Is there a case for Syrian war crimes?

Syracuse University Law Professor David Crane on his investigation into crimes committed during the civil war and what he plans to tell Congress


The civil war in Syria remains a widespread conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Syrians. The conflict gained worldwide attention in August when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime allegedly launched a chemical attack against civilians, killing well over a thousand people, including several hundred children.

Syracuse University College of Law Professor David Crane joined Fox News correspondent Jonathan Hunt to discuss if Assad should be held responsible for war crimes.

Crane was the founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international war crimes tribunal that sought to prosecute those responsible during that country’s civil war.

He says the task to prove war crimes is tough, but possible.

“We have deep experience in dealing with dictators and thugs and heads of state who feed on their own citizens,” said Crane. “It’s difficult, but it’s doable and we’re beginning to start that process now.


“What we’re looking at is war crimes and crimes against humanity … civilians particularly women and children,” said Crane. “We’re focusing on the intentional targeting of these civilians.”

Crane explained how he is working to gather information from inside Syria to build evidence that war crimes have been committed there.

“We are doing both open source information, as well as our assets in place in Syria - human rights groups and various other groups that are providing us this information [in] real time,” said Crane. “We’re taking all this information that comes in but we also have other sources that we can check to ensure that this information is reliable.”

He added, “we are very much aware of misinformation that is being supplied to all of these non-governmental organizations … once we start plotting it in real time on maps … it becomes very clear that when the misinformation is misinformation.”

Crane, who is also the founder of the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP), cautioned that his work is to help lay the foundation for a possible future war crimes case.

“We do this in a systematic, analytical way … remember we are not doing this trial ready, this is just a cornerstone of documents that will assist investigators working with the prosecutor to start developing a trial ready case.

“We have to use the rule of law as basis by which we govern ourselves both domestically and internationally and as soon as that crack happens where it looks like we are not following the rule of law then the 21st century is in grave danger,” said Crane.

Congress has asked Crane to testify in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on October 30 to see whether from his experience war crimes have been committed in Syria.

“My focus is on the options available to bringing justice to the people of Syria,” said Crane.  

Chris Snyder is a producer for Fox News based in New York. Follow him on twitter: @ChrisSnyderFox