A new Amnesty International report claims that the Syrian government hanged between 5,000 and 13,000 prisoners in a military prison in Syria. The evidence for that claim is flimsy, based on hearsay of anonymous people outside of Syria. The numbers themselves are extrapolations that no scientist or court would ever accept. It is tabloid reporting and fiction style writing from its title "Human Slaughterhouse" down to the last paragraph.
But the Amnesty report is still not propagandish enough for the anti-Syrian media. Inevitably only the highest number in the range Amnesty claims is quoted. For some even that is not yet enough. The Associate Press agency, copied by many outlets, headlines: Report: At least 13,000 hanged in Syrian prison since 2011:
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian authorities have killed at least 13,000 people since the start of the 2011 uprising in mass hangings at a prison north of Damascus known to detainees as "the slaughterhouse," Amnesty International said in a report Tuesday.How does "at least 13,000" conforms to an already questionable report which claims "13,000" as the top number of a very wide range?
Here is a link to the report.
Before we look into some details this from the "Executive Summary":
From December 2015 to December 2016, Amnesty International researched the patterns, sequence and scale of violations carried out at Saydnaya Military Prison (Saydnaya). In the course of this investigation, the organization interviewed 31 men who were detained at Saydnaya, four prison officials or guards who previously worked at Saydnaya, three former Syrian judges, three doctors who worked at Tishreen Military Hospital, four Syrian lawyers, 17 international and national experts on detention in Syria and 22 family members of people who were or still are detained at Saydnaya.There are several difficulties with this report.
On the basis of evidence from people who worked within the prison authorities at Saydnaya and witness testimony from detainees, Amnesty International estimates that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were extrajudicially executed at Saydnaya between September 2011 and December 2015.
1. Most of the witnesses are identified as opposition figures and "former" officials who do not live in Syria. Some are said to have been remotely interviewed in Syria but it is not clear if those were living in government or insurgent held areas. Page 9:
The majority of these interviews took place in person in southern Turkey. The remaining interviews were conducted by telephone or through other remote means with interviewees still in Syria, or with individuals based in Lebanon, Jordan, European countries and the USA.It is well known that the Syrian insurgency is financed with several billion dollars per years from foreign state governments. It runs sophisticated propaganda operations. These witnesses all seem to have interests in condemning the Syrian government. Not once is an attempt made to provide a possibly divergent view. Amnesty found the persons it questioned by contacting international NGOs like itself and known foreign financed opposition (propaganda) groups:
These groups include Urnammu for Justice and Human Rights, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and the Syrian Institute for Justice and Accountability.------------------------------
The report is padded up with before/after satellite pictures of enlarged graveyards in Syria. It claims that these expansions are a sign of mass graves of government opponents. But there is zero evidence for that. Many people have died in Syria throughout the war on all sides of the conflict. The enlargement, for example, of the Martyrs Cemetery south of Damascus (p.29/30) is hardly a sign of mass killing of anti-government insurgents. Would those be honored as martyrs by the government side?
5. The report talks of "extrajudicially executed" prisoners but then describes (military) court procedures and a necessary higher up approval of the judgement. One may not like the laws that govern the Syrian state but the courts and the procedures Amnesty describes seem to follow Syrian laws and legal processes. They are thereby - by definition - not extrajudicial.
6. In its Executive Summary the Amnesty report says that "Death sentences are approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria and ...". But there is no evidence provided of "approval" by the Grand Mufti in the details of the report. On page 19 it claims, based on two former prison and court officials:
The judgement is sent by military post to the Grand Mufti of Syria and to either the Minister of Defence or the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are deputized to sign for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and who specify the date of the execution.It is very doubtful that the Syrian government would "deputize" or even inform the Grand Mufti in cases of military or criminal legal proceedings. Amnesty International may dislike the fact but Syria is a secular state. The Grand Mufti in Syria is a civil legal authority for some followers of the Sunni Muslim religion in Syria but he has no official judiciary role.
Fake News: Amnesty International Claims 13,000 Hanged by Syrian Government.
[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, February 11th, 2017.]