Recently a 2013 video of Assad regime agents frivolously pushing blindfolded prisoners into an execution pit in the Tadamun neighborhood of Damascus before shooting and killing them was published by the Guardian and we have yet to see what the reaction of the international criminal justice system will be.
For me, this new evidence is not shocking. Rather it only serves to reinforce what I already know about the brutality of Assad and his loyal minions and their callous indifference to the lives of the people of Syria. It also strikes a particularly painful note as one of my first close Syrian friends was from Tadamun and I know how harshly the area was targeted by the regime.
“Free Syrian Thinker”, as my friend called himself in those early days of the revolution when few Syrians used their real names, was teaching in Lebanon when he first messaged me but was the only member of his very large family that was living and working outside of Syria. He used to smuggle medical supplies across the border for his brother who ran a secret medical clinic for treating those who were wounded during demonstrations against the regime because early on Assad had declared it a crime against the government to treat them.
Due to the danger involved, the clinic was moved often. But one day I received a message that it had been discovered by Shabbiha (thugs) and thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment and supplies they had so carefully collected and protected had either been stolen or destroyed. Such was the nature of their Shabbiha tormentors who feared the power of those who put all their efforts into healing instead of doing harm.
My friend’s brothers also formed a local coordinating committee that provided food to the families of those who had been killed or seriously injured. Not knowing who they could trust, because the regime had spies everywhere, their neighborhood closed ranks and made caring for the families they knew their main concern. I also remember the day that I awoke to find a lengthy message that had been sent during the night by an acquaintance who lived in the area. His tormented words expressed his anguish over whether he should arm himself to protect his wife and children.
It is hard for those of us living in the West to understand the nature of the brutality of Assad’s loyal minions in Syria, or the depth of the despair experienced by their victims.Ruthanne Sikora
Angered by the refusal of Tadamun residents to subjugate themselves to the brutal regime, the ghost army of Shabbiha that had been created to allow Assad to distance himself from the crimes being committed at his behest had been forcing their way into the homes of residents, beating fathers in front of their children and raping wives and daughters in front of their men to break them. I never heard from the man who sent that anguished message again but his words still haunt me. His rationale for arming himself was less about being able to stop their attackers than it was about having a weapon capable of ending the torture of his loved ones by taking their lives and his own if it came to that.
It is hard for those of us living in the West to understand the nature of the brutality of Assad’s loyal minions in Syria, or the depth of the despair experienced by their victims. Like the Nazis responsible for the Holocaust, they appear to be inhuman. Yet most of these guys have girlfriends and wives and children of their own. How is it possible to commit such heinous acts and then go home to your family at the end of the day?
In a portion of the video that was too graphic to be posted in the Guardian article, a soldier turns to the camera and greets his boss after sending several ordinary-looking citizens to their death and declares it was done for him, as if he had just made a sacrificial offering to a pagan god. It would be easy to say that these guys have fallen under the spell of Assad the same way that regular Germans succumbed to Hitler’s propaganda, but I believe it’s more complicated than that.
At the beginning of the revolution, other videos surfaced, of men in uniform brutally stomping and kicking civilians, of young men being tortured while stuffed naked into the centers of old tires. Many of us have seen the Caesar photos of emaciated corpses that were taken in Assad’s prisons but fail to picture the torment that their family members must have felt upon seeing those horrific photos of the bodies of loved ones they had hoped might still be alive.
The entirety of the video that was captured in Tadamun has not been widely spread through the media yet but I know that it eventually will and my greatest concern is for the families of the victims. Imagine the horror of watching a loved one being so casually executed over and over again in the media. The desire for revenge must be overwhelming for some.
The only way that Syria will find wholeness as a nation, and healing for its collective pain, is for Assad to be held accountable for the havoc, death, and destruction he has wrought upon the entire countryRuthanne Sikora
In conversations with Amjad Youssef, the main executioner caught on the video, the crime researchers who had managed to establish a connection with him recorded him saying that he had killed many people as revenge for the death of his brother who had been killed while serving in the Syrian army.
But revenge is a never-ending cycle that reaps nothing but destruction. The only way the cycle ends is if it is no longer seen as necessary or of having any value and is acknowledged instead for what it truly is, a crime. But in Syria, stoking the desire for revenge is just one of the psychological tools used to foment the conflict among Syrians that reaps benefits only for the regime. The only way that Syria will find wholeness as a nation, and healing for its collective pain, is for Assad to be held accountable for the havoc, death, and destruction he has wrought upon the entire country as his only means of staying seated in his father’s chair.