If bodies are thrown off the rooftop of a post office, can we infer that because it was a post office the dead men must have been postal workers?
That logical leap is apparently not a leap too far for some observers of events in Syria — especially those who regard the Kremlin’s propaganda outlet, Russia Today, as a reliable news source. RT provided its audience with this usefully descriptive headline: “Syrian atrocity: Bodies of postal workers thrown from roof (GRAPHIC VIDEO)”
The RT report begins:
A horrific amateur video appeared on YouTube, apparently showing an atrocity against public service workers in Syria. The footage displays a crowd of people callously throwing the bodies of slain postal workers from a post office rooftop.
The report provides no explanation on how it could be determined that the bodies were those of postal workers. The video can be viewed here.
As with most videos coming out of Syria, it’s rarely possible to establish the facts about what the images reveal, but in this case we can make a number of fairly strong inferences and observations.
Most observers seem in agreement that the men being thrown off the roof were already dead. Although it’s possible that they could have been killed somewhere else in the building and then hauled to the rooftop, it seems more likely that the bodies were being cast down from relatively close to where they died.
The act of throwing bodies off a building and the way onlookers on the street respond, gives the impression that these were vengeance killings of some kind.
Was this vengeance against the willingness of many Syrians to be complicit in supporting the state by working as civil servants, or — and I think this seems somewhat more likely — does this have something to do with actions these individuals were engaged in immediately prior to their deaths?
Municipal buildings like post offices are generally in central locations providing easy access to the populations they serve. In the current conditions in Syria, the rooftops of such locations now also often serve as positions for government snipers.
What seems more likely? That the bodies in this video were postal workers, or that they were snipers?
It seems to me more likely that they were snipers.
Does that mean that their bodies deserved to be treated in this way? No.
Still, if the residents of a town have been unable to walk through their own streets without either getting shot or risking getting shot by a group of snipers, if the threat then gets eliminated it’s not hard to understand that there might be a brutal display of vengeance of the type this video appears to depict.
According to the following account, this is exactly what happened.
The Los Angeles Times reports: A Syrian media activist and member of the Al-Bab Coordinating Committee said via Skype that the incident occurred about three weeks ago as rebels battled government forces for control of the city.
“There were snipers on the roof of the post office,” said the activist, who asked to be identified as Barry for security’s sake. “Several of them surrendered and left the building. Five remained, killing at least seven fighters.
“There was a lot of anger,” he said. “Finally the rebels managed to storm the post office and threw explosive devices and the five snipers were killed. Then the rebels threw the bodies from the roof.”
“What happened was really bad. We should respect the dead even if they were our enemies,” he added, saying that later the bodies were buried according to Muslim customs.
In June 2007, during a U.S.-backed attempted coup aimed at toppling the Hamas-run government in Gaza, there were reports of both Hamas and Fatah engaging in violations of international law including throwing prisoners off high-rise buildings. Human Rights Watch described these actions as war crimes.
Did this lead Western pro-Palestinian activists to denounce the Palestinian cause? I don’t believe so.
The reality is that in armed conflicts, atrocities are committed. Should they be condemned? Of course. But even if these kinds of incident are shocking, they should not be surprising.
War unleashes the ugliest features of human behavior and the idea that those in the midst of the fighting will always conduct themselves in a dignified way is an illusion that can only be entertained by those able to observe from a comfortable distance.