‘Bite on this so you don’t scream’: The ‘Assad files’ offer a new glimpse into systematic torture in Syria

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad personally signed off on a brutal regime crackdown on dissidents that has led to the systematic torture of thousands of Syrians throughout the five-year civil war, according to an explosive new report in The New Yorker.

Documents linking Assad to the mass torture and killings are being examined by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an organisation founded in 2012 in response to reports that the regime and its security apparatus were committing crimes against humanity.

The commission, which receives funding of about $8 million per year from various Western governments, is building a case against the Assad regime that it hopes will establish various government officials’ “individual criminal culpability” in the documented war crimes.

Bill Wiley, a Canadian war-crimes investigator who founded the CIJA, told The New Yorker’s Ben Taub that more than 600,000 government documents — known as the “Assad files” — have been smuggled out of Syria by activists and regime defectors since 2012. Those documents have headed toward the group’s headquarters “in a nondescript office building in Western Europe.”

One of the CIJA’s most important witnesses, though it would not confirm as much to Taub, has been Abdelmajid Barakat. He was hired by the regime in 2011 to work for its
Central Crisis Management Cell, a central security committee that collected reports of protests from intelligence agents across the country and drafted responses to them.
Barakat began leaking the documents, which revealed the Cell’s techniques, shortly after he began working there, according to Taub.

As Taub told PBS in an interview, the policy of systematically suppressing the protests itself, “while repressive, is not inherently criminal, necessarily. But in the course of its implantation, tens of thousands of Syrians were detained for months or even years, tortured into false confessions.”

‘Extermination as a crime against humanity’

More than half of Syria’s population has fled or been killed since the war erupted in March 2011. The vast majority have died simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Barrel bombs dropped by regime helicopters on civilian targets in rebel-held areas have killed more than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, in five years.

Thousands more have been tortured and killed in the regime’s prisons, a practice the United Nations deemed “extermination as a crime against humanity.”

“There’s a saying in Syria that if you do something wrong, if you defy the government, you will ‘go behind the sun,'”
Rabe Alkhdar, a Syrian refugee now living in Washington, DC, told Business Insider in an interview last month. Two of his brothers were detained by regime security officials while delivering medicine to an injured protester’s home, but only one of them came back alive.

“In other words, you will be arrested and then just disappear,” Rabe said. “No one goes to Assad’s prisons without being tortured.”

Rabe’s depiction of the torture his brothers endured at the regime’s notorious Tadmor prison was eerily similar to that experienced by Syrian activist Mazen al-Hamada, as described in Taub’s New Yorker story.

That reports of the torture — which often involved beatings with braided electrical cords and batons — tend to corroborate each other. Such examples have helped the CIJA establish “consistent patterns in interrogation practices across all branches of the security agencies.”

Hamada, 38, told Taub that he was detained by the regime’s security apparatus in March 2012 and taken to a detention facility at al-Mezzeh Military Airport. Interrogators tortured him, he said, until he could not stop screaming. In response, “they shoved a military boot in my mouth and said, ‘Bite on this so you don’t scream.'”

“The torture escalated until Hamada confessed to everything they asked,” Taub wrote.

Read the full investigation at The New Yorker >>

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