Human Rights Watch has just released an 81-page report detailing the Syrian regime’s systematic use of torture against opposition figures. “‘Torture Archipelago: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture and Enforced Disappearances in Syria’s Underground Prisons since March 2011’ is based on more than 200 interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch since the beginning of anti-government demonstrations in Syria in March 2011. The report includes maps locating the detention facilities, video accounts from former detainees, and sketches of torture techniques described by numerous people who witnessed or experienced torture in these facilities.”
One detainee described his experiences at the hands of Syrian intelligence in Idlib Central Prison:
They forced me to undress. Then they started squeezing my fingers with pliers. They put staples in my fingers, chest and ears. I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The staples in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice. I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days.
Perhaps most significantly, the report also includes names of intelligence chiefs in charge of different torture facilities. While the identities of regime hands like Rustom Ghazali have long been familiar to Syrian dissidents and Lebanese citizens disappeared by the Assads over their forty-year rule, they are now on record as criminals.
And yet, even now, the White House is backing the remnants of the Annan plan, holding out hope for a “democratic transition” that will include members of the opposition alongside members of the Assad regime. But the Obama administration can’t even tell the good guys from the bad ones in the opposition. How does it propose to identify regime figures whose hands aren’t dripping with blood? As the HRW report makes clear, the problem isn’t just Assad and his immediate circle, or the military and security establishment and the paramilitary gangs. A regime consists of all those who have a stake in its survival, from businessmen and bureaucrats to publicists and torturers—which is to say, there are tens of thousands, if not more, who are implicated in the regime’s crimes.