Robert Fisk — The Independent Jan 21, 2014
The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes with their report published this week, is without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad succeeds.
Everyone knows that the Assad regime – from father Hafez onwards – has employed torture and executions to preserve the doubtful purity of the Baath party. So why not, indeed, talk of war crimes? Well, let’s just remember that the 11,000 prisoners reportedly done to death by the Syrian regime is only just over half the total number of Syrians – 20,000 – reportedly killed by Hafez’s brother’s troops in the besieged Syrian city of Hama in 1982.
So how come we are not demanding war crimes trials for those responsible for that even greater massacre? Could it be that we have just forgotten this even more terrible massacre? Or could it be that we don’t have the inclination to pursue that particular bloodbath?
No, that’s not to say that the evidence from the Qatar-funded report – and we shall come to the matter of Qatar shortly – is not true. But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an the international conference in Switzerland which begins Wednesday in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.
How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.
Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course – of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder.