‘They were torturing to kill’: Inside Syria’s death machine

Garance le Caisne writes: For two years, between 2011 and 2013, the former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar used a police computer in Damascus to copy thousands of photographs of detainees who were tortured to death in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. The media have run numerous stories about the man who managed to smuggle astonishing evidence of crimes against humanity out of the country – at great risk to himself and his family – but he had never been interviewed.

Month after month, for two years, this man, who has remained anonymous, took photographs of tortured, starved and burnt bodies. His orders were to photograph the bodies in order to document prisoners’ deaths. He then secretly made copies and transferred them on to USB keys so that he could smuggle them out of his office, hidden in his shoes or his belt, and pass them to a friend who could get them out of the country.

The terrorists of Islamic State proclaim their atrocities on social networks; the Syrian state hides its misdeeds in the silence of its dungeons. Before Caesar, no insider had supplied evidence of the existence of the Syrian death machine. And these photos and documents were damning.

I had to find Caesar. The spectacular advances made by Isis, and the growing number of terrorist attacks by its followers, were drowning out revelations about the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The conflict had already left more than 220,000 dead. Half of all civilians had been forced out of their homes, others had been shelled, their towns and villages besieged by Assad’s army. Caesar’s pictures could put Damascus’s abuses centre stage again. He had to be found. Journalists from all over the world were already looking for him. I knew it would be hard – and it was. Twice I almost gave up. But I kept going, because it was imperative that this man should talk. His testimony was essential if we were to understand the horror at the heart of the regime. [Continue reading…]

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