On September 11, 2022, Zaman Al-Wasl published an exclusive report about yet another massacre of Syrian detainees that occurred in Aleppo. Zaman Al-Wasl, another Syria-focused website that publishes articles in Arabic, with some translations into English, learned of the story firsthand from a newly defected Syrian photographer whose job had been to take pictures of deceased prisoners for documentation purposes. The man they refer to as the “New Caesar” had brought them a “gruesome collection of images” of about 800 dead-due-to-torture detainees that had been taken at the Aleppo Central Prison in 2014. In addition, the source described how they were instructed to record the cause of death as being “a bullet from outside” or “bombing by terrorists” which is consistent with the regime’s relentless campaign of deflecting blame for their own atrocities onto the Syrian opposition since their revolution calling for freedom and dignity began.
While the world has for the most part become apathetic to the multitude of crimes and human rights abuses that have been committed by the Assad regime since the beginning of the uprising in 2011, this new revelation effectively served to reopen the emotional wounds of many Syrians whose family members were detained or went missing in the interim years.
But unlike the original Caesar file that had been brought to the US in 2013 by another photographer whose job had also been to document the dead bodies of tortured prisoners in regime detention centres, the new file referenced by Zaman Al-Wasl contains photos of regime officers identified by their source as the perpetrators of the torture that led to the deaths of the detainees.
Many have wondered how something perceived to be as archaic as torture can continue to exist in a world where human beings have supposedly evolved to a higher level of human understanding with the ability to communicate across long distances so easily. When the Syrian revolution began in 2011, videos of detainees being tortured which were often recorded by the perpetrators themselves ended up on YouTube and many activists thought that the ease of exposing such heinous acts in the age of advanced technology would act as a deterrent — or at least as evidence for holding the perpetrators accountable. Unfortunately, except in a few rare instances where perpetrators have been brought to trial abroad, this has not been the case.
Psychological studies have shown that even in the most modern of times, torture will continue to exist in the world if the surrounding environment supports it. Assad’s followers have set him up as their deity and as long as he remains in power, that will be the case in Syria.
In his 2015 book titled Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation, Shane O’Mara, professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin posited:
“When torture is institutionalised, it becomes the possession of a self-regarding, self-supporting, self-perpetuating and self-selecting group, housed in secret ministries and secret police forces. Under these conditions, social supports and rewards are available to buffer the extremes of behaviour that emerge, and the acts are perpetrated away from public view. When torture happens in a democracy, there is no secret society of fellow torturers from whom to draw succor, social support, and reward.”
Consequently, it is up to humanitarian orgs like Human Rights Watch (HRW) and media platforms like Zaman Al-Wasl to record the atrocities being committed by the brutal self-serving regime until such time as a democratic government that respects the rights of all Syrians can be established in Syria. We at SYRIAWISE hope to be on the right track.