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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?


  1. Hi. Concerned propaganda piece accomodates also some pieces of truth, as is obvious. Especially paragraphs "The security-intelligence agencies..." and following one "Deir Ezzor’s security agents..." can be from 60% true, and role of CIA information source who contacted author was to impose notion, that after survey work of Syrian intelligence undoubtly the agression phase came, engaging security forces in violent, torture, amoral (and "baseless"! remember "attack on libian citizens by Gaddafi" which served as literal reason to UNSCR1970 and UNSCR1973. erasing of violence from actors gave protesters, and in rest of framework, they were clearly and objectively taken exterminated by Gaddafi.. as their weapons by media, ICTY and rest of the world) imprisonment, executions, interrogations.

    1. I hope the below comment wasn't too rude. Indeed, some truth seems to be mixed in, to be tricky. In fact, I suspect all documents quoted are valid, just taken out of context. Like that August 5 meeting - considering events, that's about exactly when they would decide on a more aggressive plan (they could have been a bit quicker). But then mainly it's about crafting a lie, and that's why truth becomes "tricky" in context.

  2. This efemeric, vague - behind scene - cooperation or coordination between crime men and promoters of vitrious UN sermons by NATO, which leaves shallow investigations on lists of newspapers always just for single narrow thing: to address frenetic fears, to cover the scene with idiotic sermons of antigaddafis, to win the war also moraly - has one moment to it, which I did want to cover: as a machine which is against every curious spirit, it is not going to, nor preparing itself to quarrel for anything. It counts with its public, always fresh, ineducated, young and compassionate. It didn't need to fight us, as it has all the means of propaganda, and we are between our citizens, limited - of course - and as we are to be enemies for extreme radicals some time. Our readers are those who learned enough to be distinguishing information from goods, their readers are fanatics, ultraright propagandists, and always ready spawn of unenlightened, whose feelings toward state are security, and towards victims rendered by any news in range SOLIDARITY! Be work highly honoured!!!

    1. I praised your English, but now I think you're just getting experimental. (most experiments work ok though). Cheers!


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