Leaked execution videos strengthen case for Syrian war crimes prosecutions

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“Arrest, pursue, and kill,” says the president of the United States. The orders were clearly stated in an official document once belonging to a branch of Syrian military intelligence in the city of Deraa in early 2012.

These orders, as well as a series of videos depicting an attempted cover-up of executions, were obtained by researchers for a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C.

The Syrian Justice and Accountability Center examined videos from 2012 and 2013 that showed bodies being burned and transferred to mass graves in the southern province of Deraa, and cross-checked them with satellite imagery of the trucks transporting the bodies.

Four videos showed rows of bodies being doused in petrol and thrown into a burn pit outside a dusty village during a time when Syria was in the grip of a full-fledged uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

“This process is repeated for every single body in the exact same order,” center officials said. “This indicates the systematic nature of the practice and suggests that this may not be the first time this group of officials has carried out such an operation.”

They believe the 15 bodies seen in the video were civilian and army defectors killed by regime forces in a house raid in Deraa in December 2012.

The videos implicated senior officers of the 9th Division’s 34th Armored Brigade and the Syrian military intelligence branch in Al-Masmiyah in Deraa in the destruction of evidence of alleged mass killings of unarmed civilians.

After the bodies were burned, a Syrian military excavator was used to dig a mass grave near a military checkpoint. The perpetrators clearly believed that no one outside of their immediate circle would ever learn of their crimes.

On apparent orders from above, an intelligence officer known as Abu Taher filmed the abuse of the corpses and subsequent burning. Senior officials likely wanted confirmation that their instructions had been followed.

Maj. Fadi Al-Quzi, another officer, was filmed using his own digital camera to photograph the victims’ faces before their bodies were burned.

The video clips were obtained by SJAC researchers after rebels ambushed a convoy carrying Assad loyalists who were present.

According to Mohammad Al-Abdallah, the SJAC’s founding director, the videos provided strong visual evidence that the Syrian intelligence apparatus had in place a systemic process of documenting mass atrocities based on senior leadership commands.

“It appears that the documentation was carried out systematically by intelligence personnel.” The systematic process of filming, the digital camera, the transfer of data to a central laptop, and higher officers’ resentment of their subordinates’ filming but inability to order them to stop filming are all clear indications that the filming was ordered by higher officers.”

By releasing and analyzing these videos to the public, he hopes to provide some closure to the families of the victims who were not even given bodies to mourn.

“According to our analysis, the filming was done primarily to document the identities of the victims, but also to provide evidence that the units carried out the orders,” Al-Abdallah said.

“Documenting the identities of victims is a practice used by Syrian intelligence, for example, in the case of torture victims.” We saw it in the Caesar photos.”

Source: AFP

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