A cache of disturbing photos and files smuggled out of Syria allegedly shows the "systematic killing" of about 11,000 detainees since 2011 by the government of Bashar al-Assad, the Guardian newspaper reported
Three former prosecutors examined records leaked by a defector known as "Caesar," whose job was "taking pictures of dead detainees" from March 2011 to last August – sometimes as many as 50 a day, both the Guardian and CNN reported.
Their 31-page report on the grisly findings was released Monday to the two media outlets.
Once of the report's authors, Desmond de Silva, a former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, told the Guardian the evidence "documented industrial-scale killing."
"This is a smoking gun of a kind we didn't have before," he said.
Another, David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court, said the evidence provides "direct evidence of what was happening to people who had disappeared."
"This is the first provable, direct evidence of what has happened to at least 11,000 human beings who have been tortured and executed and apparently disposed of," he said.
"We have pictures, with numbers that marry up with papers with identical numbers – official government documents. We have the person who took those pictures. That's beyond-reasonable-doubt-type evidence."
Throughout the civil war in Syria, Assad's regime has denied accusations of human-rights abuses and blamed "terrorists" for deadly violence.
The Guardian notes, however, that any call for Assad to go before an international criminal court in The Hague would be problematic because Syria isn't a member of the court and a required referral by the U.N. security council would likely be blocked by Syrian ally Russia.
The report notes the cache of photos allowed the death certificates to be issued without families' first seeing the bodies; it also confirms "that orders to execute individuals had been carried out," the newspaper said.
Families were told the cause of death of their missing loved ones was either a "heart attack" or "breathing problems," the newspaper said.
Caesar snuck the pictures out of the country on memory sticks, giving them to the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by Qatar, the Persian Gulf state that has called for Assad's overthrow and prosecution for war crimes.
The report itself was funded by Qatar and is being made available ahead of this week's U.N.-organized Geneva II peace conference on the Syrian conflict, the newspaper said.
CNN reported that in a group of photos of 150 persons, 62 percent of the bodies showed emaciation; the majority of all of the victims were men most likely ages 20-40. They illustrated a ghastly scene, CNN reported.
Stomachs, faces and even legs were seen to be concave – "sunken rather than convex," CNN reported. "On some torsos, bruising and bleeding is so severe that the victims' skin is a mosaic of black, red, purple and pink. Oblong and parallel wounds, a mix of bruises and torn skin, line one man's chest and torso, covering every inch of the victim's body from neck to pelvis."
One forensic pathologist, Dr. Stuart Hamilton, who examined the evidence, told CNN:
"This is not just somebody who is thin, or who maybe hasn't had enough food because there's a war going on.
This is somebody who has been really starved."
Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch told the Guardian his organization has "documented repeatedly how Syria's security services regularly torture – sometimes to death – detainees in their custody," adding:
"These photos – if authentic – suggest that we may have only scratched the surface of the horrific extent of torture in Syria's notorious dungeons. There is only one way to get to the bottom of this, and that is for the negotiating parties at Geneva II to grant unhindered access to Syria's detention facilities to independent monitors."
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