Syria and the costs of non-intervention

Real evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes

by Michael Petrou

Molhem Barakat /Reuters

One of the enduring features of the West’s myopic narcissism is our ability to believe a war doesn’t exist if we’re not involved in it.

It’s this that causes preening ninnies like the Raging Grannies to declare their desire to “stop the war” by leaving in the middle of it.

It allows reporters and television hosts who should know better to utter banalities about Afghanistan’s “12 years of war” — as if the struggle between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents was not already raging before 9/11, and won’t continue after we leave.

It permits Barack Obama to campaign on slogans such as “a decade of war is now ending,” and get re-elected rather than hooted off every stage he appears on.

Most tragically, it has contributed to a political climate in which most Western governments avoid intervening in conflicts beyond their borders.

A civil war has been destroying Syria and Syrians for more than three years. It began as a popular protest movement against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Repression beget resistance beget revolution beget bloody sectarianism.

At every stage, as the death toll grew from the hundreds to the thousands and then tens of thousands, as the numbers of displaced swelled to the millions, policy makers in Western capitals considered military intervention and decided against it.

The costs of intervention might have been high. The air defence capabilities of Assad’s regime were said to be robust. And we don’t know how Syria, or its ally Iran, might have reacted to air strikes or the establishment of a protected rebel enclave within Syria (though the fact that Syria did nothing after Israeli strikes against it suggests these fears were overblown).

Western governments were also worried about who might replace Assad. These concerns are now more valid than they were when the revolution began, as extreme Islamists among the rebels become stronger (though more moderate opposition fighters are now taking on these extremists themselves).

But there were always costs to our non-intervention, too. And now, in chilling clarity, we are faced—should we choose to look, and many won’t—with what those costs are.

A photographer for the Syrian military police was given the job of documenting the bodies of Syrians murdered in custody. He was ordered to do this to prove that execution orders had in fact been carried out. Many of the victims were starved and tortured to death. Their bodies showed signs of beatings, eye gouging, and strangulation. There were other photographers doing the same work. But this one man photographed approximately 11,000 victims himself. Then he defected with his photos.

Three former war crimes prosecutors with experience in Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia have interviewed the former police photographer. Three forensics experts examined the photographs he took. They found the man credible, and believe the evidence he has compiled is legally compelling.

“The inquiry team is satisfied that upon the material it has reviewed there is clear evidence, capable of being believed by a tribunal of fact in a court of law, of systematic torture and killing of detained persons by agents of the Syrian government,” they concluded in a report that can be read here.

The report was commissioned by a London law firm acting for Qatar, which supports rebel groups in Syria.

“Such evidence would support findings of crimes against humanity against the current Syrian regime,” it continues.

“Such evidence could also support findings of war crimes against the current Syrian regime.”

The report is difficult to read. The photographs it contains are painful to look at. More painful still is knowing that, in the immediate future, nothing will happen as a result.

Assad has already crossed Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. He used them against women and children. There was no punishment. And now Assad is a partner in Syria’s internationally supervised disarmament process.

There’s never been even the illusion of a “red line” on the torture and murder of prisoners. Obama proscribed gassing civilians, not strangling them. So Assad will stay. His prisons will fill. One day Syrians will topple his regime, and the strangled and starved will be avenged. But it will be despite, rather than because of us.

In the meantime, can we at least have the decency not to boast that we chose peace by staying out of Syria? An infant believes something disappears when he covers his eyes. We’ve done the same thing.




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Syria and the costs of non-intervention

    • Do you people not realize that isn’t a comment….?

      It’s a marker for Discus ferheavensake.

      • LOL What kind of “marker”? What do you think it will achieve?

        • Sometimes when you post a comment it doesn’t show up. Not on refresh, not on a new window…not even after days.

          Another post makes the first one show up though. Instantly. So I do 3 dots.

          Discus has it’s problems

          • Why am I not surprised that you think your problems are solved by spamming the comments section?

          • LOL says the guy on triple time on here.

          • My 4508 comments to your 12122 is *me* on here triple time? LOL

          • LOL mine get agreed with. Yours are campaign slogans

      • Just a marker for Disqus?
        I thought you had finally made a post that didn’t prove you to be a fool.

  1. Well said Michael. Assad has confirmed that he will run in the next “election” again, which will solidify his hold on power there even more, so this conflict may continue for a considerable amount of time in the future.

    Meanwhile Obama’s running a secret war in parts of Pakistan that will also likely continue for many years, all because he needed to win elections by making promises he knew damn well he’d be unable to keep. Iraq is slowly slipping back into chaos for the very same reasons. Not because the US was incapable or unwilling to continue to defend Iraq, but because Obama needed to get out for the votes. How many years ago was it that he promised to close Guantanamo Bay?

    The Bush admin definitely had some flaws and made some mistakes, but they were not cowards who cared more for electoral success than the safety of the globe.

  2. It wasn’t Raging Grannies that blew the shit of Iraq and Afghanistan with nothing to show for it except generations of resentment.

  3. How come those pictures suddenly appeared out of a presumed turn coat journalist and photographer and what took him so long to reveal those alleged atrocities, which incidentally are less cruel and barbaric than eating prisoner’s heart and organs while still alive. And how come the timing is just before the peace negotiations? No wonder the pictures landed at Katar, one of the main financiers of this terrorist war against Syria pitting Sunni against Allawis….. The US used wisdom against irrationality following the disasters in Ira k, Afghanistan and Lybia……

    • Is it OK to murder 11,000 people provided you don’t indulge in cannibalism? Do you have a credible source for your statement about someone “eating prisoner’s heart and organs while still alive”? How is that even possible?

  4. The average western European and North American thinks that part of the world is the Mid-East instead of the Middle East.

    What works in countries with constitutions, free elections, impartial courts, public defenders and armies accountable to civilians, doesn’t work in a part of the world where loyalty to one’s tribe trumps all social, religious and moral constraints.

    But if playing “see no evil” is bad, isn’t invading with our human-rights respecting hands tied behind our backs worst? That’s what we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan and what do we have to show for it? December was the worse month in years for killings in Iraq and the Taliban have started predicting that their return to power will happen while Obama is still in the White House.

    Which of our foreign policy objectives has all the blood and treasure spent in these desert wastelands REALLY achieved?

    Perhaps we have provided “targets of opportunity” for Al Quaeda and the like by forward deploying so many of our troops in Mesopotamia where they are much easier to attack than travelling all the way to Hamtramack or Fredonia.

    But having gone home with our tail between our legs, our strength bled white by the loss of life and our pockets threadbare from the expense…. won’t our enemies now simply bring the fight to us?

  5. Nothing showed the incompetent and pathetic nature of Obama’s “leadership” than his red line comment. If you’re going to talk the talk…walk the walk….as the saying goes.
    That being said, what can the West really hope to achieve by intervention other than pissing one group of fanatics off, at the expense of the other fanatics.
    What if we intervened and toppled Assad? Do you think the Islamic fanatics would throw open their arms and welcome us? If they did, you can be sure the hug would include 5 pounds of C4 as the means of a thank you.
    This is one of those cases, where you wish both sides could lose. The tragedgy of course, is that prior to this conflict Syria was one of the more stable nations in the region, and people still had some sense of a life.
    Kick out Assad……deal with terrorists.
    Keep assad….deal with Iran.
    Take your pick.

  6. It’s not about choosing peace by staying out of Syria, it’s about choosing less war by staying out of Syria. If we could magically transport arms to the most democratically inclined insurgents, with the absolute knowledge that only they would use them, I would be tempted to support the idea. Then we would have to keep arming them against the inevitable furtherance of a civil war by competing groups who believe in an equally brutal theocratic state.
    It would be like choosing between being eaten by a shark or a school of piranhas, instead of not going for a swim in the first place.

  7. Once again I see that no one really understands, or refuses to understand what is going on in the Middle East. As far as the powers in the West are concerned, the faster the middle east bombs itself into stone age the happier the West will be. Why would you want to interfere other than to supply arms so that they can kill themselves even faster and more efficiently. The more they kill each other, the less the West has to worry about them. All the hand wringing and posturing is just a show. It doesn’t matter who, or for that matter, if anyone wins, the Middle East will be so weakened they will pose little threat to the rest of the world for a long long time. End of lesson!

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