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Friday, April 15, 2016

Witness Assessment: Mazen Hamada

Witness Assessment: Mazen Hamada
April 15, 2016
(incomplete, rough)
last edits 4/21/2016

Ben Taub's horrendous article on the "Caesar Files" (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 thin 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 Nehterlands, 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.

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