With 5000 Dead in Syria, Channel 4 Exposes President Al-Assad’s Horrendous Torture Program

Back in March, when, in my article, “Revolution in the Middle East: Brave Protestors in Syria Call for Freedom,” I picked up on reports of protests in Damascus, firstly by those inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and then by supporters and relatives of 21 jailed human rights activists (many of whom were then seized and imprisoned themselves), I praised their bravery, because the Syrian regime has a long history of violently suppressing dissent.

This was something that was more than abstract to me, because, via a good friend, who is Syrian, i had been given an insight into the use of torture by the al-Assad regime, and had also been horrified by the use of torture on prisoners in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and by the fact that President Bush had sent prisoners to Syria for torture, and the Canadian government had also arranged for its own citizens to be seized and tortured.

After this initial protests in Damascus, the ripples of dissent in Syria spread rapidly, leading to major unrest in the southern city of Dara’a, where, as I noted, “protests about the arrest of a group of 15 schoolchildren who had dared to scrawl graffiti on a wall explaining that ‘the people want the overthrow of the regime’ escalated into something far more grave, when the security services opened fire, killing three protestors in cold blood. Dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by protestors, who had been using social networking sites to coordinate their activities, the clampdown in Dara’a immediately echoed throughout the region, where other protests had been taking place, and the next day, as the Guardian explained, “a much larger, angrier crowd — estimated to number as many as 20,000 — turned out for the burial of the previous days’ victims.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Syria: Inside the Secret Revolution” – Harrowing BBC Documentary Tells the Truth About Bashar Al-Assad’s Brutality

This week, the BBC broadcast a compelling “Panorama” programme about Syria (available below via YouTube, but also available here via iPlayer), in which reporter Jane Corbin, tracing the roots of the people’s uprising against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, focused on Deraa, the town of 80,000 inhabitants in the south of Syria where, after intellectuals and human rights activists began protesting in Damascus in mid-March (followed by many arrests), the townspeople of Deraa took over the struggle against the Assad regime, protesting about how some of their children were arrested and tortured for two weeks after scribbling graffiti critical of the regime.

The film includes shocking footage taken in Deraa by local activists and journalists, breaking through the almost total ban on foreign journalists, some of which has never been shown before, and it reveals how, from the beginning, the regime responded to peaceful protests with random killings by snipers, designed to quell dissent through fear. The footage also reveals how the security forces targeted medical staff inside ambulances, to prevent them from treating the wounded, and also contains other distressing footage from March and April, when the security forces roamed Deraa, seizing people and taking them away — to be tortured, and often killed.

As the protests spread to other towns, the violence increased, and on April 25, Deraa was besieged by the Syrian army, and many more protestors — men, women and children — were killed, both in the town, and amongst supporters from nearby towns who tried to break the blockade and deliver supplies. Others — including children — were taken away and tortured, as happened with 13-year old Hamza al-Khateeb, and it is estimated that across Syria over a hundred children have been killed by the army and the security services since March. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Nine, April to June 2011

The Guantanamo Files

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For over five years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last nine and a half years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For nearly three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have turned my attention to the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

My intention, all along, has been to bring the men to life through their stories, dispelling the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the prison holding “the worst of the worst,” and demonstrating how, instead, the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. As I explained in the introduction to my four-part Definitive Prisoner List (updated on June 1 this year), I remain convinced, through detailed research, through comments from insiders with knowledge of Guantánamo, and, most recently, through an analysis of classified military documents released by WikiLeaks, that “at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total” had no involvement with terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

Syria: After the Brutal Torture and Murder of 13-Year Old Hamza Al-Khateeb, The Revolution Will Not Be Silenced

When the revolutionary impulses sweeping the Middle East first manifested themselves in Syria in March, no one foresaw how the movement would grow — or how violently it would be suppressed, although that was always a distinct possibility, given the manner in which the Ba’athist regime has maintained power in Syria for the last 41 years — through emergency laws (in place since 1963), a ban on all protests, and the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture.

In the last two and a half months, protests have spread throughout the country, and have met with violent resistance, although the epicentre of resistance — the southern city of Daraa — remains the focus of the government’s worst excesses, with a death toll of at least 418 people, according to Human Rights Watch, in a report discussed below.

However, the Daraa protectorate has also become far more notorious in recent days as a result of the torture and murder of Hamza al-Khateeb, a 13-year old boy who has immediately become a symbol of the necessity for the overthrow of the Assad regime for the ever-growing number of Syrians, who, it seems, will not accept anything less than regime change as a result of the relentless brutality of the state’s response to even peaceful dissent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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