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Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 6: Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government

Fail Caesar Part 6: 
Evidence the Victims were NOT Prisoners of the Government
February 9, 2016 
(very incomplete, in progress)
many links, text, etc. forthcoming (f/c)
last edits Feb. 10

From January 2014 to the present, the narrative spun by the defector code-named "Caesar" has enjoyed acceptance by by esteemed professionals, from the Carter-Ruck law firm on hire of the Qatari royal family to Ken Roth's New-York-based Human Rights Watch. "Caesar," his translator/agent Mouaz Moustafa, other alleged defectors and detainees, and alleged family of those killed - all are quite clear the killings were after arrest by by agents of the "Assad regime" and no one else.

However the accounts conveying that story line are nothing but words, of a kind often proven in the past to be complete lies. They aren't proven either way here, and should be taken with skepticism. Even the bereaved family members, as described, could be impostors, or just partisan enough to falsify the story. They could be telling the truth as they know it, but were misled by someone claiming to have seen the whole story ("we were arrested together ... he was so brave ...")

The point is that there are several ways their accounts could be incorrect. But sadly, they've effectively been taken as factual records, albeit with some token displays of skepticism. The alleged family members of identified "Caesar" photo victims almost universally claim the regime never returned their family member's body, having it hidden in a mass grave. But perhaps the truth is they never got the body because they aren't the real family, and therefore probably didn't bother asking for it. Consider also how few of the victims were ever publicly reported as missing (see below...)

The trusted sources are clear that  the thousands of morgue photos "Caesar" smuggled out show nothing but deceased government prisoners (approximately 6,700 of them, it seems), and the numbers on the cards and on their bodies represent them, in a secret code only their captors know.

But this is clearly challenged by many examples. We've already seen (in part 5) clues that the number represent found bodies numbered in order of finding. There was also one victim who looks like a National Defense Forces fighter (aka "Shabih") with Assad tattoos, who was apparently shot by a sniper, but claimed with confidence as detainee of Air Force intelligence. Also covered there was another man credited to the same branch who, by his tattoos, was a Christian (see right), most of whom are known to support the government.

Here I'll attempt a partial summary of further evidence (verbal, visual, logical) that the people seen in these photos did not (probably, generally) die as prisoners of the Syrian government. The truth seems somewhat mixed and not yet certain, and may include some from that category. However to the extent they were imprisoned - which is huge and applies to thousands of victims here, perhaps over 90% of the total - the blame most likely lies with rebels/terrorists and their destructive agenda.

Coded Prisoners or Unidentified Hostages?
After the Carter-Ruck report first made the news, Syria's Justice Ministry rejected the accusations, explaining:
"The report is a mere gathering of photos of unidentified persons proving that a number of them are foreign terrorists from several nationalities who had been killed when attacking the military checkpoints and civil institutions," [...and] "Part of them are civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups because of their support to the state." 
"Tortured and killed" means they were also, prior to that, abducted and imprisoned by the same "terrorists." That of course is what the Syrian government calls anti-government armed groups - supported by the United States and its allies - who torture and kill the Syrian people. 

"Caesar" says the number suggests the prisoner's identity is a coded secret, but clearly known to the government that locked them up. The numbers do stand in for names, but unidentified bodies might also be cataloged with numbers in lieu of names. Since 2011 Syria has been in conflict, and bodies are often just found, after clashes - as in the early case of Hamza al-Khatib - or otherwise.

(Copied from part 5:) A point that occurred to me later is the similarity of the forehead tape to a system I've seen used before - in rebel areas. This was the Ghouta chemical massacre(s) of August 21, 2013, with hundreds killed allegedly by Sarin rockets (which is also just after "Caesar" fled Syria with his last gathered photos). Below is a boy victim, #86 (see also here), of a purported 865 numbered, unidentified victims, and an unclear, much smaller number that anyone even claimed to know. (source, but still to be verified - there were at least 4-500 dead, but probably well below the 1,429 claimed by some). Signs say that's because they were people held captive by local terrorist groups, who wound up burying them in mass graves somewhere, after a token few were claimed by alleged family on video.

So here the tape records victim of (regime rocket? rebel prisons/gas chambers?). We know rebels/terrorists/activists on the anti-government side use this system, but it could be something that simply everyone does.

In the Caesar photos, we see the killers do the same, but with a branch number added beside it. Unlike the later victims, these were passed through the system as unidentified, or at least coded in a system very similar to that for mystery bodies; they get the official-style card documentation seen with little Hamza (left). Unlike Hamza (identified and then handed back to family) and the Ghouta mass gave burials, the "Caesar" photo victims had to be buried by the government in cemeteries they ran.

Combining those precedents, this happenstance hybrid system could show a Ghouta-style mystery person - a victim of (regime prison/gas chamber? rebel prison/gas chamber? other/unclear?) - numbered like rebels at least do it, and then passed through the official system as well. In the example here, only a hospital number is shown on the card, as with Hamza (see part 5). In most other cases, the cards "Caesar" or a teammate write up "confirm" the branch number ... which was written there first by local terrorists, for all we know.

Claimed IDs vs. Major Unreported Abductions
Not all ID sources are necessarily suspect, but neither are they gospel. I've only closely considered a few cases, with maybe the most telling so far being Mohammed al-Tout - arrested October 2012 while taking his daughter to the hospital, just driving on a street, not even being a rebel fighter - apparently not reported at the time by opposition sources, or for 2 years after, but recognized in the SAFMCD face shots by someone almost immediately in March, 2015 - from Douma, increasingly Islamist-dominated, where people of his rare family name have suffered continued bad luck with abductions and suspicious deaths.

To be fair, there are no known claims on these openly-available photos coming from the other side. The Justice Ministry said the victims included soldiers and civilians killed by "terrorists," but no one has backed this with a single public identification. Sad as it is, the opposition IDs are the best ones publicly offered - so far.

But that's not very re-assuring, as the al-Tout case shows. Consider how few of these masses of snatched people were ever reported at the time they disappeared. With nearly 800 supposedly identified, there are still about 6,000 men and boys without even such a story offered.

SNHR report: "We were able to identify the identity of 772 victims including a woman; [of] which 123 victims were recorded in our database before Caesar’s photos were published." That was in October, 2015 - So the SNHR had - 772 identities offered, 21 months after the photos were released and a mass of identifications came in. Before that, only 123 had been reported to them - and apparently they mean at all, as dead or arrested. 123 out of about 6,700 or even more.

Secret deaths in an allegedly secret prison system only make sense, but what's troubling is how few of the initial arrests were noticed and publicized by the opposition, at the time it allegedly happened. Records of the opposition VDC paint a similar picture - dozens of victims identified from March, 2015 forward, with only a few  now-identified victims (Rihab Allawi, Ayham Ghazoul, Hussam Sureym, Iyad Dabbas, etc.) tended to have some opposition credentials and/or were reported arrested at the time (not missing - it was always known who did it). 

In general, these could be anything, depending on what the better evidence indicates. The lack of timely reporting has two main, possible reasons:
1) the arrest was so secret, or the victim so unknown or disconnected from opposition activist circles, they never heard about it
2) rebels abducted them, a crime category which opposition sources (at least VDC and SNHR) don't regularly note or catalog

"Caesar": "these pictures also include..." 
The Carter-Ruck report states "The inquiry team was informed by “Caesar” that for the last three years his only job together with others in his section, was to photograph and document bodies of detainees who had been killed." Since then, it's implied, all combat deaths, natural deaths, executed by terrorists and left -to-be found unidentified...all were sent somewhere else.

SNHR report p 4/5 - he told them same, except in some cases, presumably a small few... From their own interview with the defector, their report quotes him so:
"most of those victims were killed under torture while others were massacred. These pictures include victims of 6 massacres who were killed in Damascus suburbs (in Douma, Al Doumair, and Rankous regions), and in Daraa governorate, where entire families were killed their houses." 
So ... did these get the same miltary intelligence branch prisoner number it seems everyone got? even "sporadic views" victims have a unit blamed, just varied. Are they in the pictures of 4,000 implied victims he missed or held back? Or in the "other half" of the entire 53,000? In-home massacre victims should be identifiable to the killers, and so it would not be as unidentified bodies that they were brought here, nor as coded prisoner - IF these were among those released with numbers attached, it would be a clear sign the numbers don't represent prisoners, and might in fact be fake.

Families killed in their homes are usually the result of "Shabiha" attacks, according to rebels and their alleged witnesses. But usually it's odd how the killers left the bodies behind for rebels to scoop up by the truckload. They and civilian helpers broadcast the corpses on Youtube as their own slain kin, but then dump them as if unclaimed in mass graves.

Any massacred families featured in the "Caesar" photos would be different in somehow winding up in government hands. Also, they would include none of the females; everyone agrees only one female appears, and she wasn't killed in a massacre, if at all. (unless these are hidden in one of the unseen sectors...)
Also some of the victims' bodies belonged to armed opposition groups who were killed or injured during clashes with government forces," said Caesar.
He meant some of the bodies are those of fighters, killed in the course of battles they lost. But that would leave fighters and their property - human and otherwise - in government hands, and they would likely be handled as described above.

Although the Justice Ministry and "Caesar" agree on the photos including killed fighters, I can't yet verify it. In scanning the 6,700 available images, a lot appear like possible rebel fighters, but these are as often as not starved and abused like the rest. Combat deaths are hard to make out one way or another from these face shots - only a very, very few who appear shot in the head are included. 

Combat death might be processed elsewhere, with the 601 garage only for unidentified bodies. But maybe it includes those with at least a known death story (killed in combat by the army, brought in by and vouched for by the army, but otherwise unknown, with no papers) as well as the fully unexplained type (found dead with no papers and no one vouching for anything).

Maybe there are more combat deaths than it seems - he's not talking about in the missing 4000 he never got, nor the "other half" he's never show, but about what's in "these pictures." of prisoners the SNHR was reporting on. The difference between none, a few, and many dead rebel clearly matters, but the answer can't be known yet.

I bet the pictures also include a number of soldiers "who tried to defect," but he wisely didn't mention that. Some of the clues for that are below (see Crushing the Resistance?)

Could the thousands of numbered "detainees" actually include fighters from both sides, and massacred families, besides prisoners of whoever? That possibility is solidified by SNHR report "On 9 June, 2015 SNHR documentation team recorded the arbitrary arrest of two families from Damascus city, whose childrens' pictures were published among the Caesar images."  (note: if they noted this publicly, I cannot locate it for more details) "Arrest" suggests taken to a facility, and "published images" are all attributed to MI branch prisons, not in-home massacres. These show only men and boys, so children translates to boys. Were the women and girls arrested too? What became of them after their capture? What about the men? Released, also shown, killed otherwise? How big were these two families? Were they perhaps extended families of several households each, linked by a relative hated by one side or the other? (that's a traditional massacre basis, and these detainees could be yet more massacre victims, and even comprise a big chunk of the total seen. ) 

"Torturing to Kill" Thousands, and Trying to Save a Few?
In several instances, the "Caesar" photos show medical devices - indicating that a professional medical staff encountered that person, and treated their life-threatening problems. But in the end the person dies. There are two main options for the middle part, and it's contested:

1) the people stabilized, then were abducted with devices intact, abused and tortured and caused new problems that were finally fatal.
2) the life-saving measures just failed, on a person someone else had probably already left for dead.

The SNHR report, speaking to "Caesar" and others, decided "some bodies  still had medical tubes attached to (them) which proves that the victims were arrested while recieving treatment in a hospital." (p 13, point 17) Some of these were at the trauma department of Military Hospital 601 (at the garage of which the photos were taken): "Some detainees died in the Trauma Department while they were being treated." (p. 6) This sounds like a normal medical facility in that it tries to save people, perhaps like the one described by the OPCW's investigators after a visit there. (source f/c)

However, this sounds like a different place from the "trauma department" the same report describes as bulit decades ago and abandoned until 2011, when it was transformed into a detention center of horrors. It had medical aspects, but  doctors were not allowed to do most care, with guards (all security forces members) were left in charge of dressing wounds, installing catheters, and injecting people. This was done "to increase the detainees' torment,"  so many died in the hospital from medical negligence.

Further, they heard, "executions at the trauma hospital happened at night after dinner was served," and through the walls other prisoners they spoke to could "hear the battering sounds" of baton on flesh until the person died. Cleaners would "untangle the detainee from the metal chains..."  and bodies were then stuffed into the bathrooms. (p 6 ) Of the 250-350 bodies total hauled every 3-4 days from the Hospital 601 garage, most were "from different security branches" but there were "two or three victims from the Trauma Department daily." (p. 15)

There's no need to abduct from THIS hospital to kill - it must have been elsewhere there were successful or professional efforts to help people. At least, according to those sources... Their "Trauma Department" sounds like a euphemism for another alleged place in the hospital, and not the actual, functioning center one would expect to handle violent trauma - at a military hospital - in the capitol city of a nation plunged into a brutal sort of conflict.

According to the photos ... let's start with j-5063-24-6-2013 (another AF intelligence victim, the j says). I've been trying not to share the SAFMCD photos, but this at right is just from a screen grab, preview size, to illustrate this point. He appears moderately starved, but that wasn't the cause of death. He has dried mucous in his mouth and nose, and some redness, but these signs too are mild. And it doesn't seem any of this was totally fatal - a medically knowledgeable source tells me this victim  appears to have a central venous catheter inserted. This (right under the SAFMCD logo on the right side of his neck (our left)) is for intravenous feeding, for those unable to eat the regular way. As the source explains:
"...  In this procedure, a flexible plastic cannula with needle is inserted into a vein  above or below the collarbone, and pushed down (after withdrawing the needle) into the superior vena cava (large vein running from neck to heart).   This is a highly skilled procedure - an anesthesiologist or ICU specialist would probably be the one to carry it out." 
This will be: after starvation or depletion (perhaps by captors), but after coming into the care, usually, of decent human beings. And it happens before death. You can't feed a corpse. The job appears relatively professional, and would usually happen in ICU or perhaps trauma department.

Options:
A) abuse round 1 of starvation, or maybe a fit young man in a siege area unable to feed himself - gets to the hospital somehow, is treated, then abducted from the hospital and somehow killed, in abuse round 1 or 2 depending - causing no visible wounds or bleeding, and with the tube still in - brought to this hospital to document and cover up
B) he was starved and mostly-killed in one round, found alive and given the tube, but died anyway.

Clearly the second option makes more sense.

My source says other victims seen with such a tube near their neck likely have the same, even if we can't see the connection. Here's a starved man with tubing around his neck. The adjacent entry wears a surgical mask - must prove hospital abduction?

Another example is j-1198, folder 4-6-2013. 2. 196376 j-1198-4-6-2013 has a central venous cannula, but connected to the jugular vein, this time on his left. However he clearly wasn't starved much if at all, so there must have been another reason ... he has dried blood in the nose, traces on the lips, possible cyanosis evident in the eyes, so possibly one of the victims of a mystery chemical that seems to cause this - he may have suffered acute inhalation injury, as it's properly called, to the mouth and airways. This makes normal feeding difficult. And although he doesn't appear emaciated, everyone need nutrients eventually ...

In other cases, maybe where lesser nutrient loads are required, the feeding tube is attached to the arm instead (could apply above, but ...). Victim 215-1002 seems starved, like many but not all in his stretch. A victim next to him on the left has a feeding tube/catheter, apparently in the left arm.  It's not clear who that is. Adjacent victim 1001 has been badly starved, but 1003 hasn't been located. And it could well be someone else right next to him - as we can see, they don't have to be emaciated.

The bandage round the neck of j-9088 (2-2013) looks as if it might have been holding a tracheotomy tube in place  - most likely due to a neck injury that left him unable to breathe well - but when he was found face-down (after some time, dumped), he was still alive enough to bother with this procedure. Who found him and did that? Someone at or connected to Hospital 601. So is it injury-hospital-abduction-murder? Or is it just delayed death from the first?

And then ...227-694 (folder: 1-7-2012 - right: cropped, rotated, enhanced a bit) has purple skin and swollen eyes, and blood coming from the mouth and nose, probably related to the breathing problems treated with the tube into his mouth. His build is solid, perhaps larger than average - the kind who might wind up as the survivor in a pile of bodies. It seems likely he was a victim of acute inhalation injury from breathing toxic material, who survived the initial exposure but later developed pulmonary edema. This was apparently treated, but unsuccessfully - and it was probably in hospital 601, if just from proximity For clarity, this photo - unlike the others - was taken in a hospital, but in pretty dark conditions. 

... and finally, the woman victim Rihab Allawi has a tube in her left arm - maybe to administer drugs (she seems in no need of feeding). She also, as noted, seems possibly alive in the photos, if possibly drugged... Anyway, she was reported killed weeks after abduction from her home, not from a hospital.

There is at least one case that's a more logical fit with the hospital abduction narrative; as covered below, 251-3836 - had some bad luck (unclear) but that improved with a cv catheter installed at the collarbone. But then he died anyway, and somewhere along the way his body was taken somewhere less caring, and left rotting in slime. But that exception and its own questions aside, these signs of medical intervention argue strongly against the victims being government-held prisoners. Instead, they suggest large numbers of recently-killed people, a small few of whom were actually not quite dead.

Delay and decay: Left to rot, but where?
From a variety of sources and observations, the SNHR decided bodies were routinely left at the garage for days at a time. SNHR heard about 250-350 bodies total hauled every 3-4 days. (p15 ) This match suggests daily average between 62 and 116 bodies, while "Caesar" says it was up to 50 a day and usually less ... but numbers aside, the point is they were piled up for 3-4 days.

Such a delay is entirely possible. But maybe that's just their false explanation for why some bodies seem to be left somewhere for days. As many have noted, most victims appear quite freshly killed, almost as if they were simply trucked from a prison nearby right after execution. But there is a minority of cases that show various levels of decay.

227 "zone" branch has more than most; 227-2478  and 227-2485  are good examples of badly bloated and dead for probably over a week when photographed. The upper 2600s and 2700s (from a 000 folder between 7-7 and 14-8 of 2013) shows a stretch of mostly one type of victim: starved, eyes seemingly gouged out, and older than usual - probably dead 3-5 days but  left dry and dusty (ex: 2687). A few like 2690 and 2691 are turning black with microbes.

Sometimes these are numbered consecutively with more recently killed people. Branch 251 "internal security" branch has in its 3-2013 folder victims 63 (freshly killed), 64, (dead a week) 65, (dead a week and just partly shown (a bloated chin and mouth?)), and 67 (recent kill). I can't find 66 - it seems to be missing.

Much higher in number (but in an earlier folder, 2-2013) are 251 victims 3835, 3837, 3838, and 3839, with a wet and slimy decay otherwise not much seen. 3836 is missing as far as I can see, but is shown in the SAFMCD video in some detail  at 6:54. It's not a face anyone's likely to recognize, with a distorted head and layers of slime (also has a feeding tube inserted at the collarbone - see above). The video claims these victims prove "mutilation with strange materials" but really they suggest: possible chemical exposure,  left oozing mucous, blood, and/or vomit, and then left face-down somewhere wet, muddy, and crawling with germs for several days before being brought in.  The gloves and boots the workers wear are supposed to prove the use of "strange materials")

215 "Raids" branch has at least the bloated and dark purple 215-3665 attributed to it. That's at least 3 branches with supposed prisoners showing advanced decay. These are unlikely to all three let bodies lay around their premises rotting and stinking up the place. And so the delay and decay are presumably happening at the garage. Or maybe elsewhere - like near the highway next to a rebel-held part of Douma, or at the hostage detention center they were killed at in Harasta, etc...

If the hangup is mainly at the garage, then the decay has set in there - before the photo is taken - in these few cases anyway. Why take most pictures right away and wait 'til the end for a few others? So most likely the decay was before the morgue, and not at a security branch prison either. Most likely it reflects a haphazard collection process as with found bodies. In the broad collection most are found with unusual speed, and that's a point of interest. But in some cases it might take weeks to discover some corpses. That would only be natural.

Questions: At least 2 missing photos are in the spans described above. Most gaps aren't yet identified, and the one the was just in a set that didn't seem worth including in a database meant to identify victims by face.But other decayed bodies are likely among those "Caesar" didn't feel "safe" enough to save, or admit to. Was he trying to minimize the issue perhaps, by cutting out bodies dead for even longer? Was it perhaps a significant portion of the missing 40%? Was the swift processing trick not as uniformly achieved as it seems?

Signs of Sympathies
Carter-Ruck report - "Caesar's" contact and in-law told them about the qualifications his (LCC?) had in mind in 2011 in seeking traitors to help reveal Syria's hidden crimes to the world. "We had to look for people working with the regime itself who are sympathetic to our cause,” said the contact. His brother-in-law it seems, now called "Caesar," must have been at least adequate. He photographed bodies officially, or was close to that system anyway - and he sided with the uprising, for either pro-freedom or Sunni extremist reasons. I suspect he said one thing to the Brits, and probably another to the Qataris , and another yet to some of his closer contacts.

If Caesar sympathized with the rebellion, and that's what "Assad" was trying to crush by killing all these mostly innocent and primarily Sunni political prisoners, "Caesar" should - as he claims - have the greatest respect for the victims. He says his main goal is to secure justice for the horrors they and their families suffered.

So ... why do "Caesar" and/or his teammates at the garage so often show disrespect for the bodies they had to document?

The group shot at right shows three examples victims with their pants and/or underwear pulled down, which is usually a sign of disrespect to enemy dead, especially among Islamists. Several examples of boys treated the same can be seen in this disturbing gallery from pro-opposition Lebanese Zaman al-Wasl - source for many photos in this post, licluding at right). Was "Caesar" the one ordering this done? Or were they brought in this way, and the poor workers forced to leave them so exposed?

Another example is shown below - 215-3770 - sword tattoo said to show the victim was Shia and to prove "Assad" is killing off the Shi'ites now too. Other tattoos seem hard to make out. At one point he was shot twice in the right arm, and at another point, imprisoned and starved. At the end of that he died - not from starvation but not from any visible injury either.  At another time a day or two later, here he is photographed by "Caesar" with his pants down to prove "Assad" is disrespecting the Shi'ites now too. No SAFMCD face shot yet, but here's the man arrested and/or killed right before him: 215-3669, same story, strangely complete photo, from the 7-7-2013 folder.


SAFMCD's entry for victim 227-402 from folder 1-11-2012 shows a dark blur on the old man's forehead. A Zaman version of the photo shows that's the boot of someone on the original Team Caesar, seeming not so much to step on the man as to pull his eye open, for no clear reason. It does not seem respectful. In the 17-12-2012 folder   - 215-427 - they seem to be poking a man in the face with a stick, not to mutilate it but to make him look a bit funny. Same effect.

It feels to me like they're trying to say this is the "Assad regime" abusing its own victims. But perhaps this early on they didn't know the story would include a defector who hates "Assad" and who seems to be in charge of this precise corner of "the regime" (or just marginally involved, or not involved at all - this is actually disputed and needs sorted out somewhere).

Anyway, the question stands: is this abuse a reflection of the wicked regime "Caesar" was trapped in, or of the Sunni extremist views of someone skirting the system to create a little propaganda playground at the 601 garage?

Mutilations even? 

It may be this troubling and ambiguous narrative of disrespect to the dead continues into mutilating the bodies on-site at the Hospital 601 garage. Some eye-gouged photos show moderate or large amounts of blood have spilled from the socket into the soil of the garage. This could be a sign that eyes were being poked out right there, but also could be leftover blood that spilled out when they rolled the body on its side. It happens a lot, and at least makes one wonder why they kept rolling those people on their sides.

... some seem to have spit up fresh blood, but this too is suspect. Again, blood can just passively pour out in handling, but some cases seem beyond that. It could easily be engineered by stepping on their abdomen to force out more - when the fluid seems fresh but the people are clearly dead longer than that, this almost has to be the case - disgusting fakery. 

SNHR video cites a couple of examples to claim some victims were broug4:ht into "Caesar's" Morgue alive and actually murdered there. This seems unlikely, and their reason - fresh blood spilled - does nothing to prove the claim It does suggest mutilation of the dead.

At 4: 50 - 215-593-1-2013 (photo code 3961623) The victim is recently dead enough it could be questioned just how long ago that was... and the shoulder injury seems fresh - but not fatal.

235-103-4-6-2013 (736679) chest injuries, possibly old or new (see right) - it seems they squeezed out a lot of new blood, then wondered how much blood his lungs were full of, and they poked two holes to see it oozing out. Or the holes were already there and it came out ... but then wouldn't it have already drained somewhere else? Also, this might be a set of lungs abnormally full of blood, and a possibly clue to how this man died, perhaps without any visible wounds.

Also, his pants are mostly down. That could be subtle, or a coincidence. He looks like a fit and once able-bodied representative of a group "Caesar" and his collaborators did not like. 

Uniforms?
Another issue is how in thousands of photos, no kind of prison uniform appears. The vast majority seem to be naked except sometimes for underwear - which doesn't seem uniform but quite varied, sometime just improvised rag loincloths.

By the accepted story these were mainly not proper prisons but improvised detentions in abnormal (or fictional) holding cells in military intel centers, schools, and other places - at least until they were transferred to what they describe as a prison with tiny cells. But  even when held there for months, by reports of visual signs, they're still in street clothes or nothing - same ones they were arrested in, or are there changes of street clothes provided? Some clothes are reduced to filthy rags, while others seem brand-new, and often mis-matched for the person (old man in a Puma t-shirt, etc.) or inside-out, etc.

And of course we don't see any military uniforms either, other than possibly in shredded form. I'm not an expert in what's used in Syria, but a military-color, olive drab burlap-type fabric tied around the neck is seen in several cases, used for improvised collars on the victims.  I've found a few dozen cases of this or another type of scrap material tied around the neck with strips or burlap or various kinds of rope or twine. (6 compiled at right - for full photos, search the red numbers at the SAFMCD site) In some cases it seems to continue over the head like a hood.

In these cases, the improvised neck-head gear was left in place up to photographing time. How many others had this same accessory at some point isn't clear. It's seen cross different blamed branches (215, 220, 227, and j at least), mainly in early folders (1-11-2012, 1-2013). The purpose not clear - basic restraint is logical, but they appear a bit flimsy for that. These tend to be seen on victims with signs of chemical exposure (more on that later), so it could be related to that.

Now,  everyone in the blame frame here could have access to army uniforms to tear up instead of re-using - a military intelligence center, a military hospital, rebel groups with defectors on board, and/or with captured soldiers stripped of their uniforms. But which one of those really makes the most sense?


Conclusion: Crushing the Resistance?
It's widely accepted the people in these photos had been political prisoners, suspected of rebellious intent, usually without evidence. They'd mainly be Sunnis of course, becuase that's who rebels against the "Alawite regime" and also this is "Assad's secret genocide," as the SAFMCD video calls it. The "geno" should be Syrian Sunnis. We can see members of other groups are included, but we're to presume that's a small portion, and whatever the number, the proven regime genocide is supposed to rule out the natural guess there, and proves these too are being killed in Assad's secret ... well, killing a lot of people.

But it's entirely possible that, despite that engineered impression, minority groups, government loyalists, and  fighters for the secular and inclusive government of Syria - and likely their family members - comprise a major portion of the dead. maybe arrested for "trying to defect," or "showing the slightest disloyalty." We've seen the "Shabih" shot by a sniper, the tattoos, and the tendency of most victims to be fighting-age and fit. ....

(f/c)...

227-2791 (SAFMCD - again, a strangely full photo),  tattoo (of??) - like the older man beside him but less purple, he was lightly burned somehow on the front side, otherwise with no clear sign of injury except maybe it involved breathing problems. Note his pants are a bit low ... maybe being subtle in his case.  The man next to him apparently has his trousers down further.

..

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 5: Questioning the Number System

Fail "Caesar" Part 5: Questioning the Number System
January 16. 2015
(incomplete - last edits Feb. 7)

Please note: this is something of a report on work in progress, only bordering on a readable long article. It's meant more to skim,  to inspire more researchers to look into it,  as a reference and shortcut for them, and - most importantly - to help the general public (those who can follow, and care enough) to think outside the box here. A lot is covered below, from basics to detailed observations and thought exercises. Not every point does much to challenge "Caesar" narrative, but each one matters in considering the whole.
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Here is where I will analyze the number system used in the massive catalog of morgue photos presented by the Syrian defector "Caesar," the alleged meaning behind each number, and some consideration of other possible meanings.

According to the partisan defector, all of the 55,000 photos he smuggled out after fleeing in mid-late August, 2013, show killed detainees of the "Assad regime," with all other kinds of deaths in the Damascus area during the conflict apparently documented somewhere else. were  However, as I've previously addressed (see The Other Half of the Caesar Photos), there was a late revelation that almost half of the touted 55,000 images actually showed victims and effects of opposition violence or, at least, something other than detainee deaths. The remaining half, as accepted by Human Rights Watch, suggested close to 7,000 prisoners of the state security system, when it was said to be over 11,000. 

As it turns out after some study, the photos touted as that seem to show nearly 7,000 people who mainly seem to me like clear mid-to-long-term detainees of someone. Also as claimed, the number system implies even more passed through - perhaps just over 11,000 suggested. This is a coincidence (or is it?) The previous 11,000 claim was based on different and flawed reasoning by Carter-Ruck and/or their sources (see the link above for that part and see below for the new stuff.) But a number of interesting points emerge, especially as we consider what the numbers mean.

Reading the Numbers
For anyone wanting to read along, the photographers here used the Eastern Arabic number system. The digits translate:

٩ ٨ ٧ ٦ ٥ ٤ ٣ ٢ ١ ٠
  0 1 2 3 4  5 6 7 8 9

So the 1 and 9 are familiar to us - users of the "Western Arabic" system - while the 4, 5, and 6 are confusing, and their 0 is easy to miss or confuse with a fly. Further, they write the 2 differently than shown here, perhaps to make it more distinct from the three - simpler and almost like the letter C, so 215 looks like CIO, and 227 like CCV.  That's because, while Arab writing reads right-to-left, number blocks read left-to-right like Westerners do it.

I'm not sure how unusual it is to use this more archaic number system. It seems odd, but might be standard and used already (see below: Previous Example: Deraa).

Here's how the system is used on the index cards seen in the photos (at right). As all sources pretty much agree and analysis seems to bear out, they put branch victim and branch number at the top, and a hospital 601 processing number below (due to reading order, I put the /b at the end like they do - it's a suffix, not prefix).

Here, notice an unusual thing; the person first wrote for hospital # 4924/b, and covered  the 9 with a bolder 6. This might suggest (truthfully or not) that the writer normally used the Persian variant number system (compare here - their 6 is more similar to a 9). Or they just thought 9. This victim 227-2615, by the way, is the one tattoo-identifiable Christian I can point to in the photo catalog. What better time (aside from when you've killed a Shia or Alawi) to trot out hints that Iranians did it? That's all highly speculative. "Caesar" could have just forgot where he was, and numbered this one ... off by exactly 300? How do you do that when you're deep in 4600s, just did 4622, and suddenly think this one's 4923? Hm... that's fairly possible. But it's one of the smaller mysteries discovered so far.

The branch number often appears on the victim's forehead, written on the skin directly or on a piece of tape. Both this and the hospital number are often written on their chests or bodies. All seem to use the same system and tend to match up.


Now let's consider each number shown, from the bottom up:

* Hospital 601 processing number, or just hospital number, or bottom number: others use "examination number" or "death number." It seems to be assigned on-site at hospital 601 based on the order bodies are received. SNHR says this bottom number shows "precisely the detainee’s number after his death under torture in the security forces’  branch." My guess on the real purpose is below, under "hospital#: final index for retrieval?")

* Branch number: - the designation of the branch of Syrian military intelligence responsible for this body, allegedly. (see list below under "branch number means what?") The common understanding is that branch held the man prisoner, tortured him, and in the end killed him. But this is open to question (see same section).

* Branch victim #: Aside from the first 999 victims, the top number is usually 4 digits long, resting on the bar over branch number. Just what this represents and how it progresses is disputed, and discussed below ("branch victim#: for prisoners or corpses?").

The Whole System: What's Confirmed and What's in Question?
The nearly 7,000 face-shots were published in March, 2015 by the Syrian Association For Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD), the official guardians of the photos. Their photos - WARNING: GRAPHIC - can be seen here (organized into branch-based folders in Arabic. The numbers are normal here, and 215, 227 etc. are easy to find). I'm not showing them here, since I clicked this agreement. But in the interest of identifying the dead, their method of death, and killers, I've done some serious review of these photos, entry numbers and file names, and previously released photos. Now I can verify the following claims:

* At least several group shots, and likely a vast majority of all photos, were taken at the garage behind military hospital 601 in Damascus, and/or in a hospital setting taken as 601 or one affiliated. (Tishreen military hospital is mentioned). Apparently, this is still a controversial point to some people, but it shouldn't be. See HRW report for graphic explanation, or here at ACLOS, where it's noted Bellingcat also got it right. Well inside the secured core of the capitol and just down the hill from president Assad's home, this is an official place, and these should be official procedures.It's still possible many or even most photos were actually taken somewhere else and slipped in, but I'm not proceeding on that idea.

* The SAFMCD database includes 6,850 photos, mainly face shots. This minus exceptions (several duplicates at least, one tattoo shot, one blank card, etc.) probably is just about the estimated numbers cited. HRW has 6,786 detainees, and the book by Garance Le Caisne reached a count of 6,627. Both sound close to what I'd guess. I'm liking the low one at the moment, but will use a rounded-off middle number of 6,700 as shorthand.

* The SAFMCD decided the hospital number (bottom #) rises to 5,000 (or 4,999?), then switches to restart at 1 but with a suffix - the Arabic letter for b. (I presume that's what they decided, as it seems right - HRW tried to explain it but it came out mangled - see here). I don't know how logical that is. They would most logically use the whole ten digits before re-starting, but whatever the reason, I can see numbers ticking up to near 5,000 (highest seen: 4887), then starting low with a /ب . That's the second letter in their alphabet, like in ours with "b" sound (and the first letter is their "a," but from there it's different). The lowest I've noted is 357/b. And we can see it again climbing to close to 5,000 (highest seen - 4994/b). (See ACLOS table, 2nd column, continues across all boxes, all branches, all victims, and very far from complete).

A full cycle of 1-5,000/nothing and then a cycle up to 5,000/b, gives 10,000 slots to fill, and the SAFMCD says there were at least 11,000 victims. This suggests 5,000/b was passed and they started with another letter, and made it at least 1,000 victims into it before "Caesar" stopped gathering and fled. Presumably the next letter would be ت, the third letter in the normal alphabet system, with a "t" sound. (the first letter,  ا ("a" sound) was skipped, implied by the nothing) I don't think I've seen that last photographed letter just yet, if I ever will, but Le Caisne's book cites it as - strangely - ث, the fourth letter with a "th" sound. (citation forthcoming) The reason for skipping a letter might be to just use even numbered letters, for no clear reason, but whatever. It also seems easy to confuse the letters, but for the author to make an issue of it, it must have been pretty clear)


At right, from an image linked in the SNHR report, is a man spitting blood despite no visible injury. He's also been moderately starved, and suffered burns or irritation to the skin of his shoulders, neck, and perhaps his eyes. On the card, on his shoulder, and on his forehead but now covered in blood, is "detainee" number 215-1289. On the card also is hospital number 4833. That's near the switch to /b numbers, so he should be in the massive folder 3-2013, where that switch happens.

* Considering that implication raises a problem; if about 6,700 faces are shown in the given span, while the body numbers in the same span suggest 11,000 or so passed through ... this means roughly 4,300 of the bodies - about 40% of them - are missing somewhere in the sequence.

This could have a totally innocent explanation, and the missing views could be just more of the same. Maybe those were on Caesar's days off? A fuller number sampling will argue for or against that. But so far it seems some single entries are missing between ones inlcluded. If that's the case widely enough, it suggests a massive filetering of the images to create a certain effect. What's missing? Natural deaths? Foreign terrorists killed in action? Pro-government militants? Identifiable pro-government civilians? Massacred women and girls? Or is it just more of the same 100% tortured detainees?

Human Rights Watch heard "Caesar" explain he only gathered photos when it seemed safe, and apparently some weren't available at those times. That could be, but precedent says when "Caesar" cites safety concerns, he means truth concerns. The photos he didn't include were likely those he feared would damage his story - worse than the ones he did include.

* The chronology between the different numbers over time seems about right so far, suggesting a huge number of detainees/victims - at least 80-90% of those seen - were documented in the periods covered by folders between Nov. 1, 2012 (reaching back how far is unclear) and August 14, 2013. There are however some number/date/folder oddities that need explored more (updates if warranted and I have time)
Despite these technical points seeming to pan out, I'm still not convinced the numbers seen represent a real "regime" system, although it would likely resemble the official system. It could well be the real deal, but the possibilities merit more scrutiny before deciding that. And more importantly, if it is official, the question of just what they're tallying here also deserves more thought and less credulity.

Branch Number Means What?
"Caesar," and all his supporting (alleged) witnesses and experts agree that the branch number shown means exactly one thing; that's who held, abused, and killed this man. But at least one interesting pattern emerges when looking at the branches blamed. These are, as auto-translated from SAFMCD folder names: # of photos there, and minimum range of victim numbers (highest and lowest I've seen so far)

    * 215 - secret raids and intrusions - 3,556 photos (min. victim # range: 178-4089)
    * 227 - Zone Branch (Damascus) - 2,047 photos (min range: 409-2822)
    * Air Force Intelligence Branch - 390 photos (branch number = Arabic letter equating to J - ج) (min range: unclear, perhaps #1, up to 9246 - many victims implied, most of whom were not sent to 601)
    * 216 - periodicals Branch - 297 (HRW gives "patrols branch," which I prefer) (min range: 44-385
    * 235 - Palestine Branch - 128 (no min range yet for this or the rest)
    * "Anonymous branch": 109 (meaning what?)
    * 251 - Internal branch - the state security: 103
    * "Sporadic views": 71 (meaning what?)
    * 248 - military investigation Branch - 54
    * 220 - Sasa branch: 50
    * Military Police Branch: 45

The top 4 are responsible for well over 90% of the photos/victims. Two of these (patrols, raids) sound clearly mobile. I'm not sure what zone means, but it might be mobile. I don't know if AF Intel has a mobile unit, or any of the other branches. But it might be that these are the people called when a pile of emaciated corpses appears, for example, at the edge of a rebel-held town or district where the local terrorists just ditched that many unneeded hostages.

Furthermore, there are other reasons military intelligence might hold bodies that other parties had collected. They might, for example, want to document what the terrorists they're up against do to people, maybe with an eye to court cases against those found responsible.

Otherwise, it's possible "Caesar" and/or collaborators controlling the site managed to re-brand bodies brought in. They could have done this with the upper numbers made up and written in - and kept track of - blaming a systemic range of security agencies, when really they were only tasked with the the hospital number.

Consider: by this spread, branches with apparent reason to interrogate people - the one reasonable if wrong use for torture - seem to be doing very little of it (fatally anyway).  Military investigation and military police branches have only 100 dead between them. Is that realistic, or a way of clarifying that this torture was mainly not about getting information? Like "Caesar" suggests at every turn, it must be about pointless, villainous, regime-change-justifying cruelty.

And then of course it's possible, and well-enough covered elsewhere, that "Caesar" and the others are correct. We're in the business of considering all possibilities here, right?

Some Apparent Combat Deaths,  But Mostly Detainees

Not that this is the most representative example, but it's an example. At right, by the card and body numbers is branch victim #j/9227, hospital # 2441/b, (with a little difficulty again in the hundreds, different ink colors, confusing errors here...). Military intelligence allegedly killed this apparent NDF fighter (aka "Shabih"), maybe for "refusing orders." He has Assad tattoos, a spiderweb on the shoulder, bearded but neat, and strong - not starved or anything, this one. He was shot in the side by a large caliber round, perhaps by a sniper.

Somehow, I suspect, he became unidentified, maybe dumped far from the kill spot, and that's why, for now, he's only identified with a number. "Caesar" would say he's another coded state secret that wound up here. Here's his SAFMCD tortured detainee entry: photo original name j-9227-4-6-2013 (5) (note: I think the 5 suggests there are 5 photos of this guy, or this is #5 of however many - a bit higher than the average seen (2 or 3), which might mean extra views ... to document tattoos, for example).

But again I emphasize, this inclusion of apparent fighters doesn't seem to be the norm. Most of those will be identified, and it seems most don't pass through here. And there's more likely to be a good number of unknown rebel fighters (foreign and domestic) included.  While such inclusions challenge the simple "Caesar" story and should be noted, the majority of photos - at least 80% - seem like hated and abused detainees. They may have been fighters once, but didn't spend their last days or die that way. Starved, tortured, eyes gouged out or damaged, and many apparently gassed to death * - these men were generally treated too poorly to be anything but prisoners.  And again I emphasize - they seem like prisoners of someone.

* Yes, gassed to death. I'll be coming back to this...

Branch Victim #: for Prisoners or Corpses?
Important question: Is the top number the victim's identifier when alive, or is it only assigned after death? The SNHR's report calls this this the victim's "number in the security branch (before his death)," presumably set by arrest or arrival date. Only the bottom number is post-death, and issued in that order.

However, as far as I've seen, branch victim numbers consistently tick up along with the hospital numbers, each one at its own varying speed. And group shots tend to show consecutive and close numbers dying at the same time. We see victims 2348, 2350, and 2355 from branch 215 at least, among a dozen men in one group shot (see here). As covered here, the scene including Rihab Allawi (the one woman in the portfolio) shows more 215 victims numbered 2916, 2920, 2922, 2924, 2925, and 2935 (Rihab), besides others that aren't readable. So even if the jailers know in advance when the prisoners will die and assign numbers that way, still they're numbered by death order, just predicted. Of course, that's not likely, so ... it's probably a simple order of death or perhaps order of counting among found dead

In fact, the SNHR must realize this sequential grouping even as they argued against its implication. When noting how different branch victims were present at the same time, they note one victim each from 215 and 216 are seen in the same photo, along with 227 victims #2076 and 2075. So clearly, it's not their number when alive, as someone told them.

Interestingly, the original Carter-Ruck Qatar report disagrees with them, and is more credible on this point (p 13):
Each murdered detainee was given two numbers with only the intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses. The procedure for documentation was that when a detainee was killed each body was given a reference number which related to that branch of the security service responsible for his detention and death. When the corpse was taken to the military hospital it was given a further number so as to document, falsely, that death had occurred in the hospital.
So the prisoner number they had when alive remains a coded secret. Or maybe it's non-existent.

Human Rights Watch heard both versions. To their credit they noted that fact, and leaned towards agreeing it's a post-death number. Their report (page 34) calls it a "detainee number: a number assigned to each detainee by the security branch that holds him in custody." When is it given? "Given that most of these numbers appear chronologically, it is likely that the number was assigned to the detainee following his death." This plainly evident truth might be why one "defector who served as a guard at a security branch" told them the number was assigned when someone died.

But HRW also heard - from the central expert, "Caesar" himself - the same thing SNHR heard. He was speaking to the UN Congress in July. (HRW was unable to get their own direct interview with the defector, while the SNHR was. He might be going into more of a retirement mode these days.) "Caesar testified that the number was assigned at the time of the detainee’s arrival at the security branch." In all his careful observation, did the heroic whistle-blower never notice how consecutive numbers kept appearing together? Or did he think they were being killed off in the same exact order they came in? If so, why did he never mention that chilling - and fairly absurd - detail?

Update: Now, maybe Caesar himself hasn't made this claim, but others have. One is the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainnes (SAFMCD), the photo curators as linked to here.  A friend alerted me to a SAFMCD video that misreads the clues almost comically, and seems to make just this claim. See:
المعتقلين ليسو أرقام - الصور المسربة (Detainees are not numbers - pictures leaked) uploaded by SAFMCD.Com, June 28, 2015. 
At 2:30, boy victim #216/85 is used to explain how branch victim # is "the number of the detainee in the intelligence branch before his murder." (emphasis in narration). Then they launch immediately into serial error and  the upside of this call - "serial murder." They show yet another group shot with 215 branch victims numbered 2173, 2175, and 2177 (video still at right). The British-accent narrator explains "the numbers of the victims are consecutive or very close in sequence. This confirms the systematic murder process of the detainees." It's not just systematic but hyper-systematic and bizarre - it would confirm they're being killed just about exactly in the order they came in.

The video also considers decay, slimy and otherwise, as caused by torture with "strange materials" (6:48). To them, this may help explain why decayed bodies are often numbered right next to freshly dead people. Here's one example of that: branch 251 victims 63 (freshly killed), 64, 65, (dead a week), and 67 (recent kill). I can't find 66. It might be one of the thousands that are missing, or one of the few in this stretch that's out-of-sequence.

Note: Mouaz Moustafa is a member of this SAFMCD and is also, usually, the public translator for "Caesar" when he appears. No wonder they both seem to believe in this absurd reading. Moustafa is also a Syrian-American, not a Syrian, working in the "Government Relations" industry in Washington DC, a John McCain-affiliated director of the "Syrian Emergency Task Force" team pushing for the overthrow of Syria's government. They do this with reasoning and moral pretexts improvised from truth, lies, or whatever they find. Here he is giving a guided tour of the photos to Dubliners who seem to me more skeptical than he realized.

Hospital #: Final Index for Retrieval?
My guess is that there's a detailed file associated at the branch for each of these unidentified victims, accessible by that number. Or, if the branch part is fake, the file is at the hospital, attached to the bottom number (or the real hospital number if these too are faked).

After the cataloging wherever, I suppose the bodies would be buried in a government-run cemetery, as "Caesar" and the rest claim. If there's even a first stop, then in between I'm guessing there's a last stop and final audit. Bodies would be documented one last time, correlated with any prior numbers, and gathered in sufficient numbers to justify a trip to one of the cemeteries north of town (or wherever exactly they were buried). And this is military hospital 601, where "Caesar" worked.


It must be noted that burial under a number system in a government-run cemetery doesn't necessarily mean mass graves or dumping secrets. In Muslim countries, it's a moral imperative to bury the victims in soil within one day of death if possible, even if they have to be exhumed and re-buried later. When morgues are full, there are hundreds more to refrigerate, families have a hard time crossing battle lines to come identify people, etc. one might have no choice but the proper one of storage in dirt. 

If finally someone comes in and recognizes a photo, they'll have these numbers and photos to follow. The Hospital 601 number should then be correlated with a grave site number, and should lead right to the victim's remains for reclamation, when that's possible.

But that's just my guess. Most people accept that these numbers are to verify the regime's evil plans were carried through, to conceal original prisoner identity, and launder their deaths as "heart attacks" at the hospital. As evidence for that, I believe, "Caesar" produced one or a few death certificates for heart attack victims he swears were actually among these 100% torture victims. And they might well be - several combat death, a couple natural causes, and mainly executed detainees - of someone.

Who Wrote the Numbers?
Considering the observations above, we should see on the victims and their index cards two different death numbers, ostensibly from two different facilities both recording the fact. HRW's report relates on page 9 how the first number is written at the security branch: "Former detainees reported seeing numbers written on the bodies of dead detainees or on cards, before guards removed the bodies from security branches."

This is the supposed detainees - brought forth to confirm Caesar's story - specifying that the numbers were part of the broader system. From things they were lucky enough to see first-hand, they knew the numbers were not something, for example, that "Caesar" made up on his own initiative at the hospital 601 garage. Nor were they something official that was only set at the hospital. Nor, they're clear, does this numbering system document anything other than killed detainees. They're clear it all shows branch-hospital cooperation in mass murder and mass cover-up.

The bottom hospital number would presumably be set at the garage, based on order of body processing there. So if what HRW heard is true, the numbers would be not just assigned but written in two different places.

The blue ink lines on the hand holding the card in this SAFMCD photo from the 4-6-2013 folder.  Cards and/or bodies are being at least partly filled in here, by these guys.  It's probably the same color on that card, although it's hard to be sure with that deep blur. Also note it seems to be the same color of ink on top and bottom. That's consistent with just some writing happening here, and it's consistent with a completely on-site operation, as the witnesses were clear to argue away.
Let's compare this to an unusual but instructive case. As listed in the SAFMCD database, victim 63 from low-kill branch 248 (military investigation Branch), in a folder dated July 26, 2013. This is a teenage boy who's been seriously starved, had his eyes damaged, perhaps chemically, his neck lightly burned/irritated, and has a trace of orange mucous/blood from his nose. Victims 62 and 64 and others listed near him show similar signs but in different combinations. Now see fuller view below (original - direct link, Zaman al-Wasl article).

Seen: an unclear 4-digit number over 215 was first written on his chest, then mostly washed off and written over with 62/248. The card held seems to have agreed, originally, with the second number. But then “Caesar” changed the photo later, painting over the 2 and replacing it with a 3, so 63/248, as listed by SAFMCD (and there is a taken 62 slot, with no body shot to see if that was ever changed). Further, the bottom number was changed from 44??/b to 4450/b.

The same color of blue ink was used on his body and for all numbers on the card, though possibly with two different markers at two different places. On the card, we can see possibly two types of handwriting, but the same color and gauge of marker at least. It's likely but not certain that everything here was written at the same place, perhaps by "Caesar" and an accomplice. In other cases, it may be different.

Some possibilities for this scene:
* Branch 248 wrote ????/215 on the boy's chest in error, forgetting who they were. Caesar corrected them based on the card they wrote saying 62/248, filled in the bottom number in the same color ink - but then decided later on that the original 62 he used to correct his other error was wrong (because??), and he changed it with after effects, besides the bottom number he threw off.
* The branch wrote 62/248 on the card, and nothing on the body. Caesar goofed up the body writing and then changed it to match. The bottom number was filled in then, or was already done – but it was done wrong (?) and so he changed that in the photo, as well as the original 62.
* Nothing was written at 248, if the body was even there. Caesar wrote this out for 215, maybe just by reflex or because that's all they were processing at the time. Then he realized some detail about the boy that, for whatever he knew about 248 and those running it, meant they should be blamed - or they were just short on 248 victims and he would be a perfect fit, or whatever. But he forgot there was already a 62, and had to change it later. And the hospital number, because that was 62's number. Did this boy replace an original 63 perhaps?
* Caesar goofed this up on purpose, hoping someone like me would make a big deal over what actually seems to be an odd an isolated case. Well, I don't see a reason to make a big deal over this, yet - but it's confusing, and maybe eventually it will seem more important. And it was a good excuse to stop and wonder, which has been in short order with regards to “Caesar” and his claims.

Update: An inverse example from the above. This entry does not show any number on the body but instead on forehead tape. It says 2008, with no branch specified. Someone clearly at the morgue and not the security branch goofed up the card to say victim and branch # 2008/b (again, /b was the morgue's running suffix at the time - the bottom number should be xxxx/b)). Only later did "Caesar" or whoever notice the error, and paint 215 over b. That seems reasonable enough, on a bad day...and it means in at least this case, the cards were being entirely written out at the morgue. If that were the case in the example above, if the boy had nothing written on his chest (only logical), nothing on his forehead as we see (or was that removed to aid the transfer? Ha! Look closely - there was tape there once.), and he had no prewritten card (or it was tossed?) ... then what did Caesar use to correct his own /215 body writing error?

Previous Example: Deraa
An old example might help or confuse things here. Hamza al-Khatib was a plump 13-year-old or a plumber-yet full sized man, depending on if you believe activists and media or doctors and photos. He was famously killed back on  the night of April 29, 2011 in Deraa, during torture in a prison or in clashes at the military housing complex, depending who you ask .

He was apparently processed at Deraa's national hospital as an unidentified victim of the clashes, later identified and handed back to his family, according to official sources. But he was examined by coroner Dr. Akram al-Shar, who's mentioned in SNHR report as the head of forensic science at hospital 601 where the "Caesar" photos were taken. Thus they find him among the "most significant" of those "involved in the crimes."

Anyway, it seems Deraa's military hospital used a similar system to that under study, but used for unidentified, found bodies instead of for tortured detainees. Al-Shar's examination should have been secure and official, and it used eastern Arabic numbers, here 23. There's no torture branch indicated, but authorities published these photos, so maybe this is the "clean" version? So who was responsible for this clear ... hole-punching with a huge electric drill I guess, aging to adult, significant fattening, and partial decay of that poor little 13-year-old boy? Hard to say, but they definitely work for Assad, right?</sarcasm>

Note: according to the SNHR report, the biggest portion of identified "Caesar" photo victims - 204 out of 722 - are from Deraa.  So a doctor, a number system, and a lot of victims allegedly link Damascus and Deraa throughout this story.

Official-Rebel Hybrid ID System? 
(added Feb. 7)
A point that occurred to me later is the similarity of the forehead tape to a system I've seen used before - in rebel areas. This was the Ghouta chemical massacre of August 21, 2013, with hundreds killed allegedly by Sarin rockets (which is also just after "Caesar" fled Syria with his last gathered photos). Below is a boy victim, #86 (see also here), of a purported 800 numbered, unidentified victims, and perhaps zero that anyone knew immediately. (source f/c). Signs say that's because they were people held captive by local terrorist groups, who wound up burying them in mass graves somewhere, after a token few were claimed by alleged family on video.

So here the tape records victim of (regime rocket? rebel prisons/gas chambers?). We know reels use this system, but it could be something everyone does.

In the Caesar photos, we see the killers do the same, but with a branch number added beside it. Unlike the later victims, these were passed through the system as un-identified, or at least coded in a system very similar to that for mystery bodies; they get the official-style card documentation seen with little Hamza (left). Unlike Hamza (identified and then handed back to family) and the Ghouta mass gave burials, the "Caesar" photo victims had to be buried by the government in cemeteries they ran.

Combining those precedents, this happenstance hybrid system could show a Ghouta-style mystery person - a victim of (regime prison/gas chamber? rebel prison/gas chamber? other/unclear?) - numbered like rebels at least do it, and then passed through the official system as well. In the example here, only a hospital number is shown, as with Hamza. In most other cases, the cards "Caesar" or a teammate write up "confirm" the branch number ... which was written there first by local terrorists, for all we know. 

Summary
The number system doesn't seem, in itself, to contain anything to undo "Caesar's" story. It could go either way in showing a seen 7,000, and implied 11,000+ men and boys killed in or near Damascus since the outsider-supported uprising began in 2011.

(More detailed summary of actual findings, forthcoming...)

The core questions remain when, where, how, and by whom they were actually killed. The answer to that is likely to be mixed, but we can't call it mixed/unknown and walk away, nor can we accept "Caesar's" claim these were all "regime" detainees. On this scale, with the horrible abuses seen, the proportions of the mixture must be carefully considered. And clearly the universal activist story of "tortured to death in a regime prison" has been highly overrated, from the little Hamza story up until now.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fail Caesar Part 4: The Other Half of the Photos

Fail Caesar Part 4: The Other Half of the Photos
December 19, 2015
(incomplete)
last edits Jan. 18, 2016

After skipping a couple of possible entries, it's clearly time for Fail Caesar part four. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has finally investigated the alleged defector's dubious claims. Of course, they credit them, or the gist, and blame the government of Bashar al-Assad for systematic torture and killing of mainly non-violent detainees. Their December 16 press release, filed from Moscow at the start of Syria peace talks there, links to the PDF report (download page).

The HRW investigation adds at least one useful detail to the emerging subject of the "Caesar" photos. I have yet to read the report, but thanks to the quick work of Human Rights Investigations (HRI, no relation) (see here), I can see what seems to be a major shift in the story that  could and should alter the mainstream's understanding - but probably won't, at least without some prodding.

This comes from HRI comparing the report to the early 2014 original "Caesar" report, done by Carter-Ruck law firm (C-R) on order of the Qatari royal family. This first report claimed "some 55,000" photos (rounded off), in two halves. They say "twenty-six thousand nine hundred and forty eight (26,948) images were present in various folders on the computer where the images were examined." These were Caesar's stash, that his story applies to.

The rest of the photos they call "similar images" (20,000+, exact number not specified) that were smuggled out by "other people," added with some more (unclear number) they felt were also from "Caesar." ("The inquiry team was satisfied that all of those twenty-six thousand nine hundred and forty eight (26,948) were provided by “Caesar”, as were some of the other twenty thousand plus images.") It's not clear if they even saw these others or reviewed them, but they were included in a grand total of around 55,000. These were all interpreted by the patterns in the first half, as the C-R team presumed the same story for all:
In all, approximately fifty-five thousand (55,000) images have, to date, been made available outside Syria by these processes. ... As there were some four or five photographs taken of each body this approximates to there being images of about eleven thousand (11,000) dead detainees.
Hence, the oft-repeated 11,000 killed prisoners claim.

Now, HRW says they reviewed 53,275 photos. If this is the same number as C-R's rounded 55,000, it suggests their remaining half of "similar images" totaled 26,327. That's a pretty even split. HRW also has a half-and-half split that's similar but different. It's tempting to think the two halves are roughly the same - "Caesar" vs. "other." And that could be; the half they attribute to "Caesar" and his story is 28,707 - 1,759 higher than CR's main number. (maybe this is his "other" images included, leaving the "other" category smaller?). From the press release:
The report focuses on 28,707 of the photographs that, based on all available information, show at least 6,786 detainees who died in detention or after being transferred from detention to a military hospital. 
So C-R's estimated 11,000 detainees becomes around 7,000, using a different formula on a number about half the size. That's because the other half of the photos - not specified but implicitly 24,568 of them - are of a different kind. Again, from the press release:
The remaining photographs are of attack sites or of bodies identified by name as of government soldiers, other armed fighters, or civilians killed in attacks, explosions, or assassination attempts.
Wow. Half the "Caesar" photos, according to Human Rights Watch, show -  basically - victims of outsider-sponsored anti-government armed groups. They think the other half show what "Caesar" claimed all of them showed. But if he lied about half of them...

Consider Michael D. Weiss, who tweeted "Here is @hrw's report on systematic torture in Assad's dungeons, corroborating some of Caesar's evidence." (emphasis mine) As I responded there " Just a bit over half of it, huh?" And the other half still sits beneath all the questions raised so far about "Caesar" and his explanation for all these deaths around Damascus. Now it sits with the knowledge the other half of the big lie is already proven (or so it seems, review pending...). The question then: is "Caesar's" story half true, or is it all lie?

HRI (who first noted the discrepancy), asked the Carter-Ruck report's authors about this, but got no immediate response, naturally. Even given all the time in the world, they will likely not bother responding. They did their job and caused more problems for Syria, they got paid, and now they're done with it.

First Additions
I'll start here with the issue in graphic form.
First note: it's not clear how HRW learned what C-R's "similar images" show, who told them, who they asked, etc. Maybe most important, it's not clear (yet) whether that's a final answer or an "at least" number from an ongoing process bound to get worse for "Caesar's" credibility. 

I'll have more text at least to add soon, related thoughts, observations, maybe news or new facts. I also intend to review the report, and I'm accepting comments.

Earlier Clues
So HRW finds nearly half the photographs show of "attack sites ... or civilians killed in attacks, explosions, or assassination attempts" and of "bodies identified by name as of government soldiers" or "other armed fighters" (probably meaning NDF or "Shabiha"). This sounds like a system documenting mortar attacks and assassination attempts, at sites across the city, and blown-up victims, and slain pro-government fighters, likely also killed policemen, etc. This half, if not the other, sounds like a morgue documenting all the dead in a complex war situation than a holocaust machine snuffing out prisoners in the thousands.

And both sides in the "Caesar" photos debate have previous hints this is how it would at least partly turn out. "Caesar" himself had said ... "I had the job of taking pictures of all the deaths ... before and after the revolution.” (al-Arabiya) But we were to understand he only smuggled out photos of bodies in the secret prisoner-elimination program, and avoided the temptation to pad it with pictures that didn't belong.

The Syrian Ministry of Justice provided the one specific official refutation I know of, early on is 2014. As China's Xinhua reported, a MoJ statement called the report "baseless," and said it was "politicized and lacks objectivity and professionalism" and that Carter-Ruck "is clearly linked to hostile sides to the Syrian Arab Republic since the beginning of the crisis in Syria." Further, "The ministry added that the report was published two days before the Geneva II conference, undoubtedly proving that it has a political aim and tried to undermine the efforts exerted to realize peace in Syria and end terrorism in the country."

But we knew all that. What the statement adds for victim details remains the clearest word from Damascus (which isn't saying much - we could use more from their side). The ministry, charged with running the prison system "Caesar" implicated, explained:
"The report is a mere gathering of photos of unidentified persons proving that a number of them are foreign terrorists from several nationalities who had been killed when attacking the military checkpoints and civil institutions," the statement said.
"Part of them are civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups because of their support to the state," it added.
Observations:
- Clearly, a mere gathering of unidentified people can't include the second group of identified victims. He means a mix of foreign fighters and their victims. Also, un-mentioned, Syrian fighters should be in there too.
- I haven't seen any proof or good evidence any of these are rebel fighters, Syrian or foreign. It could be, but maybe MoJ was just making a general propaganda point and not a specific claim.
- Or maybe he was speaking from knowledge not of what "Caesar's" batch showed but from what was normally documented there (and then maybe "Caesar" filtered out most fighter photos before passing it off)
- Iit's odd how people being unidentified can prove they're from several nations - though it might suggest they're foreign.
- The same goes for the other part - "civilians and military personnel who were tortured and killed by the armed terrorist groups" for being patriotic citizens. That could be, but this is also a frequent talking point; it requires no new facts to bring it up again.

But note HRW is clear all "other half" civilians were killed in attacks and blasts, not after any kind of detention or torture. They want us to understand all of that happens only in security forces prisons.

Update 1: Half of the Main Half Missing!
Update, January 18, 2016: After some serious review of the numbering system, I can verify about 6,700 victims seem to be shown (6,850 photos - how many duplicates is unclear, but seems low). And I agree with SAFMCD and HRW that the increase and re-set of hospital numbers seem to support the claim that more than 11,000 bodies passed through hospital 601 That is, if they're legitimate numbers, which isn't certain.

Now that I can see that, it's worth pointing out the obvious implication of that. The main half of bodies - allegedly 100% tortured detainees - is only half shown (app. 60%), while approximately 4,300 images - 40% of the implied total - are missing somewhere in the sequence. Just where might become clear enough to call, in time.

Were these just the 4,000+ detainees that came through on "Caesar's" days off? Or filtered-out pictures that didn't fit his story?  We don't know what's missing. Famous civilian opposition leaders? Famous government supporters, retired officers, etc.? Soldiers and rebel fighters and foreign terrorists killed in battle? Massacred women and girls? Or as we're to presume, is it more of the same - 100% tortured male detainees of the Syrian government?


The mentioned "other" half of the photos, showing the aftermath of rebel violence, have apparently not been shown. All unusual photos seem to connect back to entries in the main half of abused prisoners. That even includes this victim, an apparent NDF fighter ("Shabih"). He's tortured prisoner # j-9227 from the folder 4-6-2013. The numbers here agree. He's body #6441/b in the sequence of 10,000+ passing "Caesar's" camera. The "j" branch suggests he was taken out by Air Force intelligence, maybe for "refusing orders." He has Assad tattoos, a spiderweb on the shoulder, bearded but neat, and strong - not starved or anything, this one. He was apparently shot in the side by a large caliber round, perhaps by a sniper. Somehow he wound up here, identified just by a number. Does this mean he's another a coded state secret, or just that somehow he was hard to identify at the moment?

However, the vast majority shown appear to not be combat deaths but captives - of someone. Several victims have pro-Assad tattoos, ones suggesting they're Shia (Shi'ite), or Palestinians (mixed loyalty there) and in one at least one case that the victim was a Christian. These and others are possible fighters for the government, but mainly they were not killed that way. They were captured first, allegedly by "the Assad regime" but often sporting half-healed wounds from the process. Then they were largely starved, and then finished off ... in ways that deserve more scrutiny.