The Syrian Army’s outlaw Executions (Serle)

Jack Serle writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have published eight formal reports on Syrian human rights violations since the rebellion began. These have appeared alongside almost daily statements and calls for action over the abuses meted out on civilians. And yet the violence has continued for more than a year.

Compiled from interviews with more than 30 witnesses, Human Rights Watch’s report In Cold Blood documents the summary and extrajudicial executions of at least 101 people from the end of 2011 to March this year.

Opposition soldiers taken prisoner have been executed. Men, women and children unconnected to the uprising have been executed. Victims have been tortured and raped before being killed. They have been burnt, beheaded or shot. Victims have been urinated on by Syrian soldiers, before or after their execution, and run over with tanks.

This report recounts in agonising detail eyewitness testimony detailing the deliberate murder of combatants and noncombatants, old and young, men and women.

One example of those recorded by HRW is the harrowing tale of a mass killing on March 11 and 12 in the ‘Adiwiyya, Karm al-Zaytoun and Refa’i neighbourhoods of Homs.

‘When I got to Bab Dreib, there were 16 corpses, all women and children. Some of the children had been hit on the head with sharp objects. The brain was outside the skull’
Anas, Syrian Activist

Pro-government Shabeeha militiamen executed at least 28 men, women and children. Anas, an activist who buried the dead discovered bodies had been taken to the Bab Dreib neighbourhood.

He told HRW: ‘When I got to Bab Dreib, there were 16 corpses, all women and children. Some of the children had been hit on the head with sharp objects. The brain was outside the skull.’ Two cars brought 12 more bodies. ‘They were all burnt,’ Anas added. ‘Some we could not identify.’

Other activists tell of a far higher death toll. Shadi said 47 bodies from six separate families were recovered from Karm al-Zaytoun. ‘We went into five homes,’ he told HRW. ‘We found four dead families in four separate homes. There were children, women, men.’ Some had bullet wounds, others knife wounds he said. Some were just burnt.

Ceasefire plans

The joint UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan has been viewed with much scepticism. A ceasefire appeared to be holding in some areas but video footage claiming to show tanks shelling positions in Homs have already appeared.

Syrian security forces are not withdrawing from urban centers. Snipers are reported to be nested on roof tops. Soldiers with heavy weapons and tanks remain in position, setting up new roadblocks.

This contravenes a central stipulation of the Annan Plan, supporting the assumption Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not respect a ceasefire.

At least 8,000 people have been killed in the violence that has crippled the country since March last year. Assad’s military and paramilitary forces have shelled cities and fought battles with the Free Syrian Army, a force made up in large part by soldiers who defected from the national army.

After 13 months of protest, uprising and civil war Syria and its callow rulers have invoked horrified calls for action. HRW conclude this report with the customary recommendations to governments and international bodies. The report calls for sanctions and unanimity in condemnation of the atrocities.

These recommendations are all but identical in each of the four reports on Syria that HRW has published since June last year. But the slaughter continued unabated. So many voices from international groups to individual Syrians have been clamouring for so long for an end to the bloodshed. It is a forlorn hope that the Annan Plan’s fragile and patchy ceasefire remains.

You can read the HRW report here.

Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Responses | Print |

12 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    After One day of a ceasefire in Syria it might be helpful to allow it a chance to work. Yes there are lots of dead, in distressing circumstances, but there will be lots more dead and atrocities if things are allowed to spin out of control into a regional civil war.

    As the Guardian says Annan’s plan is the only game left in town.

    link to

    But it would be a fatal mistake to dismiss the Annan plan prematurely and argue that because Syria is already burning out of control, a Nato intervention could not precipitate a wider conflict. It could, and it would. Despite the tough words since Monday, when Syrian shelling killed two people in a Turkish refugee camp near the border, Turkey is supremely reluctant to create a humanitarian corridor inside Syria, mindful of what happened with the Kurds the last time this was tried. A regional war on its Syrian border is the last thing Ankara wants or needs. Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invocation of Nato’s responsibilities under the article 5 mutual aid clause to protect the Turkish border was another expression of how reluctant his country would be to act alone. Add to that brew a fractured opposition, armed rebel groups nowhere near big enough to challenge loyalist forces, the slow rate of defections and the opportunity that jihadis in western Iraq would have to make mayhem just over their border; include Hizbollah and Iran in this mix and the civil war taking place now would be as nothing to the bloodshed that would result from any foreign intervention.

    Stephen Walt captures the essential point in his piece

    link to

    “And as Bali and Rana emphasize, even well-intentioned humanitarian intervention can have the unintended consequence of putting more Syrian lives at risk. Thus, for both strategic and moral reasons, the international community should concentrate on stopping what is now a slowly escalating civil war, instead of trying to escalate it. This may not be a morally heroic stance, but it is realistic.”

    How we or you explain to your readers, without sounding like heartless ogres, that sometimes inaction on individual issues may support the achievement of a larger objective is a difficult but worthwhile question.

    • by failing to arm the rebels, the international community is propping up the regime. reluctance to support the opposition gives bashar the greenlight to step up his campaign of sectarian cleansing and to commit even more atrocities.

      inaction will prolong catastrophe!

      • Patrick Seale’s piece summarises the situation regarding arming the rebels nicely.

        link to

        ” This week saw the surprise visit to the Free Syrian Army – the main, Turkish-based rebel force – of US senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain. “This is war,” they declared with their familiar belligerence. “Diplomacy with Assad has failed!” They called for arming the rebels and for foreign air power to defeat the Syrian army.”

        “But Annan is right in declaring that “any further militarisation of the conflict would be disastrous”. Even armed with weapons from outside, the opposition could not hope to reverse the balance of military power, still overwhelmingly on the side of the regime. To think otherwise is political insanity. The more the opposition resorts to arms, the more the regime will feel justified in crushing it.”

    • Syria is already burning out of control, a Nato intervention could not precipitate a wider conflict.

      syrians don’t want US/nato boots on the ground. while a few call for no-fly zone, the majority of voices i hear are calling for rebels to be provided anti-tank weaponry. it is obscene how outgunned the rebels are. obama is going around discouraging qatar and saudi arabia from providing weapons.

      eurofrank, if europe was syria, and europeans were being slaughtered by some mad tyrant, would you embrace the same advice you offer the syrian people? i don’t think so.

      why do americans and europeans tolerate atrocities for arabs that they wouldn’t tolerate for themselves?

      • Omen

        Actually I do have experience of the problem from Northern Ireland in 1969 whose situation was similar to the Syrian one. I was working in an Irish Refugee camp and busloads of women and children were coming in from Belfast having been burnt out of their homes and fired on by the police.

        We narrowly avoided armed intervention in Operation Armageddon, with the lead elements of the Irish Army stopped two miles short of the border by a police superintendant.

        link to

        The plot to ship weapons by various ministers was uncovered and stopped. If both sides had been armed to the extent envisioned there would have been a bloodbath.

        It is only when you see Belfast and Derry and then see Kosovo and Iraq that you realise what a mistake allowing an armed uprising to take place might be. The breakthrough moment probably came when the British Army realised they could never achieve a military victory.

        You might like this from BBC World Service. Barbara Plett sounds very well informed and I thought she deserves a prize for such a clear explanation of the powderkeg situation in Syria. You can download the MP3. link to

  2. “Militias:” what hides behind that comfortably neutral word again? There’s a fraction of every population, it seems to me, that’s closer to the breaching of all social bonds, to the kind of “get it on!” impulse that leads to piles of corpses, or mounds of freshly turned dirt to be forensically excavated after some kind of “normalcy” is eventually established.

    My question to all the great thinkers and Experienced Players (I just saw Tom Friedman authoritatively explain current US electoral politics and the state of the rest of the whole Currently Important World in a 3-minute MSM interview) is how to erect structures and conditions to at least make Kosovo and Sabra-Shatila and the bleeding neighborhoods of Homs less likely in the future. Stuff like this (Warning: Disturbing content. Or maybe secretly exciting, to some of us…) link to

    Given human nature, and the intense pleasure and immense profit (the precursor and pre-condition to other pleasures for the profited) derived by that set of humans from killing the screaming or apathetic, and helpless with assegai and club and 7.62mm bullet, and a history of slaughter as long as your arm and opposable thumb, who’s going to eschew the No Quarter killing, to surrender (rather than yield to, or run to and embrace) the impulses to do death unto others, who then will do back?

    Yes, stop the slaughter, and stop it now, but just exactly how does “the world community,” that oxymoronical reification, go about it? When so many of us and our leaders are “invested” in more of the same?

    There must be other, maybe longer-time-horizon, tools that can be brought to bear on cultures, something other, and more healthily inventive, than carbon-fiber string dragged across the nodes of the power grid to blow it out, Apaches doing the too often misguided-missile thing, and pleading with other RISK players not to keep selling weapons to one set or the other (while keeping one’s own clandestine armamentarium wide open for business.)

    There’s war hammers, but there are carpenter’s and roofer’s and jeweler’s hammers too…

    • There’s war hammers, but there are carpenter’s and roofer’s and jeweler’s hammers too…

      the opposition has tried civil resistance for over a year but to no avail. activists were tortured, raped and/or killed for their efforts.

      how many more years are syrians supposed to allow themselves to be slaughtered before the world says “okay, that’s enough” and gives the people the means by which to defend themselves? how high does the pile of corpses have to be before reaching that tipping point?

      from andrew tabler who spent 8 years in syria:

      Some still argue that supporting the opposition will “militarize” the Syrian crisis, diverting the revolution from a more peaceful and supposedly more effective path. But the reality, of course, is that this crisis is already “militarized.” And tangible outside support for the opposition is now a necessary condition for any Syrian’s continued ability to resist the regime’s all-out onslaught. Without such support, the Syrian people have virtually no chance of maintaining their courageous stand — whether peaceful or armed for self-defense — against regime power. For this reason, immediately supporting the opposition is not a diversion from peaceful protest, but rather the only way to preserve an option for civil resistance.


      In an ideal world, peaceful protest alone would force Assad from power. In the real world, however, the longer the regime holds on, the bloodier and more sectarian the armed insurgency will become, and the more likely the country will be to slide fully into civil and sectarian war akin to that in 1980s Lebanon. The choice now is brutally clear: either support the Syrian opposition, armed and unarmed, or support the Assad regime.

    • The problem, JT, is that we may have entered the time of the decline of both the Enlightenment and the nation-state. It’s easy for peaceniks to ridicule the nation-state, but before that the world essentially was ruled by (a) warrior gangs and (b) hierarchies of landlords reaching all the way to kings. The Enlightenment brought enough rationality to Europeans that they saw nationalism was the only path to ensure that rulers at least had some requirement of representing the ruled. Now global corporate plutocracy and its playing of pro-greed ethnic/religious factions against the rest of mankind has people angry and ready to look into mobs and street gangs as a more genuine repository for their loyalty than constitutional republics.

      In other words, things will get so bad in the future that the murderous militias will actually be the democratic alternative to a bought-out world order.

      Personally, to me the solution is the hard work of creating left-wing militias to fight the right-wing militias that have the unfair advantage of capitalist bankrolling. For instance, the Tea Party should have to see that in order to create its pre-1865 Eden, it would have to fight another all-out civil war with the people who beat them the last time. It might be sufficient deterrence against their side, and sufficient political awakening for our side, to restore the normal, manageable conflicts of a healthy democracy. If not, at least we won’t get wiped out by a right-wing first strike a la Weimar, Indonesia or Spain.

    • “My question to all the great thinkers…is how to erect structures and conditions to at least make Kosovo and Sabra-Shatila and the bleeding neighborhoods of Homs less likely in the future.”

      Have you ever thought that love might be the answer to your question? That would be the foundation for any structures.

      “Yes, stop the slaughter, and stop it now, but just exactly how does “the world community,” that oxymoronical reification, go about it? When so many of us and our leaders are “invested” in more of the same?”

      Good question, but it’s the same as the first. The US and NATO (which are basically one and the same) aren’t going to intervene in Syria like they did in Libya because Syria isn’t an oil producer like Libya was. I’m sure Juan Cole will say no, that’s not why there was a humanitarian intervention in Libya, it was because Obama and the rest just cared so much about civilians in Libya being massacred and they had to stop it. Yeah? So why aren’t they stopping it in Syria? Why is a military intervention not even being considered in Syria? According to Obama, the man who orders drone strikes and kills with impunity in Afghanistan, it’s too “complicated” in Syria.

      I disagree with Cole’s leftist critics who accused him of siding with US imperialism in his support for the Libya intervention, but he should at least be consistent. If you’re going to support a humanitarian intervention to save civilian lives because the civilians were being threatened with massacre, I would think you would be willing to point out the hypocrisy of the US in not intervening when civilians actually have been massacred. Granted, I don’t think US airstrikes would be a pretty scenario. Who knows how many civilians were killed by US/NATO airstrikes in Libya. We know there were at least 10,000 people killed when the US bombed Iraq at the start of the Iraq War.

      You notice, even though the US is supporting the Syria opposition, Syrians aren’t carrying American flags around. They know what the US is mostly all about, and it’s not helping Syrians for moral reasons. If you’re blinded by your support for President Obama, who some people still think can do no wrong, you’re not going to say anything about the relationship between the Syrian tragedy and the United States’ reaction to it, because you know it’s hypocritical and you won’t want be to known as a hypocrite yourself. The US and NATO were gung ho on Libya. Why? Libya has a lot of oil. The US and NATO say to Bashar al-Assad, “We’re going to speak out publicly against you, but that’s all we’re going to do, since, to be honest, you don’t have much oil. We don’t have any national interest in you. So go ahead and kill your own people.”

      It’s a shame when John McCain, the ardent militarist, shows more of a sense of right and wrong than the calculating Democrats, starting with Obama, who care only about winning an election, not wanting to get involved in Syria because it could hurt the election campaign with another Middle East quagmire. But full speed ahead on Afghanistan! (we Democrats have to look tough, remember).

      What is the answer? Love, for everyone. Politicians and other “great thinkers” sometimes forget this.

      • Obama did not want to go into Libya, and it wasn’t about oil; oil profits were endangered by the war.

        I was against boots on the ground in Libya and am against them in Syria, so am consistent.

        There was a UNSC authorization for the use of force in Libya, there is none in Syria. I am not a vigilante.

        If I thought you could prevent enormous massacres in Syria by bombing its tank corps, I’d be in favor of it assuming you could get a UNSC resolution. But as a practical matter, it isn’t possible to do what was done in Libya. The two geographies, political scenes, military-civilian configurations, are not comparable.

      • If only it could be taught in school, or added to the water supply, or spread via a tailored virus or something…

        This might be closer to the current and long-standing reality: Biologist E.O. Wilson on Why Humans, Like Ants, Need a Tribe. link to

        Too bad our tribes have killed off the presence of people like Walter Kronkite, and marginalized Bill Moyers and their equivalents across the globe… link to

        “And that’s the way it is, Saturday, April 14, 2012.”

  3. Where is the U.N. at in all this mess?

    These are war crimes and crimes against humanity that have allegedly occurred.

    Back in the 1980s Hafez Assad’s military and air force killed 5,000 in the city of Hama and the world wide outcry was miniscule. It barely made the media even though it was initiated against unarmed civilians.

    How can the world community continue to ignore the allegations of extrajudicial killings and torture committed by this regime?

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