Conflict

Finally naming Syria's dead: These are the victims of the Assad regime

The man credited with smuggling 50,000 photos said to document Syrian government atrocities, a Syrian Army defector known by the protective alias Caesar (disguised in a hooded blue jacket, C), prepares to speak at a briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington July 31, 2014.
Credit: Jonathan Ernst

Editor's note: This article contains graphic images that some may find disturbing. 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Early last year, thousands of photographs purporting to show the tortured and emaciated corpses of detainees who died in Syrian government detention facilities were revealed to the world.

The grisly images, smuggled out of the country by a defector code-named Caesar, who worked for the Syrian military police, appeared to show killing by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on a grand scale outside the theater of war.

But much of the world saw them as just more dead bodies in a conflict that has produced more than 200,000 of them. Unlike the Islamic State, which publicized its brutality to the world, these killings were kept secret, and the victims remained nameless.

Commenting on the images earlier this year, Assad brushed away the allegations.

“You can bring photographs from anyone and say this is torture. There is no verification of any of this evidence, so it’s all allegations without evidence,” he told Foreign Affairs magazine.

Today, a new report by Human Rights Watch reveals the identities of a number of those pictured in Caesar’s archive. Those victims now have names, stories, and families.

“Just about every detainee in these photographs was someone’s beloved child, husband, father, or friend, and his friends and family spent months or years searching for him,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Among those identified by the rights group are a 14-year-old boy, a student, a carpenter and a number of peaceful activists. Many of them were detained in raids on their homes, others were caught at checkpoints.

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Houry added that the research conducted by Human Rights Watch made it “confident the Caesar photographs present authentic — and damning — evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria.”

To put names to the faces of the victims in Caesar’s photographs, HRW interviewed 33 relatives and friends of 27 victims, as well as 37 former detainees who say they saw people die in detention, and four defectors from Syrian government hospitals or detention centers where the photographs were taken.

“The last thing I heard was: ‘I have an injured terrorist, come and take him from here.’ Then I heard the sound of a car, I am sure it was not an ambulance, because they were still yelling at him…. I never saw him again.”

The report found that some 6,786 detainees “died in detention or after being transferred from detention to a military hospital” since the start of the civil war in 2011. 

Former detainees and defectors revealed a shocking scale of death in the facilities, with up to seven people dying every day. 

“We have no doubt that the people shown in the Caesar photographs were starved, beaten, and tortured in a systematic way, and on a massive scale,” Houry said. “These photographs represent just a fraction of people who have died while in Syrian government custody — thousands more are suffering the same fate."

The report comes at a time when the international community, including Assad’s principal backers in Iran and Russia, have been meeting to find a way to bring about an end to the Syrian civil war.

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Since a spate of Islamic State (IS) attacks outside the borders of its self-declared caliphate — in Beirut, Ankara, Paris and Egypt — the international community has moved with increasing urgency to find a solution to the conflict. Part of the response was an increase in bombing raids against IS, especially by France.  

But many critics of the current approach argue that it is too focused on the Islamic State, and ignores the crimes of the Assad regime, whose brutality provides fertile recruitment for IS.

“Assad is not a sideshow,” Emile Hokayem, a Middle East security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the New York Times. “He is at the center of this massive dilemma.”

The victims

The following are profiles of the victims identified in the Caesar photographs, compiled by researchers at Human Rights Watch and lightly edited for length by GlobalPost. The methodology used by HRW to identify the victims can be found in the full report.

The following section contains graphic images that some may find disturbing. 

 

Abdullah Arslan al-Hariri

Human Rights Watch

Abdullah Arslan al-Hariri, a 36 or 37-year-old laborer from Namr, Daraa, was married but had no children. According to his brother, Abdullah became a prominent leader of anti-government demonstrations in his hometown of Namr following the beginning of protests in 2011, and later began helping Syrian Army defectors who wished to leave the country.

Syrian security forces raided his house several times, but Abdullah was not at home during the raids. On June 16, 2012, the Military Police arrested Abdullah along with his relative, Tal'at. There had been several military police raids in Namr that morning, Tal'at told Human Rights Watch, and he and Abdullah went to hide on the outskirts of the town. Military Police shot Abdullah in his shoulder as they tried to evade arrest. The agents seized the two, handcuffed them, and blindfolded them with tape.

“An officer told me to tie [Abdullah’s] shoulder with my shirt, which I did, but that is all. There were some thorns in the wound from his fall, but they did not allow me to clean it,” Tal'at said.

Tal'at and Abdullah were taken to the courtyard of the Military Police department in Izra', also in Daraa governate. Tal'at was blindfolded, and could only hear the police officers’ interrogation. He told Human Rights Watch: “When we were in the courtyard [of the Military Police department] … they insulted him, and I could hear that they were beating him. I could hear that he was in pain. Abdullah was interrogated about his participation in the protests. They hit him. They told him, ‘You are a fighter.’ Abdullah responded, ‘No, I am not armed.’ The last thing I heard was: ‘I have an injured terrorist, come and take him from here.’ Then I heard the sound of a car, I am sure it was not an ambulance, because they were still yelling at him…. I never saw him again.”

The General Intelligence branch released Tal'at a few days later. Fearing for their own safety, Abdullah’s family did not make official inquiries. They had no more news of him until the Caesar photographs were released. The family identified him from a set of pictures posted on Facebook.

The images of Abdullah’s body from the Caesar archive did not identify him as associated with any particular security branch. They appear in a folder dated June 2012, the month Abdullah was detained. The archive includes seven photos of his body. The gunshot wound on his shoulder is clearly visible in some of the photographs. The file name states that he was “under the responsibility of the Ninth Brigade” (al-Firqah alTase'a), which operates in Daraa.

The nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights produced a report on its forensic analysis of the digital images (for which Human Rights Watch provided no background information specific to the individual). The report noted that the photographs depicted an adult man in his 30s with four gunshot wounds, including both entry and exit gunshot wounds to the head, the entry wound “suggestive of a close range entry,” as well as gunshots to the right shoulder and the right arm.

Khalid Hadla

 

Khalid Hadla was married and had three young children. He worked as a carpenter, and lived in Daraya, near Damascus. According to Amer Hadla, Khalid’s brother who lives outside Syria, Air Force Intelligence officers arrested Khalid in January 2013 during a raid on his home, while his wife and children watched. In January 2013, government and anti-government forces were engaged in fierce battles for control of Daraya, with the Syrian army re-taking the town from anti-government armed groups early that month. Many people were arrested during this period. 

Khalid’s brother told Human Rights Watch that the Hadla family was known in Daraya for being anti-government: “Everybody [in Daraya] supported the rebellion, even women they supported it. Our family Hadla is well-known as a supporter of the rebellion … the soldiers of the family that were in the Syrian army defected and became members of the FSA [Free Syrian Army].”

However, he said that Khalid was known as the quiet one in the family, and only participated in peaceful protests. He added that a Syrian Air Force Intelligence officer in the area, Bashar Daher, threatened Khalid and other members of the Hadla family on multiple occasions, and made visits to Khalid’s house to threaten him, according to his family members in Daraya.

After Khalid’s arrest, the family later learned from former detainees who had seen Khalid in detention that he was held at the Air Force Intelligence branch in Mezze.

Amer added that Daher, the officer, came to his other brothers after Khalid was detained. “He told them, ‘Khaled admitted everything under torture. We won’t give him back to you.’”

"The guards brought a blanket and put Ayham inside it ... and put a number on his head ... and took him.”

A former detainee told the family they he saw Khalid in detention at the Air Force Intelligence facility in Mezze but provided little detail about Khalid’s well-being and condition in detention.

Amer added that after Khalid’s arrest and reported coerced confession, his remaining four brothers and his sister were all arrested; only one has since been released.

The fate of the remaining four siblings remains unknown. Amer recognized his brother among the released Caesar photographs after an acquaintance told him a family member was among them. “I was too sad at first, I did not want to look at the photographs. I told myself I want nothing to do with that,” Amer said. “Then someone said he recognized someone from the Hadla family. They sent me an SMS [with] a picture. It was true, he was here. It was him, one hundred percent.”

Human Rights Watch also spoke with Khalid’s other brother Ma’moun, who confirmed that he recognized Khalid in the photograph. The white card in the picture identified by Khalid’s family was marked with the Arabic letter ج, indicating that the detainee was in the custody of the Air Force Intelligence branch. The photo was in a folder dated June 4, 2013, about five months after Khalid’s arrest. Khalid was 39 years old when he was arrested.

Human Rights Watch showed five photographs that are reportedly of Khaled after his death to forensic experts at Physicians for Human Rights. PHR’s team of forensic pathologists noted that the photographs showed an adult man who appeared to be in his 40s, with evidence of severe blunt force trauma, in particular to his left arm. The expert report noted that the victim had been hung by both wrists.

Osama Hussein Salim

 

Osama Hussein Salim, a Palestinian resident in Syria, was from Yarmouk Camp on the edge of Damascus. According to his brother Firas, he was married and had two young children. He worked as an accountant at Damascus University. Officers of the General Security Directorate arrested him around 10 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2013 from a checkpoint at the entrance to Yarmouk, while he was trying to enter the camp. A friend of the family saw Osama’s arrest and informed them what had happened.

The family heard through Palestinian contacts closely allied with the Syrian government that Osama had been transferred to Branch 235 of Military Intelligence, known as Palestine Branch.

The contacts asked them to pay 50,000 Syrian pounds (US$708) to secure his release. Though the family gathered the money to pay, the contacts kept putting off the meeting, and eventually told the family they could not help Hussein.

Firas told Human Rights Watch: “I spent seven months asking about him. I was an employee at the Damascus University, I asked the doctors of the university. You know some of them are human, they still have a heart, and they did not take sides. I asked them, because they are well connected. I kept asking about him, but all I got were lies.”

According to Firas, Osama was not an activist or involved in anti-government activity. “He had nothing to do with anything,” Firas told Human Rights Watch. He added that Firas had a liver disease before his arrest.

About seven months after Osama’s arrest, security officers stopped Firas at the gate of his university. “If you keep asking about your brothers, we will cut out your tongue,” they told him. That day, Firas fled Syria.

Though the family continued to seek news of Osama, they heard nothing, including from former detainees, until the Caesar photographs were published online. In the pictures taken from the Caesar files, Osama’s body has the words “Air Force Administrative Branch” written in marker on his abdomen. The photo came from a folder dated February 2013, the same month as his arrest. The family recognized Osama by two tattoos on his left arm as well as his pants and top, in addition to his appearance.

Human Rights Watch shared four photographs of Osama’s body with Physicians for Human Rights. A team of forensic pathologists observed facial contusion as well as scratches and abrading on the face in the photographs, and evidence of “severe” blunt force trauma. 

Ayham Ghazzoul 

 

Ayham Ghazzoul was a Damascus University student pursuing a master’s degree in dentistry. He was also a human rights activist who worked with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression as well as the Syrian Violations Documentation Center. 

He was 25 years old when members of the National Students Committee, a pro-government student union, detained him at Damascus University on Nov. 5, 2012 and turned him over to Military Intelligence. Security forces had previously arrested him on Feb. 16, 2012, and held him until a military court ordered his release in May. M., another student from Damascus University who was arrested on the same day, said that security officers took him to a room in the school’s medical college. Ayham was already there. The officers tortured the two students for approximately four hours, beating them with their hands, shocking them with electric batons, whipping them with cables and hoses. They were later transferred to the 215 Branch (Military Intelligence) together, and detained in the same cell. 

On their fourth day of detention, Nov. 9, 2012, M. said: "Ayham came to me and said I am so tired I want just to sleep, I told him come and put your head on my leg. After about 45 minutes the security guards came to wash the corridor where we were sitting, then I tried to wake up Ayham but he didn’t respond. I shouted to a doctor from Aleppo — he was [also] a prisoner — he came and put his hand on Ayham’s neck and his hand and said he had died … 30 minutes ago. Ayham’s body was very cold when I touched it. Then [the guards] brought a blanket and put Ayham inside it … and put a number on his head … and took him."

Ayham’s family did not learn of his death until Jan. 20, 2013, more than two months later, when M. was released and described to them Ayham’s death in the 215 Branch. In 2014, they began searching for official confirmation of Ayham’s death. Maryam, his mother, visited both the 215 and the 248 (Military Intelligence) security branches in Damascus, but the security officers did not initially provide her with any information. On May 10, 2014, the military police in Qaboun referred her to the Tishreen Military Hospital, which provided her with a death certificate that stated heart failure as the cause of death. Maryam requested the return of Ayham’s personal belongings (his wallet, keys, and identification) both from the hospital authorities and by lodging a formal request with the military prosecution office. However, his belongings were never returned to her.

Human Rights Watch showed three Caesar photographs identified as being of Ayham’s body to Physicians for Human Rights’ team of forensic pathologists. Based on these photographs, they were not able to identify the cause of his death or major injuries on his body.

Ahmad al-Musalmani, Child 

 

Ahmad al-Musalmani was a 14-year-old boy from Namr, Daraa. Before the uprising in Syria began, he was in the seventh grade. After Ahmad’s older brother Shadi was shot and killed on March 23, 2011 during an early protest in Daraa, Ahmad’s family sent him to Lebanon for his safety. Ahmad was 13 when he left Syria for Lebanon. 

Ahmad’s mother died of natural causes in Syria while he was apart from the family in Lebanon. On Aug. 2, 2012, when he was 14, he returned to Syria to attend his mother’s funeral. He was traveling in a minibus with five other people. One of them later located Ahmad’s family and described his arrest to them. Family members told HRW that according to Ahmad’s fellow passenger, officers from the Air Force Intelligence stopped the car at al-Kiswa bridge checkpoint, on the road between Damascus and Daraa, and an officer asked Ahmad, “Why are you crying?” Ahmad answered, “I am crying because my mother died.”

The officer took the passengers’ phones and started to search them, and he found an anti-Assad song on Ahmad’s phone. He began insulting Ahmad, calling him “you animal,” and other swear words. Then he dragged Ahmad into a small room at the checkpoint, his fellow passenger told the family the day after the incident. The rest of the passengers continued on without him. 

Ahmad’s uncle, Dahi al-Musalmani, served as a judge for 20 years in Syria before he fled the country in March 2013. Dahi told Human Rights Watch that he went to see several government officials after Ahmad’s disappearance, including Social Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar, to obtain news about Ahmad’s case. After a tip from one of these contacts, he called the 248 Security Branch, controlled by the Military Intelligence agency, to inquire if Ahmad was being held there. They told him Ahmad was not among the detainees.

In December 2012, five months after Ahmad’s arrest and still without any news about him, a man with strong government contacts whom Dahi declined to identify came to Dahi’s office and told him that if he paid 600,000 Syrian pounds (about $8,451 at that time), Ahmad would be released. The man told him the money was for a pro-Assad member of parliament. Dahi paid the man and accompanied him to drop off the money. After 10 days, he said, he received a call from the man. 

"'Ahmad is alive,' the man told me. 'He is detained in the Air Force Intelligence branch in Zablatani.' I told him, 'I want Ahmad to be released.' He answered, 'You wanted to know his whereabouts, now you know. If you want more you will have to pay 2 million Syrian pounds. I responded, 'I do not have this kind of money, I would have to be a thief or very rich.'"

Dahi sold some land, and raised 1 million pounds (about $14,085 at that time), but the man told him it was not enough. “I started to beg him,” he said. “I am a judge and I became a beggar. I am a judge and I will kiss his feet so that he accepts.” He accompanied the man and waited in the car while he delivered the money. Dahi said he saw the lawmaker accept the bag of money. The man returned and told Dahi that Ahmad would be released in ten days. But Ahmad did not come home. 

Three months later, Dahi received a call from the Air Force Intelligence branch in Zablatani requiring him to appear at the branch. “My nephews told me not to go. [They said] ‘they will arrest you and kill you,’” Dahi told Human Rights Watch. He and his nephews left for Jordan the next day. That day, March 16, family members who remained behind informed him, his house was raided. 

The family continued to search for Ahmad from Jordan, and to appeal in the media for his release. When the photographs were released, Dahi searched for Ahmad among them.

"I went directly to the folder of the Air Force Intelligence, and I found him," Dahi said, breaking down while talking. "It was a shock. Oh, it was the shock of my life to see him here. I looked for him, 950 days I looked for him. I counted each day. When his mother was dying, she told me: ‘I leave him under your protection.’ What protection could I give?"

Five pictures of Ahmad appeared among the Caesar photographs, in a folder dated August 2012 — the month of his arrest. Human Rights Watch shared the five photos with Physicians for Human Rights, whose forensic pathologists observed that they depicted a boy in his teenage years with several marks of blunt force trauma.

Rehab al-Allawi 

 

Rehab al-Allawi, a Damascus resident originally from Deir al-Zor, was an engineering student at Damascus University before the Syrian uprising. Hers was the only published photograph of a woman among the Caesar files dealing with dead detainees. 

Rehab was about 25 years old when the Raids Brigade, a special raids unit of the military police, arrested her on Jan. 17, 2013. The unit came to the family home in Damascus around 10 p.m. According to Rehab’s brother Hamza, an officer told their mother that the matter would be closed within a few hours. 

”We spent 24 days together in the cell, next to each other, she talked to me about her parents. She wanted to see her parents. She would always speak about her brothers and sisters, she was scared for her family.”

Rehab worked in one of Damascus’s local coordination committees (loose networks of activists) and she assisted internally displaced persons who had fled Homs, her brother Hamza told Human Rights Watch. After her arrest, the family sought information through personal contacts within the Syrian government. They paid over US$18,000 to various officials in the Syrian military and security services to gain information about Rehab, and to try to secure her release, but received no information. 

After a few months, a Syrian brigadier-general told the family Rehab had died of a stroke, her brother reported. Rehab’s other brother Bassam asked to see her grave, and in March 2013, an officer accompanied him to al-Najha cemetery, on the outskirts of Damascus. Bassam showed the guards a picture of Rehab and asked if they had seen her body. The guards told him, “Yes they brought three girls at 11 p.m. 10 days ago.” Hamza, Rehab’s other brother, asked Bassam to have her exhumed, but he was not able to do so. When he asked, the office replied, “There is nothing more we can do.” The family never received a death certificate. They held a memorial service for Rehab in Jordan soon after, and another in Saudi Arabia, where the two brothers live, in June 2013. 

The same month as Rehab’s second memorial, an acquaintance who knew Syria’s Justice Minister called the family and told them Rehab was still alive. “We told him, Bassam saw her grave. He told us, ‘She is in the Military Security Branch, I saw her name on the register. If she was dead, she would not be on it.’” 

Several months later, in October 2013, a military security officer reached out to the family and requested $90,000 to secure Rehab’s release: $50,000 as payment for his services, and $40,000 to secure her safe exit from Syria to Turkey. Bassam met and paid an intermediary in Istanbul. After the money was transferred, the officer told Rehab’s family that she had left Syria for Lebanon. 

“We believed it, we searched all over Lebanon, every tent. For eight months we hoped we would find her,” Hamza told Human Rights Watch. 

A former detainee, Hanadi, told Human Rights Watch that she was detained with Rehab for over three weeks in the 215 Branch of State Security. Rehab arrived in late January or early February 2013, according to Hanadi and information other former detainees provided Rehab’s family.

Hanadi said: "We spent 24 days together in the cell, next to each other, she talked to me about her parents. She wanted to see her parents. She would always speak about her brothers and sisters, she was scared for her family."

Hanadi was transferred to Adra Prison after three and a half weeks. She never saw Rehab again. About a month later, a new female detainee arrived to Adra from Branch 215. Hanadi said she asked the new detainee about Rehab. The detainee said that one night at about 11 p.m. a month and a half after Hanadi was transferred the guard came and told Rehab: “Pack your stuff, you are going home.” 

In March 2015, after the Caesar photographs were published online, a cousin called the family and asked if Rehab’s photo might be among them. “She looks just like Rehab,” the cousin said. 

Though the family recognized Rehab, they asked former detainees who had seen Rehab in prison to confirm, as her appearance had changed greatly during her detention. 

Hanadi told Human Rights Watch: "One day her brother called me and asked me if it was Rehab in the photographs that were published. She gained a lot of weight in detention … because we could not move, and from eating potatoes, rice, and bulgur. I recognized the pyjamas she was wearing, and her face. Even the shape of her toes was the same. When she arrived she was not sick, her face was not yellow, and she was very thin."

In the photographs that emerged of her body, 215 Branch is written on her forehead. Three images that appear to be Rehab were saved in a folder dated June 4, 2013. Physicians for Human Rights forensic pathologists observed that the photographs depicted a woman in her 20s with an IV line apparent in her left arm, indicating medical intervention. They found no visible evidence of injuries or blunt force trauma.

Oqba al-Mashaan 

 

Oqba al-Mashaan was 32 years old when he was arrested. He lived in the town of Mou Hassan, in Deir al-Zor governorate, where he worked as a government employee at the local agricultural department office. He was married with two daughters: Alia, who is now 4, and Rehab, who is now 3.

Oqba came from a large family, with five brothers and one sister. The family had already faced tragedy when government forces shot and killed his younger brother Zuheir during an anti-government protest in 2011. 

Pro-government armed men arrested Oqba on March 28, 2012 as he was on his way home and turned him over to the local Air Force Intelligence branch. Several onlookers saw the arrest and informed the family what had happened.

When his oldest brother, Qotaiba, went looking for Oqba, he was also arrested, he told Human Rights Watch. Qotaiba spent 30 days detained in the Branch 291, run by Military Intelligence in Damascus. 

In October 2012, two of Qotaiba’s brothers were killed. One was killed by pro-government sniper and one in an indiscriminate attack, his parents told Human Rights Watch. The youngest, Bashar, was killed in 2014 during a battle with the Islamic State, while he was trying to assist the wounded, they said. Qotaiba had been released, but Oqba was still missing.

His father, Ali al-Mashaan, told Human Rights Watch: "At first, we knew where he was. We couldn’t see him, but we received information from defectors, and from former detainees. We heard from a group that he was in Jawiya [Air Force Intelligence]. We heard that he was detained [at the Air Force Branch] in Mezze, then sent to Sednaya prison. We heard that Oqba was well."

The family paid middlemen connected to the government to learn more about Oqba’s situation. They heard that Oqba had been charged for demonstrating, trading weapons, and encouraging protests. His father also made an official inquiry through the Ministry of Justice, but received no reply for several months. “Finally, the answer came from the Ministry of Justice: ‘We have no information about him,’” Ali told Human Rights Watch. 

After their youngest son’s death, Oqba’s parents fled to Turkey with their remaining two children, and some of their grandchildren. 

In March 2014, two years after Oqba’s arrest, the Caesar photographs were released. A family friend thought he recognized Oqba among them, and sent the photos to Yasmin, Oqba’s sister. It was 1 a.m. when she identified her brother in a photograph. She told her one surviving brother, Qotaiba, but they did not know how to tell their parents that they had lost yet another of their children.

His mother told Human Rights Watch: "I saw them, and asked them, ‘Tell me, what is going on?’ They told me, ‘Abu Aliya [Oqba] died.’ I responded I want to go to Syria to receive condolences there. I went there, and saw his wife and children. His daughter, she is three and a half years old, she said, ‘Thank you God, my father can rest now, and has been released from the suffering and injustice.’"

Three photographs of Oqba appear among the Caesar photographs. A card on his chest notes that he had indeed been in the custody of the Air Force Intelligence branch. The folder they appear in is marked March 2013, a year from the date of his arrest. Though his body is severely emaciated, his family said they were sure they recognized him. 

Human Rights Watch shared these photographs with Physicians for Human Rights. Forensic pathologists found evidence of “moderate to severe starvation,” as well as “chronic venous insufficiency of lower extremities,” a symptom they described as “consistent with prolonged standing.”

Mohammed Tariq Majid 

 

Tariq, as the family called him, was 23 years old when Military Intelligence officers arrested him from a hotel where he was staying in Damascus. He was a second year student at a technical institute, studying accounting. Air Force Intelligence in Mezze, Damascus, had previously arrested him in 2011 and held him for 20 days. His brother Bashar described him as a peaceful activist, who continued going to anti-government protests in Daraya, where the family is from, even after his first arrest.

On Feb. 16, 2013, Tariq was arrested from the hotel in Damascus where he was staying. His brother told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t know why he was arrested, it was just part of the raids. His ID said he was from Daraya.” Daraya is well known for being an anti-government area. The family learned of Tariq’s arrest from friends of his staying in the same hotel. 

Though they searched for news of Tariq, they did not learn his whereabouts until the end of the year, when two friends of his were released from detention. They told the family that Tariq had been detained in the 215 Branch (operated by Military Intelligence), and that he had died during his first month of detention. “He was tortured so much, that he shut down. He lost his mind,” they told his brother. 

“We didn’t believe the news,” Bashar told Human Rights Watch. Tariq was in good shape, and had no health conditions before he entered the detention facility, he said. The family sought out contacts connected to the security agencies for information about Tariq. “They gave us some proof, some information, but it was all a lie,” Bashar said. Tariq and Bashar’s mother went to the military police and lodged multiple formal requests for information about Tariq, but they received no reply. Another former detainee from the 215 Branch, who the family knew, also told them Tariq died after about a month in detention. 

When the Caesar photographs were published online, Bashar searched them for his brother. He recognized Tariq from his appearance, and from a distinctive scar on his right shoulder. Tariq had been injured by shrapnel during the shelling of Daraya, while assisting at the local field hospital, and the shrapnel scar was visible in the photographs.

The photographs appeared in a folder dated March 2013, the same month as Tariq’s arrest, confirming the information provided by the three former detainees who told his family he died soon after his detention. A white piece of paper held in the picture notes that he was in the custody of Branch 215 (Military Intelligence). The paper is part of a prescription pad, and says “Administration of Military Medical Services” at the top. The shrapnel scar on his right shoulder is clearly visible. 

 

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