"We must now seriously entertain the possibility that the war in Syria has involved similar, if not greater, levels of manipulation and propaganda than that which occurred in the case of the 2003 Iraq War."

Professor Piers Robinson, Chair in Politics, Society and Political Journalism at the University of Sheffield.
amnesty international
Amnesty International, which provided false justification for the wars against Iraq and Libya, is now seeking to add Syria to its bow with the release of a sensational new report: "Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison."

The harrowing report alleges that between 5,000 and 13,000 prisoners in Saydnaya, Syria, were hanged after sham trials lasting 1 to 3 minutes, tortured, then denied food, water and medicine. Is it all, or even partly, true?

Amnesty has proven a partisan source over the course of the war in Syria - parochial in its condemnation of the Syrian government and routinely calling for it to be "held to account".

A track record of propaganda

Amnesty is held up as the pre-eminent human rights organisation, beyond scrutiny in the pursuit of human rights advocacy. This hallowed view persists in spite of Amnesty's track record of publishing reports on alleged human rights abuses in Iraq and Libya that were cited by Western leaders when they made the case for waging 'humanitarian intervention' there. In both instances, their reports were subsequently discredited.

In 1990, Amnesty reported that "large-scale killings of babies" were taking place in Kuwait, allegedly removed from incubators by invading Iraqi forces and left to die on cold hospital floors. Medical personnel later refuted the claims, saying that no such baby-killing took place. In 2011 Amnesty promoted the fiction of black mercenaries killing and terrorising civilians in Libya, supporting the narrative of the Libyan opposition and Western media that Gadaffi had such little domestic support that he had to recruit 'foreign' mercenaries to crush peaceful opposition. This deceitful ploy justified military intervention, dampened criticism of NATO's actions and led to blacks in Libya becoming victims of ethnic cleansing at the hands of the opposition's militias.

In its reporting on Syria, Amnesty again relies on partisan opposition forces, again leaving it vulnerable to being subsequently discredited for spreading misinformation. In the latter stages of the liberation of Aleppo, Amnesty claimed that "82 civilians were shot on the spot by government and allied forces who entered their homes, or at gunpoint in the streets, over the past few hours." Curiously, this report faded away when verifiable reports of torture and execution of civilians and captured soldiers in opposition-held East Aleppo began emerging once the city was liberated by government forces.

Amnesty goes 3D

Amnesty's latest report relies heavily on anonymous sources, the majority interviewed outside of Syria. It provides explicit details of suffering, but lacks photos, documents, and video footage - due in part, no doubt, to Amnesty's exclusion from the country. Instead of real-world documentation, Amnesty attached 3D animation to the testimonies, giving visual aid to an otherwise abstract description of the events at Saydnaya. Tony Cartalucci, commenting on the use by Amnesty of Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, says "the lack of actual, physical, photographic, and video evidence, is replaced by 3D animations and sound effects created by designers hired by Amnesty International."

Absent verifiable evidence, Amnesty has instead entered the world of film-making! That they need to create simulated footage suggests that their evidence is rather loose and elusive, and while it may add to the visual enhancement of that evidence, it doesn't change the fact it is unverified allegations made by anonymous sources, themselves opponents of the government and selected to talk to Amnesty by groups who oppose the government and advocate foreign intervention.

Manipulation of images is manipulation of the mind. They are creating a fiction, presenting simulations of allegations or "memories", as they term them, and presenting them as reconstructions of actual events. The images bring to life the horrid accusations and complement the rage people would feel reading the reports: assuming that they are true of course. It is reality-construction and rage-amplification in action.

Contradicting the testimony of the people Amnesty spoke to, and obliging Forensic Architecture to reconsider their 3D models, is Syrian dissident Nizar Nayouf. Speaking to Asad AbuKhalil of The Angry Arab blog, he made a number of comments that bring into question the evidence presented. Nayouf pointed out that:
As for the main White building, it is quite impossible for it to accommodate 10,000 prisoners. We know it inch by inch, and know how much it can accommodate, at maximum, and assuming you put 30 prisoners in a cell like pickles (or Syrian style pickles, makdus), it can't accommodate more than 4,500 prisoners (in fact, it was designed for 3,000 prisoners).

The red building is much smaller and is exclusive to public defendants among the military members (traffic, desertion, various criminal offenses, etc), and can't accommodate more than 1,800 prisoners, and even if you put 3 on top of one another.

The Amnesty report on page 15 says: "Between 10,000 and 20,000 people are detained in the two facilities, according to experts on detention in Syria." So we have a difference in claimed capacity of between 3,700 and 13,700. Quite a difference and similar to the range of 5,000 to 13,000 deaths by hanging.

The on-site court (first and second) have been in existence since 1968.

Prisoners are not moved from prisons to On-site Courts in Al-Qabun. The on-site courts move to prisons and hold its trials there, especially now as the Al-Qabun area is targeted by the fire of the rebels and is not safe at all.

Makes sense during a time of war, where security is of the utmost importance, prisoner movement should be restricted, Damascus is vulnerable to shelling and unnecessary use of resources is wasteful.

The thing that most got my attention was "the transfer of the prisoners form the red building and white building in trucks and cars".

When one hears this one thinks that the distance between the two buildings is in kilometers when they are less than 120 meters apart.

The writer was struck by this point, as it did not appear the distance was far. It sounds very practical to move prisoners in the train position, as described in the report.

In the martyrs cemetery no one can be buried there except the martyrs of the army, even if there is an intercession by Muhammad or Jesus or Hafidh Al-Asad himself. And contrary to what they say, and the picture damns them, because it shows the increase in the number of victims of the army.

The cemetery evidence is among the weakest in the entire report, proving nothing in its claim of expansion to accommodate the mass graves. The fact over 100,000 Syrian soldiers have died defending their country provides a very rational explanation for the expansion of what is the martyrs cemetery.

On p. 35, and elsewhere, they talk about forcing "prisoners to rape one another". This is despicable fabrication which is baseless, and is psychologically impossible under those conditions. (Is it possible for any person in the world to get an erection to rape another person who is tied and is under torture?)

This is putting it bluntly. It is a reflection of a report which stretches the bounds of credulity.
Timing of the report

The report was released two weeks before another round of peace talks in Switzerland. The opposition groups, who some may argue are lucky to be at the same table as the government, will use this report as leverage to shift the framework of the negotiations. They need it, as they are on the back foot on the battlefield. If you subtract ISIS gains in Palmyra and Deir-Ezzor, the opposition has very little to be optimistic and cheerful about. Unless you count cutting off water supplies to 5 million people in Damascus, or the generous concession of the government to allow opposition fighters to leave their defeated bastion of East Aleppo and relocate in Idlib, from where they live to fight another day.

Armed with the incendiary accusations in this report of "horrors," the opposition is sure to levitate the discussion away from productive dialogue on ending the fighting and establishing the parameters for a robust resolution, including elections and constitutional reforms, and on to calls for accountability for crimes against humanity perpetrated by the so-called Assad 'regime'. It resembles revelation of the "Caesar" photos, sensationally splashed across the media on 20 January 2014, two days before peace talks negotiations were to commence in Switzerland. These were the 55,000 photos taken by a former Syrian Army photographer, allegedly documenting the torture and execution of 11,000 detainees. The photos were subsequently discredited in a report by Rick Sterling, but they had already achieved their aim in further demonizing Bashar al-Assad and undermining the negotiations, as reflected in the title of Sterling's report, 'The Caesar Photo Fraud that Undermined Syrian Negotiations'.

The witnesses... who?

The witnesses were mostly interviewed outside of Syria, including one of the key centers of regime change operations; southern Turkey. This region around Gaziantep is the heartland of the psyops war; the birthplace of the White Helmets, one of the most deceitful 'humanitarian façade' operations ever produced. It is where ISIS members have been treated in hospitals, where terrorists are housed, fed, trained, armed and finally unleashed across the porous border to wreak havoc on Syria. It is where command centres are set up to coordinate the war against Syria, and where the CIA operates.

Seventeen "international and national experts on detention in Syria" were interviewed. Their contribution to the report was minimal. And not a single one could name themselves. Their need for anonymity was justified by "fears for their security", a typical defense borrowed from the national security state. It is a psyops tactic: "Trust us, we have the facts, but to disclose our sources exposes them to danger." So we have a closed loop, where very little can be proved or disproved.

The Grand Mufti Mafioso?

The report claims that executions are approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun.
The judgement is sent by military post to the Grand Mufti of Syria and to either the Minister of Defence or the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are deputized to sign for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and who specify the date of the execution.
The Grand Mufti has the power to give legally non-binding recommendations and to issue religious edicts on behalf of the government. He is a highly respected figure in Syria. It is a dubious proposition that he would have a key legal role in executions, or that he would approve of mass hangings, as claimed in the report.

Syria is a secular society, surrounded by a sea of sectarianism. Such a revelation, if true, tears away the credibility of Syria's secularism, and portrays a nation of barbarians, even to the point where the country's leading religious figure plays a central role and "approves" of the killings. If even the Mufti is a ruthless killer who is guilty of crimes against humanity, it stands to reason Syria's authorities are universally guilty of same and must be stopped at all costs.

ICC your peace moves and raise you war crimes

Amnesty takes the witnesses at their word. There are no circumspect calls for further investigations to verify the anonymous allegations. The report makes strong, unequivocal statements, making it clear that Amnesty fully believes the allegations presented to them and are fully committed to pursuing investigations to uncover and punish the perpetrators. The report contains statements such as:
Government forces should be investigated for war crimes committed at Sadnaya Military Prison. These include, inter alia, extrajudicial executions, torture and cruel treatment, murder, rape and other sexual violence. P42

Some of the violations by the Syrian government that are documented in this report constitute crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, enforced disappearance and extermination. P42

As this report demonstrates, Sadnaya Military Prison is a human slaughterhouse. The bodies of Saydnaya's victims are taken away by the truckload. Many are hanged, secretly, in the middle of the night. Others die as a result of torture, and many are killed slowly through the systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care. It is inconceivable that this is not authorized by the highest levels of the Syrian political leadership. P43

Ensure that investigations are conducted into who is responsible and that the perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials. Any delay will have lethal consequences. P43
It's notable that Amnesty makes no commensurate calls for urgent action against ISIS, Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham (Al-Nusra) or any of the 'moderates' who have engaged in well-documented atrocities. The government, Amnesty says, has killed many, quickly hung " secretly, in the middle of the night," while others have suffered a slow painful death through the "systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care." The perpetrators must face justice and "any delay will have lethal consequences."

In the absence of fact-checking or corroboration, Amnesty leaves us with poor research, or - to put it less kindly - fake human rights reporting. Amnesty flaunts its impeccable research credentials, claiming that "every aspect of our data-collection is based on corroboration and cross-checking from all parties."

Syria is not signed up to the International Criminal Court, but it could still be bound by its jurisdiction if a referral is made to it by the United Nations Security Council. Calls for war crime investigations undermine the peaceful settlement of the war. Such calls vilify Bashar Al-Assad and present him as a barrier to peaceful settlement. In these circumstances, he must be removed post-haste. This would throw Syria into chaos, extending the war Syrians have borne the deadly brunt of for six years. Outside powers would then be left to negotiate for outcomes with their own interests in mind. In the case of Russia and Iran those interests largely coincide with Syria's. In the case of the US, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, they most certainly do not.

The report comes at a time of cautious optimism for US-Russian relations. Forces within Trump's party and the US Establishment are brazenly trying to undermine cooperation, but as it stands the Trump policy on Syria is uncertain. On the one hand, a partnership with Russia in fighting ISIS and dispensing with the imperative for regime change is on the table. On the other hand, the talk of 'safe zones' and the implacable opposition to any sort of accommodation with Russia and Iran leaves tensions at near-boiling point. The concocted scandal that forced the resignation of US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn doesn't harm US security, but it may throw a spanner in plans for US-Russian cooperation in Syria. Stand by for a continuing pattern of manufactured scandals to destroy any 'reset' in 2017 and ensure that Russia becomes ever more the 'pariah state'.

Assad's Syria does amnesties, not Amnesty

Moon of Alabama pointed out the contradiction of Amnesty slamming Syria for "extrajudicial executions," then going on to describe systematic military court procedures and a chain of command in the authorization of said "executions". As such, Amnesty has dismantled its own claim: such procedures would demonstrate that the killings are not extrajudicial.

Rick Sterling says there is no credibility to the claim that the Syrian government was or is rounding up, torturing and executing thousands of people. The report seeks to capitalize on Westerners' gullibility, the pre-existing demonization of Bashar Al-Assad, and a lack of knowledge among most Westerners of events in Syria.

In the midst of fighting for its survival, and having lost hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers to fight off the tens of thousands of foreign fighters pouring into the country to overthrow the government, it is absurd to think that Syria would wantonly slaughter the one resource still holding the country together; its people. Instead, the government has regularly granted amnesty to civilians who have fought for opposition groups, as recently occurred in Aleppo. Yet Amnesty expects us to believe that civil protest in Syria will get you tortured and killed after a two-minute trial.

Amnesty has planted itself firmly in the camp of the NeoCon warhawks and Wahabbist sectarian extremists with this inflammatory report. It has abandoned its self-proclaimed impeccable standards of research in favour of complete reliance on unnamed sources, provided to it by opposition groups seeking the overthrow of Bashar Al-Assad. It is a piece of work that will please its corporate financiers and deep state patrons, but will doubtless irreparably damage its already discredited reputation among the people of Syria.