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WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES Horrific images of corpses from Syria’s civil war, including shriveled bodies of detainees starved to death and others with their eyes gouged out, were among some 55,000 photographs smuggled out of Syria and presented at the United Nations Tuesday.
“The gruesome images of corpses bearing marks of starvation, strangulation and beatings and today’s chilling briefing indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power after seeing the photos at a closed meeting of the Security Council.
She accused the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad of crimes against humanity.
French Ambassador to the U.N. Gerard Araud, who organized the Security Council meeting to raise awareness of atrocities in Syria, told reporters that “savagery” there has “gone on far too long.” More than 150,000 people have died to date.
Syria's Justice Ministry has dismissed the photos and accompanying report as "politicized and lacking objectiveness and professionalism," a "gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners." The ministry said some of the people were militants killed in battle and others were killed by militant groups.
France is drafting a Security Council resolution that would refer the Syrian civil war to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. In 2011, the United States joined other Security Council members in passing a resolution that referred the situation in Libya, then scene of violence against civilians and systematic violations of human rights, to the ICC.
Araud said his counterparts fell silent after the graphic images from Syria were shown. “You will have to look yourselves in the mirror, look at yourselves and you will have to tell yourselves ‘What did I do when it was time?’” he said, imploring the Security Council to take action to end the atrocities.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Araud invited British forensic pathologist Stuart Hamilton to present the same slide show shown to the Security Council. The graphic images of death by torture were so disturbing, some journalists had to cover their eyes.
Hamilton said a senior sergeant in Syria’s army, identified by the code name “Caesar,” smuggled out the photographs on flash drives hidden in his shoes.
“I am confident that they have not been digitally altered,” said Hamilton, as he explained the excruciating methods, including strangulation with an auto-timing belt, captors used to kill their victims.
According to Hamilton, Caesar spent 13 years working as a forensic photographer for the army before defecting because he could no longer be complicit in atrocities.
Syracuse University law professor David Crane, who served as chief prosecutor at the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal that indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and wrote the “Caesar Report” with Hamilton, called Caesar “a hero.” While working at a military hospital from September 2011 to August 2013, Caesar photographed bodies from three detention centers in the Damascus area.
Caesar’s smuggled photographs were passed to the Syrian National Movement, which is backed by Qatar. The Gulf nation supports rebel groups fighting against Assad and commissioned the “Caesar Report.”
According to Araud, the Syrian regime’s ally in the Security Council, a Russian legal expert filling in for Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, reportedly asked a number of questions in the closed session with Crane and Hamilton about the authenticity of the photographs and other evidence presented. “The photographs, the witness himself, are credible and sustainable in a court of law at the international and domestic level,” Crane said he told the Russian diplomat.
Crane stressed that rebel forces are also “committing international crimes” in Syria. “We’re well beyond a good-guy, bad-guy scenario here,” he said, pointing out that human beings are killing one another “at a scale that has not been seen since Rwanda.”
“The extraction of Caesar out of Syria is a Hollywood movie someday,” said Crane, who said that the Syrian defector’s death had to be faked to get him out alive.
“They killed him and they had a funeral while he’s being extracted. Then the family was extracted and reunited with Caesar,” he said. Caesar and his family are in hiding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report