As the war in Syria enters its final phase, a victorious Bashar al Assad has started to clean up evidence of his brutal crimes against humanity. During the ruthless civil war, anyone opposed to the regime, who was not immediately neutralized, was locked up in the notorious Seyedna Prison where between 10,000 to 20,000 inmates were known to be held. Now Assad cannot possibly allow these people to be released with most having witnessed firsthand his tactics of wiping out entire families of protestors, so instead he has simply accelerated the executions of the prisoners to an industrial level to leave no witnesses whatsoever. The Washington Post has obtained considerable evidence in the form of detailed witness testimonials along with satellite imagery of the fast-tracked expansion of the cemetery. Inmates it seems are now being subjected to swift trials lasting no more than three minutes before being taken to the basement to be hanged.
The Obama administration chose not to disclose this information because it was desperate to avoid its humanitarian responsibilities in Syria. Or perhaps it felt, I believe wrongly, that intervening would not help the situationDr. Azeem Ibrahim
This is nothing new. Amnesty International reported that between 2011 and 2015, the Assad regime arrested and detained 117,000 people. Further reports indicate that the regime was killing around 50 people per day in the same notorious Seyedna Prison. All in all, it is believed as many as 13,000 people of the 117,000 have been killed in this manner.
But, getting rid of 13,000 bodies is no easy feat. And we had not found the mass graves. The regime and their defenders have always countered that these accusations are untrue, and that we lacked the evidence to back up those assertions.
However, we do have a pretty good idea of what happened to those people. It looks like the regime was then utilising a different strategy to dispose of bodies and built a crematorium at the prison complex. Aerial photography provided by the US government shows a complex of buildings at the Seyedna Prison that bears all the hall marks of a crematorium. It has the necessary intake valves, ducts, firewalls, and even when it snowed and the whole area was covered with snow it was the only building not covered. A very convenient facility to have if you have a constant stream of dead bodies to dispose of from the nearby prison. Clearly the crematorium was not sufficient to meet the increased demand of the dead bodies being produced with the new strategy of disposing of all prisoners.
And this is just one facility at one prison. There could well be others. So what do we do about it? As it turns out, not much. And haven’t been doing much for years. It seems the US government knew about this from 2012, but chose not to make this information public. The Obama administration chose not to disclose this information because it was desperate to avoid its humanitarian responsibilities in Syria. Or perhaps it felt, I believe wrongly, that intervening would not help the situation.
It seems the information was released by the Trump administration to discredit their predecessors. Or perhaps to argue that their own lack of humanitarian intervention in the conflict is no worse than the Obama policy. After all, Obama sat on this information while trying to justify his “do nothing” policy.
What is also interesting about this is that the information was not released by Secretary of State. Rather, it was released by someone much more junior. The administration is perhaps trying not to tie itself to any mast here. They do not want to back themselves into a corner from where they cannot avoid the moral imperative to act. This also lends weight to the “we’re no worse than Obama” hypothesis for their motivation.
Whatever the triangulation here, it seems that this administration is also determined to give the Syrian conflict a pass. When Trump bombarded the airfield at Shayrat in response to Assad’s latest chemical attacks against the civilian population in Idlib province in April, there were high hopes that America had grown a spine and would be ready to do what is needed to speed up the resolution of the conflict. Those hopes have since evaporated. And, as we had previously expected, the administration’s relations to Russia took precedence over any humanitarian concerns.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim.