Syria’s ‘hu­man slaugh­ter­house’

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional doc­u­ments atroc­i­ties in a mil­i­tary prison.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

AMNESTY IN­TER­NA­TIONAL calls it the “hu­man slaugh­ter­house”: a Syr­ian mil­i­tary prison where thou­sands of civil­ians have been killed “af­ter be­ing re­peat­edly tor­tured and sys­tem­at­i­cally de­prived of food, wa­ter, medicine and med­i­cal care.” Al­le­ga­tions of atroc­i­ties against civil­ians are noth­ing new for the regime of Bashar al-As­sad, which has sub­jected en­tire towns to star­va­tion sieges, dropped bar­rel bombs full of nails or chlo­rine on hos­pi­tals, su­per­mar­kets and schools and pul­ver­ized a U.N. aid con­voy dur­ing the re­cent siege of Aleppo. But the story of the Sayd­naya mil­i­tary prison de­serves at­ten­tion, if only be­cause it shows the regime’s cal­cu­lated sadism and cold de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­ter­mi­nate all who op­pose it.

Amnesty’s re­port, based on a year of re­search and 84 in­ter­views with for­mer Sayd­naya pris­on­ers, guards, judges, doc­tors and oth­ers, es­ti­mates that be­tween 5,000 and 13,000 civil­ians were ex­tra­ju­di­cially ex­e­cuted at the fa­cil­ity out­side of Da­m­as­cus be­tween Septem­ber 2011 and De­cem­ber 2015 — and there is no rea­son to be­lieve the killings have stopped since then. These were not rebel fight­ers, but civil­ians per­ceived to op­pose the gov­ern­ment in some way: par­tic­i­pants in demon­stra­tions, dis­si­dents, hu­man rights ad­vo­cates, jour­nal­ists.

The vic­tims were mostly ab­ducted by se­cu­rity forces, tor­tured into con­fes­sions and rushed through “tri­als” that of­ten lasted only two or three min­utes, ac­cord­ing to Amnesty. They were se­cretly ex­e­cuted in groups of 20 to 50: First blind­folded and then badly beaten, they were told only at the last mo­ment that they were to be hanged, when a noose was slipped around their necks. Many died be­fore ex­e­cu­tion from the hor­rific con­di­tions in the prison, in­clud­ing star­va­tion and rape. Amnesty said it had con­cluded that the de­tainees had been sub­jected to a pol­icy of “ex­ter­mi­na­tion,” de­fined in in­ter­na­tional law as mea­sures “cal­cu­lated to bring about the de­struc­tion of part of a pop­u­la­tion.” Their bod­ies were dumped in mass graves.

Amnesty said it col­lected in­for­ma­tion on of­fi­cials who sat on the ex­e­cu­tion pan­els and oth­ers in­volved in the ex­e­cu­tions, which it de­scribed as crimes against hu­man­ity. That gives rea­son for hope that some will even­tu­ally be brought to jus­tice; in other parts of the world such atroc­i­ties have been suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted decades af­ter they oc­curred. In the mean­time, the Sayd­naya re­port should be con­sid­ered by all those who be­lieve that the Syr­ian civil war — with its end­less car­nage, breed­ing of ter­ror­ism and waves of refugees — can be brought to an end while the As­sad regime re­mains in power.

The hor­rific abuses in­flicted by the regime on tens of thou­sands of Syr­i­ans en­sure that it will never be tol­er­ated by the vast ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion. Its bar­baric prac­tices ren­der it un­able to com­pro­mise with peo­ple it has at­tempted to mur­der en masse. A de­ci­sion by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to tol­er­ate or even sup­port the butch­ers of Da­m­as­cus will only re­sult in more war­fare, more re­cruits for the Is­lamic State and al-Qaeda, and more un­con­scionable mur­ders at Sayd­naya prison.

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