As­sad regime: 130,000 Syr­ian fam­i­lies don’t know if their loved ones are alive

The National - News - - OPINION - KA­REEM SHA­HEEN

TThe eight-year Syr­ian war has re­aligned the re­gional or­der but the sys­tem­atic regime of fear per­sists

he past month in Syria has been dizzy­ing. There was the abrupt Amer­i­can de­ci­sion to with­draw from Syria, an­nounced af­ter a phone call be­tween US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan (and later the US ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to keep sev­eral hun­dred troops to guard oil fa­cil­i­ties).

Turkey de­cided to in­vade north-eastern Syria, in a cam­paign meant to drive back the Kur­dish mili­tias that had been un­der Amer­i­can pro­tec­tion and that lost thou­sands of fighters in the bat­tle against the ter­ror group ISIS.

The Kurds were forced to re­align with the regime of pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad, giv­ing the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor con­trol over huge swathes of the coun­try with­out a sin­gle shot fired.

Then ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Bagh­dadi killed him­self while be­ing pur­sued by Amer­i­can spe­cial forces in a re­mote com­pound near the Turk­ish bor­der.

His deputy was also killed in an airstrike less than a day later.

Both were mon­u­men­tal de­vel­op­ments that ush­ered in a new era for the group, herald­ing its de­struc­tion and its po­ten­tial re­birth amid con­tin­u­ing in­jus­tice in the re­gion.

And far from the lime­light, a con­sti­tu­tional com­mit­tee fo­cused on draft­ing Syria’s post-war char­ter con­vened for the first time in Geneva.

The geopol­i­tics, trysts of over­lap­ping al­liances and the spec­ta­cle of ISIS ter­ror­ism in Syria have al­ways over­shad­owed a more fun­da­men­tal truth and be­lied the re­al­ity of why Syria hap­pened.

It hap­pened be­cause ordinary cit­i­zens re­belled against an all-con­sum­ing tyranny.

A re­cent re­port pub­lished by the Syr­ian Net­work for Hu­man Rights (SNHR), a re­li­able chron­i­cler of the myr­iad hu­man rights abuses over the years in Syria, brought this all into sharp fo­cus once again.

The re­port ex­am­ined how the As­sad regime wreaked bru­tal­ity on Syr­ian civil­ians, in­clud­ing chil­dren, through the prism of its in­fa­mous pri­son net­work, man­aged by its equally in­fa­mous se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

It iden­ti­fied 72 dis­tinct meth­ods of tor­ture em­ployed by in­ter­roga­tors in Mr Al As­sad’s dun­geons all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing sex­ual as­sault.

The de­tails of the dif­fer­ent meth­ods are too graphic to be re­counted here, but the re­port is pub­licly avail­able.

There is a word that de­scribes this level of cre­ativ­ity in in­flict­ing suf­fer­ing: sadism.

This sadis­tic ex­u­ber­ance in un­leash­ing vi­o­lence is of course mir­rored by the regime’s con­duct through­out the war. Af­ter all, it de­vised the no­to­ri­ous bar­rel bombs, which are bar­rels filled with shrap­nel and ex­plo­sives dropped from planes on to civil­ian neigh­bour­hoods.

These bombs are so woe­fully in­ac­cu­rate and bar­baric that us­ing them at all is a war crime.

The regime’s pi­lots usu­ally dropped them far be­hind en­emy lines to avoid ac­ci­den­tally killing its own sol­diers.

But beyond the de­tails of its spe­cific tor­ture meth­ods, the scale of the op­pres­sion vis­ited upon Syr­i­ans through the pri­son sys­tem is shock­ing. It is a ti­tanic en­deav­our that is meant to man­u­fac­ture ter­ror on an in­dus­trial scale.

SNHR doc­u­mented the death un­der tor­ture at the hands of Syr­ian regime forces of 14,131 peo­ple be­tween March 2011 – when Syr­i­ans be­gan march­ing in the streets to de­mand the re­form­ing and later the over­throw of the As­sad dynasty – and Septem­ber 2019.

In ad­di­tion, at least 130,000 peo­ple are still de­tained or forcibly dis­ap­peared by Mr Al As­sad’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, their fates un­known, al­most cer­tainly sub­jected to tor­ture as well.

That is 130,000 in­di­vid­u­als, whose fam­i­lies still have no idea whether they are alive or dead, some im­pris­oned now for eight years.

But the truly stag­ger­ing es­ti­mate is the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple who have been de­tained or ar­rested by the regime since the start of the upris­ing – a to­tal of 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple, or 5 per cent of Syria’s pre-war pop­u­la­tion.

That is a sys­tem­atic regime of fear, meant to cow an en­tire pop­u­la­tion into ab­ject sub­mis­sion.

The war in Syria has up­ended many of our shared be­liefs – in the re­silience of the lib­eral in­ter­na­tional or­der and the world’s com­mit­ment to “never again” al­low the kind of mass slaugh­ter that took place in Rwanda and the for­mer Yu­goslavia.

It has made us ques­tion our ba­sic good­ness, as well as our com­mon hu­man­ity that saw the flight of mil­lions from cer­tain death but re­sponded by shut­ting doors and erect­ing walls.

The war has also re­aligned the re­gional or­der – shift­ing al­liances, Amer­ica’s re­treat from obli­ga­tions that un­der­pinned Mid­dle Eastern se­cu­rity for decades, Rus­sia’s resur­gence as an in­flu­en­tial power, Turkey’s east­ward lurch to­wards Moscow and away from its tra­di­tional Nato al­lies, the rise and rise of sec­tar­i­an­ism.

But of­ten one ba­sic fact is for­got­ten in the high-minded pol­icy de­bates and in­ter­na­tional hand-wring­ing.

It all started be­cause some coura­geous hu­man be­ings con­tem­plated decades of tor­ture, abuse and tyranny by the As­sad po­lice state and said: “Enough.”


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