Posts tagged Death
Posts tagged Death
MEXICO CITY — Two missing news photographers were found dead Thursday in southeastern Mexico, officials said, marking a grim week for journalists in the violence-plagued state of Veracruz after the weekend killing of a Mexican magazine correspondent.
The photographers, identified as Gabriel Huge and Guillermo Luna, were found dismembered and bearing signs of torture in a housing complex in Boca del Rio, a suburb of the port city of Veracruz.
Two other bodies found in the same place have not been identified, state spokeswoman Sandra Garcia said. But some Mexican news reports said one of the other victims was a journalist who worked for a newspaper called Diario AZ.
[Updated May 3, 2:17 p.m.: State officials later identified the two other victims as Irasema Becerra, said to be Luna’s girlfriend, and Esteban Rodriguez, a welder who formerly worked as a newspaper photographer.]
The deaths come less than a week after correspondent Regina Martinez was found strangled and beaten to death in Xalapa, the state capital, where she lived and covered organized crime and corruption for the Proceso newsweekly magazine.
Huge and Luna worked for an online agency called Veracruz News and were reported missing by their families on Wednesday, reports said. Until a year ago, Huge had worked for Notiver, a Veracruz newspaper that saw a prominent columnist and crime reporter killed last year. It was unclear what kind of stories the photographers were covering at the time of their deaths.
Authorities did not refer to a possible motive. The state government said it was opening an investigation and would seek help from the federal attorney general.
The killings threw a pall on the news media in Mexico, coming on a day when many reporters were observing World Press Freedom Day with pleas for justice in the Martinez case.
News outlets in Mexico routinely censor themselves to avoid attacks by drug cartels or corrupt government forces, and the latest deaths in Veracuz were being treated no differently. By afternoon, few media groups online were prominently reporting the photographers’ deaths.
“If you pick up any newspaper in Veracruz, you don’t see these stories, even with the Regina Martinez murder, it was placed in the back, in the crime pages,” said Roman Cotera, a rights activist in Xalapa.
At least six news media workers have been killed or have disappeared in Veracruz since the start of Gov. Javier Duarte’s term in late 2010.
Nationwide, counts range from 40 to 80 journalists killed since the start of President Felipe Calderon’s term in late 2006; the exact figure is uncertain because it is not always clear in Mexico who qualifies as a professional journalist.
On Monday, the Chamber of Deputies unanimously passed legislation meant to help protect journalists and human rights activists, but free speech advocates said the law fails to address the root of the problem of impunity.
“They don’t resolve anything and they create commissions,” Antonio Martinez, a press rights advocate, told The Times on Monday.
A major case in the British High Court has revealed fresh evidence of civilian deaths during a notorious CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year.
Sworn witness testimonies reveal in graphic detail how the village of Datta Khel burned for hours after the attack. Many of the dozens killed had to be buried in pieces.
Legal proceedings were begun in London recently against British Foreign Secretary William Hague, over possible British complicity in CIA drone strikes.
Britain’s GCHQ – its secret monitoring and surveillance agency – is reported to have provided ‘locational evidence’ to US authorities for use in drone strikes, a move which is reportedly illegal in the United Kingdom.
The High Court case focuses in particular on a CIA drone strike in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people.
Sworn affidavits presented in court and seen by the Bureau offer extensive new details of a strike the CIA still apparently claims ‘killed no non-combatants’.
‘We were in the middle of our discussion when the missile hit and I was thrown about 24 feet from where I was sitting. I was knocked unconscious and when I awoke I saw many individuals who were dead or injured,’ he says in his affidavit.
Most of those who died in Datta Khel village that day were civilians. The Bureau has so far identified by name 24 of those killed, whilst Associated Press recently reported that it has the names of 42 civilians who died that day.
Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief all condemned the Datta Khel attack. A recent Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times quoted Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, who commanded Pakistani military forces in the area at the time.
We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we’d got the request ten days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga – they have their people attending – but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?
Yet the US intelligence community has consistently denied that any civilians died.
Yet another example of “war porn” has leaked to the surface from Afghanistan, and once again we are reminded just how far our ‘boys’ have grown from us. Imagine, just a few years prior, some of these men were posing for prom photos. Now, from the looks of it, their courtships are with death.
Here again, we have something that looks outwardly atrocious, however to many in the military, the practice of photographing themselves with dead bodies is anything but. While war trophies taken by soldiers in Vietnam often were literal body parts removed from the dead to remember them by, such as the fingers, ears and tongues, in Iraq and Afghanistan, these trophies usually take the form of war porn, or photographs and video depicting the carnage of combat.
Many excuses are offered up by the military and the government every time another example of war porn goes public. Usually, the excuses involve combat stress, the austerity of conditions on the ground, grievances for a lost buddy or simply that some soldiers are bad soldiers and will be put out of the Army. What doesn’t often get acknowledged is how widespread the existence of war porn from Iraq and Afghanistan truly is.
After the video of U.S. Marines urinating on dead bodies in Afghanistan broke last January, I estimated in a longer expose on war porn that there could be perhaps hundreds of thousands of terabytes currently in existence, waiting to be discovered and released. I did not, however, say it would likely be initiated by U.S. servicemembers and veterans. I predicted that more likely, it will be hacked free or recovered from electronics recycling plants outside of the United States.
However, these most recent images were exposed by an anonymous active duty soldier in Afghanistan moved by conscious and concern to speak out — an encouraging sign. Far better we take the burden of truth upon ourselves now, than have it thrust upon us by outside forces later (which I still suspect will more often be the case). However, this soldier’s actions demonstrate the power even low-ranking servicemembers have not just to inform the population about the truth of war, but to ignite policy discussions and spur concessions to be made at the highest levels of authority.
To soldiers and veterans in possession of war porn, I say you have an incredible power and responsibility to inform. Chances are if you feel ashamed, the public needs to see what happened, not just for our sake as veterans and those still on active duty, but for the sake of future generations who may repeat our mistakes if they are not made aware of them.
Let’s open the floodgates ourselves before they are opened for us, with the courage to build an honest history of this war using what we know and recorded. Society must see these images so its members will know how commonplace they are and how as Americans, they are also responsible. We cannot allow the military and the government to scapegoat a few specific troops, when the structured hell of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq has made us all complicit in their atrocities.
Release your war porn, veterans and servicemembers, release your war porn through whatever outlets you have. Initiate a movement right now. Set up anonymous accounts if you must. Youtube it, Tweet it, Facebook it, Blog it. Send it to me at email@example.com. Send it to the national networks and the local networks. Send it to the newspapers and the radio stations, even. Stand near the White House and hand out copies on the street, and tell everyone who takes it that their government is to blame.
But whatever you do, make sure the world sees it. Americans deserve no more opportunities to feign surprise about this war, especially after allowing their kids to fight it for more than a decade now.
Anyone who would like to witness a vivid example of modern warfare that adheres to the laws of war — that corpus of regulations developed painstakingly over centuries by jurists, humanitarians, and soldiers, a body of rules that is now an essential, institutionalized part of the U.S. armed forces and indeed all modern militaries — should simply click hereand watch the video.
Wait a minute: that’s the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video! The gunsight view of an Apache helicopter opening fire from half a mile high on a crowd of Iraqis — a few armed men, but mostly unarmed civilians, including a couple of Reuters employees — as they unsuspectingly walked the streets of a Baghdad suburb one July day in 2007.
Watch, if you can bear it, as the helicopter crew blows people away, killing at least a dozen of them, and taking good care to wipe out the wounded as they try to crawl to safety. (You can also hear the helicopter crew making wisecracks throughout.) When a van comes on the scene to tend to the survivors, the Apache gunship opens fire on it too, killing a few more and wounding two small children.
The slaughter captured in this short film, the most virally sensational of WikiLeaks’ disclosures, was widely condemned as an atrocity worldwide, and many pundits quickly labeled it a “war crime” for good measure.
But was this massacre really a “war crime” — or just plain-old regular war? The question is anything but a word-game. It is, in fact, far from clear that this act, though plainly atrocious and horrific, was a violation of the laws of war. Some have argued that the slaughter, if legal, was therefore justified and, though certainly unfortunate, no big deal. But it is possible to draw a starkly different conclusion: that the “legality” of this act is an indictment of the laws of war as we know them.
The reaction of professional humanitarians to the gun-sight video was muted, to say the least. The big three human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Human Rights First — responded not with position papers and furious press releases but with silence. HRW omitted any mention of it in its report on human rights and war crimes in Iraq, published nearly a year after the video’s release. Amnesty also kept mum. Gabor Rona, legal director of Human Rights First, told me there wasn’t enough evidence to ascertain whether the laws of war had been violated, and that his organization had no Freedom of Information Act requests underway to uncover new evidence on the matter.
This collective non-response, it should be stressed, is not because these humanitarian groups, which do much valuable work, are cowardly or “sell-outs.” The reason is: all three human rights groups, like human rights doctrine itself, are primarily concerned with questions of legality. And quite simply, as atrocious as the event was, there was no clear violation of the laws of war to provide a toehold for the professional humanitarians.
The human rights industry is hardly alone in finding the event disturbing but in conformance with the laws of war. As Professor Gary Solis, a leading expert and author of a standard text on those laws, told Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine, “I believe it unlikely that a neutral and detached investigator would conclude that the helicopter personnel violated the laws of armed conflict. Legal guilt does not always accompany innocent death.” It bears noting that Gary Solis is no neocon ultra. A scholar who has taught at the London School of Economics and Georgetown, he is the author of a standard textbook on the subject, and was an unflinching critic of the Bush-Cheney administration.
War and International “Humanitarian” Law
“International humanitarian law,” or IHL, is the trying-too-hard euphemism for the laws of war. And as it happens, IHL turns out to be less concerned with restraining military violence than licensing it. As applied to America’s recent wars, this body of law turns out to be wonderfully accommodating when it comes to the prerogatives of an occupying army.
Here’s another recent example of a wartime atrocity that is perfectly legal and not a war crime at all. Thanks to WikiLeaks’ Iraq War Logs, we now know about the commonplace torture practices employed by Iraqi jailers and interrogators during our invasion and occupation of that country. We have clear U.S. military documentation of sexual torture, of amputated fingers and limbs, of beatings so severe they regularly resulted in death.
Surely standing by and taking careful notes while the Iraqi people you have supposedly liberated from tyranny are getting tortured, sometimes to death, is a violation of the laws of war. After all, in 2005 General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly contradicted his boss Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by commenting into a live mike that it is “absolutely the responsibility of every American soldier to stop torture whenever and wherever they see it.” (A young private working in Army Intelligence named Bradley Manning, learning that a group of Iraqi civilians handing out pamphlets alleging government corruption had been detained by the Iraqi federal police, raised his concern with his commanding officer about their possible torture. He was reportedly told him to shut up and get back to work helping the authorities find more detainees.)
As it turned out, General Pace’s exhortation was at odds with both official policy and law: Fragmentary Order 242, issued by Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, made it official policy for occupying U.S. troops not to interfere with ongoing Iraqi torture. And this, according to some experts, is no violation of the laws of war either. Prolix on the limits imposed on the acts of non-state fighters who are not part of modern armies, the Geneva Conventions are remarkably reticent on the duties of occupying armies.
As Gary Solis pointed out to me, Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention assigns only a vague obligation to “ensure respect” for prisoners handed over to a third party. On the ground in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this string of words would prove a less-than-meaningful constraint.
Part of the problem is that the laws of war that aspire to restrain deadly force are often weakly enforced and routinely violated. Ethan McCord, the American soldier who saved the two wounded children from that van in the helicopter video, remembers one set of instructions he received from his battalion commander: “Anytime your convoy gets hit by an IED, I want 360 degree rotational fire. You kill every [expletive] in the street!” (“That order,” David Glazier, a jurist at the National Institute for Military Justice, told me, “is absolutely a war crime.”) In other words, the rules of engagement that are supposed to constrain occupying troops in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are, according to many scholars and investigators, often belittled and ignored.
The real problem with the laws of war, however, is not what they fail to restrain but what they authorize. The primary function of International Humanitarian Law is to legalize remarkable levels of “good” military violence that regularly kill and injure non-combatants. IHL highlights a handful of key principles: the distinction between combatant and civilian, the obligation to use force only for military necessity, and the duty to jeopardize civilians only in proportion to the military value of a target.
Artist Thomas Kinkade once said that he had something in common with Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell: He wanted to make people happy. The self-described “Painter of Light,” died Friday at age 54. (April 7)
The cameras on this MQ-1 Predator drone work just fine. The problem is the Air Force doesn’t have enough airmen to interpret the flood of imagery they collect. Photo: U.S. Air Force
The Air Force has more drones and more sensors collecting more data than it has humans to interpret what the electronic tea leaves say. The glut of all that video and still imagery is “unsustainable,” says the Air Force’s top civilian — but it’ll be “years” before the Air Force digs its way out of it. (Spoiler: the solution is automating the cameras.)
Michael Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, conceded to reporters on Thursday morning that the onslaught of what a former top military official once memorably called “Death TV” prompted the Air Force’s surprising February decision to buy fewer drones. “We’ve clearly playing catch-up,” Donley said. “It’s not just the pilots and manning the aircraft. It’s also the [data] processing exploitation behind that. … We’re collecting data at rates well above what we had in the past.”
The Air Force will slightly ramp up its combat air patrols — teams of up to four drones — of Predators, Reapers, and the other robots that make up a third of its air fleet — to 65 from 61. But then, for the next “couple of years,” it’ll hold those patrols static, despite what Donley called the “sustained demand going forward” for the information those drones collect. He hopes that’ll give the Air Force enough time to actually finish playing catch up on all the Death TV shows stored in its DVR.
“If we fill out the capability underneath it, adequately man that force, adequately provide the processing exploitation capabilities underneath that, we’ll be able to surge to 85 [combat air patrols],” Donley said. “This was an important decision to put a cap on the growth and fill in the capability.”
In truth, catching up on drone data isn’t as simple as clearing a DVR cache. Some drone video is needed immediately, like when troops in Afghanistan are hunting the insurgent cells producing homemade bombs. But sometimes video that isn’t immediately relevant to a time-sensitive operation becomes necessary to help aid a future one. Basically, airmen don’t always know what to sift for in the data their sensors collect. And you can’t just delete it after today’s mission, because you might end up getting rid of what you need for an unanticipated future one.
That’s a technological challenge that “us, Darpa and the intelligence community” are trying to solve, Donley said. One solution is to automate the cameras with algorithmic “sifters,” essentially sending pre-selected data to imagery analysts, a project the Pentagon’s far-out research scientists at Darpa are playing with. Another might be as simple as developing better search tools for analysts to sift through the data backlog.
“We’re working on more machine-machine tools that help us process data more rapidly and help the analysts work through rapid opportunities and decision making,” Donley said, declining Danger Room’s invitation to specify useful projects, “but then also set aside data that is less critical and has a less immediate operational impact.”
Perhaps, but the firehouse of data is only going to intensify. The Air Force’s next cameras can spy on swaths ofland the size of entire cities. If the Air Force is playing catch-up today, the data targets of tomorrow could be too fast to grasp.
Welcome to the ‘Homeland’.
More Gulf War Veterans have died than Vietnam Veterans. This probably is news to you. But the truth has been hidden by a technicality. So here is the truth.
The casualties in the Vietnam War were pretty simple to understand. If a soldier was dead from his combat tour, he was a war casualty. There are 58,195 names recorded on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC.
Some of these brave men died in the jungles of Vietnam while others died in Medivac units or hospitals in Japan and America. A dead soldier can surrender his life anywhere in service to his country. It really doesn’t matter where this happens. The location of a soldier’s death in no way colors his sacrifice.
But something odd has happened with the Iraq War. The government, under the Bush administration, did something dishonest that resulted in a lie that’s persisted since the war began — and continues to this very day. They decided to report the war deaths in Iraq only if the soldier died with his boots on the ground in a combat situation.
What’s the difference, you might ask?
The combat in Vietnam was in rural areas, far removed from medical treatment centers. Injured soldiers were treated by a Medic. Most died at the scene of the battle before they could be evacuated. Many died on route or were declared dead at the medical treatment facilities. The situation in Iraq is vastly different.
Fighting in Iraq is mainly in urban areas. Soldiers who are injured are quickly evacuated with armored personnel carriers or helicopters. It’s a much more efficient system than what was possible in Vietnam, but for those that are seriously injured it means that death is more likely to happen while they are in transit or at the treatment facility.
Under the new reporting system, deaths that happen en route or post evacuation are not counted as combat deaths. This is why the number seems unusually low — a little over four thousand as of 2009.
The actual figures have been hidden from the American public just like the returning, flag draped coffins were censored from the press. But the figures are now available and we can only hope that the American people will be outraged when they learn how they have been misled.
According to The Department of Veterans Affairs, as of May 2007, reports in the Gulf War Veterans Information System reveal these startling numbers:
Total U.S. Military Gulf War Deaths: 73,846
* Deaths amongst Deployed: 17,847
* Deaths amongst Non-Deployed: 55,999
The stastics for non-lethal injuries are likewise staggering:
Total “Undiagnosed Illness” (UDX) claims: 14,874
Total number of disability claims filed: 1,620,906
* Disability Claims amongst Deployed: 407,911
* Disability Claims amongst Non-Deployed: 1,212,995
Percentage of combat troops that filed Disability Claims 36%
A man whose lies helped to make the case for invading Iraq – starting a nine-year war costing more than 100,000 lives and hundreds of billions of pounds – will come clean in his first British television interview tomorrow.
“Curveball”, the Iraqi defector who fabricated claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, smiles as he confirms how he made the whole thing up. It was a confidence trick that changed the course of history, with Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi’s lies used to justify the Iraq war.
He tries to defend his actions: “My main purpose was to topple the tyrant in Iraq because the longer this dictator remains in power, the more the Iraqi people will suffer from this regime’s oppression.”
The chemical engineer claimed to have overseen the building of a mobile biological laboratory when he sought political asylum in Germany in 1999. His lies were presented as “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence” by Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, when making the case for war at the UN Security Council in February 2003.
But Mr Janabi, speaking in a two-part series, Modern Spies, starting tomorrow on BBC2, says none of it was true. When it is put to him “we went to war in Iraq on a lie. And that lie was your lie”, he simply replies: “Yes.”
US officials “sexed up” Mr Janabi’s drawings of mobile biological weapons labs to make them more presentable, admits Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, General Powell’s former chief of staff. “I brought the White House team in to do the graphics,” he says, adding how “intelligence was being worked to fit around the policy”.
As for his former boss: “I don’t see any way on this earth that Secretary Powell doesn’t feel almost a rage about Curveball and the way he was used in regards to that intelligence.”
Another revelation in the series is the real reason why the FBI swooped on Russian spy Anna Chapman in 2010. Top officials feared the glamorous Russian agent wanted to seduce one of US President Barack Obama’s inner circle. Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s head of counterintelligence, reveals how she got “closer and closer to higher and higher ranking leadership… she got close enough to disturb us”.
The fear that Chapman would compromise a senior US official in a “honey trap” was a key reason for the arrest and deportation of the Russian spy ring of 10 people, of which she was a part, in 2010. “We were becoming very concerned,” he says. “They were getting close enough to a sitting US cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue.” Mr Figliuzzi refuses to name the individual who was being targeted.
Several British spies also feature in the programme, in the first time that serving intelligence officers have been interviewed on television. In contrast to the US intelligence figures, the British spies are cloaked in darkness, their voices dubbed by actors. BBC veteran reporter Peter Taylor, who worked for a year putting the documentary together, describes them as “ordinary people who are committed to what they do” and “a million miles” from the spies depicted in film. He adds: “What surprised me was the extent to which they work within a civil service bureaucracy. Everything has to be signed off… you’ve got to have authorisation signed in triplicate.”
Would-be agents should abandon any Hollywood fantasies they may have, says Sonya Holt at the CIA recruitment centre. “They think it’s more like the movies, that they are going to be jumping out of cars and that everyone carries a weapon… Yes we’re collecting intelligence but we don’t all drive fast cars. You’re going to be writing reports; you’re in meetings so it’s not always that glamorous image of what you see in the movies.”
Human Rights Watch has condemned abuses committed by Syrian rebels in their stronghold of Homs. But one member of a rebel “burial brigade” who has executed four men by slitting their throats defended his work in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account,” he said.
Hussein can barely remember the first time he executed someone. It was probably in a cemetery in the evening, or at night; he can’t recall exactly. It was definitely mid-October of last year, and the man was Shiite, for sure. He had confessed to killing women — decent women, whose husbands and sons had protested against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. So the rebels had decided that the man, a soldier in the Syrian army, deserved to die, too.
Hussein didn’t care if the man had been beaten into a confession, or that he was terrified of death and had begun to stammer prayers. It was his tough luck that the rebels had caught him. Hussein took out his army knife and sliced the kneeling man’s neck. His comrades from the so-called “burial brigade” quickly interred the blood-stained corpse in the sand of the graveyard west of the Baba Amr area of the rebel stronghold of Homs. At the time, the neighborhood was in the hands of the insurgents.
That first execution was a rite of passage for Hussein. He now became a member of the Homs burial brigade. The men, of which there are only a handful, kill in the name of the Syrian revolution. They leave torture to others; that’s what the so-called interrogation brigade is for. “They do the ugly work,” says Hussein, who is currently being treated in a hospital in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. He was injured when a piece of shrapnel became lodged in his back during the army’s ground invasion of Baba Amr in early March.
He is recovering in relatively safe Lebanon until he can return to Syria and “get back to work.” It’s a job he considers relatively clean. “Most men can torture, but they’re not able to kill from close range,” he explains. “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t bother me. That’s why they gave me the job of executioner. It’s something for a madman like me.”
Before he joined the Farouk Brigade, as the Baba Amr militia is known, last August, the 24-year-old had worked as a salesman. “I can sell everything, from porcelain to yogurt,” he says.
How the Rebels Lost Their Innocence
The bloody uprising against the Assad regime has now lasted for a year. And Hussein’s story illustrates that, in this time, the rebels have also lost their innocence.
There are probably many reasons for that development. Hussein can rattle off several of them. “There are no longer any laws in Syria,” he says. “Soldiers or thugs hired by the regime kill men, maim children and rape our women. If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account.”
Another reason, he explains, is the desire for vengeance. “I have been arrested twice. I was tortured for 72 hours. They hung me by the hands, until the joints in my shoulders cracked. They burnt me with hot irons. Of course I want revenge.”
His family, too, has suffered. He explains that he lost three uncles, all murdered by the regime. “One of them died with his five children,” he says. “Their murderers deserve no mercy.”
Most chillingly, Hussein believes that violence is simply in the nature of his society. “Children in France grow up with French, and learn to speak it perfectly,” he says. “We Syrians were brought up with the language of violence. We don’t speak anything else.”
But in spite of all the rebels’ justification for their brand of self-administered justice, Hussein’s actions fall under what the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch on Tuesday condemned as “serious human rights abuses” on the part of the Syrian rebels. In the corridors of the hospital in Tripoli, Hussein and his fellow injured comrades speak openly about the fact that they, just like the regime’s troops, torture and kill. They find the criticism from the human rights activists unfair: “We rebels are trying to defend the people. We’re fighting against slaughterers. When we catch them, we must strike hard,” says one fighter, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Rami.
Alternative Justice System
Over the course of the last year, Homs had developed into the unofficial capital of the revolution. Until a few weeks ago, the rebels controlled whole neighborhoods of the city, especially the district of Baba Amr. But that area was overrun by government troops in early March. The fight between rebels and government forces has now shifted to the neighboring district of Khalidiya.
According to Abu Rami and Hussein, the alternative justice system that the rebels set up in Homs last fall remains intact. “When we catch regime supporters, they are brought before a court martial,” they say. The commander of the rebels in Homs, Abu Mohammed, presides over the court. He is assisted by Abu Hussein, the head of the coordinating committee. “Sometimes even more men act as a jury,” says Hussein. The interrogation brigade reports on the confessions of the accused. Often the suspects even had videos on their cell phones that showed atrocities being perpetrated against insurgents, the men say. “In that situation, their guilt is established quickly.” In the event of a conviction, the prisoners are then handed over to Hussein’s burial brigade, which takes them to gardens or to the cemetery. And then Hussein comes along with his knife.
So far, Hussein has cut the throats of four men. Among the group of executioners in Homs, he is the least experienced — something that he almost seems apologetic about. “I was wounded four times in the last seven months,” he says. “I was out of action for a long time.” On top of that, he also has other commitments. “I operate our heavy machine gun, a Russian BKC. Naturally I have killed a lot more men with that. But only four with the blade.” That will change soon, he says. “I hope I will be released from the hospital next week and can return to Homs. Then those dogs will be in for it.”
‘Sometimes We Acquit People’
The rebels in Homs began carrying out regular executions in August of last year, shortly after the conflict in the country began to escalate, says Hussein’s comrade Abu Rami. In his Adidas tracksuit, he looks like any other convalescent in the hospital. But Abu Rami is a senior member of the Homs militia. The other Syrians in the ward greet him respectfully and pay close attention to his words.
“Since last summer, we have executed slightly fewer than 150 men, which represents about 20 percent of our prisoners,” says Abu Rami. Those prisoners who are not convicted and sentenced to death are exchanged for rebel prisoners or detained protesters, he says. But the executioners of Homs have been busier with traitors within their own ranks than with prisoners of war. “If we catch a Sunni spying, or if a citizen betrays the revolution, we make it quick,” says the fighter. According to Abu Rami, Hussein’s burial brigade has put between 200 and 250 traitors to death since the beginning of the uprising.
He dismisses any doubts about whether these people were really all guilty and whether they received a fair trial. “We make great efforts to investigate thoroughly,” Abu Rami says. “Sometimes we acquit people, too.”
Apart from anything else, it is simply the nature of every revolution to be bloody, Abu Rami explains. “Syria is not a country for the sensitive.”