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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fail "Caesar" Part 10: On the Silence From Damascus

Fail "Caesar" Part 10: On the Silence From Damascus
by Adam Larson (aka Caustic Logic)
July 6/7, 2016 
small edits July 25

    Many Caesar-skeptics, including myself, have had to note the Syrian government's lackluster counter-offensive to this move in the information war against their country. Their near-silence is surely taken by many as an acknowledgment of guilt. But vague impressions pale next to my massive research - which can largely be seen in the previous 9 parts of the Fail Caesar series, collected here - and explosive report in the works, entitled Do the Caesar Photos Show Rebel Crimes in Syria?. This work so far suggests, but far from proves, that the photos actually document victims of a horrible terrorist presence in the area of Damascus (Ghouta, Daraya, Dara'a, Douma, etc.)

    I think I can show this, and how the effort to invert these crime back against Syria is one of the more sickening things in recent history. My goal is to turn “Caesar” into another in the tradition of “Nayirah” and “Curveball,” known purveyors of lies used to justify two wars against Syria's neighbor, Iraq. 

    But at this point, I'm not even sure I should publish this report. In some frustration, I speak towards President Assad and his advisers, the Syrian public, etc. and also past them to the global public. I'm speaking in English for the moment ... I may try a formal letter in Arabic next, if needed.

     I realize the physical war is more important than the information war, and of course that the "Assad regime's" explanations fall mainly on deaf ears, or worse. I noticed how Syria's request for UN probe of the rebel chemical attack on Khan Al-Assal in March, 2013 was met by the “world community” - stalling the investigation and threatening to turn it into a war-provoking inspections regime until mid-August, with "inspectors" finally arriving just in time to get sidetracked having to confirm sarin in the Ghouta CW attack instead, thus threatening war against Syria ... and investigators finally did confirm sarin was used in Khan al-Assal, but no one noticed, and along the way, rebels reconquered the town and launched a fresh massacre there, perhaps to silence witnesses or make the evidence inaccessible ahead of the probe (see my long article here).
     So I also understand that sometimes speaking up in search of truth and demanding a fair shake is worse than just ignoring the claims or anyone else' findings or opinions, and slogging on with the physical war. And slogging on, and on.
    There are other issues to balance as well - victim/witness and family safety, public morale, maintaining perceptions of strength, etc. Perhaps that's why, as I've heard around, Syrian officials seem reticent to discuss the issue of the "Caesar torture photos" in more detail. Maybe it's just too painful or could cause a panic, or worse yet some horrible terrorist backlash that gets blamed on Damascus and used as an excuse for war. Or maybe they have some degree of real dirty laundry mixed in with the lies, or it's all their crime after all, or maybe whatever. The reason for the hesitancy isn't known.
    Furthermore, the hesitancy might not even be real; officials do bring it up sometimes. On first revelation of the Carter-Ruck report in early 2014, The Syrian Ministry of Justice issued a January 22 statement (cited here) denying any crime. It said in part:
     "The report is a mere gathering of photos of unidentified persons proving that a number of them are foreign terrorists from several nationalities who had been killed when attacking the military checkpoints and civil institutions," the statement said, adding that "part of them are civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups because of their support to the state." (emphasis mine)
That might be the most accurate characterization yet, but it's also a bit vague and formulaic-sounding. It wouldn't convince the people who really need convincing.

And since then not much has been said (that I caught anyway). Maybe it got tricky and became a hush-hush subject. But then President Bashar Al-Assad just the other day brought it up again, without even being asked about it, in a July 1 interview with Australia's SBS (as transcribed here), which spurred this post. At one point the interviewer asks Assad about "thousands of government documents" said to have "proved your government sanctioned mass torture and killings."

He clearly means the "Assad Files" as dubbed, which by the way do no such thing. Rather, they seem to be legitimate documents recording a government responding to a crisis, and then there have been attempts to fuse them to the Caesar photos. The closest solid link they could find was one instance of an official responding to reports of fairly mild torture (orders of magnitude from what the images show, anyway), and he was ordering that it be stopped. Otherwise, they have innuendo and more blah blah by supposed witnesses, implicating the men named in the documents in things that hideous (see my analysis here). It's another politicized and baseless sham in the regime-smear campaign, which underlies the regime-bleed campaign.
     But, perhaps from the poor characterization, Assad decided the interviewer meant photos and/or reports about actual torture, not those documents, which he might be aware were totally unconnected. So he says:
"...the reports. The most important report that’s been financed by Qatar, just to defame the Syrian government, and they have no proof, who took the pictures, who are the victims in those pictures, and so on. Like you can forge anything if you want now on the computer. So, it is not credible at all."
     He's still saying this more than two years after the photos first made news? Does he care at all, or have anyone else checking into it, or anything?
Assad's Questions
Forged on the computer? 
    He didn't question the location directly, but Assad suggested the photos were perhaps digital forgeries. Carter-Ruck's commissioned experts say FBI analysts checked and found no sign of serious alteration. I tend to believe that - digital photo faking is tricky and rare. The photos might be faked anyway, but probably using on-site photography of actual bodies that still, to me, require an explanation.

   This on-site part is important, and helps explain how President Assad should have easy access to the answers. The photos were taken - at least partly and probably mostly - at the garage behind military hospital 601. In mid-March, 2015 the odd view at right was released, showing starved victims and allowing a correct and unquestionable placement. Mount Qassioun is visible to the northeast, and all foreground features consistently match. This puts Mazzeh prison nearby but off-frame to the right, and President Assad's palace off to the left, a couple hundred meters up the next hill. (See centered location on Wikimapia). 

Anyone contesting this placement (many have) should check the match as shown by Human Rights Watch (report) or by Bellingcat. It's not a political call but a simple visual match. In fact, I had already decided it was probably this spot – the middle building on the lot's south side - months earlier and from much less evidence - basically the info you can see below.
   That's from this (repaired) photo (was too washed-out), also shown below, analyzed for basic directions from sunlight (direction of view is southeast). It seems to be the same shed used in both photos, as if this is the usual place for this process. It would perhaps be marked as such. Maybe under the blur on the center pillar it says: place for (don't let the viewer see what). Unidentified bodies?

For what it's worth, the date is unclear with my limited resources. On the right-hand edge of the photo, that seems to be the head and shoulder of distinctive victim 215-1895 (face) (and at right, shown by Al-Jazeera with number but not face). He and others of similar number are logged early in the folder 4-6 (June 4), 2013. That has a huge number of bodies added in a span only three days, suggested, so likely including prior images (last folder was dated March, and was not huge). There is also some February entries confusion, and the single woman victim, Rihab Allawi (600 entries later, 2935), is also in 4-6, said to die in February, April, and June, depending (profile). So it's unclear, and these folder dates are just the kind of thing that really can be reasonably faked anyway.

    But most photos are pretty clear in showing the same type of bodies seen here, the same type of numbers used, and/or at the same place. A handful are listed as from another hospital in Damascus (Tishreen), and one at least is probably from Dara'a, likely even in someone's home (Mahmoud al-Zoubi, an unusual case, and the very first one too, chronologically).  

    So clearly, this is all in Syria and it does matter. But the question too few have asked is: just what is it they were documenting here? Of course, that's been explained already, but we're questioning those words.  

Who took the pictures?
If the president really wants to know, he could ask. Damascus should know or have some good guesses. They should check their files for someone fitting this profile:
  • "a senior sergeant in Syria’s Army”
  • "spent 13 years working as a forensic photographer"
  • from 2011, was stationed at military hospital 601, taking the photos in question, of those huge numbers of dead people there (did anyone notice when that happened?)
  • compare that list to employees who seemed to die suddenly around August 20, 2013, but left behind no body or one that could be someone else' (they faked it! Ha, tricked you!), and then had his core family vanish right after (smuggled out so you couldn't kill them! Ha!).
There should be one or zero employee files matching that story. Easy enough to narrow "Caesar" down from that pool, right? So if it the story is true, as everyone's been assured, the code-name would not serve its stated purpose of protecting his identity from the people with the files (and so the true reason to make-up a "curveball" type code-name could be debated). If there's no such person, then just focus on the first part of the last point, folks who vanished just before the Ghouta chemical attack, to find your defector. If he can't be the photographer, then find out who was (from photos and records) and find how that defector got hold of the pictures.

Who are the victims in those pictures?
    It seems that the Carter-Ruck experts really don't know, nor do we. "Caesar" probably knows, and the Qataris might. And Syrian officials very well should know, or at least have a basic guess. Unidentified body numbers (as it seems these have) suggest it wasn't exactly known at the time. But there should be information on where the bodies came from and how they got in such a state. And presumably at least some were later identified.

    We've considered the Justice Ministry's statement from early 2014, and as mentioned, I suspect he's right. It seems likely these are initially unidentified bodies from clashes and, more substantially, of people captured by foreign-sponsored opposition forces, and killed en masse. By precedent, those would be soldiers and fighters of the SAA, NDF, and allies, and civilians seen by the terrorists as infidels or as supportive of the government, who had the misfortune of living in areas the killers controlled or could access. The evidence in and around the photos themselves is bearing it out in a number of ways. And Syrian authorities might have had that proven in some cases by family members, before they handed the bodies back to them.

    This alleged prisoner of Air Force intelligence #9227, for example, should not have been hard to identify. To his family, sorry. But he's all over the place anyway, I think in service of a lie.
Here's one Caesar and cohorts might have disrespect for, as they cannot get his pants back up (a common theme in the photos). An ID for 215-3670 could be tricky...
    ...except I can match that number (sort-of) and enough body and lighting details to this face, even though it's listed wrong (killed by 227, not by 215). Next to him by body and correct, alleged prisoner number, is 215-3669, with a similar tattoo. Someone knows who these apparently Shia men are. 

And the Shia boy 215-3873 248-72 248-73, who got shown off in Geneva to bolster the bargaining position of Mohammed Alloush in "peace talks" there !! He's the political leader of "Army of Islam" from Douma, sworn to eradicating Shia from all Syria. Anyway, this boy probably didn't live too far from Douma, and someone knows who that is as well. Why is the global public left thinking he was a random victim of the Syrian government's continued existence?

My Questions
    Again, I understand that if this is a terrorist crime, one goal is to terrify or demoralize the Syrian public, so maybe keeping the truth under wraps is better, from that standpoint. My research suggests it's one of the worst terrorist crimes of modern history, claiming an average of 1,000 victims a month between November 2012 and August, 2013 (by dubious folder dates, below mapped with hospital # timeline). The activists claim there were 11,000 bodies, according to this number. I can see it ticking to 10,000, so maybe it goes past 11.
    At least the 6,600-6,700 shown by the Caesar-Qatar-connected SAFMCD seem to exist. It's a lot of death here that's real and not digital. I wish it weren't so, but it is so.

("H# insertions" explained here. Below: red span broken down, colors explained)

   The full 11,000 seems to mean unidentified bodies, of all kinds. But the solid majority of the slight majority shown by the SAFMCD seem to be abused captives of someone.  These people by and large were kept in horrible conditions, starved and neglected, tortured some, and it seems to me were mainly gassed to death with something like chlorine. On December 22, 2012, of course seven SAA soldiers reportedly died in Daraya from what seems to be chlorine released by terrorists. Note how that's early in the suggested spike of chemically exterminated people in that or a nearby area ... I can see why this might be touchy. Whenever anything about chemical crimes goes public, the guilt of Syria's government is made to seem obvious, and people clamor for war, which translates into more support for the terrorists actually doing the gassing...

    The decision on what Syria says about this subject is and remains in Syria's hands, not mine. But as soon as it seems tolerable and wise, it might be helpful if the authorities and the media there could work together to offer some more information about what these photos show. Some specific questions:
  • Were any of these unidentified bodies ever identified and claimed? If so, what might help is publishing a few sample cases, some best and safest ones, showing pictures to compare, and giving the victim's true back-story. For example: can't anyone recognize the distinctive boy victim 215-1895, as linked above? Or j-9227?
  • As possible, could you tell us who did the capturing in these cases? There are a lot of people out here expressing a desire to catch the culprits. So let's get some names.
  • Regarding the ostensible identifications so far offered by opposition parties: these are dubious, but may be partly true. They're presented to the masses here as obviously 100% true. Among these (Rihab Allawi, Ayham Ghazoul, etc.) can authorities check their own info and help us understand the truth-to-lie ratio here?
  • Hospital 601 staff, forensic examiner Dr. Akram al-Shaar in particular, has been indicted in helping cover-up the alleged Mukhabarat extermination program. It seems past time to hear the other side of this story about what was happening there in those days.
  • Can Damascus ever tell us if it's one or zero former employees who fit the description Caesar gives? If there is such a person, or sort-of so, what do officials know about the beliefs, behavior, and connections, etc. of the person or people behind these photos?
  • Regardless of who took the photos, are they official documents reflecting an official process, or are they creative works made at 601 by abusing privileges? 
  • It seems the SAFMCD site with the identification photos is not able to be viewed inside Syria, at least in some of the major, government-held population centers. Is this a block by the Syrian authorities, or by someone on the SAFMCD's end?
I can be contacted for any questions, etc. publicly by comments below, or privately (you know, internet private) by e-mail : caustic_logic@yahoo.com. Thanks in advance, to whoever, for whatever.

Further questions, including for the Syrian general public, can be answered below in comments.
  • Can readers inside Syria see the face photos I link to, or is the site blocked? (I've hear two credible nos and one yes, hope to hear more and learn more about why - Here's their main list of image folders for anyone who can check it. http://www.safmcd.com/martyr/category.php),
  • July 25: I've heard another credible no, not visible except by use of special networks. Also I hear the signs suggest it's an internal block, by the government. 
  • (others perhaps later)

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