74 commanders gave the order to open fire on demonstrators

By: Abdül Hamìt Bìlìcì

The Baath regime in Syria can draw lessons from the revolts against dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The two major lessons are: how to control the flow of information and respond to demonstrators in a brutal manner.

The whole world watched live coverage of how Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and this was the case in Libya as well. Unlike Egypt and Libya, after demonstrations in Daraa began, the Damascus regime, which was already a closed regime, halted news flow from the country. While the regime claims that these incidents were provoked by terrorists and foreign elements, protestors have tried to disclose the images depicting the violence to which they were subjected, despite life-threatening risks. People were skeptical that both sides’ claims were not impartial. In this way, the regime bought time and the protestors were deprived of an important means by which they could prompt the world to take action.

The Arab League’s attempt to send observers to Syria was an important development. It was also important that, after having long negotiations with the Arab League yesterday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that he would accept international observers. However, time is running out fast. During these nine months — which have been filled with never-ending negotiations, meaningless and empty words, and brutal killings — the torture and detention of al-Assad’s opponents has never stopped.

In order to understand what happened in Syria and ensure the international community takes effective measures to stop the bloodshed, the latest Human Rights Watch Report is instructive. The report titled “Individual and Command Responsibility for The Crimes against Humanity in Syria” is based on more than 60 interviews with defectors from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies. Former Syrian soldiers identified 74 commanders and officials by name who allegedly ordered, authorized, or condoned widespread killings, torture, and unlawful arrests during the 2011 anti-government protests. Human Rights Watch has urged the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and impose sanctions against the officials implicated in abuses. Whether or not the report — which gives recommendations to Russia, China, the Arab League and Turkey — will be effective in preventing this bloodshed is questionable. However, disclosure of the tragic events that have been witnessed by the soldiers below, whose names have been changed for their protection, is very important.

A solider working for the presidential guard by the name of Ghassan shares the story of an execution that he witnessed in Duma on Aug. 7. “I was on duty at the checkpoint in the Abur Rauf neighborhood. My shift was from 4 p.m. to midnight. I arrived at the checkpoint at around 3:45 p.m. and heard screaming from an abandoned building nearby. When I entered [the building] I saw that the colonel on duty before me, Muhammad Sakar, had caught someone who was on the ‘wanted’ list. I wanted to begin my shift immediately in order to stop [what was happening]. Sakar said, ‘No, be patient, we’ll take care of this first.’ Seven soldiers were beating the man they had caught. When I arrived he was alive and screaming. The soldiers, on the other hand, were cursing and smiling. It lasted another five minutes and then the man died. He was no longer moving and I saw that blood was coming out of his mouth. When I took over the shift, I informed Qadir from the 160th brigade of the presidential guard that there had been a death. He told us to abandon the checkpoint and the dead body.”

Habib, who was a soldier with the 3rd division of the 65th brigade, explains how a soldier from his own battalion was killed for not following a commander’s order to shoot at demonstrators: “The soldiers were on the front line. Col. Qadir and the security forces were standing right behind us. Yusuf Musa Qrad, who was a 21-year-old soldier from Daraa, was beside me. At one point, the colonel noticed that Yusuf was only shooting into the air. First he informed First Lt. Jihad from the military intelligence’s regional unit. They were friends, those two. Jihad called out to one of the sharp shooters on the roof and pointed at Yusuf, who was then shot in the head twice. The security forces came and took Yusuf’s body away. I saw his body on television the next day. It was said that he had been killed by terrorists.”

Amjad, who was on duty with the 35th Special Forces regiment, tells how they were directly ordered to open fire on demonstrators on Sept. 25: “Our battalion commander, Lt. Gen. Ramadan, generally stood behind the [firing] line. But this time he stood ahead of the brigade. ‘Fire intensely. Nobody is going to ask you for a statement [about this],’ he said. We were normally asked to use our bullets sparingly; however, this time we were told to use ‘as many bullets as we’d like.’ When someone asked what we were expected to shoot at, he said, ‘Everything before you.’ That day 40 demonstrators died.”

Source: Sunday’s Zaman

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