Amnesty accuses Syria of hanging 13,000 people in ‘human slaughterhouse’

An aerial view of Saydnaya prison. PHOTO: Amnesty

Amnesty International accused Tuesday Syria’s government of hanging up to 13,000 people at a notorious prison over five years in a “policy of extermination”, two weeks before planned peace talks.

The damning report, titled “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass hanging and extermination at Saydnaya prison” near Damascus, goes into excruciating detail about the gruesome ritual of mass hangings between 2011 and 2015.

At least once a week, up to 50 prisoners were taken out of their cells for arbitrary trials, beaten, then hanged “in the middle of the night and in total secrecy”, the report said.

“Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks.”

Most of the victims were civilians believed to be opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“They kept them (hanging) there for 10 to 15 minutes,” a former judge who witnessed the executions said. “For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks.”

Amnesty said the mass executions amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity, but were likely still taking place.

Hamid, a former army officer who was jailed in 2012, told Amnesty he was simultaneously horrified and relieved when he saw prisoners being taken to be hanged.

“I felt happy that their suffering would come to an end.”

In comments published Tuesday, Assad insisted that “defending” his country in a time of war was more important than a potential case against his government at the highest UN court in The Hague.

“We have to defend our country by every mean, and when we have to defend it by every mean, we don’t care about this court, or any other international institution,” he said.

– ‘All you see is blood’ –
Amnesty’s report comes just two weeks before a new round of talks is due to take place in Switzerland aimed at putting an end to nearly six years of civil war.

“The upcoming Syria peace talks in Geneva cannot ignore these findings. Ending these atrocities in Syrian government prisons must be put on the agenda,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty’s Beirut office.

Thousands of prisoners are held at the military-run Saydnaya prison, 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Damascus, one of Syria’s largest detention centres.

Amnesty accused Syria’s government of carrying out a “policy of extermination” there by repeatedly torturing detainees and withholding food, water and medical care.

“All you see is blood: your own blood, the blood of others,” Salam, a lawyer from Aleppo who was held in Saydnaya from 2012 to 2014, was quoted as saying.

Prisoners were raped or forced to rape each other, and guards would feed detainees by tossing food onto cell floors, which were often covered in dirt and blood, Amnesty said.

A twisted set of “special rules” governed the facility: detainees were not allowed to speak and were forced to assume certain positions when guards entered their cells.

“Every day there would be two or three dead people in our wing… I remember the guard would ask how many we had. He would say, ‘Room number one -– how many? Room number two –- how many?’ and on and on,” said Nader, a former detainee whose name was changed in the Amnesty report.

After one fierce day of beating, 13 people died in a single wing of the prison, he said.

– ‘Hidden, monstrous campaign’ –
“If you put your ears on the floor, you could hear the sound of a kind of gurgling,” said Hamid, the military officer.

“We were sleeping on top of the sound of people choking to death. This was normal for me then,” he told Amnesty.

The watchdog has previously said that more than 17,700 people were estimated to have died in government custody in Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011.

That figure did not include the up to 13,000 people executed in Saydnaya.

“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Maalouf.

“The cold-blooded killing of thousands of defenceless prisoners, along with the carefully crafted and systematic programmes of psychological and physical torture that are in place inside Saydnaya prison cannot be allowed to continue,” she said.

Amnesty said it gave the names of 87 prison officials and guards responsible for the atrocities to unspecified “bodies capable of conducting credible investigations” into the killings.

A UN investigation last year accused Assad’s government of carrying out a policy of “extermination” in its jails.

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war began.

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  • John Tosh

    We are all tired of listening to this fake Amnesty international that does not accuse those who murdered half a million people in Iraq or the brutal murder of a sitting president of Libya. Yet they come up with fake reports on Syria and every other country against the global criminals who want to steal Syria’s oil, Nigeria’s oil, Libya’s oil. This is another arm of the FAKE NEWS network. Amnesty international needs to be sued, so that the money can come to some poor Nigerians!

  • Jörn Boost

    As much as I respect Amnesty International’s original objectives and aim, it has lost its unbiased approach to reporting -a common disease in our “information” industry. The sources “capable of producing credible reports” are all foreign based political pressure groups, mostly working on a US paid budget and required to “report” accordingly.
    We had these “credible reports” earlier in Middle East, when “Iraqi soldiers threw babies out of hospital cots onto the rubble in the streets” and later with terrible sexual and pervert crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s sons; the same was tried in Libya, but what was not reported (or only one day in the New York Times) were the daily heaps of dead bodies on the roadsides going out of Benghazi, tied up and showing signs of torture.
    Why is Amnesty nowadays only ever reporting from one side – and then, without evidence! They may be told a lot – but by whom and with what interests? Let’s see here: 13,000 dead bodies don’t disappear into nothing. Where are they? The photos of the prison where this crime is alleged to have happened do not show the big chimneys like of the Auschwitz crematoria.
    What we see here, again, is an attempt to undermine the peace efforts, now in Astana – why? Because they are someone else’s, and may not go the way we would like them to go – i.e.: still achieve our goal in the end: A US approved puppet regime! the “regime change” which was so important to us that we threw 1/2 million dead bodies onto the Syrian landscape, and another 1/2 million onto the one of Libya – not to mention the millions who are now running or drowning to get away from our “regime changing” activities.
    Really, Amnesty should NOT be on that side! It is the side of the killers. Amnesty gets dangerously close to Mr. O’Reilly of Fox “News” who calls President Putin “a killer” but insists that “Oh no -we ain’t got any of those!” – Frankly, I admire President Trump for his answer. It takes great courage to discard someone’s cherished “rosy self-portrait” and show the real Dorian Grey in the US attic: old, grey, racist, and often murderous. – Not the lovely picture we are shown all the time.
    Is it because of that real picture that we try to cover our mirrors with the lovely one – and hang our own one from the attic on other people’s mirrors? Sadly, yes, that seems to be the case – and Amnesty should be grateful for people like Trump, people who dare call a spade a spade, because that is what they should do – not listen to every political gambler.