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MUSTAFA AKYOL > The monsters of Bashar al-Assad

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The other night, a few prominent news outlets in the world, including Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency, revealed photographs of systemic torture and murder in the prisons of Bashar al-Assad, the tyrant of Syria. Gruesome images of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture were, reportedly, only the more publishable ones in a much larger gallery of horrors. All in all, they proved, once again, that the Baath regime in Syria is guilty of myriad war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The photos were reportedly taken by a Syrian government defector codenamed “Caesar.” His job was to take these photos for the very archives of the regime. When he ultimately fled Syria and gave his laptop to the opposition, he presented some 26,948 images he took over many months. Soon, images were given to British law firm Carter-Ruck, which was funded by the government of Qatar to carry out a forensic examination.

One of the legal experts who examined the photos was David Crane, the first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor. In a show on CNN International, he said that the photos point to an “industrial machine grinding its citizens… industrial-age mass killing.”

All this visual evidence confirms what we here in Turkey have been hearing from the Syrian refuges since they began fleeing to our side of the border some 30 months ago. (We have more than 600,000 refugees now, and more keep coming.) We have heard all the atrocities of the Shabiha, the thugs employed by the Syrian regime to crack down on the dissidents. We have learnt how they indulge in torture, rape and all forms of sadistic abuse. These photos confirm all of these accounts. These photos, in other words, constitute a “smoking gun,” as Crane said.

Meanwhile, it is true that the Syrian opposition includes elements that are similarly brutal. The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Greater Syria) (ISIS) especially deserves condemnation for its summarily executions, including horrific beheadings. The situation, in other words, is pretty complex as one can point out to atrocities on both sides.

However, the primal responsibility of the regime cannot be overlooked. It is the regime which initiated the civil war by unleashing its brutality on what began as peaceful protests as in Tunisia or Egypt. It is the regime which has been shelling civilians as collective punishment. It is the regime which nurtured the fanatics within the opposition by its wanton violence.

That is why, since the beginning of the conflict, I have argued for international military action against the Syrian regime, similar to the one against the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya. I have also supported arms supply for the legitimate opposition, the Free Syrian Army, as I still do. (Hence I am not scandalized by the controversial trucks on the Turkish-Syrian border, as long as their cargo does not go to extremist groups.)

Yet still, all options should be tried to end the carnage in Syria, including diplomatic solutions. (The butcher of the Balkans, Milosevic, was stopped via diplomacy, too.) Hence I support the new Geneva talks. It just should be made obvious there to the Syrian regime that they employ a den of monsters and that the whole world knows that very well now as well.

January/22/2014

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