More than an year ago, as the Syrian insurgency raged and stories of death and destruction started to peak in Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, a woman was taken on a tour of an illegal detention and torture facility. She could hear screams and whines as the head of the centre took her through a corridor lined on both sides by rooms housing detainees. The woman, an opposition activist and dissident, had been arrested for participating in a protest. She passed by a room where a man was suspended by his hands. His head was down, barely making his face visible. As she walked by, he tried to lift his head, showing a bloodied face — without the eyelids.
The activist was left so traumatised that she soon left the country for good after being released from detention.
A trove of 55,000 digital photographs taken by a Syrian military police photographer who later defected show how 11,000 detainees were tortured and killed in detention centres. A report by three former war crimes prosecutors says that the regime of Bashar Al Assad systematically tortured detainees, and the pictures relate to the period from March 2011 to August 2013.
The repulsive photographs show grotesque images of beaten and restrained detainees. Some of the bodies don’t have eyes, others show signs of electrocution. Strangulation marks have been found on some while some show explicit signs of starvation.
With the outing of evidence of torture against the Assad regime, his lackeys in government have reacted with alarm. A government spokesman said the report lacked credibility. He came out with a number of reasons for why he suspected the evidence — and all the reasons given by him sound preposterous.
With evidence out in the open and a strong one at that, calls for war crimes charges are justified. Not only does Assad face a hostile opposition, he is answerable to the world for the atrocities. The Syrian opposition, meeting in Geneva for talks, has called for an international investigation.
In its annual report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch has accused Russia and China — Assad’s staunch supporters — of allowing abuses to take place by vetoing action through the United Nations.
It also accuses both government and pro-opposition forces of human rights abuses including torture and extrajudicial killings. Torture, often used as an instrument of state repression and coercion, has been there for thousands of years. However, with rapid social change in modern ages, and later by relatively free media outlets developing in industrial societies, tales of torture remain no longer confined to the torture chambers. The Syrian regime owes an answer to the international community. It is likely that the detainee abuse took place at the behest of Assad and he should not be allowed to escape responsibility.