Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Painting Vs. Reality in Syria Crisis Response

Assad Files 2018, Part 3
September 10, 2018
updates Sept. 28, Oct. 13

Note, October 13: a better, more readable version at 21st Century Wire, that more fully explains the context and implications. with the help of Patrick Henningsen, who added a few points, provided the space, and has promoted it as the important find it is.
In Assad Files 2018 part 2, we looked at three more documents shared in a recent channel 4 program, that offered further insights into how banal and non-criminal Syria's prison system really operated back in 2012-13, amidst this horrendous crisis and endless cartoonish allegations. In summary, we learned of these orders suggesting the "Caesar photo" victims probably died somewhere less normal:

Now we go further back to the allegedly brutal response to peaceful protests that sparked armed resistance ...

August 5, 2011 Crisis Cell Meeting: A Picture Was Painted
I'll start with a re-write of some points raised back in 2016, in my first analysis of the so-called "Assad Files," building off of an ambitious piece of propaganda by Ben Taub at the New Yorker.

Assessing the "Linchpin" 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 [committee for international justice and accountability]) 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.

Aug. 1, Hama: a bit of that "crisis" they talk about
It's not mentioned here (dimmed background), but this was just a few days after militants overran parts of Hama city on July 31. They killed dozens of policemen and soldiers, dumping some in the river early on August 1, throats sliced, cursing the dead "soldiers" and shouting Allahu Akbar. One man asks people not to film, but at least 3 do, and the one vide was published. An opposition activist confirmed this incident to CNN, warning there were Al-Qaeda elements involved after returning from the fight in Iraq, and it might turn their rebellion ugly (or might already have, depending).

Already back in early June, 2011, there was a massacre by the "Free Syrian Army" in Jisr al-Shughour, claiming the lives of around 120 security members and an unknown number of civilians. Theories were floated that this was a regime crime against those who "refused to shoot protesters," perhaps involving Hezbollah extremists… but it wasn't as clear on that as Hama a couple months later.

Hama is the city most-associated with alleged regime massacres by the president's father Hafez Al-Assad, and was recently inspected by US ambassador Robert Ford in early July and found to be totally militant-free. So we can be pretty clear who's responsible for the deaths of July 31: 24 members of the security forces, and around 80 men and older boys, allegedly all civilian. The 80 almost has to include some fighters killed in their ambitious coordinated attacks on different areas. That toll also might also include civilians killed by Islamists for their support to the government, or just at random in order to blame the government for the biggest death toll possible. It might also include innocents killed by the government, but their motive remains unclear...

Over 100 dead in a day was a minor milestone in the public mind. That third digit was more in the interest of the opposition seeking help than in the government trying to prevent that. Because as it was reported and widely accepted, the Syrian government killed over 100 "people" in Hama that day in an unprovoked massacre, crushing the protests with snipers and tanks in a senseless, one-sided slaughter. It seems the events of July 31 left president Obama "appalled," and seeing the "true nature" of the "Assad regime," starting a process that led to the statements of August 18 demanding the Syrian president step down in some unclear "transition." (NYT)

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," it was "protest organizers and “those who tarnish the image of Syria in foreign media.”" Next and finally, it was whoever else, if anyone; Taub doesn't specify any other target types. Here's just how he wrote it:
Emma Reynolds wrote for news.com.au about this in a similar vein, citing Taub:
By August 2011, Syria’s shadowy Central Crisis Management Cell revealed that they were concerned about “laxness” and poor coordination from the authorities dealing with insubordinates. They arranged for regular raids on opposition activists and critics of Syria in foreign media. Their coordination messages paint a clear picture of how orders for what happened to people like Mazen al-Hamada came all the way from the top.
Al-Hamada was one such activist, arrested while smuggling baby formula to a woman in Damascus in March 2012 and bundled into a car....

They weren't going after any armed groups or anyone else, just people struggling for freedom or smuggling food. Dissent, humanity: shut-down. Militants: ignored? Non-existent?

My suspicion then was the parts about demonstrations were really in there, but alongside the real worries about militants running amok, and the two classes might even be linked in a way that makes sense. That's totally not what the memos said, according to the CIJA via Ben Taub and the New Yorker. But I never did trust those assurances.

What They Were Saying the Next Day
We've still never been allowed a view of any original documents from that August 5 meeting of the Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC). But now we can see a memo dated the next day and referring to the CCMC meeting in question. Demonstrators, foreign media, wanted persons, clearing and holding areas, and then explanation of the regional investigative committees are all included - and so are all the surrounding parts left out of the painting shown to millions back in 2016. Thanks to an online video from Spanish paper El País, we can see the whole page translated to English, and the Arabic original to a lesser degree, and do some comparison.

Building the case against Assad’s regime
El País, June 15, 2018
This is apparently a September fax of an August 18 (forwarding?) of an August 6 memo, discussing the previous day's crisis cell meeting. It was directed, on the 6th, to regional Ba'ath party branches in the governorate of Hama (listed first), and also of rural Damascus, Deir Ezzor, Homs, Idlib, and Daraa (in that order) - the places the Islamist insurgency had taken root at the time. It also tried hard in Baniyas, but was contained already. Aleppo remained mostly peaceful at this time. But the first one listed here is Hama, which had witnessed the massacre of soldiers and police a week earlier.

Yellow highlighted by El País, about the same points early shared all alone. The red underlining added by me shows important points they left out in that process.

The relevant paragraph (middle, with highlighting) does mention demonstrations and demonstrators 4 times - at least per the provided translation. But this memo also mentions - as I suspected - "armed gangs" that cause "human and material losses" by vandalism, looting, pillaging, attacking state institutions, and "killing and terrorizing citizens." This all required so-called "security operations" that were expected to incur "losses," perhaps related to the weapons they hoped to seize some of.

They also decided some soldiers had a way of losing their weapons to the militants, or being "reluctant" to fully face the "armed groups." These might even be sympathizers, people willing to defect, sabotage things, or kill their fellow soldiers. This is probably the "laxness" referred to in Taub's painted version, but there seems to be a bit more we still can't see.

Arrest THEM = people wanted for violent offenses. "Especially those" is a subset of THEM, so violent offenders who also incite demonstrations, etc. However much sense that makes, it's what this translation says. The wording is odd, and raises questions about the translation, which we'll return to shortly. But it does not say go after people who just organize peaceful protests or just talk smack about Damascus.

"Clean every sector of those wanted persons" starts the next paragraph by referring to the same - violent militants, and "especially" those organizing demonstrations and smear campaigns as well.

So the earlier presentation cut all the red parts above, in their selective quotation of the yellow, just as I suspected. Officials were worried about the militants like they should have been, and it was the main issue. But tt didn't come through in the painted picture of a calm crackdown on peaceful dissent, inviting outsiders to arm the emergent "Free Syrian Army" to "defend the protesters."

2 More Docs, More on the Violent Demonstrators
A total of three documents at least are partly shown in the El País video: the other two have dates and document numbers redacted (why?), but may be contemporaneous supporting documents.

One is an undated request for information, from interrogations and potentially involving torture. Methods aren't explained, but they sought more information from "detainees who incited demonstrations" and also those "who had contacts with foreign bodies," perhaps including "plotters" and/or "bodies which took part in funding and arming demonstrators." Here again, the kind of "demonstrations" they're concerned with involve weapons. They also wondered about the "volume of funding and armaments" going to those "demonstrators" and their origins. So they mean weapons supply, not "arming them with knowledge" or something.

The other shared document is an undated arrest warrant, directed to local commanders in Daraa governorate, asking for the arrest of six people (names removed), as soon as possible. This adds nothing - it's the reason they were wanted that matters. Are they armed militants, or demonstrators and image tarnishers? Above, and left out of news stories, the people were wanted for the crimes of vandalism, killing, and assault on the citizenry and government institutions, and some of THOSE were "especially" wanted for additional media-type activities. Are these 6 just regular wanted, or "especially" so?

And even that question doesn't matter totally;
demonstrations, propaganda, media and "human rights NGO" contacts, and weapons and sectarian mayhem, are all seen with good reason as part of a unified package, a coordinated attack on their country seeking a repeat of the Iraq and Libya regime-change scenarios. Unauthorized demonstrations, at which unauthorized gunmen shoot people and blame the government, was a serious problem. All aspect of such a machine would need shut down.

The Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) is named. Publicly, they organize, promote, track peaceful street protests, but they also work with military groups and disseminate their reports, and had nearly every martyr of regime brutality reported with video of the body, as if they had a direct line with the angel of death. The Syrian authorities will have rightly pegged the LCC as organizing both military and propaganda activities. Such people were tarnishing the image of Syria, by committing crimes - often hideous ones -that were being video-recorded and blamed on Syria with great frequency and alarming success.

The main translation issue is with what the LCC organize: protests as implied, or a more vague type of "events." See below.

There's no mention of arresting baby food smugglers like Mazen Hamada, and no order to implement a baby food embargo in the first place. And still nowhere have we seen any orders to enforce the inhumane conditions on detainees Hamada and others describe, or to systematically exterminate thousands of them, as the "Caesar photos" claim to show.

Translation Issues?
I don't usually presume translation issues without a specific reason - it's quite possible, but the main issue seems to be what's edited out - redacted or just not shared. I found one Arabic translator so far on Twitter with time to help.

First, a minor issue: a partial view of undated request is visible enough
"the detainees who incited demonstrations and had contacts with ... plotters, and bodies which took part in funding..." In the translation, the "and" becomes an "or" for a more inclusive reading of who's "especially" wanted.  But either way, it's the class of crimes they were detained over, and information was sought.

More importantly, we get some decent views of the (ostensible) Arabic original of that August 18 fax of the August 6 memo. Below is a full-page view, but small and, as it happens, the important paragraph in the middle is underneath the animated titling for "ARREST WARRANTS." That paragraph is also shown scrolling by larger in such a way all 8 lines can be taken and reassembled (below). 

An "Arab Ba'ath Communist Party" is mentioned at the top - as Amin251 explains, should be Socialist
"الاشتراكي = Socialist. "Communist"  would be written "شيوعي " The name of Syria's ruling party is Ba'ath Arab Socialist, and that's who the memos and translators refer to, so there's no real contention, and it's not a directly important issue. It might show a right-wing bias on the part of the translator, inserting "socialist = commie tyrant" messages in the translation. That might lead to further distortions, but hopefully we can see these directly. 

With tips from Amin and my own careful looking... here are the words in play for those odd instances of "demonstrations."

phonetic: almuzaharat:
The usual word for public demonstrations (plural). Also translates like manifestation, display, etc. It does similar in English. It appears zero times in the memo. The singular form is about the same, doesn't appear either.

مظاهرة الاحتجاج
ph: muzaharat alaihtijaj
A phrase for protest demonstration (singular - plural is barely different). This also doesn't appear (that I caught)

ph: almutazahirin
The usual word for demonstrators and/or protesters, ones who participate in the above. This appears where it should, being translated as "demonstrators." Good there.

tazahar - to demonstrate. this appears twice, suggesting a bit of paraphrasing for 2 instances (rather than "demonstrations" it says "?? demonstrate(ing/ed)." I'll see about the exact wording for each, if possible 

with one loose quote-mark attached, Google Translate gives "demonstrations" with alternates readings: feint, simulation, pretense. Hmmm. With the quote mark cut, it's just "events" and no hints provided. Amin251 notes the usual word for "events" in a general, and maybe military sense, is:
الأحداث (al'ahdath).
But this word doesn't seem to appear. This other word is unusual, but apparently valid, maybe a regional thing, or personal choice of the author. Its exact meaning here isn't totally clear, but the context involves weapons, death, and crisis. It happens to look like the usual word for demonstrations, and it can also mean the same thing. In context of the other words, it likely does, but perhaps not...

Here's where these words appear in the paragraph. Translated paragraph repeated below for comparison.

So far, it appears the translation is ok, despite the appearance. But I still have questions about the wording around the 2 cases of demonstrate, and the LCC's "events", the "especially those..." part, and how the whole run-on sentence here suggests lumping that might be inaccurate (and/or issues, etc.).

Such things can tweak the wording to support the reading you want. But mainly, the only way to make this document fit the agenda of the day is to just quote the parts about "demonstrations" and pretend there was no talk of militants at all. Every nation has a right to defend itself from armed insurgency, and the point of this exercise is to prove the Syrian state was way past its rights and had to know that. So the CIJA just cut the parts that disprove their case before they offer a couple stray lines they like as supposed proof. Clearly showing it with minor redactions isn't a good idea (see my effort below). The best plan they took was to present just the yellow lines and pretend that's all that mattered.

Follow-Up (Sept. 28)
This point deserves some. I finally asked the author, after noticing he is on Twitter, and how he won the Pulitzer Center's RFK prize for journalism in 2017 for this work "chronicling a team of international investigators who smuggled secret Assad regime files documenting torture and other war crimes out of Syria." It was a dramatic read, but too bad it relies on a dubious alleged witness and grossly mischaracterized documents.

So I asked him "any idea how the red-underlined parts here went missing in your article's version of this "linchpin"? It seems to be a plan to stop "armed groups" killing people." (follow-on tweet to correct to "armed gangs.") No response expected, but expectations can be interestingly dashed.

Update, October 13: Even with another nudge added, I still received no response prior to drafting the 21st Century Wire version of this story, where I conclude: "I asked Ben Taub about the details missing in his article, but so far he has not responded. It’s not clear if he or – more likely – the CIJA made the decision to delete the militants and distort this evidence. But someone did."

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Assad Files 2018, Part 2

Assad Files 2018, Part 2
3 More nails in the Coffin
September 8, 2018

In part 1 I considered what Channel 4's latest (on Youtube) calls "perhaps the biggest breakthrough of all" - a memo that SEEMS to refer to a detainee or "terrorist" who dies and is given the number 2668, and that turns up in the Caesar photos at the right basic time. But with 95% redacted, someone's translation of the rest intervening, and whatever question there is to original authenticity … it's hard to really say how the  lines up - but not to CIJA's Bill Wiley.

But that was just the most potentially helpful part of what they shared, with three other documents raised to illustrate their case as strongly as possible.

Other New Evidence of the Systematic Abuse

Orders to NOT Abuse Detainees

The program cites one memo, from August 27, 2013, that "stresses how the detainees shouldn’t be beaten, humiliated or detained arbitrarily." Is that meant to be read sarcastically, or written in code? Maybe not; "it goes on to acknowledge: “Certain errors made by some Department branches were reviewed, including: (Arbitrary detention… the use of intensity, beating, and torture of detainees ….etc.), emphasising the imperative of averting these issues.” Note the ellipses (…) suggesting other errors were noted, but they were more boring. These are the worst they included in this top-secret internal document. There are a heck of a lot of alleged abuses - mass starvation, neglect, bizarre tortures, deliberate mass extermination of thousands, etc. - not included there as "errors." Depending on the reality of events, these abuses could be:
- done right (not an error)
- Made up, including maybe with a lot of faked photographs (no)
- Done by someone else, to people not even in the government's jails

Anyway, they might be talking in indecipherable code you can guess your own meaning for, but on August 27, 2013, the "genocidal regime" sent out these guidelines, as the select translation says...
This is one more example of at least two found of abuses acknowledged, and in both cases the abuse is denounced and ordered to end. An order to not even beat up the detainees, highlighted as evidence of the cold plan ... TO abuse and in fact systematically exterminate all their innocent prisoners (see below). Or, as Wiley is quick to clarify, such "mistakes" cannot be just mistakes. In a police state like Assad's, they must have been ordered - somehow, he presumes. And these documented efforts to "correct" the "errors" were just too little too late anyway. The arbitrary intensity they ordered a stop and no start to is enough to classify as war crimes, Wiley smirks.

Note that this memo, on August 27, comes about a week after "Caesar" says he faked his death and fled with his trove of morgue photos. Were they worried he was alive, and would leak their secret torture system? Or that he would leak and misrepresent all those terrorism victims they'd been documenting but keeping quiet about? For good measure, or in a coincidence, they sent out these guidelines at this time.

Keeping Clean, Saving Lives

They have more! A third document is cited so:
A memo of one meeting of Military Intelligence officers in 2013 reiterates how detainees should be treated: “It is imperative to attend to the cleanliness of the prison and all its facilities, and the hygiene and health of detainees…to preserve lives and reduce deaths which have considerably risen lately.”
Wiley is salivating at an admission of deaths in prison - plural - and a number that was rising. Was it from 1 or 2 a month previously up to 5 or 10? Or more like 1,000 a month? Unclear. He seizes on their desire to "minimize" deaths rather than "eliminate" them. But jails here with no terrorist insurgency running don't even maintain a 0% inmate death rate, and would hardly bother trying for it. People die, some of them in custody. It's an issue you try to minimize within reason.

We're supposed to compare these nicey-nice words to the Caesar photos, having already linked them to this system in our minds, and be aghast at the sick contrast of words and reality. Let's go ahead and compare, but ask - do they even refer to the same things in the first place? Did these thousands of men and boys really die in the jails these guys have some deaths in? You're supposed to presume they did, not wonder about it. But let's go ahead and wonder.

If these are the prisoners they talk about, ...Did they think to maybe feed them food? There's no order to starve them mentioned as found, and otherwise, most people understand you're on the hook to at least feed someone you've locked up. Yet the vast majority of prisoners come in to the morgue photos starved-looking to some degree, and often severe. Did they think to let the detainees bathe, ever? Or have any access to medicine? Many illnesses will contribute to such wasting, but did that many get that ill? Many have the sunken eyes and vanishing teeth and pale gums of scurvy and advanced malnutrition. They appear badly dehydrated as well, perhaps even denied drinking water. And they look horribly neglected, with unkept hair, various open sores, etc. People are left for long periods tied up by the rotting feet, most of them seemingly hanging upside down in their last moments as many of them clearly coughed up mucous and blood across their faces for still-mysterious reasons, suffered corrosive skin damage, and developed red, damaged eyes with strange yellow crust in the corners. …

It may not be true, but it is alleged this happened in regime prisons, often in accounts reflecting the photos, as if they really witnessed that all happening - or just saw the photos.

For example, "Marwan, Abu Anas" says in a VDC report he was detained at Branch 215 where "[the prisoners] didn't look like human; they were walking skeletons. Ulcerations were all over their bodies. Those who were thrown on the floor were swimming in a pool of blood and pus that ooze out of their bodies due to the lack of sanitizers and hygienic conditions." Baby-faced Mansour al-Omari swears he was covered in bugs and sores, and maybe even starved down, while he shared a cell with Nabil Sharbaji. That didn't keep them from the ridiculous 82-names list adventure, and Nabil's letters continuing well past his death ...luckily for the history books and holocaust museums...

Mazen Hamada told the New Yorker how in early 2013, after nearly a year of detention, an infection in his eye was dripping pus. The skin on his legs was gangrenous," and he was "urinating blood" before he was finally transferred to Military hospital 601, which was even worse - a "slaughterhouse" Many activists and supposed survivors have in fact claimed Hospital 601 really was a slaughterhouse inside, people shackled in filth, rotting away just inside before they were dragged out to document. In fact it could be these people are laboring to explain all the things we see in the photos - "yep, I saw that - had that - a guy died from that - "

As The Inquisitr noted, even the supposedly neutral United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry credits such claims:

"According to the United Nations Commission of Enquiry, since 2011 at least five branches of the Syrian security forces have operated wards inside Hospital 601. It was the commission’s opinion that many patients had been tortured to death within the facility." They heard the worst guard in accounts was nicknamed "Azrael, also known as the Angel of Death. He carried a stick laced with razor blades and used this on selected prisoners … took a lighter to a plastic bag and melted it, drop by drop, onto a prisoner’s face until he died." Mazen Hamada says he saw a boy burned in the neck with a blowtorch until he died, just because the boy was from Daraya.

The photos agree horrible abuses happened on a massive scale, and occasionally even things that look like those burning episodes. It would be somewhere in the Damascus-Ghouta, area or within body-driving distance of Military Hospital 601. The victims look more like they were held in a medieval dungeon, or a dungeon run by medieval-thinking people. Any of those known to be around?

Some fun things seen in the Al-Tawba prison run by the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam ("Army of Islam") in nearby Douma (use and meaning not clear) …

Among untold thousands taken prisoner by Jaish al-Islam and held in such places, an SAA colonel among the few eventually released from their prisons in April, 2018.
"Abdul Rauf" told the VDC about his time in the regime's prisons, not Jaish al-Islam's. He describes starvation, swollen legs and chronic skin diseases, and this: "one of the detainees who had been tortured severely till his skin was disintegrated, then they put him in the garbage barrel for many hours, and then they throw in the bathrooms corridor "toilet" and his skin was so much rotten with a bad smell out of his wounds , and soon he was dead.  … the smell of rotten human flesh because of sores and prevalent diseases and the temperature was very high. ...  I think that the number of those who die as a result of the disease is equal to or slightly higher than the number of those who are dying under of torture ."

And here the memo says let's keep it clean, keep it healthy, and limit the deaths - the very nerve! Sick sarcasm all throughout … if we're reading it all right.

Side-Notes on Jailed SAA "Defectors"

A related thought: In all the prison stories, I still hear no word on the kind of uniforms used. Usually prisons have uniforms. I hear some wore shirts they could spare, torn into scraps to write 82 peoples' names and addresses on with blood and a chicken bone, and they were able to sew this pile of scraps into the collars and cuffs of one of their other shirts, and walk out in it. Uniforms usually get handed back in on release. So it's suggested the relevant prisons killing these thousands just didn't bother with uniforms.

I've looked at perhaps all the 6,700 photos, and catalogued about 95-97% of them. All the people I've seen are seen naked or in underwear, usually pulled down by Caesar and his crew, or left in street clothes. Or military uniforms, like these two prisoners of different branches both killed in or before March, 2013. Not appearing starved, these may be recent captures.
Is this FSA? Like, rival of no Islamists FSA? Or is this the regime jailing its own Syrian Arab Army fighters, like the Army of Islam does? In 3 years to do it, still no one has identified these two … defectors? Maybe attempted defectors of the kind FSA guys often found dead after they "refused to shoot protesters"?

Marwan Abu Anas (a claimed civilian) says he was jailed June 5, 2013 at branch 248 with "nine "soldiers" in their military uniforms and who had been charged with "attempting to defect", and who assured me that they had not had a shower for more than a month." He says he was then taken to another cell with "about 36 people; most of us were either defected soldiers, or those who had been trying to defect." That's from a hard-hitting VDC report that also cites "Abdul Rauf ...with reservation on the detention and release dates and full name for security reasons" This one says he was jammed into a huge cell that had "an area of about 15 x 4 meters and contained about one thousand detainees. Most of the detainees were soldiers and officers, who were charged with "defecting", and their number is more of the civilians, but civilians were mostly charged with demonstrating and vandalism, and possession of arms in fewer cases."

Those scare quotes suggest even these opposition guys know those soldiers never did succeed in defecting, probably didn't even try, and in fact may have loyally fought off the Islamists to their last bullet. And still, these soldiers wind up arrested, in some inhumane dungeon, as a large percentage of people held there... how can this happen, if not the way these Abu-Adbul guys describe?

Here's 215-3669, and 215-3670, killed side by side before July 7, 2013.The latter at least was also shot, at least twice in the arm, before he was detained at branch 215 and starved down, and finally killed. The tattoo between the bullet holes may be of a relevant man in a suit, but it's not clear who. Both men have tattoos suggesting they were Shia (Shi'ite). Did we have many Shi'ite or Alawite or Christian soldiers defecting to the Sunni-Islamist-dominated "FSA" in 2013, and putting up this fierce of a fight before the regime got their hands back on them? No, we didn't. But there are signs of several of them in the "Caesar photos," this one 3670 getting a bit scrambled somehow. There could be many more we don't see the signs of.

Even those possible loyal soldiers were not allowed to bathe or have clean clothes. These were washed at the end, but that probably has other reasons, related to their spitting blood despite a lack of fresh bodily injuries... Many will have been sent deeper into neglect and starvation that marks the vast majority of seen victims.

But Keep Me Updated...

A third new document shared in Channel 4's latest:
A December 2012 Circular to the Military Intelligence Department, signed by its Head, asks: “When any detainee dies in the prisons of the branches of the Department…. their status is then presented to the Head of the Department on the same day by telegram regarding the reasons for their arrest, the findings of their interrogation and the causes of death…”
Wiley enthused: “This is a fantastic piece of evidence because it shows that the Head of Military Intelligence was briefed on every single death of an individual in his custody. He was, at his own request, consistently put on notice of the deaths of detainees for which he in law was ultimately responsible.” Dated December 18. Here's the text as animated on the video:

But the killing was routine, systematic, and apparently total. Consider branch 227 and 215 - with over 80% of the dead between them - killed every prisoner, in roughly or exactly the same order they were arrested (going by what Caesar says). This is a representative stretch of processed images in my branch 227 folder. Alleged prisoner numbers from 2638 to 2713 are all but a few accounted for, nice and sequential (first in a July 7 folder, then a "000" one, then later in August 14, and it's chronological like this running back to late 2012.). The body discussed in part 1 is included here, highlighted in blue on the right side.

I'm still missing a couple of entries, and maybe a few prisoners were spared too? But nearly every number slot filled with a body. As noted in part 1, sources disagree - Caesar and his closest associates and some witnesses claim this is the prisoner number, assigned on arrest or transfer to the branch. This doesn't hold up on analysis, but it's the allegation. The SAFMCD "Caesar" entrusted the photos with, says all these consecutive and chronological detainee numbers appearing on the dead "confirms the systematic murder process of the detainees." Others, including Carter-Ruck and Human Rights Watch, decided on their own, or heard from some limited sources, that it's an order-of-death number, and improve on the allegations by deciding that.

And whatever to make of the numbering of bodies, the volumetric number of them was undeniably massive. That's the main point here, and it's more acute than you hear - 11,000 bodies from March 2011 to August, 2013 sounds terrible but plausible for a steady killing machine trying to nip a rebellion in the bud - but the first 18 months saw relatively few of these bodies, 2,000 or so total - taking off horribly, nine-fold, as that bud was not full nipped and started to blossom, in the last 1/3 of the span. From November 2012 to August 2013, a further 9,000 or so bodies passed through this system, or about 1,000 bodies a month. That's from mapping a couple hundred seen hospital numbers matched to victim folder dates - here's a rough graphic for that:
The intel chief's request of December 18, 2012 came just about as this surge of bodies was starting. And he might know of the plan to increase the killing further in the coming months - if it were a plan hatched by his side. Did he really want an average of 30+ updates a day, all marked urgent top secret, to explain the story of each detainee that was killed as planned? How many of these alerts did the commission find? In part one, we reviewed one, then another, and heard there are at least "several." There should be thousands of these alone. Finding one shouldn't be considered a "breakthrough," as that one was.

No, this order makes more sense with occasional deaths that weren't planned, and not even of prisoners, necessarily. I mean, IF ya dead or almost-dead bod were to appear, who would take "custody" of them? If there are many, and it has some military-security importance, and requires logging as a war crime, identification, investigation, bulk cases... Military intelligence.

But he refers only to the detainees here, not to any of these alarmingly numerous unidentified bodies. I propose he was referring to real prisons run by the Syrian government, not the terrorist dungeons the photo victims were held in. He expected to hear about maybe a few a month or less. An order to keep up on all deaths doesn't prove that option, But it sure as hell doesn't prove the less logical conclusion Wiley et al. have drawn.


These three new documents add to our picture of what the regime was saying to its own, in candid, top-secret memos never meant to be seen. In particular, these orders for evil are added:
  • don't arbitrarily arrest innocents
  • don't beat, torture, or otherwise abuse the detainees
  • implicitly, do not systematically exterminate them
  • keep up the cleanliness and medical care, prevent unnecessary illness and death
  • implicitly, do not toss them in pits to rot and die unseen
  • keep deaths low and alert the boss of every case where efforts failed,
  • implicitly, they did not want to hear about an average of 30+ killed each day.
With years of searching for the best available evidence of a systematic abuse, torture, starvation, neglect, and systematic extermination of mostly innocent people at a rate of 30+ a day, they have found those supports. This adds to what was publicized already, which was … a bit more of about the same thing. They have all these top secret papers, but they seem to be written in code that hides the stuff they really need. Because we can see the machinery of death, perhaps, being shut down here and there, pretending it's unapproved. But we still don't get to see any sign of it being started up or maintained. 

In fact, from everything we still don't see in these discussions, it's most reasonable to conclude that this long-claimed government extermination system is a fiction, perpetuated to demonize the Syrian state and obscure the true nature of this huge crime against that state and its people.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Tortured Detainee Denials

Fail Caesar, Part 11: 
Tortured Detainee Denials
September 2, 2018
rough, incomplete

They Blame Heart Attack, Illness... Terrorists... Torture
The hospital number was to cover-up the systematic murder, and link to a false death report blaming - universally - heart attack or breathing stopped. Sometimes they're said to blame a preventable illness. But they never blame neglect or abuse leading to the natural deaths, and they never credit torture or mass execution. After all, they always acknowledge the people WERE held in THEIR jails … or so it's implied.

2011 Heart Attack. Caused by Torture
The two earliest entries in the Caesar photos are in the May, 2011 folder - the only two to show how just weeks into the "peaceful protests" and "brutal crackdown", Assad's forces were already torturing detainees. One is a young man - AF intel prisoner j-201 from 5-2011. He's been identified as Zaher Ahmad Mubaied, 21, arrested at a checkpoint near Daraya and badly tortured, shown dead on opposition video (wisely, after he was seen in government hands) VDC says he died 2011-06-01 by Detention - Torture, and it lasted over a month. Notes:  "He was arrested on one of the security checkpoint on 28-4-2011 while he was going back from Somariah to Daraya, he was torture to death." Interestingly, the only thing we see of his custody is a "Caesar photo" of his body in the government's hospital, with heart testing electrodes (clearly the same lash marks, photo setting). They were checking if he was alive, maybe because they didn't know much about the apparently dead body found and processed - perhaps the first unknown body of the conflict found in the Damascus area.

The other of the two is the elderly (72?) Mahmoud al-Zoubi from Daraa is included as AF intel prisoner #j-000, at Hospital 601 presumably, in May, 2011 folder. This is not the former Prime Minister of Syria Mahmoud al-Zoubi from Daraa, who died almost exactly 11 years earlier, but they may be related. Below, that photo (right) compared to his appearance in a video (left). I made this ID myself from that, and remain totally confident of it. 

The forehead tape is blurred in the Caesar photos, in a shape matching the area of writing visible in the video. This - apparently - shows he was unidentified body #7, of at least 28 found, after murky events late on April 29 - (the day after Zaher's alleged arrest, as it happens, but in a different area). For some reason this was altered to- maybe just to obscure the implication of unidentified body? The mess here - best anyone can decipher - is a bizarre reading of his alleged death date, May 23, 2011 - after nearly a month of torturous detention. 

But really, he probably died on the a month earlier, and his body was left near the military housing compound near Saida, Daraa, along with famous boy victim Hamza al-Khatib.  

Activists claimed Hamza, Mahmoud, and several others were arrested on the 29th from a peaceful protest that was ambushed at Saida. Most or all were order to pray to Assad about a month in, but refused and were killed, then handed back to family the same day. But despite the stories, their bodies as seen on video (nine cases analyzed) clearly suggest they had spent about a month dead, slowly decaying in deep refrigeration.

The government detention-torture stories must be untrue. Or, is there some other logical reason for what we see, some "green torso torture?" At right is Hamza on May 25, half-green on the day they say he was killed, compared to a clearly false claim about Hamza's heroic last act earlier that day, from a very dubious alleged witness.

Anyway, Hamza is not included in the Caesar photos, nor is any of the other 9 victims I recognize, aside from the oldest one, Mahmoud. He's claimed as a tortured detainee with the rest. A video released at that time shows his body, which is one of two that's not so clear on advanced decay (it's possible he died later, or it's just not as evident). The video hosts related helpfully how the sheikh was killed for refusing to accept Bashar Assad as his god.

And they show an official paper related to his death, perhaps an unauthorized copy, dated May 23. The decay issue is less clear in his case, but this is probably the date of body release, not of death. It's a date activist wanted to emphasize, judging by the forehead writing. But the paper cites the prior autopsy findings (which should be from the end of April, if he's truly part of the event with Hamza, as alleged, rather than tacked-on later). Date aside, it says:
    سبب الوفاة توقف القلب (الناتج): التالي لشدة نفسية ناجمة عن العنف والتعذيب

Heart attack due to psychological distress caused by violence and "torture". 

This is apparently taken as an admission of the detention-torture story that the general decay of the victims proves is untrue. But this probably refers to "torture" by the "terrorists" who must have killed him - and perhaps Hamza, and the others. Reports at the time seemed unsure if Hamza was killed in the gun battle at the housing compound, or in another way, and labored to deny any signs of torture (perhaps wrongly). If they did see or note torture on him or any of the others, they would have to conclude it was the terrorists, who then dumped their victims, stripped of ID and probably naked, for the government to process as unknowns, numbered 1-28.

2013, Qatana: Worries, Rumors, Acknowledgments
This VDC report on 2013 admissions or alerts of alleged death of Branch 227 prisoners from the was interesting reading. In total, four incidents in the Damascus area are covered, in mostly-chronological order. For effect, we'll do it a bit different, with special focus on the second episode. As listed by the same group, and well-informed in a sense, these cover 66 men with murky ends - several who may well be included in the "Caesar photos" as well, and one that definitely is. 

March 24, 2013: Heart Attack, NOT Torture
14 victims identified -apparently without family help - and their families were alerted. "Members of the leadership of the military police in Kaboun handed over a list containing the names of fourteen martyrs of the sons of the city of Qatana - Damascus, died under torture in the Branch – 227 of military security." As if the list itself said that. 

But surprise, "When the families went to Kaboun they inquired about the cause of death, but the members of the military police responded that the causes of death were different, including heart attack, angina, and denied that any of them had died under torture." Those tricky devils.  "When families asked about the whereabouts of the bodies to receive and bury, members said and literally "they are in Tishren Military Hospital, go search for them there" It's not clear if they did so, or just how much of that is true. 

VDC lists 14 names, Qatana torture deaths 3-24-2013
- 2 named Buqaee, 
- 2 named Awad  (displaced by someone, from Golan), 
- Basher Esam Shuqer (detained Feb. 8 - see below)
- Ayham Ahmad Omran was identified in 2015 in the Caesar photos as 227-415 (1-11-2012). "a 25 year old single Petroleum Engineer, who was in prison before under accusation of humiliating the national feeling and conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime."
"About his arresting circumstances, al-Qatanani mentioned that a sergeant in the military security branch in the town of Qatana
known as Abo Saeed called Ayham for a matter and arrested him for no clear reason, and his death’s news reached to Qatana, but
al-Qatanani was not sure about the photo of his body."  (Zaman al-Wasl)

June 5-20, 2013: Some Illness
In June, there were notes citing as unspecified disease caught in the 227 prison, Jdaidet Artuz area many similar cases were recorded in Branch 227, including a number of Christians and Palestinians, Activist "Abu Asi" a member of a Jdaidat Artouz coordination said in his testimony to VDC." He says "the last time on 06/20/2013 municipality delivered some of the names to mayor "Ibrahim Adarir", the info "included in addition to the names of the victims, a number of the body, and also the cause of death of alleged to be some diseases in Branch 227 - Damascus." 

VDC lists 10 share a note to this effect, listed June 5, 6, and 20, all from the Jdaidet Artuz area. They weren't fooled by the disease talk, and list them as dying from torture. Two are named Marbia, one a taxi driver and the other probably not. This happens frequently. It's not clear how, but perhaps the mobile one is caught first, and the other is taken in only after a phone call to bring cash quickly... It's said the bodies were not handed over, just their things. 

Side-Notes on Artuz, Christians, Taxi Drivers, Brothers
VDC has 10 Christians listed that way and also as tortured martyrs. In Jdaidet Artuz, two such, working as workers somewhere, were killed or listed the same day in this span, 2013-05-18: Fadi Yousef Lutfy, 32 and Eid Nizar Tarben, 36. Not much detail given. They're not on the above list as dying from illness, and the branch isn't specified. 

Also listed, out of our scope but interesting: Emad Anton Khabazeh, a Christian taxi driver up in Aleppo was listed in July 2013 as "martyred under torture in the Political Security branch in Aleppo after his arrest on charges of cooperation with the FSA / / / Christian" That's how solid the Christians were against Assad. And the guy was tough. They tortured and tortured, but never did get any info on who he was helping to sneak across the Turkish border - voluntarily of course. 

Consider a Zaman al-Wasl (Lebanon) report on Ahmad Shehadeh Shanwan, a taxi driver from Damascus area, taken and killed by Air Force intelligence, on an unclear trip between Homs, the Jordanian border, and the Shia-majority Damascus suburb of Sayida Zainab - "voluntarily as is its custom in late 2011." It sounds like he was detained closest to Sayida Zainab, which is near Daraya, Artuz, these other areas around the west fringes of Damascus we're considering. The VDC apparently doesn't list him or any relatives as detained or killed (I tried for Arabic, different spellings, areas, etc. and even found a near-matching clan, Shahin, but their Ahmed seems to younger, and an "FSA" fighter), but Zaman al-Wasl ran the pic, got an ID, and lists 2 brothers also detained. The photo they published for Ahmed appears in the Caesar photos as "anonymous (unknown) branch" 648 1-7-2012. Analysis suggests he has no known prisoner number, and is unidentified body #648.

Back to the VDC report: one man they heard from claims he was one of those taken in then from Jdaidet Artouz in these days Abdul Rauf, 26, "with reservation on the detention and release dates and full name for security reasons," related all about the horrors at a couple of different prisons: "everyone was standing on his feet, and we slept while standing. ... Beatings was on a daily basis, especially beating on legs "Falaka"... swollen legs and chronic skin diseases, … one of the detainees who had been tortured severely till his skin was disintegrated, then they put him in the garbage barrel for many hours, and then they throw in the bathrooms corridor "toilet" and his skin was so much rotten with a bad smell out of his wounds , and soon he was dead.  … the smell of rotten human flesh because of sores and prevalent diseases and the temperature was very high. ...  I think that the number of those who die as a result of the disease is equal to or slightly higher than the number of those who are dying under of torture ."  

June 9, 2013: Biological Warfare Massacre Averted?
In another case on June 9, families were invited to claim somehow identified bodies, but the VDC heard the bodies were "rotten and contagious because of the disease spread among the detainees so the families were afraid to go there because of that disease and the [fear] of getting detained , the bodies are still there and we don’t know what happened to them." (for this they list 20 men from a few families from Qadam). 

An Official Acknowledgement?
An official letter said to relate to this is shown in the VDC report. Local Coordinating Committees logo on the photo of it. The header date looks strange, but seems reasonable: 201_/d/m, filled in 3/6/6. As cited in the report, it says:

“No objection to handing the dead body of the arrested (name is hidden) who died on 20th 11 2012... with body No.(hidden) by the intelligence department /Branch 227, due to the letter from the aforementioned Branch and in case of burial, to give his family a legal letter of death”

Staff Colonel Ra’eif Abdulsalam: Head of Investigation Department 

This letter makes no mention of disease, torture, or anything as to cause of death, but they do seem to know the death date. And it refers to a "detainee." (I don't suppose the word used can be ambiguous?) The letter says they have "no objection" to returning the bodies, but somehow this didn't always happen. In these cases, it never seems to.

May 31, 2013: The True Story?
But interesting as all that is, the second cited case at the end of May stands out. About a week before  the letter cited above was sent around, again in Qatana, news surfaced of 19 locals killed, allegedly under torture in the 227 branch. Citing activist "Khal Abu Ahmed" the report states:

“Two days or three before the second list of names, news leaked among the families that there is a new list contains many of names of martyrs who have died under torture, and the detachment of military security in the Katana is the source of this leakage, but the families did not take it seriously, where they thought they only broadcast terror in the hearts of activists." 

Were the officials really the primary source for these rumors? That's presumed, but other parties might be slipping tidbits they shouldn't know, themselves having some interest in terrorizing some people in their areas of attempted control. Right? 

But as the report says, a couple days later, on May 31, that new list appeared. A letter was sent from Qaboun "to the Municipal Council of Qatana "containing the names of 19 martyrs and asked them [families?] to also go to the leadership of the military police in Kaboun to receive their stuff." "Among the names of the victims there were many persons from Golan south of Syria, who fled to the city." The VDC eventually got 22 names for Qatana, 5-31-2013 torture deaths noted so:

"Martyred in the regime's military police's branch 227 (district branch), the families were informed of the prisoner's death through the municipal office by the military police members, the martyr's personal stuff and ID were handed to them, but the bodies are not yet received by the family."

So they got them to come in, and said "sorry, those guys we arrested just got sick, or died of "heart failure" right? This is how we're told the system worked. But in this case, the report explains:

Families went the detachment of military security in the city asking about the reason for the death of their sons, the answer of detachment members was as follows: "You know the terrorist armed groups kidnaped them and killed them." 

This is something I can totally see them saying, something that I suspect is the truth. The Syrian side has been quite silent about the possible content of the photographs (see here), aside from an early statement by the Syrian Ministry of Justice that the photos showed "unidentified persons" killed in the foreign-backed violence. Some were militants killed in clashes, they said (few if any of those I've seen look like that), and others were "civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups because of their support to the state." A vest majority of those I've seen do look like they could be just such people. 

But here we're considering bodies identified and offered back in 2013, not those hidden away and documented only secretly with the Caesar photos. Some of those listed:

- Six listed as displaced (by whom?) from Golan: Mahmoud Mousa Khames, Ahmad Ismael Khames (both from Golan, Hawadja tribe), Ammar al-Haj Tayser (photo), Omar Abdelbari al-Najjar, Mohammad Adel Basouneh, Mamoun Mohammad Al-Awad ("another source said his name is Mamon Mohammad Awad Sharabi" The 3-24 batch contained 2 men named Awad, both noted as Golanis as well)

Jamal Abdo Hamoud: civilian like the rest ("another source said that he was an Army Officer") 

- Mahmoud al-Sheikh: age 68, photo. Notes: "Known as (Abo Abdo al-Mondalan),Arrested on 1/5/2013, he is the father of the martyr Rasheed al-Sheikh, Martyred in the regime's military police's branch 227..."

- Khaldoun Abdo Shuqear: Arrested on 1/10/2012). From the ID card and previously reported ID, I can be sure he's also included in Caesar photos, as disappeared detainee 227-663, 1-11-2012. He has (unidentified body?) number H#2538 (from another photo I have - no need to show here).

Zaman al-Wasl (Lebanon) reported in 2015 Even disabled die under torture in Assad’s prisons: Caesar’s photos. The man "called Khaldoon Abdo Shokair … suffered of difficulties in speaking and deformation in his face and legs which limited his movement, therefore he needed to used a small modified motorcycle to move in Qatana." As far as I can tell his mind was fine. He was "married and a father of one daughter," and got arrested by Assad's thugs from his work in a local bakery on October 1. (this useful article offers other photo matches from Qatana, which I'll be comparing to these early reports and adding to the post)

- Ziad Shuqair: an apparent relative (arrest date not noted)

- Asem Haytham Shuqaer: another apparent relative (Arrested on 1/12/2013 - a year later? no - mixed date formats. January 12.)

Recall another Shuqair was reported killed on March 24, just taken in in February. It's not clear how the authorities belatedly attained these four ID of men from the same family, other than from their relatives. But here, they know first and alert the families. Did someone who knew the case even better give them a belated tip?

- Majd al-Taki (Abo Ayman) is listed. In 2015, he would be identified as 227-1498 (3-2013) "...the second victim who had a sticker of number 1498 on his front. He was 38 years old, married and had two daughters, according to al-Qatanani.  Abo Ayman was a carpenter, arrested at one of regime’s barriers under accusation of distributing aid. “I know him in person, he was a good and respected man, his death under torture was a shock for us” al-Qatanani said. (Zaman al-Wasl)

- A Husam Doha is listed. An Ammar Idnan Doha would be listed on June 20 an in 2015. 227-410 (1-11-2012) was identified as Adham Dhoha, 26, dentistry student. "Al-Qatanani mentioned that Dhoha was arrested because of medical equipment were found in his field , and his death was announce a month after arresting." (Zaman al-Wasl)

Now consider the above cases in light of this list, from observation, of who among the Syrian people terrorists might kidnap, kill, and perhaps torture along the way:
- soldiers, police, all forces of order, on or off-duty
- non-Sunnis
- non-Salafist Sunnis
- Informers, anyone who opposes them, supports the government
- people who wouldn't make good fighter anyway
- people who would make great fighters, but refuse
- victims of robbery and witnesses to other crimes (including people who bring ransom money for someone else)

Those they'd like to have "Assad" seen as killing, and so might kill for little or no other reason:
- the above, if possible, especially:
- those Syria has championed; Palestinians, Golanis: this shows the Islamist uprising and global jihad are their salvations, not outmoded secular regimes
- peaceful, promising, known activists who reject Islamism and militancy: this keeps the Islamist militants off the hook, and makes the turn to violent Islamism that favors them seem to be "Assad's fault."
- young, old, chubby, disabled: no threat, but killed anyway. This proves the mindless evil the growing and decreasingly opposed armies of Islam are up against.
- gay people, the unborn, cats and dogs, ancient churches, anyone or anything someone out there loves and wants to protect