An exhaustive investigation, written up as "The Assad Files" by Ben Taub, appears in this week's issue of New Yorker magazine. It reports the findings of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body founded in 2012 in response to the Syrian war. Over the past four years, its network—aided by a high-placed mole—has smuggled more than 600,000 documents out of Syria, many "from within Assad's highest level security committee, called the Central Crisis Management Cell." Established after the initial 2011 uprising against the Bashar Assad dictatorship, the cell met daily in Damascus and was chaired by Mohammad Said Bekheitan, a leader of the ruling Baath Party. CIJA lawyers say the documents clearly implicate Assad and his circle in war crimes including the systematic torture and execution of opponents. Stephen Rapp, a former chief UN prosecutor in the Rwanda genocide cases, told the New Yorker: "When the day of justice arrives, we'll have much better evidence than we’ve had anywhere since Nuremberg."
CIJA was founded by Bill Wiley, a Canadian who had been retained as a war crimes investigator in Congo and Rwanda by the International Criminal Court. He founded his own organization in frustration at the ICC's ineffectiveness. And indeed, despite the new evidence, it will likely be a long time before Assad faces justice. In 2014, Russia vetoed a resolution to refer the Syria conflict to the ICC. (MEM, The Tower, April 13; PRI, April 11)
How do you think the pro-Assad pseudo-left is going to respond to this? Probably by accusing Bill Wiley of being an agent of Western powers. Certainly it will be pointed out that Stephen Rapp, who helped secure EU funding for CIJA, is former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. They will also harp on the double standard about who gets accused of war crimes, which is real enough. They are certain to ask when Bibi Netanyahu will be brought to The Hague, or when the New Yorker will run an investigation on his war crimes.
Well, the New Yorker's editorial choices aside, there is indeed an initiative to bring Bibi to The Hague—and we'd love to see it. But Bashar, an even greater war criminal, should be in the very next cell. In fact, the prosecution of Assad would set a precedent making it more likely that Netanyahu—or even Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld—will see justice one day.
All progressives should be vigorously supporting it.