Bad as the Islamic State Is, Assad Is Worse

The Assad regime has killed many more than even the Islamic State.  (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

The Assad regime has killed many more than even the Islamic State.
(Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

We frequently post about the Islamic State. Bottom line: How human beings can behave that barbarically in the 21st century is an ongoing mystery. Of course, the Islamic State publicizes its crimes against humanity, which makes them difficult to avoid. Much more covert are the crimes that the Assad regime commits against its citizens. But, as a headline in the International Business Times proclaims in December 2015, Number Of ISIS Victims In 2015 Is Much Less Than Assad Regime-Inflicted Casualties. Michael Kaplan wrote:

More than 21,000 people were killed in the Syria conflict in 2015, most of them civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Middle East Monitor reported. The report indicated the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, has proved less deadly than the Syrian government this year; the regime of President Bashar Assad has been responsible for 75 percent of the casualties, according to the report.

Of the 15,748 people reported killed by government forces, a vast majority, 12,044, were civilians. Thirty-eight percent of civilian casualties were women and children, the human rights group said. For comparison, ISIS was reportedly responsible for the deaths of 2,098 people, which included 1,366 civilians, while Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, was responsible for at least 167 deaths, including 89 civilians.

In one of, if not most, important articles published anywhere this year, The Assad Files in the New Yorker, Ben Taub reports on both the atrocities that the Assad regime commits and the process by which those crimes are being documented by heroic Syrians. (Curious sidebar: Taub has helped finance his journalism with money from his appearances as a contestant on the TV show The Voice.)

In citizen journalism, events are documented and, via video, they, their locale, and dates are verified. The Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) is an organization that does work similar to the International Criminal Court (ICC). But, smaller and independent, it is more streamlined and effective, as reported by Taub. The CIJA teaches witnesses to events in Syria how to capture evidence which will lead to the prosecution of the guilty parties (if the ICC can ever get its hands on them) in the form of documents and email trails that reveal orders being given, received, and followed out.

Taub tells the story of Abdelmajid Barakat, a young man hired to handle paperwork for the Central Crisis Management Cell, a creation of the Assad regime to handle the crackdown on protests in Syria during the Arab Spring. He photographed memos, which were sent to the Arab media, and, as suspicions about leaks were being narrowed down, he managed to smuggle out boxes of documents before escaping. His heroism is almost unimaginable.

But it has to be to match the phantasmagorical nature of the violence of the Assad regime. At Focal Points, we eschew the lurid, but we reproduce this passage from Taub’s piece — and it’s far from the most gut-wrenching — to make a point.

That night, Hamada woke up needing to use the bathroom. A guard hit him all the way to the toilets, but he went in alone. When he opened the first stall, he saw a pile of corpses, battered and blue. He found two more in the second stall, emaciated and missing their eyes. There was another body by the sink. Hamada came out in panic, but the guard sent him back in and told him, “Pee on top of the bodies.” He couldn’t. He started to feel that he was losing his grip on reality. According to the U.N. inquiry, dead detainees were “kept in the toilets” at multiple security branches in Damascus.

What does this remind you of? For me, a student of World War II, it is reminiscent of Nazi death camps with piles of corpses waiting to be disposed of. The state killing machine exceeds the capacity of the system to process it. And this isn’t just Godwin’s Law.*

*As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.” (Wikipedia)