US Ambassador: Syrian War Crimes on the Level of Hitler's

Image: US Ambassador: Syrian War Crimes on the Level of Hitler's Stephen Rapp

Monday, 07 Jul 2014 09:46 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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Tens of thousands of photographs showing incidents of torture, murder, and mass starvation demonstrate that Syria has committed "systemic atrocities" that are equivalent to those of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, according to a senior State Department official.

In an address to an audience at the Atlantic Council on July 3, Stephen Rapp, ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said, "This is solid evidence of the kind of machinery of cruel death that we haven’t seen, frankly, since the Nazis. If it is as it appears thus far, we’re talking about more than 10,000 individuals being killed in custody over the period from 2011 to 2013, including largely men but also some very, very young men and boys and women."

Rapp also said the photographs, many of which have been labeled and numbered, demonstrate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "mania" for documentation of their crimes, Rapp said. He referenced the so-called Cesar photos, a collection of photographic files detailing the murder of about 11,000 individuals detained by al-Assad's regime since 2011.

According to Rapp, the administration has nearly completed a forensic review of more than 28,000 photos that implicate al-Assad and other top-level Syrian officials.

In a related note, Rapp stated there exists an "awfully good case that you could take to a judge tomorrow" to charge the leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Asked what the Obama administration can do to hold the Syrian regime to account, Rapp argued that they do not have to wait for international authorities to act first.

"First of all, it is important to note that when we receive this documentation, national authorities have jurisdiction, and people [responsible] can be charged," he said, adding that states possess the power to use that evidence to pursue justice outside of any actions taken by the International Criminal Court.

Rapp cited as an example the case of Charles Taylor, the son of Charles Taylor Sr., the former dictator of Sierra Leone. Taylor was convicted in October 2008 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida under the domestic Torture Act. He was sentenced by the court to 97 years imprisonment for "committing numerous acts of torture and other atrocities in Liberia between 1999 and 2003" while he served as head of the country’s Anti Terrorist Unit during his father's regime.

On July 15, 2010, his conviction was upheld by judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

In May, a group of independent human rights experts publicly criticized the United Nations Security Council for its inability to refer alleged war crimes to ICC, and said that failure has permitted new atrocities to be committed.

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