mon 15/07/2024

Syria’s Disappeared review - 'must-watch can't-look record of Assad's atrocities' | reviews, news & interviews

Syria’s Disappeared review - 'must-watch can't-look record of Assad's atrocities'

Syria’s Disappeared review - 'must-watch can't-look record of Assad's atrocities'

Channel 4 documentary makes the case against Assad with indelible images and testimony

Prisoners smuggled the names of detainees, whether dead or alive, out of prison by writing information on strips of shirt using chicken bone for quills and rust or blood for inkRichard Ansett

“The following images are extremely graphic.” The words appeared in white lettering against a black background, two-thirds of the way in. For the next minute, the screen filled with photographs of naked, emaciated corpses, some with crude writing across their bodies, others with labels affixed to foreheads. The eyes of one were gouged out; another’s mouth gaped open as if emitting a final scream of terror.

These pictures weren't captured in the lager or the gulag or the killing fields of yesteryear. They tell of present-day atrocities in the Syria of Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad was a must-view can’t-look documentary dispatch for Channel 4 about the 200,000 people arrested and detained after the Arab Spring took hold in Syria. Many are still unaccounted for. Six thousand are categorically known to be dead, thanks to the bravery of a military police officer working as forensic photographer as Hospital 601 in Damascus, who managed to smuggle photographs of the dead out of the country.

How this unidentified defector managed his feat of testimony in the face of grave personal risk has been reported elsewhere. This was the story of the people whose deaths he documented, and of the survivors who now fight for justice, and for Syria's remaining detainees to be released.

Mazen Alhummada, a thin, lively man, looked into the camera and spoke of the joy of the Arab Spring (“your heart would fly”) and the hell of his torture. First they broke his ribs. Then they hung him by handcuffs. Finally they squeezed his penis with a clamp, inserted a pole in his anus, and beat him. “The human brain can’t imagine it,” he said. They duly extracted a false confession. Asked what he thought of his tormentors, he was struck dumb. The camera lingered on his face as he tried to compute some sort of answer. He swallowed. A tear ran down his left cheek. “God will hold them to account,” he eventually said. “The law will hold them to account.”Syria's DisappearedThe law is having some difficulty in this respect because a UN Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the international criminal court was vetoed by – guess who? – Russia and China. This despite the copious evidence incriminating a regime which, in common with the Third Reich, is arrogantly obsessed with documenting its own atrocities. “The legal equivalent of a slam dunk,” said Stephen Rapp, the American lawyer and former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice. “We have more evidence than we need. It’s embarrassing that we’ve got no court to take it to.”

Sara Afshar’s shattering film triangulated the narrative with other detainees. Mansour al-Omari (pictured above) told how and he and other prisoners wrote down the names of detainees, whether dead or alive, on strips of shirt using chicken bone for quills and rust or blood for ink. These were then smuggled out of prison. “I have their blood with me,” says Mansour. Mohammed, who worked at Tishreen Military Hospital, witnessed torture first hand which was “horrifying and utterly indescribable”. He had a go at describing it anyway. “Write about us,” one man begged him as he was hooded and told to expect death.Syria's DisappearedOne of the photographs released was of Ayham Ghazoul (pictured above), a trainee dentist who joined the demonstrations in 2011. “The joy he felt!” said his mother Mariam Hallak, a head teacher who had previously supported the Assad regime. “His eyes were twinkling.” He managed to continue his studies after his initial arrest. He was detained again six months later, and within six days was dead. His oblivious mother spent the next 18 months badgering the authorities for news of his whereabouts. “Submit a request,” an attorney general said vaguely. Eventually someone took pity on her and gave her a certificate advising that “Corpse 320” had died of a heart attack. There were many pictures of Ayham looking cheerful. The one she keeps one her phone is of his face in death, eyes open, a label slapped on his forehead. “I felt a great relief,” said Mariam. When she’d finished her story she let out a deep breath, as if all that was stored up inside her clamoured for an outlet.

This grim hour in the charnel house ended by offering the faintest hint of hope as Rapp assisted in a Spanish legal effort to charge Syria with state terrorism. Elsewhere, realpolitik continues. The infamous clip of Assad smiling and casting doubt on the photographic evidence was shown. “He denies everything,” said Mariam. “He lives in his own reality.” The actual reality is indelible. At one point the screen filled with a collage of 20 faces of Syrian victims of state terrorism. It pulled away to reveal more rows, and out again, and again until each face was a tiny dot filling the screen.



No doubt there are many people still in detention centres in Syria , and yes people have been tortured ( as thae are in ALL War Theatres at every time and place in History ) and executed too as Syria has a policy of capital punishment but this programme needs to be thoroughly investigated as it relies once more on the so called Ceasar Photos - half of which have been shown to be pictures of dead soldiers . Others indeed appear to show torture victims but are contextless and could have come from an arc of nations that torture people from Morocco to Egypt to Pakistan . Furthemore forensic analysis has shown many of the photos have undergone ' notational transformation ' , that is manipulation at a granular level ; far more sophisticated than photoshopping . Amnesty's endlessly repeated assertion that 16,000 people have been hung in Syria over tha last 5 years was trotted out at the end as almost a fact when they themselves admit it's a figure they've basically plucked out of thin air . Former UK ambassador Peter Ford who visited Saydnaya prison many times pre war has spoken of it's relativley humane conditions and stated the mainstream media assertion that it holds as many as 13, 000 people at a time to be a fantasy as it was only of a size that could have held 10 % of that number . I doubt if this programme will have much effect now but it was over egging nd exaggerations about the scale of Syrina Govt atrocities back in 2012 that brought the public round to believing the case for arming the rebels was a true and moral one . And from that the nightmare that we see today stems . The truth when history is written eventually is probably that the ' moderate ' oppostion laid their arms down and sided with the Syrian Govt ( if not with the actaul Ba'ath party itself ) in late Nov 2011. Our media elected not to notice this and the myth of the moderate opposition grew and grew and is stil lin place to this day .

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