-1:25 pm, while the earliest photo of bodies was taken (right, timed roughly by sunlight angles) was somewhere between 12:55 and 1:25 PM. That means they were killed well before the “missile attack.”

2) The southerly direction of fire and evenly arcing pattern of impacts (right – the red dots are exact) virtually proves they did not come from any circling jet, but from a fixed surface position about 800-820 meters south of the stricken markets. (see the review, and here for the mapping explained.) These would be rockets, not missiles, fired by allies of the killers to provide the public explanation for the rows of corpses from the massacre earlier in the day.

A Reuters report heard from someone and concluded that the attack seemed to be “retaliation” for a recent victory, “by the Islamic Army rebel group, which enjoys strong support in Douma.” So the “regime” was aiming for the group's civilian support base. JaI Spokesman Islam Alloush (no relation to Zahran) said “We do not have any presence in the residential areas” and so couldn't themselves be the target. A “civil defence officer” told al-Jazeera from Douma. “There are only civilians here - no army and no opposition forces. Residents do not permit any armed person in this area. ... The market was intentionally targeted.” Operating outside the city then, we should wonder if one of JaI's positions was, perhaps 800m south of Douma's market district.

Finally, some more disturbing clues in the August 16 attack: no girls were listed as killed, but at least four are shown in pictures, all with head wounds, and one clearly looks like it was caused by a sword. One teenage boy was clearly pulled apart, as if tied between two vehicles driving opposite ways, in a terroristic fashion employed by Islamic State and others. Rockets don't do this. Then he had his face cleanly burned away, maybe just to mimic a fuel-air “vacuum missile” and, still alive in some clinic, was passed off as another victim of the day's Assad fighter jet “massacre” in Douma. If this happened there (unverified), JaI will at least know about it.

So really the market and similar attacks seem to be or include unacknowledged terrorist massacres of gender-segregated captives. It should be noted the victim don't have to come from Douma itself but anywhere JaI has a reach. Real explosions can be arranged with things like rockets. Then they can blame the death on the rockets and blame those on “Assad.” Later they decided to put other stolen people into “cages of protection” to help show they really do believe it's all coming from the sky, and the world has to come give them a Libya-style “no fly zone.”

Securing the Props

If that sounds outlandish, consider how they get the props for the October performance: As AFP reported, citing the opposition SOHR, “most” of the caged people “were kidnapped by Jaish al-Islam two years ago outside Adra al-Ummaliyah, a regime-held neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta.” The report added “a Jaish al-Islam spokesman was not reachable for comment.” Another al-Jazera report quotes an activist agreeing “the men and women in the cages were detained during battles in Ghouta and Adra.”

This “battle” is also the Adra massacre, infamous to some, unknown to most (see ACLOS (talk) page unless the main page is ever filled in). This major sectarian beheading spree was the only time the army of Alloush would have direct access to most of Adra, a sprawling, mostly-government-held district northeast of Douma. Early on December 11, 2013 thousands of Islamist fighters from the new JaI coalition, Jabhat al-Nusra, and allies, swarmed over defenses and seized control. A large number of soldiers were killed and captured, and then civilians were executed in their homes, according to prepared lists. An unclear number were beheaded in the open, their bodies left in the street and their heads reportedly displayed on trees. Some were said to be cooked alive in the ovens of a bakery the rebels overran. One family was killed when the father blew them all up along with some militants to prevent their being captured. These accusations aren't proven but are precedented and quite credible.

The death toll is unclear. One detailed early report had at least 63 defenders killed (8 Palestinian fighters, 25 police men, 12 NDF members, and 18 SAA soldiers) and 60 civilians executed (including state employees, 6 Bakery employees, and civilians - mainly Alawi, Druze and Christians). SOHR heard a smaller numbers of civilians (around 30-40) were killed, all of them Alawi, Shia, and Druze. Other reports had over 100 civilians butchered, and perhaps 400 killed in total.

Witnesses reported to RT the attackers were mainly non-Syrians under the "black flags of Jaish al-Islam and al-Nusra Front. Some of them were singing ‘Alawites we have come to cut off your head’s song..." According to some reports, the operation was commanded by Zahran Alloush. Even Reuters heard "Several blamed the Army of Islam, … "Zahran Alloush has committed a massacre," one activist based in the Damascus suburbs told Reuters."

There's no proof of ISIS involvement, but it's possible at this ambiguous stage – they were part of the Islamist team in Latakia a few months earlier (see below), but starting to fight with others in some areas by this time. This might matter, as the VDC director Razan Zaitouneh had been accusing ISIS of murdering activists, and she was abducted and disappeared on the night of December 9/10, just one day before the grand Adra offensive. 

If left alone, the VDC might have finally broken their silence on JiA crimes and criticized the Adra massacre, or maybe not. As it is, with their director just kidnapped, they recorded no soldiers or civilians killed at all on the bloody first day.  During an occupation to about Dec. 29, VDC records about 90 combatants * and 45 civilians killed (33 men, 8 women, 3 boys, 1 girl. Two died on the 12th, several on the 14th and 16th, and the rest over the final days - ACLOS). By this, nine Adra civilians died, along with 36 people from other places who were living there (this could mean they're religious minorities or government loyalists who felt safer in Adra than in the place they left). They died during the rebel occupation but they from: government starvation and regime sniper (one each), 11 executed by regime forces, and the rest killed by government shelling.
* 65 rebel fighters killed during a week-long battle, and 37 "regime forces" – but none on day 1. 3/4 of these are listed as from Tartous or Latakia, suggesting killed for being Alawite. A colonel from Tartous is listed on the 12th with the note “he blew himself up.” They don't say why, and don't list any family dying with him.
Most likely the first day's mass-killing is just unreported here, and these later deaths are acknowledge but laundered hostage executions, and should be added to the likely total death toll for the Adra Massacre.

Official reports were that at least “dozens” of civilian captives were taken south from Adra, towards Douma. Al-Monitor reported in May, 2015 "the Al-Baton jail reportedly held a few hundred women and children taken prisoner from the Adra al-Omalia area. The men who had been taken alongside them are believed to have been executed." This is similar to the tactics used a few months earlier in the joint Islamist conquest of several villages in Latakia near the Turkish border, by Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS, Ahrar al-Sham, and alies – all of similar mindset to JiA. The men were all killed, with no age exemption, with some women an children (about 200 total killed) while about 200 women and children (aged 13 and under, usually) were taken as property and used as bargaining chips. In this case, two years later JaI was tossing around metal boxes full of the people they stole from Adra. 

But their politcal/sales director Mohammed Alloush - a brother or cousin of slain JaI leader Zahran Alloush says things like this: “Abducting people is not part of [our] approach.” (see Time, at the time of the Zaitoneh abduction and Adra offensive). And so, like Ahrar al-Sham and sometime even Al-Nusra, Jaish al-Islam is considered by outside backers as "moderate Islamists," perhaps worth supporting as a counterweight to "both Assad and ISIS." Perhaps coincidentally, Western and Gulf governments and human rights groups considered the events in Adra unclear, and never really clarified them, and the story was forgotten.

But Zahran Alloush probably committed a massacre in Adra, and probably many others. And now his close relative, fellow thinker, and JaI political leader Mohammed Alloush is in Geneva as the head of the opposition "High Negotiating Committee" (Al-Monitor). At Saudi insistence, leading the push for “accountability,” deciding who has “blood on their hands” and  who is “the terrorist” in Syria. Alloush is tasked with forging an agreement with the Syruian government to end hostilities, but wants US air strikes first, and demands the "fall or death of Bashar al-Assad" before the "transitional period" can begin.

Syria refuses to talk (directly) with a member of a terrorist group. It seems current protocol blocks Alloush's involvement anyway, as a member of a terrorist group. But having picked a member to lead their team, Saudi Arabia seems sure they'll get that changed in time. Staffan deMistura is optimistic about talks towards a settlement, as the only shot there is at ending the suffering in Syria. The US urges both sides to take advantage of this golden chance, or things will get worse.