Assad is Personally Responsible

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller considers evidence of President Assad’s personal responsibility for crimes against humanity.

Fresh evidence has emerged that members of President Bashar al-Assad’s family and inner circle are directly ordering the commission of crimes against humanity in Syria. Experts in international law consider it “preposterous and completely implausible” that Assad himself would be unaware of the systematic and widespread killing and torture. … A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, The Real Mr & Mrs Assad, to be broadcast on Monday, reveals new evidence implicating top commanders, clansmen and henchmen of the Syrian president himself, making his future prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity a realistic prospect, according to legal experts. …

Defectors from Syrian intelligence and security agencies, used by the regime to crush the 14-month-long revolt, told Dispatches that the President’s cousin issued “shoot-to-kill” orders against civilian protestors in Deraa, the cradle of the insurrection, in April last year. “Kill quotas” were reportedly issued to snipers tasked with assassinating pro-democracy activists. It is also alleged that Assad’s brother Maher, a senior army commander, was among senior figures operating out of a secret command centre in Deraa when orders were issued to contain a protest march by all means necessary. More than 100 civilians were shot dead. Maher is also accused of ordering the indiscriminate mass-punishment of the entire male population of a troublesome town, al-Moudamya, later the same month. …

The documentary futher examines emails from the same cache which indicate that the Assads were aware of the arrest of individuals as part of the crackdown. In two separate cases, they appear to have personally intervened to secure the release of detainees.

The eyewitness testimony from security force defectors also details allegations against Brigadier-General Atef Najib, Assad’s cousin, who headed the Political Security directorate in Deraa at the start of the uprising. Two separate defectors independently claim to have received direct orders from Najib to fire live ammunition at demonstrators. “Clearly this decision was made very high up,” says Dr Anna Neistat, an experienced investigator with Human Rights Watch and expert in the command and control structure of the Syrian armed forces. “He is the President’s cousin. I think there was clearly awareness that something he did was bad enough that it could lead to a major revolt.”

Another defector, Afaq Ahmed, a former member of the Special Operations directorate of the Air Force Intelligence branch, claims that a later killing spre, in which 100 protestors were shot dead was approved by the head of Air Force Intelligence. He was allegedly based in a secret command centre in the al-Kuwait Hotel on the city’s eastern outskirts. It is understood that Maher al-Assad was one of the members of his brother’s inner-circle who had decamped to Deraa and had based themselves in this command centre. The European Union describes Maher al-Assad as “the principal overseer of violence against demonstrators”.

Afaq Ahmed talked of “kill quotas”, saying: “Our task was restricted to assassinating activists and protestors based on orders and the permitted killing quota authorised by the authorities. The quota varied. Some days it was 10, others 15 or 20.” Dr Neistat said: “There does appear to be a policy on how to crack down on the protests. We interviewed one of the snipers… and he said that before the protest they were given a specific percentage – essentially a quota – on how many people, in relation to the overall number of protesters in the streets, they were allowed to take down.”

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