Aftermath of Syria chemical attack
Aftermath of Syria chemical attackReuters

Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authoreda book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva

Last week, the US. Holocaust Museum in Washington opened a new exhibit which focuses on war crimes committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his cronies in the Russian-Iranian- supported regime.

The opening of the exhibition coincided with the 7th anniversary of the Syrian war which began after a 14 year-old boy and other youths in the Syrian city of Daraa were tortured when they wrote anti-regime slogans on the walls of a local school.

Mouawiya Syasneh, the 14-year-old high-school student and a dozen of his school mates were hung “like chickens” in a interrogation center of the Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya, Assad’s military intelligence service.

The children were also electrocuted by putting power cables on their backs and lower body parts in a wet bathroom.

When their parents inquired about the youngsters' fate they were told to forget about them and “to make more children” or to bring their mothers to the Mukhabarat base so that the security service could ‘help’ to make them pregnant again.

Mouawiya later became a fighter for the Free Syrian Army, an act that was also inspired by the murder of his father at the hands of the Assad regime.

His case of torture formed the beginning of a long series of atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its powerful allies Iran and Russia during the devastating war which has already killed more than 500,000 people and disabled another 1,5 million.

The latest war crime committed by pro-regime forces took place on March 15th in the town of Hamouriyah just a few kilometers to the east of Damascus.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria reported that the regime offered the residents of the town free passage as part of a deal with local rebels.

However a part of the population didn’t trust Assad’s government officials and choose an alternative escape route.

An exodus began involving 2,000 people, some of them armed with rifles.

Once the residents of Hamouriyah were out in the streets, Russian airplanes bombed them and also the only two hospitals in the town.

At the same time, Assad’s tanks shot at the unarmed civilians or ran them over while regime forces were busy chasing young men who were then forcefully conscripted into the Syrian army, according to VDC.

The Trump Administration last week announced it would continue to release classified documents which give evidence to the claims Assad has been committing war crimes from the outset of the civil war.

Speaking at the opening of the Holocaust Museum exhibit, Trump’s National Security Advisor H.C. Master said Russia and Iran were complicit in the endless stream of daily atrocities in Syria and should be held responsible for these crimes.

“If we are to fulfill our promise, ‘Never Again,’ we must also act to protect victims and to hold all responsible parties accountable,” Mc Master said while emphasizing that the United States is documenting each and every war crime.

Trump’s security advisor then promised the US would hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons in the war and said that the United States is working with the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its efforts to compel Assad to fully dismantle his chemical weapons program.”

McMaster also compared the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime and his allies to the war crimes committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler and said remembrance alone is not enough in Syria.

“Preventing genocide and mass atrocities falls on all of us. Every nation, and every person, must share this responsibility,” he said after he pointed to the role of Russia and Iran in these war crimes.

However, the problem with preventing the atrocities which Assad has committed in Syria is that the country is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Because of this, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the war crimes committed in Syria and this is where the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) comes into the picture.

The UNSC can refer the case of Syria to the ICC in The Hague in the Netherlands, but Russia and China have been blocking this track.

Bill Waley , a Canadian war crimes investigator who worked for ICC, decided he could not remain passive in light of the horrors in Syria and in 2012 founded the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body located at an undisclosed location in western Europe - most likely The Netherlands.

In 2016, CIJA published a 400-page legal report documenting tens of thousands cases of systematic torture and murders committed by Assad’s regime and linking the Syrian tyrant directly to these atrocities.

CIJA’s report was largely based on hundreds of thousands of Syrian government documents obtained via Abdelmajid Barakat, a member of the Syrian opposition who worked as a mole in Assad’s Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC).

Barakat was already working for the Education Ministry in Syria when he was hired as a secretary by CCMC and he was the one who processed all the paperwork of the cell charged with crushing the uprising.

The committee dealt with all sorts of threats to Assad - and Barakat discovered that each plan dealing with ‘security’ approved by CCMC needed Assad’s stamp to be executed.

Barakat copied almost every document which CCMC put on his desk and started to sent them to representatives of the Syrian opposition who then forwarded them to mainly Arab media.

In the end, he feared the regime would track him down as the mole responsible for these leaks and left Syria for Turkey with a thousand documents taped to his body. He arranged for a truck to hand over all the other copied documents to Chris Engels, an American lawyer who now heads the war crimes-unit of CIJA.

Waley, meanwhile, had trained Syrian activists who collected evidence tracing criminal culpability up to the higher echelons of the regime.

“The big thing we wanted them to focus on was documentation generated by the regime,” Whiley told The New Yorker in 2016, adding that this documentation is “the king or queen of evidence in international criminal proceedings.”

CIJA is now bigger than ICC and is funded by several western governments and the EU.

Waley’s ‘spies’ have obtained thousands of additional documents linking Assad to the unimaginable atrocities committed during the seven years of war in Syria.

CIJA also has obtained thousands of photographs which were taken by a mole named ‘Ceasar’ who worked for the Syrian intelligence service.

The pictures show execution orders, orders to falsify death certificates and the disposal of bodies of murdered Syrians.

The thousands of photographs also show the bodies of Assad’s victims with” clear signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation,” according to Syrian expert Franklin Lamb.

Most of these 57,000 photos were taken in two Syrian military hospitals which were dubbed “slaughterhouses” by Lamb.

Lamb witnessed himself how the regime disposes of corpses of tortured Syrians when he visited the grave of conjoined twin brothers who were deprived sufficient medical aid by Assad’s regime and died shortly after they were born.

He reported that he awoke in the middle of the night and saw “what looked like bodies being pulled from the truck and then dragged and thrown into a large freshly dug pit.”

On YouTube one can find more evidence of the horrific war crimes committed by the Syrian army and its allies.

One video, for example, shows how soldiers of the pro-Assad coalition use knives to torture two captured rebels after which they stab them to death and pile heavy stones on their bodies.

The United Nations last year finally established a special panel to investigate Syrian war crimes. However, after a few months, Carla del Ponte, one of the panel’s most experienced members, quit over the lack of interest in the international community in holding Assad accountable for his war crimes.

“I can’t any longer be part of this commission which simply doesn’t do anything,” del Ponte said at the time, adding she had never seen anything like the atrocities committed in Syria.

“Believe me, the terrible crimes committed in Syria I neither saw in Rwanda nor ex-Yugoslavia,” del Ponte said, claiming the international community had learned nothing from Rwanda.

The member states of the UN could have used files produced by the UN and by CIJA to pursue suspects in national courts or bring cases to the ICC without referring them to the Security Council.

The local courts, however, are as powerless as the ICC in case of Syria.

That leaves military power as the only means to get rid of the Assad regime and to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.