New evidence from inside the Syrian regime shows “systematic” criminal acts. Western organisations now hope the evidence will help bring justice for families.
Syria’s Military Intelligence knew that detainees were being tortured and the numbers dying were rising, new documents reveal.
The evidence, seen by Channel 4 News, is drawn from the regime’s own internal records which have been smuggled out of Syria and analysed by war crimes investigators at a secret location in Europe.
It shows that the Syria’s Head of Military Intelligence asked to be informed about every single death of an individual in his custody.
War crimes investigators say the paperwork is evidence against the Syrian leadership and could be the key to justice for the families of the disappeared.
Bill Wiley, Head of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, a private non-profit organisation, funded by Western governments, told Channel 4 News they’ve uncovered vital new evidence against the leadership of Syria’s Military Intelligence.
They have uncovered regime documents providing details that match with corpses pictured in the so-called “Caesar photographs”, which were smuggled out of the country by a defector – and show bodies of over 6,700 people who died in regime custody.
Shown exclusively to Channel 4 News, the documents reveal it was known that detainees were being tortured and the numbers dying were rising.
The evidence obtained by investigators comes from the Military Intelligence’s own internal communications and reveals the Head of Syria’s Military Intelligence asked to be informed about every detainee death and even consulted on what to do with some corpses.
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…”
Bill Wiley told Channel 4 News: “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.”
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 told Channel 4 News: “There’s a clear admission that there’s a problem with detainees dying – and they talk about reducing deaths, the discussion should be on eliminating deaths. Why are deaths happening?”
The memo, which was sent to the Head of Military Intelligence, also stresses how the detainees shouldn’t be beaten, humiliated or detained arbitrarily. But 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.”
Wiley told Channel 4 News: “Torturing, murdering detainees are not certain errors – these are criminal acts of a widespread and indeed systematic nature. The certain errors are in our language as international criminal lawyers and investigators is crimes against humanity.”
Perhaps the most significant piece of evidence which investigators shared with Channel 4 News is a death report which can be matched with a corpse pictured in the Caesar photographs.
The document addressed to the Head of Military Intelligence, alleges that the detainee was a terrorist – a broad definition the regime often uses for anyone who opposes it.
The text reads: “due to his bad health condition, he was taken to Military Hospital 601 and died as a result of his heart and breathing stopping. The body was taken to the hospital’s refrigerator with the number 2668.”
The investigators cross-checked the detainee’s number with the Caesar photographs, and found corpse number 2668 from Security Branch 227 – a man who appears to have had his eye gouged out.
The document is signed by the Head of Security Branch 227, where more than 2,000 of the detainees whose bodies appear in the Caesar photographs were held.
Channel 4 News has seen several more of these signed death reports, and their matching Caesar photographs.
Last year, when President Assad was questioned about the Caesar photographs in an interview by Yahoo! News, he said: “Who verified the pictures? Who verified that they’re not edited and PhotoShopped and so on?
“It’s just propaganda. It’s just fake news. They want to demonize the Syrian government. In every war, you can have any individual crime. It happened here all over the world anywhere. But it’s not a policy.”
Channel 4 News asked the Syrian government for a response to the allegations in this report but they have not responded.