Monday, April 18, 2016

SYRIA - The Assad Files

"Gathering evidence of Syria war crimes in ‘The Assad Files’" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2016


SUMMARY:  Five years of brutal civil war in Syria have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions more.  Now, a new journalistic project aims to document President Bashar al-Assad's principal role in the systematic campaign of detention, torture and murder that has left his nation in the throes of chaos.  Hari Sreenivasan sits down with Ben Taub of The New Yorker to discuss “The Assad Files.”

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Five years of war have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Syria in this many-sided and brutal conflict.  But there’s now a project under way that’s trying to document the principal role of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the killing and its systematic campaign of detention, torture and murder.

The story of this remarkable forensic effort and the appalling acts it catalogs is told in this week’s “New Yorker” by reporter Ben Taub in his piece called “The Assad Files.”

Ben Taub joins me now.

So, what is this organization?  It’s not the United Nations.  It’s not the International Criminal Court.  But it seems almost more effective in the amount of evidence that it’s gathered on what’s happening in Syria.

BEN TAUB, Contributing Writer, The New Yorker:  Right.

So, it’s an independent agency called the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA).  And because they’re independent, they don’t — they have a — they can operate with a very high risk tolerance and outside of the geopolitics that usually govern permissions for such AN investigation.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But what’s the type of evidence that they have now and how do we know that Assad is responsible for some of these acts?

BEN TAUB:  So, they have collected documentation evidence from all over the country.  They have smuggled about 600,000 pages out of Syria at very high risk.  They have had — one courier was killed, two have been wounded, and — but in recent years, they have gotten much better with operational security.

And they have also…

HARI SREENIVASAN:  These are basically people who are deciding to leak documents and somehow get it in the hands of the CIJA.

BEN TAUB:  So there is a leaker from Damascus.  He was — he worked within Assad’s innermost security committee as a — as a mole essentially.  He was hired basically to process all of the paperwork for Assad’s innermost security committee.

And he was a member of the opposition from the beginning.  And so it’s from his testimony that we know a lot of how that committee worked.  And he basically saw that, every single night, Assad’s Crisis Cell which he formed in response to the Syrian crisis in 2011, and they would demand security reports from all over the country.

And this young man named Abdelmajid Barakat would collect all of the reports, read them and draft a summary for them to look at as they had the meeting.  Now, after their meetings, when they have decided how to handle each security issue, they would send a list of recommendations to Assad through a courier, and he would then review them, sometimes cross things out, sometimes add…

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