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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Re-Considering Hamza al-Khatib and the Events of April 29, 2011

Re-Considering Hamza al-Khatib
and the Events of April 29, 2011
April 29, 2016
(last edits June 22)

Update May 25: Today marks five years - most people have heard - since the death of child martyr Hamza Al-Khatib. His dead body was handed over to his family on May 24, but his gravestone, most articles, the Wikipedia article so far, etc. are all clear he died the next day, exactly when the news broke (and exactly a year before the Houla Massacre, for what it's worth - some people seem to think that's worth something).

To mark this strange alleged death date, I released an 18-page report summarizing my findings so far: 5 years after the event ... what was the event? That's available here (revised draft added June 22).

Below is the big but browse-able article meant to summarize the case. It's behind at the moment but likely to catch up and expand past the report.  

Today (April 29) marks five years - I suspect - since the death of child martyr Hamza al-Khatib. His supposed killing under torture by Syrian military intelligence ("Mukhabarat") sparked widespread condemnation of the Syrian government when it first made the news in late May, 2011. I had never looked closely at this case, but was recently spurred to, and started the page April 29, 2011 in Deraa at A Closer Look On Syria.

That will expand, but what I've gathered so far is sufficient for this post on some issues of contention: the victim's age, the castration/mutilation claims, and especially death time and length of detention - he was likely never arrested at all. And finally, we'll assess the conflicting narratives and evidence for what happened on April 29, 2011 - which the opposition has termed the "Saida Massacre." It's said this is when he was arrested, but I think it's when he was murdered, along with many others.

Five-year re-visitations of the story will be in late May, which is taken as his death date (most cite 25 May, one day after his body was handed over to this family!) so this marking of the true anniversary of his death puts the reader weeks ahead in terms of a counter-argument (so be sure to bookmark this).

To meet the obscure anniversary, I'm posting this incomplete, and will be adding to it.  As it stands, it's too long and wordy, but I'm too tired to finish slimming it down. Some parts left undone for now, etc.

Ham'za's Ali Al-Khatib  (Arabic: حمزة علي الخطيب ) was reportedly aged 13, from Deraa province, in the town of Jizah (Jeezah on Wikimapia). That's a bit southeast of Deraa city (alt. Dara'a, etc.), the site of some of the earliest violence of the uprising. The surrounding countryside was even harder hit starting this early.

Hamza's father, Ali Al-Khatib, is said to be aged 60, with Hamza being the youngest of his 20 children from his two wives. This often means the family was prosperous (or would be, etc.), and as such would likely be approached to support the uprising with money and sons. Voluntarily or not, it seems they wound up giving Hamza at least.

Opposition sources say Hamza was first arrested on Friday, April 29, 2011 when he joined "peaceful marches towards the city (of Deraa) in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade" said to be imposed there (Amnesty International report); the theme of that Friday's protests was "break the blockade." According to activists but with no proof, the hundreds of protesters came under unprovoked fire along the way, several were shot dead, and Hamza and perhaps hundreds of others were arrested by security forces, some 20-51 fatally arrested by the Mukhabarat. Among those, Hamza and at least two others were what we would class as children - Thamer Al-Sharei, age 15, and Hussam Al-Zoubi, age 17.

The bodies of Hamza and others were delivered to their families by the government weeks later in brutalized form. Hamza alone made the news as the youngest victim. On May 24 or 25, video surfaced on the Internet of  the darkened, swollen body of the 13-year-old after it was returned to his family, reportedly on the 24th (rotated screen-grab at right). As they said, he bore signs of "torture" from his month-long detention, and had his penis hacked off by his regime captors. That would be some unforgettable, unforgivable crime.

This is ultra-famous footage, seen by millions, who expressed brain-dead shock and poorly-directed rage and indignation. Syrian protesters and their supporters used his image heavily to underline their case why "Assad must go." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was typical in calling Hamza's murder a "turning point" - when simple protests were repressed with the torture and castration of harmless, pudgy 13-year-olds, of course the people would have to fight instead. People helped the rebels get better at fighting, more areas were "liberated" but started suffering daily deaths and weekly massacres, and here we are five years into that, and probably past half a million people killed, including tens of thousands of children, and a nation in tatters, pouring refugees. 

No one really asked any questions about the reported story, or hinted there might even be a reason to do so. But here are my top questions to start, and my best answers so far.

Age - A Man in His Twenties? 13? 12? Other?
I had previously decided the dead Hamza was adult-sized and well over 13 years-old. Looking closer, I can only say it's a little ambiguous. The best views (morgue photos, see below) show he seems to lack body hair which points to 13 or even younger, or older with slow puberty. But he also seems pretty large, in weight and stature, likely a bit older and two bits heavier than in the circulated portrait photo.

I was originally slanted in my thinking by trusting the coroner, Dr. Akram al-Shaar, as widely reported; by this, he saw "a plump young man in his twenties." This is taken as conflicting badly with the usually claimed 13, and so was embraced by some supporters of Syria's government and derided by the other side. The Atlantic Wire's article was titled "On Syrian State TV Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb Is No 'Child Martyr,'" This cited "in his twenties" along with other points of their version of events, in a mildly dismissive way. But to its credit, the Wire noted a comment pointing out the original Arabic better translates "in his second decade." That means between 10 and 20, or vaguely just a teenager. (cited SANA report, dead link) Thus, by the end the leading point of the article was moot. It remains a decent read.

In fact ... this video of Al-Shaar's presentation (English captions via CC) specifies "second decade," "the teenager Hamza," and notes his lack of body hair, all suggesting something like 13. (also "plump" is put as "too fat," or maybe should be "overweight.") So there seems little to no conflict after all on age. But hardly anyone has noticed that; critics of the opposition narrative might remain fixated on this being a man aged 20+, a different Hamza than presented or an imposter, and those on the other side might continue to roll their eyes at that nonsense. But in fact, "second decade" seems like the best shorthand, and the "regime" doctor has more credibility that some thought. He might need that (see below).
It seems such a famous person as Hamza al-Khatib should have a tragically recent birth date shared somewhere to specify his age. The Wikipedia page for Hamza and his death currently gives a birth date of October 24, 1997. That would be 5 months shy of turning 14, but that's under challenge by me on the talk page there. It's not cited, and I can't find a source that agrees - just one that disagrees.

Beneath Zaman al-Wasl's posting of the morgue photos, there's a painted gravestone with readable dates (image link, crop at right). Even this may not be trustworthy, despite being painted in what appears to be cemetery. But that seems to be his name in green, and below it says his birth date, or first date anyway is 1998/5/6, or May 6, 1998. By this, he was only 12 years old on April 29, and might well have died before reaching 13, or been killed on his birthday or after, depending. (apparent death date below - 2011/5/25 must be wrong or mean burial date - see below)
May 25: ACLOS translator confirms this says he was martyred ( استشهد ), not buried, on May 25. See section for all related translations.

Why be so certain he was 13? I Don't know. What was the Jihadists' fatwa-based age limit at the time for boy (off-limits) vs man (okay to kill)? Was it 13? If so, that might be a clue as to why they say he had definitely reached that age ... even though they're blaming someone else.

Castration claims and denials, considered
Universally, opposition and sympathetic sources claim that Hamza had his penis cut off, severed, removed. That's supported by everyone who says they've seen non-blurred morgue photos or later videos. The available imagery is unclear to me at the moment (more forthcoming on that).

The Amnesty report for one is sure this happened, having seen it, and describes random and crude abuses they heard about and/or saw on video with other returned bodies. 15-year-old Thamer Al-Sharei is one of these, with an alleged eyewitness to part of it (dubious), and video for the aftermath. His morgue photos (see below) bear out their expert's description of a video, looking even worse than it sounds - his cheek is torn open and mouth broken apart by some tool or weapon (a pick-axe perhaps?). In general, these people were abused and mutilated, hopefully after death. Castrating the youngest victim sounds like it would fit right in with such brutal killers, whoever they were. Its' said young Thamer was also "bludgeoned" in the genitals (Amnesty).

So far, I'm finding this claim far more credible than I first expected (I didn't even know there were other detainees before!). But the Syrian official story, read straight as I had been reading it, seems to deny it outright, again skewing my thinking. Coroner Dr. Akram Al-Shaar told state TV “there weren’t any traces of violence, resistance or torture or any kinds of bruises, fractures, joint displacements or cuts" on Hamza's body, backing the claim of the judge presiding over the case.

However, in the video of his presentation, Al-Shaar emphasizes pre-death and post-death injuries, and seemingly includes decay as a type of the latter (a dubious classification). In this way, he seems to suggest anything that looks like torture or mutilation is just from decay, mentioning that a swollen scrotum is one sign of it. That whole portion seems odd and illogical. If this was meant as side-stepping, it didn't come through well, and seems more like clumsy avoidance. 

It could be Al-Shaar's assessment is true, and the others are somehow wrong. But I doubt it. The very morgue photos he's speaking about are said to be as clear as anything on the point, and the way he says everything seems carefully considered, besides strange, only underlining my doubts. I also note he prefaces his account by citing a specific legal code ("the legal oath," as translated, "mentioned in article 41 of the penal code"). That rule might include a reason for his speaking in this way.

Avoidance/denial. What would that mean? Obviously, a cover-up is one possibility. But this is a moment for the thinking cap. Ben Taub writes about "a doctor who had reported that the boy’s penis had been cut off," and who was dismissed by the official investigation as having “misjudged the situation.”  What is this "situation?" Is it medical, or political? These are the options officials would be faced with if they had a castrated 12/13-year-old boy on their hands:
  1. Acknowledge the torture/mutilation and take the credit,
  2. Acknowledge it but claim they found the boy that way, and their "terrorists" must have done it
  3. Try to somehow side-step the issue 
Can you imagine Damascus claiming its "terrorist" boogeymen were not only shooting at soldiers and such, but herding crowds of human shields along with them, and then murdering, castrating, and mutilating even boys during their "mostly peaceful protests"? That would be the peak of absurdity for dictator propaganda, worse than Muammar Gaddafi's ridiculous claims of Captagon-popping Al-Qaeda terrorists behind the killing of protesters and defecting soldiers in Libya, or that NATO intervention would lead to a failed state in Libya and a haven for extremists ... silly dictators. </sarcasm>

No, no one who needs to be convinced would have been. I think the Syrians would rather not make this claim, or have the situation on their hands to begin with. So quite likely, they would choose the last option. It could be they're playing with semantics, for the sake of his family, or to limit public outrage and stoking of tensions, or for whatever reason. The exam says cause of death was gunshots. However it happened, Al-Shaar is careful to say Hamza was alive when this happened, and it could be he meant to say there were no other injuries when he was shot. Re-assembled, he'd be saying the boy died quickly and suffered no torture. So If his body had any cuts, it was mutilation after the fact.

But verbally, he's quite clear it didn't have any cuts prior to his exam. That seems possibly deceptive. But we should note this is for the general public inside Syria and to the world outside - people who, it could be said, didn't need to know all these details. Who really would need to know? The legal authorities investigating the case, and the boy's family. Maybe it was under duress, but Hamza's uncle said on state TV (see here, subtitles via CC), after meeting with President Assad: 
"We do not care about foreign media. What we care about is to get the truth, and to get it correct and complete. We have received martyr Hamza's body from the national hospital in Daraa and everything has been documented in the doctor (medical) report, which is now in the attorney general's office, and we have a copy of it." 
Hamza's father, Ali al-Khatib, is present and seems to agree with all that's said. They don't seem to feel that any relevant details were omitted in this report that actually matters to them.

(note: some explain statements like these as created by regime pressure - an activist told Al-Jazeera how Ali's wife (so either Hamza's mother or maybe the second wife) told him they were threatened to blame Jihadists or else. But I haven't seen anywhere he did blame jihadists, or anyone ... nonetheless, the activist might be onto something there.)

Update, May 25: One comments under a sub-post spurred me to look closer and form an opinion here. The little bean bag I though they had his injury covered with is his scrotum, swollen. At the top is a small curved shape, separate. It could almost be the head of a penis with the scrotum swelled around it, but more likely a testicle poking out through a cut in the scrotum. That would support a cutting injury there, and leave no penis visible. That could actually be just hidden, but there's a cut here, so ... I stand by the basic idea - Dr. Al-Shaar seems to be inaccurate, on this point.

Date of Death and the Dubious Reality of Hamza's Detention
This is the most important part and closely related to the troubling questions above. The main proof most people need that Hamza was ever a prisoner is that the government possessed his body last before returning it to his parents. "Returned" is taken to mean he was first taken away by the government, but there are actually other options. Officially, he died on April 29, before the government touched his body.

Just in case someone might realize that and wonder ... there were also unverified claims that Hamza, along with others, was definitely arrested in broad daylight by a certain branch of Syria's Mukhabarat, or intelligence services. People saw these arrests and can say how many there were, but as far as I know none of it was videotaped, and we're left with verbal stories.

And the opposition claims proof at the other end,  that he was killed only after a prolonged detention. They couldn't at first know just when he was killed, ut they seemed sure he was alive and suffering up to the very end - the 24th of May or so, is consistently implied. As noted, his alleged gravestone at least gives a date of May 25 (perhaps meaning burial date). That's 1-4 days after his family had the dead body back in their hands. His VDC entry gives April 29, but they probably don't mean it (it usually means date of identification, but here they'd say it's date of arrest).

"Abu Hamza" vs. morgue photos
Alleged fellow prisoner "Abu Hamza al-Doumani" (meaning father of Hamza, from Douma - who took his pseudonym from the boy in honor) claims to illustrate nearly the entire detention of little Hamza, in a patently ludicrous account, given its own space here to fail in its full glory. He clashes with the photo evidence even as he scrambles to explain it, even up to explaining the apparent weight gain between little Hamza and dead Hamza: 10-12 liters of fluid the torturers poured in his mouth, swelling his body, right before they castrated him, and then shot him 3 times, while "Abu Hamza" watched helplessly through an open door. It was because the 13-year-old pissed on Assad's portrait when asked to accept him as God. This account is so obviously fictitious it can be taken as casting doubt on the whole notion. This is what they came up with to fill in the gap? It's pathetic.

Doumani's account is not clear on when that bizarre killing was, but the news agency (al-Arabiya?) was apparently told the witness spent about "a  month" with the heroic Hamza, at branch 248 prison in Damascus. He was there after two apparently swift transfers following an April 29 arrest, and Doumani says the boy was already there when he arrived. "I recognized him on first sight," he says, strangely. From this to death even being rounded-up to "one month," all fitting before May 24, means, again, Hamza was alive for the longest span possible. He spent 11 days alone hanging from the ceiling by his wrists, alongside "Abu Hamza." Then he was puffed up with fluids and darkened with green patches and killed right at the end.

The morgue photos are available now for visual clues. By these, he has no wrist marks from his 11 days hanged by them. They show he had apparently chugged 10-12 liters of sugary fluids every few days, voluntarily, for some time, and no special amount the day he died. And they show he was at least briefly dead, overweight, and not yet dark or bloating.

These photos thus are important evidence and could help set the date. But these passed through the hands of the defector "Caesar," and so we can presume it's the same as the rest - the meta-data proving the date has disappeared (and could be fake if it was there anyway).

So ... April 29 at least remains in the frame of possibilities. In fact, no half of that day is ruled out. It remains possible he was never arrested, just found that day already dead, and hauled in as an unidentified body, which would be ascribed a number...

About 25 detainees, as expected 
It's said up to 51 civilian captives from the Saida protest were all detained by Air Force Intelligence, who are alleged to be notorious torturers and killers, apparently even of kids and old men. Al-Jazeera's activist claims there were 51 total people taken by them as prisoners, all of them alive. But he doesn't explain how he knows that, and to him, only about 25 total were expected to turn up. He wailed "we received 13 bodies back this week" (up to May 31) and "we're expecting another dozen bodies back in the coming days." That would about 25, and the other half of that 51 total .... no expectations are mentioned.

In the end, about 20-25 wound up killed and handed back; Amnesty's report names 20 taken, killed, and identified. This VDC query lists 23-24 identified victims (24 entries, one may not fit, the rest do). So was that really a guess, or did this activist know in advance roughly how many people the "Mukhabarat" would be killing, or had already killed? He even might have known what tortures were committed. This raises questions about the supposed secret detention. 
Caesar photo detainees?
In mid-March, 2015. the Syrian defector code-named Caesar and his allied activist group Syrian National Movement / SAFMCD,  released to the public thousands of facial ID photos from the infamous "Caesar torture photos" files (analysis ongoing in the Fail, Caesar series and important report forthcoming.) This is said to include the photos of Hamza and of child victim Thamer al-Sharei, whose well-known detention helped prove the others, and who in turn were borne out as early prisoner in this massive system. Their morgue photos were first released through the "Caesar" channel, at the same time (March 16) in an exclusive by the well-connected Lebanese daily Zaman al-Wasl, (with sub-links below to fuller photos for each boy)

But as I explain here, they aren't part of the app. 6,700 tortured Mukhabarat prisoners presented at the SAFMCD site. They lack the full code number system, and were not kept secret like those supposedly are - their bodies were handed back, and Hamza's morgue photos were already shown on Syrian state TV in 2011. And having scoured the whole site, I can also say they just don't appear.

Thus, if we take these as part of Caesar's collection at all, they would be part of the "other half" of the photos, including killed soldiers, victims of various attacks, etc. If so, they would seem to be the first examples we've seen.

But then ... the oldest victim, Mahmoud Al-Zoubi - is featured as a prisoner #000 (unknown) of AF intel, from May, 2011! This is explained here, with a run-down of how this story reflects on his death and the rest of the alleged secret prisoners.

Detention vs. Delay
As for the nearly month-long "detention," it could just be a long delay in identifying the body and/or getting it to the family. Dr. al-Shaar claims on state TV that it was simply from being unable to identify the body, with no further explanation why it took so long. As he puts it, the delay was a bit shorter than reported - in the video (1:51) he says Hamza's body was delivered "by Judicial orders" on May 21, 2011 - three days before the opposition side claims. This would follow on an established ID and claim by a family member probably a day or so prior.

But still, that's just 22 vs. 25 days since he was arrested or killed, a rather long delay either way. As noted, it seems it took just about as long or longer with the others. Were they waiting for DNA results? Trying to figure out who even to ask? The exact nature of the ID process and the delay in it remain unclear to me. This could possibly be engineered on the opposition side, somehow misdirecting the investigation or convincing people not to claim the bodies.

It could also just be a more natural delay. But it helped create an impression of Hamza and the others being held for that time. And who wants to just hold onto decaying bodies? Prisoners are what you keep as long as possible, so we're to presume they remained alive for all or most of that time.

One man was only returned June 30 and notes "His family could not identify his corpse because of the mutilation, and had to request DNA testing." Decay might have played in as well by then. Another returned on 4 July is shown, black with decay. Hamza was in better shape than these, but that was a month earlier. In all cases, time has passed since they disappeared on April 29. Some of that was perhaps time since arrest, some of it definitely time after death.

In fact, it might all be time after death, and "activists" might have known all about the killings from the start. See longer, graphic explanation with icky visuals - 9 victims with video all show advanced decay, notably green patches in the torso and near major wounds. This suggests they've each been rotting for a few days in the open, or perhaps several weeks in deep refrigeration. The way they all show it, seemingly worse with each body released,  suggests they probably all died at about the same time, and that time was probably just before their alleged arrests. At the very least, that can't be ruled out.

And consider this: after the furor over Hamza's killing in late May, what did authorities do? Denied it, tried to limit the damage ... and kept on torturing the rest of the 20-25 victims to death, including 15-year-old Thamer in June, and kept handing the bodies back to the families. It's been said this is their way of advertising the terror message to the families, hoping to frighten the rebellion into submission. But little could their regime pea-brains predict, or ever learn in time ... this would only spark more protests or, actually by then, more fighting as well.

Such brutality only serves the extremist uprising bent on overthrowing the government. Yet, we're to believe, the government itself keeps tossing out these reminders and turning points on a regular basis, constantly failing to notice how it just keeps "backfiring."

People can say "Assad" is just irrational, as they do, and maybe that's so. But straight logic has this to say on the subject: this crime would only benefit the rebel side, so only their side has reasonable motive. They also have some very nasty characters involved, committing crimes that for years went almost totally ignored in the Western media. They have people who will gladly murder and abuse people just to get the regime in trouble and get a Libya-style NATO air force. A year later at the lastest they had people capable of doing the Houla Massacre and passing it off in the West.

And Hamza in particular reminds me of an observation I made here at ACLOS back in 2013. Considering who would be chosen by false-flag snipers to get a regime in trouble - and the same criteria would apply here, especially to the one whose penis they decided to hack off - I noted these will be some clues to watch for:
  1. The target is young, and shows the most promise cut short, by the regime of course.
  2. He might not make good fighter - pudgy, lazy, too young, too old, etc.
  3. Killing the young, weak, and harmless, if it's blamed on the regime, makes the regime look worse, more insane, etc.

Why such a late death?
The rebel story is a bit unclear or illogical on Hamza's date of death - and thus length of detention. They imply it was as long and torturous a captivity as possible, with the murder only near the end, just before hand-over on May 21-24 (disputed). Someone made it so the Wikipedia page has for a long time said  he died on May 25, 2011 - 1-4 days after his family received the body. Even his alleged grave marker cites May 25 as the final date. His burial date should be the 25th, but he was clearly dead some days at least by then. 

For an unknown like this, a range is appropriate, and that range would have to include back to the start of May, April 30, and April 29 - day and night. The opposition's "activists" say he was detained that afternoon, and everything from there should be unknown. But they've excluded that evening, and every day for weeks after, as a time when he was killed. So how did they rule that out? They couldn't.

Okay, eventually, there was the account of "Abu Hamza Al-Doumani" who spent "a month" (rounded-up) with Hamza in prison. Maybe he had already told them back then his bizarre story. More likely, someone else concoted some reason to presume a late death just because that made the best story. Also, they may have been trying to push the date past his birthday (not that I can see just why), and I think they were reflexively pushing the date as far away as possible from their last contact with Hamza. 

Why? Maybe because at their last contact, they shot him dead, along with some others, hastily mutilated their bodies, and then fled.  

This is what the Syrian government would probably have said if they didn't have to be so careful about what they say. From all I've seen in my studies so far, I suspect this is what happened. What the other side says could be paraphrased "No way could Hamza have been killed, died, or even been injured at all on that day. He was chubby, couldn't run, and clearly was just nabbed, and every bit of this abuse was done deliberately, by those guys, way later on ..."

video-photo comparative analysis 
(noting any differences in injuries, state of decay, or otherwise that constitutes a clue - not done yet, but I think we'll find the videos first shown all over the world show a significant degree of decay relative to the morgue photos.)

A crop from Zaman al-Wasl's compiled graphic for Hamza. As seen on (???)
#23, underline, nothing. Notes later.

Again, as famously seen in late May:

a less-seen video shows  clearer color... actual green decay, probably from his chest wound - a little unsettling how the same exact 23 card, or a perfect forgery, is plastered to the boy's side with what seems his own blood - more notes later)

First thoughts, to be refined: If this body had been left out in the elements in the spring or summer, I'd say about 2-3 days 3-4 days has passed between the photos and the videos. But with refrigeration involved, as it would be, I don't know ... death could stretch a week further, 2-3 weeks, back to April 29 (not an expert). There's no reason to put it any earlier, but if there were some reason, even a bit earlier might be possible.

So far it seems hard to prove, but I suspect the Syrian official story is true on this point - those morgue photos Hamza was already dead before were taken the night of the 29th. All abuse were prior to these photos, or any contact with the authorities.

The Day's Events
(Extremist) Opposition vs. Government Version vs. Mine

The set-up for the murky events
As usual, there are two broad narratives of events, but they both agree the incident was at least near to the military housing complex on the east edge of the town of Saida (as labeled, here on Wikimapia).

So far, I know of verbal accounts of the events. I'll dig later to see if any of it was captured on video by the hundreds of activists, and see if anything can be learned from that
I've located some video and have a good start analyzing it, here at ACLOS.  I'll post a summary here in time, maybe beneath the conflicting narratives, to let us compare.
Amnesty International's 2011 report Deadly Detention (PDF link) PDF report, explains from activists and "people close to the family" of Hamza al-Khatib how he "joined many hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages around Dera’a in peaceful marches towards the city (of Deraa) in a symbolic attempt to break the blockade". As they happened to pass what seems like one random spot along the way, the report continues, "the protesters" paused and demonstrated there and "were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them near the Saida military compound and arrested several hundred people." [2]

(To check: several hundred vs. 51 vs. 20... general arrests vs. AF Intel special ones?)

An eyewitness in another group told Amnesty that he and some 20 others, including 72-year-old Mahmoud al-Zoubi (al-Zu’bi), were in a van that happened to find itself "in the middle of the protest" as it was forming near "an area called Saida Military Residences, a housing complex for military personnel." For whatever unexplained reason, the protest had slowed up here, or come to a stop - was this the actual destination? It was never specified as the last stop, or the site of the "blockade" they wanted to break. But it could be related - they might have signs and messages directed at servicemembers' family: "ask your dad why...".

People were waving olive branches, Amnesty heard, and chanting "peaceful, peaceful." None of them ever opened fire or had any weapons, but then some chanted “Allahu akhbar!” and "a soldier called back “Chant for your own souls” and a minute later shooting suddenly began." 

The other version... Syrian state TV reports explained how people began to gather in different villages of Daraa province after Friday Prayer on the 29th, in response to "calls for Jihad," and the collected people than "set off toward the military housing compound in Said (Saida) area," apparently as the planned destination. “At that time, armed members showed up among the crowd and succeeded in misleading many young children into going with them to fire at the compound’s guards whose chief was martyred,” the report continues. The opposition VDC cites pro-government dampress.net to list what's likely this chief guard - corporal Rawad Mohsen Deeb, age 26, from Tartous, killed by shooting in Daraa.

State TV aired the account of Abdel Aziz Al-Khateeb, who claimed to be a close friend (not relative) of Hamza's (video: appears a bit old to be close buddies with a 13-year-old, but okay, maybe). Al-Khateeb says he joined Hamza and some others, including people from al-Mseifra and Bosra/Busrah. "We headed to the military residences in Saida accompanied by armed men," he says (as translated). He also mentions they had been equipped with "sharp arms" handed out by a local blacksmith. "As we reached there, some demonstrators opened fire toward the compound injuring one soldier. Later, there was a heavy fire exchange and we had to hide behind trees." 

Opposition members showing up at military housing with guns and custom-crafted blades would be an extremely provocative move, in context. Twelve days earlier and a ways north, in Homs, a brigadier-general of the Alawite faith was stopped on the road, where he was driving his teenage son and his two teenage nephews (all around 15-17, by the way, not 12.) All four were murdered, the son's head perhaps run over, and the bodies were mutilated with blades. (see Tellawi Family Massacre, April 17, 2011)

Military Alawites at least, and their civilian kin, were considered by some as fair game for killing. And here were others who might be operating on those rules ... near houses where military families of all faiths were headquartered, with wives and daughters included. This plus shooting at the guards fatally, and threatening to perhaps overrun the place, is a good way to get shot. And of course this is the Syrian official narrative, which might that even if it weren't true.

The fatal round-up
The middle part is unclear. In the opposition story, we have some people (mostly men, possible attackers) killed by army gunfire, and other protesters being chased, cornered, maybe shot down, and somehow arrested. It seems at least 25 men and boys total wound up secretly detained/disappeared at this time, and just that many came back later as murdered. Hamza's cousin told al-Jazeera "People were killed and wounded, some were arrested. It was chaotic we didn't know at that point what had happened to Hamza. He just disappeared." 

Amnesty's van witness says everyone jumped out when shooting started, and took cover. Maybe the van was disabled, so they tried to run, but the elderly Mahmoud al-Zoubi at least was too slow and was arrested (later, he was ofcourse brutally killed. In fact, seven al-Zoubis, aged 17-72, were among the 20 captured this day and then murdered, according to the Amnesty report. Was Mahmoud's slowness from age, or just something that runs in the family? What do we really know about these families?)

In the government's version, it's just about as murky, other than to say there was a clash and Hamza's body at least was found inside the housing complex, in just the shape they handed it over, except way fresher. All else, they seem fairly quiet about. So to help show how it might have happened, here's one scenario I have to propose myself:

Amid the intense and confusing gunfire, Hamza and other innocent and vulnerable types were urged to follow certain strangers among the armed men to safety, maybe in one group or in 2-4 smaller groups. Instead they were led to somewhere out of view, behind some abandoned building nearby, where they were somehow murdered, perhaps just gunned down, tied up first, or whatever, depending on the evidence.

The shots would blend in to what I imagine was insanely loud and prolonged gunfire someone decided should keep going. A guard at each end would help keep witnesses away. And then, most likely, the killers mutilated the bodies before they left the scene. The "regime torture" was done, and now it was just a wait for the "secret detention" to play out and the proof to be handed back and revealed to the world.

Perhaps the killers brought the victims in and killed them there, but most likely, the killing spot would be outside the guarded compound. Either they somehow weaseled inside dumped the bodies there, or they were actually just found nearby, with that part of the official story added for some reason (for example, to prove an intent to enter the compound, they say everyone who was shot shot in fact did enter).  

Or simpler yet, in a sense ... these people were pre-selected, abducted that morning or whenever, murdered and hastily mutilated, driven to the "protest" site in one of their vans, and simply dumped at the best spot. That sounds less plausible to me, but who knows? 

The clean-up
Later in the day, in the opposition's version, the 20-51 detainees were trucked to the prison at Mezzeh airport, presumably, and booked with the ID numbers, to start their final weeks of hell.

In the other version(s), the scene of the incident was secured, all armed men had fled, and a number of murdered and mutilated bodies were discovered. Judge Samer Abbas told Syrian TV “At a late hour on Friday 29/4/2011, we were informed by the (coroner's office) that body (of an) unidentified boy was in the hospital.” By morgue photos leaked in 2015, child victim Thamer al-Sharei was ascribed number 12, and Hamza was given #23, perhaps meaning unidentified bodies, and suggesting at least 12 bodies were processed in this same evening.

I definitely lean towards the official story for this part. I suspect they had about 25 such bodies on their hands that night.

Compared to the Video Record
(forthcoming - for now, feel free to compare that to the video analysis here at ACLOS) (or for most recent take, see the report.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome. Stay civil and on or near-topic. If you're at all stumped about how to comment, please see this post.