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Assad regime no less depraved than ISIS

Unlike the sustained social media campaign waged by ISIS, most of the regime’s crimes are buried

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

Of the approximately 55,000 images of mutilated bodies that former Syrian regime photographer Caesar smuggled out of the country in 2013, the FBI has just concluded its assessment of 242. The year-long analysis verified the images’ authenticity, saying they “appear to depict real people and events.

This week, the Holocaust Memorial Museum sponsored an exhibit in Congress of dozens of Caesar’s photographs, in it latest effort to prevent the international community from ignoring the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.

ISIS, by consistently documenting and showcasing its own attacks and killings, has helped obscure the regime’s own atrocities against Syrians

Brooklyn Middleton

Cameron Hudson, director of the museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide, told Yahoo News in Oct. 2014 that Caesar’s evidence “reminds you of the horrific scenes from the Holocaust… from the worst days of the Holocaust.”

Amid the continued broadcasting by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of its gruesome killings, it is important to remember that the bodies photographed by Caesar were mutilated by the Syrian regime in ways no less barbaric than ISIS. Policy-makers must acknowledge this truth. The cruel and bizarre reality is that ISIS, by consistently documenting and showcasing its own attacks and killings, has helped obscure the regime’s own atrocities against Syrians.

Buried and denied

Unlike the sustained social media campaign waged by ISIS, most of the regime’s crimes are buried, denied and too quickly forgotten. However, those who have followed the Syrian conflict since before the rise of ISIS know the regime is capable of the depravity Caesar’s images show. The regime’s continued use of starvation and torture as weapons of war have long been indisputable facts.

Now that such systematic killing and torture have yet again been verified, the latest window of opportunity is wide open for the international community to bring war crime charges against the regime. Amid the new channel of communication between Washington and Tehran, the former – now more than ever – has a moral and strategic obligation to pressure the latter to deescalate the Syrian conflict.

The regime has, unsurprisingly, fully embraced the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “We are quite assured that the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue, with greater momentum, supporting the just issues of peoples and working for peace and stability to prevail in the region and the world.” That is a damning endorsement if there ever was one.

Iran’s role

U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest remarks directly addressed Iran’s role: “In order for us to resolve [the Syrian civil war], there’s going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield… Iran is one of those players, and I think it’s important for them to be a part of that conversation.”

Obama is correct, but continued vague statements about including Iran versus actively working to halt or at least degrade its ongoing support for Assad will lead nowhere. Washington must capitalize on its renewed relations with Iran to truly confront the Syrian crisis.

NPR interviewed Syrian doctor Mohammed Ayash, who has the responsibility of viewing the photographs of Assad’s butchered victims. Ayash said: “It comes to my dreams sometimes, because of the horrible methods – by torture, by starvation and eye gouging – and it's very hard for me.” It is not enough that these images haunt only those dealing with the photographs first-hand. They should haunt the world.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.