On January 20, 2014, only two days before negotiations were set to begin over Syria in Switzerland, a now famous report was released claiming to hold photographic evidence of Bashar al-Assad’s brutality against his own people and institutional torture programs in place by the Syrian government. The report, whose source was an alleged “defector” going only by the name of “Caesar,” and photos he allegedly took at a Syrian government military hospital, was touted as evidence of Assad’s cruelty and an example of how the Syrian president was committing war crimes reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
The report was plastered all across Western media, television screens, and Internet sites in perfect timing to disrupt any hope of a negotiated end to the Western-backed violence in Syria (at a time when the Syrian government was experiencing serious setbacks). Ever since, that report and the related photos have repeatedly crept back into the media spotlight at convenient times when massive propaganda blitzes against the Syrian government were being put in place or when key decisions were being made.
In October, 2014, I wrote an article entitled “7 Reasons To Doubt Latest ‘Holocaust’ Claims Against Assad,” where I outlined several discrepancies in the report, competing agendas regarding its release, and other questionable aspects including:
- The Gulf State Feudal Monarchy Qatar is the sponsor of one of the main reports and “reviews” of the photographs.
- The source of the report and photographs
- “Caesar” Is Reminiscent of “Curveball”
- Past Claims Of Assad’s “Crimes Against Humanity”
- Possibility that the death squads could have killed the victims shown in the photographs, that the death squads are themselves the victims, or that the photographs contain a mix of the two.
- The photographs were conveniently released just two days before the Geneva II Peace Conference meeting on Syria the first time.
- Involvement of Color Revolution NGOs.
These seven reasons alone are enough to doubt the veracity of the report and its claims as well as suspect that it is nothing more than a carefully crafted hoax designed to act as a propaganda push against the legitimate Syrian government.
A recent report, however, written by Rick Sterling of Syria Solidarity Movement and entitled “The Caesar Photo Fraud That Undermined Syrian Negotiations: 12 Problems With The Story Of Mass Torture And Execution In Syria,” expands on these points and provides a detailed deconstruction of the “Caesar” photos over the course of 30 pages.
Sterling provides 12 problems with the “Caesar Torture Photos:”
- Almost half the photos show the opposite of the allegations.
- Allegations other photos only show “tortured detainees” are exaggerated or false.
- The true identity of ‘Caesar’ is probably not as claimed.
- The Carter Ruck inquiry was rushed, faulty and politically motivated.
- The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is involved.
- Simple administrative procedures are portrayed as mysterious and sinister.
- The photos have been tampered with.
- The photo catalog is faulty.
- Western media has uncritically promoted the story.
- Politicians have promoted the story for propaganda purposes.
- The Human Rights Watch assessment is biased.
- The legal accusations are biased and ignore the supreme crime of aggression.
Sterling wrote an article to go along with his report of the same name that acts as a condensed version of the full report. In that article, he confirms the suspicions this writer put forth in 2014. In other words, Sterling demonstrates that the report is constructed for the purpose of blaming the Syrian government for something it did not do. Sterling writes,
The Carter Ruck Inquiry Team [evaluation of the Caesar story conducted by the Carter-Ruck Law Firm on contract to Qatar] claimed there were about 55,000 photos total with about half of them taken by ‘Caesar’ and the other half by other photographers. The Carter Ruck team claimed the photos were all ‘similar’. Together they are all known as ‘Caesar’s Torture Photos’.
The photographs are in the custody of an opposition organization called the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD). In 2015, they allowed Human Rights Watch (HRW) to study all the photographs which have otherwise been secret. In December 2015, HRW released their report titled “If the Dead Could Speak”. The biggest revelation is that over 46% of the photographs (24,568) do not show people ‘tortured to death” by the Syrian government. On the contrary, they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of car bombs and other violence (HRW pp2-3). Thus, nearly half the photos show the opposite of what was alleged. These photos, never revealed to the public, confirm that the opposition is violent and has killed large numbers of Syrian security forces and civilians.
Sterling also writes that claims that the “other” photos – meaning the photos other than the ones that demonstrated exactly the opposite of the Caesar story – showed only “abused detainees” are also false. He writes,
The Carter Ruck report says ‘Caesar’ only photographed bodies brought from Syrian government detention centers. In their December 2015 report, HRW said, “The largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are photographs Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital.” They estimate 6,786 dead individuals in the set.
The photos and the deceased are real, but how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. These photographs seem to document a war time situation where many combatants and civilians are killed. It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention; the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusations by ‘Caesar’, the Carter Ruck report and HRW that these are all victims of “death in detention” or “death by torture” or death in ‘government custody” are almost certainly false.
In addition, Sterling points out that many of the photos were manipulated by using duplicate photos and editing out (and in) information and case numbers, etc. Sterling says,
Many of the photos at the SAFMCD website have been manipulated. The information card and tape identity are covered over and sections of documents are obscured. It must have been very time consuming to do this for thousands of photos. The explanation that they are doing this to ‘protect identity’ is not credible since the faces of victims are visible. What are they hiding?
. . . .
There are numerous errors and anomalies in the photo catalog as presented at the SAFMCD website.
For example, some deceased persons are shown twice with different case numbers and dates.
There are other errors where different individuals are given the same identity number.
Researcher Adam Larson at A Closer Look at Syria website has done detailed investigation which reveals more errors and curious error patterns in the SAFMCD photo catalog.
Sterling highlights the fact that the “inquiry” also claims that simple administrative duties are classified as horrific war crimes in the report. He states,
The Carter Ruck inquiry team falsely claimed there were about 11,000 tortured and killed detainees. They then posed the question: Why would the Syrian government photograph and document the people they just killed? The Carter Ruck Report speculates that the military hospital photographed the dead to prove that the “orders to kill” had been followed. The “orders to kill” are assumed.
A more logical explanation is that dead bodies were photographed as part of normal hospital/morgue procedure to maintain a file of the deceased who were received or treated at the hospital.
The same applies to the body labeling/numbering system. The Carter Ruck report suggest there is something mysterious and possibly sinister in the coded tagging system. But all morgues need to have a tagging and identification system.
The victims shown in the report have clearly been abused and starved. However, before jumping to conclusions about just how these unfortunate individuals met their fate, it is necessary to look back at the context of the victims. After all, the death squads operating in Syria are no strangers to crimes against humanity, murder, and torture. In fact, they have been both the initiators of such depravity and overwhelmingly the largest proprietors of it.
Furthermore, the fact that the victims were starved does not necessarily mean that they were starved by the government. Indeed, it is important to remember that, due to the siege of a number of cities by both the military and the death squads as well as due to death squad cruelty and attempted cordoning off of specific areas, food shortage has been a serious concern in some areas for some time. There is also plentiful evidence of death squad groups killing innocent people and shipping their bodies to the places where cameras are set up, waiting for the recording of the propaganda piece. The Ghouta chemical attack is just one instance in which innocent civilians were captured and killed by the death squads and used as stage props for propaganda purposes.
Indeed, it is also important to remember that the death squads themselves are quite adept at keeping prisoners in atrocious conditions. Remember, it was reported some time ago that the Syrian military was able to free a number of captive Syrian women from the hands of the death squads who had kept them in captivity in underground tunnels for months on end for the purposes of using them as sex slaves.
Nevertheless, Sterling also calls into question the identity of the “defector” going by the name of “Caesar.” He writes,
The Carter Ruck Report says “This witness who defected from Syria and who had been working for the Syrian government was given the code-name ‘Caesar’ by the inquiry team to protect the witness and members of his family.” (CRR p.12) However, if his story is true, it would be easy for the Syrian government to determine who he really is. After all, how many military photographers took photos at Tishreen and Military 601 Hospitals during those years and then disappeared? According to the Carter Ruck report, Caesar’s family left Syria around the same time. Considering this, why is “Caesar” keeping his identity secret from the western audience? Why does “Caesar” refuse to meet even with highly sympathetic journalists or researchers?
The fact that 46% of the total photographic set is substantially the opposite of what was claimed indicates two possibilities:
* Caesar and his promoters knew the contents but lied about them expecting nobody to look.
* Caesar and his promoters did not know the contents and falsely assumed they were like the others.
The latter seems more likely which supports the theory that Caesar is not who he claims to be.
Sterling also presents evidence that “Caesar” himself may have been working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in an effort to create a propaganda campaign against the Syrian government. Sterling uses quotes from Prof. Crane of the Carter Ruck inquiry in order to build his case. Indeed, Crane’s statements to France 24 are quite revealing. Sterling writes,
In an interview on France24, Prof. David Crane of the inquiry team describes how ‘Caesar’ was brought to meet them by “his handler, his case officer”. The expression ‘case officer’ usually refers to the CIA. This would be a common expression for Prof. Crane who previously worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The involvement of the CIA additionally makes sense since there was a CIA budget of $1Billion for Syria operations in 2013.
Prof. Crane’s “Syria Accountability Project” is based at Syracuse University where the CIA actively recruits new officers despite student resistance.
Why does it matter if the CIA is connected to the ‘Caesar’ story? Because the CIA has a long history of disinformation campaigns. In 2011, false reports of viagra fueled rape by Libyan soldiers were widely broadcast in western media as the U.S. pushed for a military mandate. Decades earlier, the world was shocked to hear about Cuban troops fighting in Angola raping Angolan women. The CIA chief of station for Angola, John Stockwell, later described how they invented the false report and spread it round the world. The CIA was very proud of that disinformation achievement. Stockwell’s book, “In Search of Enemies” is still relevant.
As I pointed out in my own article in 2014, the Carter Ruck inquiry itself was fraught with conflicts of interest and fraught with the telltale signs of carefully constructed propaganda. The law firm conducting the inquiry having been contracted by Qatar ( a GCC member assisting in the funding of al-Qaeda terrorists and the destruction of Syria) and represented Turkey’s President Erdogan (another major player in the war against Syria), the Carter Ruck inquiry reveals itself for the hoax that it is. Put together with the apparent intentionally shoddy research conducted by Carter Ruck, Crane’s ties to the U.S. intelligence community, and the involvement of color revolution NGOs, the Caesar story simply does not hold water.
Sterling addresses many of these issues in his report when he writes,
The credibility of the “Caesar” story has been substantially based on the Carter-Ruck Inquiry Team which “verified” the defecting photographer and his photographs. The following facts suggest the team was biased with a political motive:
* the investigation was financed by the government of Qatar which is a major supporter of the armed opposition.
* the contracted law firm, Carter Ruck and Co. has previously represented Turkey’s President Erdogan, also known for his avid support of the armed opposition.
* the American on the legal inquiry team, Prof David M. Crane, has a long history working for U.S. Dept of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S. Government has been deeply involved in the attempt at ‘regime change’ with demands that ‘Assad must go’ beginning in summer 2011 and continuing until recently.
* Prof Crane is personally partisan in the conflict. He has campaigned for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and testified before Congress in October 2013, three months before the Caesar revelations.
* by their own admission, the inquiry team was under “time constraints” (CRR, p.11).
* by their own admission, the inquiry team did not even survey most of the photographs
* the inquiry team was either ignorant of the content or intentionally lied about the 46% showing dead Syrian soldiers and attack victims.
* the inquiry team did their last interview with “Caesar” on January 18, quickly finalized a report and rushed it into the media on January 20, two days prior to the start of UN sponsored negotiations.
The self-proclaimed “rigor” of the Carter Ruck investigation is without foundation. The claims to a ‘scientific’ investigation are similarly without substance and verging on the ludicrous.
Remember also that, on February 25, HRW posted a photo of a devastated civilian area in Syria with the tagline “Syria dropped barrel bombs despite ban.” The “ban” HRW is referring to is the ban on bombing civilian areas that applies to both sides in Aleppo after the United Nations stepped in to save the Western-backed terrorists from annihilation. Assad’s forces had surrounded the city and had cut off a major supply route for the death squads from Turkey thus making the ultimate elimination of the jihadist forces a virtual inevitability.
As Somini Sengupta wrote for The New York Times on February 24,
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the Syrian government had dropped so-called barrel bombs on hundreds of sites in rebel-held towns and cities in the past year, flouting a United Nations Security Council measure.
In a report released Tuesday, the group said it relied on satellite images, photos, videos and witness statements to conclude that the Syrian government had bombarded at least 450 sites in and around the southern town of Daraa and at least 1,000 sites in Aleppo in the north.
The report focused on the period since Feb. 22, 2014, when the Security Council specifically condemned the use of barrel bombs, which are large containers filled with explosives and projectiles that can indiscriminately hurt civilians and are prohibited under international law.
There was only one problem with HRW’s tweet – the photograph the organization provided was not Aleppo.
In fact, the damage that had been wrought upon the civilian area in the photograph was not committed by the Syrian military but by the United States.
The photo was actually a picture of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab), the city which has been the site of heavy US aerial bombardment over the last several months as the US engages in its program of death squad herding and geographical reformation of sovereign Syrian and Iraqi territory.
But, while HRW was content to use the destruction of the city as a reason to condemn the Assad government and continue to promote the cause for US military action in Syria, the “human rights organization” was apparently much less interested in the exact same destruction wrought by US forces.
In other words, if Assad’s forces bomb a civilian area into the Stone Age, it is an atrocity, a war crime, and justification for international military involvement. If the United States bombs a civilian area into the Stone Age, it’s no biggie.
For instance, when Western media propaganda had reached a crescendo regarding the outright lie that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people, HRW stood right beside Barack Obama and John Kerry in their effort to prove Assad’s guilt. HRW even went so far as to repeat the lie that the UN report suggested that Assad was the offending party, driving the final nail into the coffin of any credibility HRW may have had.
When a last-minute chemical weapons deal was secured by Russia in an effort to avoid yet another US/NATO invasion of Syria, HRW did not rejoice for the opportunity of peaceful destruction of chemical weapons and a chance to avoid war, it attacked the deal by claiming that it “failed to ensure justice.” Of course, the deal did fail to ensure justice. There were no provisions demanding punishment of the death squads who actually used the weapons or the US/NATO apparatus that initiated and controlled the jihadist invasion to begin with.
Regardless, when Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross released her report that refuted what the US/NATO was asserting in regards to chemical weapons in Syria, HRW embarked upon a campaign of attack against her and her work.
Even as far back as 2009, however, HRW was showing its true colors when it apparently signed off on and supported renditions – the process of kidnapping individuals off the street without any due process and “rendering” them to jails and prisons in other countries where they are often tortured – in secret talks with the Obama administration.
If HRW ever had any credibility in terms of the question of actual human rights, then all of that credibility has assuredly been lost. HRW is nothing more than a pro-US, pro-NATO NGO that acts as a smokescreen for the continuation of the violation of human rights across the world – that is, unless those violations are committed by America’s enemies.
Sterling has a similar critique of the organization surrounding the “Caesar” report as well. He writes,
HRW has been very active around Syria. After the chemical attacks in greater Damascus on August 21, 2013, HRW rushed a report which concluded that, based on a vector analysis of incoming projectiles, the source of the sarin-carrying rockets must have been Syrian government territory. This analysis was later debunked as a “junk heap of bad evidence” by highly respected investigative journalist Robert Parry. HRW’s assumption about the chemical weapon rocket flight distance was faulty. Additionally it was unrealistic to think you could determine rocket trajectory with 1% accuracy from a canister on the ground. To think you could determine flight trajectory from a canister on the ground that had deflected off a building wall was preposterous.
In spite of this, HRW stuck by its analysis which blamed the Assad government. HRW Director Ken Roth publicly indicated dissatisfaction when an agreement to remove Syrian chemical weapons was reached. Mr. Roth wanted more than a ‘symbolic’ attack.
In light of the preceding, we note the December 2015 HRW report addressing the claims of Caesar.
HRW seems to be the only non-governmental organization to receive the full set of photo files from the custodian. To its credit, HRW acknowledged that nearly half the photos do not show what has been claimed for two years: they show dead Syrian soldiers and militia along with scenes from crime scenes, car bombings, etc…
But HRW’s bias is clearly shown in how they handle this huge contradiction.
Amazingly, they suggest the incorrectly identified photographs support the overall claim. They say, “This report focuses on deaths in detention. However other types of photographs are also important. From an evidentiary perspective, they reinforce the credibility of the claims of Caesar about his role as a forensic photographer of the Syrian security forces or at least with someone who has access to their photographs.” (HRW, p.31) This seems like saying if someone lies to you half the time that proves they are truthful.
The files disprove the assertion that the files all show tortured and killed. The photographs show a wide range of deceased persons, from Syrian soldiers to Syrian militia members to opposition fighters to civilians trapped in conflict zones to regular deaths in the military hospital. There may be some photos of detainees who died in custody after being tortured, or who were simply executed. We know that this happened in Iraqi detention centers under U.S. occupation. Ugly and brutal things happen in war times. But the facts strongly suggest that the ‘Caesar’ account is basically untrue or a gross exaggeration.
It is striking that the HRW report has no acknowledgment of the war conditions and circumstances in Syria. There is no acknowledgment that the government and Syrian Arab Army have been under attack by tens of thousands of weaponized fighters openly funded and supported by many of the wealthiest countries in the world.
There is no hint at the huge loss of life suffered by the Syrian army and supporters defending their country. The current estimates indicate from eighty to one hundred and twenty thousand Syrian soldiers, militia and allies having died in the conflict. During the three years 2011 – 2013, including the period covered by Caesar photos, it is estimated that over 52,000 Syrian soldiers and civilian militia died versus 29,000 anti-government forces.
HRW had access to the full set of photographs including the Syrian army and civilian militia members killed in the conflict. Why did they not list the number of Syrian soldiers and security forces they identified? Why did they not show a single image of those victims?
HRW goes beyond endorsing the falsehoods in the ‘Caesar’ story; they suggest it is a partial listing. On page 5 the report says, “Therefore, the number of bodies from detention facilities that appear in the Caesar photographs represent only a part of those who died in detention in Damascus.”
On the contrary, the Caesar photographs seem to mostly show victims who died in a variety of ways in the armed conflict. The HRW assertions seem to be biased and inaccurate.
The legal accusations, as has been typical of the Western slander against Bashar al-Assad, have completely ignored the fact that the initiators of violence were themselves foreign actors shipped into to Syria to begin with and, thus, constitute an invading force.
Sterling addresses the issue by writing,
The Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy gave an apt warning in his article on the Carter Ruck report about ‘Caesar’. While many journalists treated the prosecutors with uncritical deference, he said:
Association with war crime prosecutions is no guarantor of credibility – far from it. Just consider Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011. War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qadaffi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.
The Carter Ruck legal team demonstrated how accurate those cautions were. They were eager to accuse the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity” but the evidence of “industrial killing”, “mass killing”, “torturing to kill” is dubious and much of the hard evidence shows something else.
In contrast, there is clear and solid evidence that a “Crime against Peace” is being committed against Syria. It is public knowledge that the “armed opposition” in Syria has been funded, supplied and supported in myriad ways by various outside governments. Most of the fighters, both Syrian and foreign, receive salaries from one or another outside power. Their supplies, weapons and necessary equipment are all supplied to them. Like the “Contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the use of such proxy armies is a violation of customary international law.
It is also a violation of the UN Charter which says:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
The government of Qatar has been a major supporter of the mercenaries and fanatics attacking the sovereign state of Syria. Given that fact, isn’t it hugely ironic to hear the legal contractors for Qatar accusing the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity”?
Isn’t it time for the United Nations to make reforms so that it can start living up to its purposes? That will require demanding and enforcing compliance with the UN Charter and International Law.
With all the information provided by Sterling and other researchers, one can clearly see how the “Caesar story” was a carefully crafted propaganda ploy to portray Bashar al-Assad as the new Hitler, complete with Holocaust-esque imagery with which to badger a confused and half-asleep Western audience into supporting military action against Syria.
The Western media has not only been wrong, but has lied on so many occasions in the past, that it cannot be expected to tell the truth now. Still, the willful and intentional deceit of the Western public surrounding the “Caesar story” should stand as one more example of the depths to which pro-war parties will sink in order to promote their agenda of destruction of the Syrian state.
Brandon Turbeville – article archive here – is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, and The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President. Turbeville has published over 650 articles dealing on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.