Report: Expert says evidence shows systematic torture by Assad regime

Report: Expert says evidence shows systematic torture by Assad regime
Dead children lie on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus in Syria on August 21, 2013. UPI/Diaa El Din | License Photo

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- War crime prosecutors and forensic experts say they have evidence of methodical torture and killings by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, CNN reported.

The international team's report, based on thousands of photographs of corpses of alleged detainees killed while in government custody, would stand up in an international tribunal, former tribunal prosecutors told CNN in an exclusive interview Monday.


"This is a smoking gun," David Crane, one the report's authors, told CNN. "Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence -- the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime's killing machine."

Crane, the first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, indicted and convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor, the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since World War II, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

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CNN said it couldn't independently verify the authenticity of the photographs, documents and testimony referenced in the report.

In photos of 150 individuals examined in detail by the experts, 62 percent of the bodies exhibited emaciation -- extremely low body weight and a hollow appearance indicating starvation, CNN said.


Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and another report author, said the evidence could "underpin a charge of crimes against humanity -- without any shadow of a doubt."

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"Of course, it's not for us to make a decision," he told CNN. "All we can do is evaluate the evidence and say this evidence is capable of being accepted by a tribunal as genuine."

Throughout the civil war that began in March 2011, Assad's regime has denied accusations of human rights abuses, and blamed "terrorists" -- its name for opposition forces -- for the deadly violence.

The report's basis is testimony of a Syrian government defector codenamed "Caesar" and the nearly 27,000 photographs he provided, CNN said. The report said Caesar was military police photographer and his nearly all his work, once fighting broke out, was documenting "killed detainees."

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"It's a callous, industrial machine grinding its citizens," Crane told CNN. "It is industrial age mass killing."

The report's release comes in the run-up to the so-called Geneva II conference, discussions for a diplomatic solution to Syria's civil war in Switzerland that begins this week. The lawyers were hired to write the report by the British law firm Carter-Ruck, which was funded by the Qatar government, de Silva said.


The lawyers and the three forensics experts with whom they worked were given 26,948 images on a laptop. They analyzed 835 images and then conducted a much more detailed examination of 150 individuals, CNN said.

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"Ultimately, the validity of our conclusions turn on the integrity of the people involved," he said. "We, the team, were very conscious of the fact there are competing interests in the Syrian crisis -- both national and international. We were very conscious of that."

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