Syrian President Bashar Assad(Photo by Courtney Kealy/Getty Images)
Former United Nations war crimes prosecutors say photographs and other evidence smuggled out of Syria show the "systematic killing" of about 11,000 detainees by President Bashar Assad's security forces.
The allegation, contained in a report released Monday to CNN and the Guardian newspaper, could result in war crimes charges against Syrian officials, said the three lawyers, who prosecuted the presidents of former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone. One said the evidence documented "industrial-scale killing."
The killings, mostly young men, occurred between March 2011 and last August. Nearly 27,000 photographs and thousands of files documenting the deaths were smuggled out on a USB flash drive by a military police officer who worked secretly with the Syrian National Movement and later defected, the report said.
The defector, identified as Caesar, told the investigators he took photographs of "killed detainees," but he did not say he saw any tortured or executed. Many victims were bloodied, emaciated and showed signs of torture: strangulation, electrocution, no eyes.
"This is a smoking gun," David Crane, one of the report's authors and the chief prosecutor who indicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, 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."
Neither news organization said it could independently verify the evidence in the report, which was written by Desmond de Silva, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone; Geoffrey Nice, the former lead prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, and David Crane, who indicted Taylor during the Sierra Leone proceedings.
Although the United Nations and human rights groups have documented abuses by the Assad government and rebels, experts said the latest evidence "is more detailed and on a far larger scale than anything else that has yet emerged from the 34-month crisis," the Guardian writes.
The report was commissioned by lawyers working for Qatar, which has supported and armed the Syrian opposition and called for Assad to be charged with war crimes.
By Michael Winter