This post analyzes the detailed statement of Captain Riyad Ahmad, whose defection was translated by http://www.youtube.com/thesyrianinterpreter on June 16, 2011. This video is located at http://www.youtube.com/thesyrianinterpreter#p/u/59/LZlvn4IQysM, and my transcription of it is located at http://usafreedomthoughts.blogspot.com/2011/06/another-syrian-officer-defects.html.
Like many other Syrian army defectors, he launches his statement with a thinly veiled and formulaic attack on Israel and the Jews, saying that he “always wanted to fight to liberate the occupied lands”. The “occupied lands” is a clear reference to the Golan Heights which Israel captured in the defensive Six-Day War in 1967. The Syrian army defectors’ continual attack on Israel and the Jews makes me doubt whether a free Syria will make peace with Israel and the Jews.
His statement is noteworthy in many respects. First of all, he breaks with a powerful tradition of the military hierarchy by naming his superior officers as perpetrators of various atrocities against the Syrian people. He identifies these officers by their hometowns in some cases. He names Ghassam Afeef as the brigadier general in charge of the military abuses in Baniyas. He says that Lieutenant Yaser Ismail And corporal recruit Omar Derwish for murdering female protestors in Al Marqab village. In Arab culture, attacking and murdering women is considered particularly shameful and unbecoming for an Arab military officer.
He states that Ayman Suleiman, lieutenant colonel secretary of the cohort’s leader was involved in stealing gold from homes and property from shops. He says that Lieutenant Colonel Rami al Khaier, colonel Bashar Eskandar, and lieutenant colonel Ghassan Obaido tried to blow up the Al Noor mosque. In Muslim culture, the mosque is considered highly sacred, and attempt to destroy a mosque is a grave sin. He notes that these officers ultimately decided not to bomb the mosque because they were deterred by the fear of being killed by recruits. This example shows that military perpetrators can be prevented from committed crimes if they fear immediate reprisals.
His very detailed testimony should be used by the Obama administration and Syrian opposition groups in exile as evidence for war crimes trials against the Assad regime and its leading military officers. His evidence helps to hold the Assad regime and the senior military officers legally responsible for war crimes. In addition, his statement can serve as a warning and a deterrent to other military officers who are currently still serving in the Syrian army that they will also be held publicly responsible for their crimes. Legal punishment for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity is an essential part of the healing process for societies which are attempting to make the difficult transition from totalitarian regimes toward democratic countries.
He also offers extensive and valuable insight into the workings of the regime. He says that “Captain Gaith Saleh made a ‘fatwa’ that we can steal, loot, rape those who are the enemies of the state and regime.” The regime perverts Islam with this absurd religious ruling, and further Captain Saleh has no known qualifications as an Islamic scholar to make such a ruling.
When an officer refused to fire on civilians, General Afeef ordered his military to “stir chaos and terror in the city” in order to create justifications for the military to attack civilians. The regime also fabricated scenes of officers who were supposedly attacked by ‘terrorists’ in order to justify the regime’s murder of civilians. The regime uses deception and propaganda very effectively to make the case for its murderous policies.
He also describes how the officers decide how many people to kill and how many to injure at each demonstration based upon the number of protestors. For instance, in a protest with 10,000 demonstrators, the military might be ordered to murder 17 people and injure 37-40 persons. Thus, he shows how the regime carefully calibrates the scale of murder and injury to commit against the Syrian people. The goal is apparently to kill enough people to sow fear in the hearts of the Syrian nation and deter people from joining the demonstrations but not to murder so many protestors that the military’s actions provoke a public backlash against the regime.
However, several elements of his story indicate cracks in the military which can ultimately help undermine the regime. First of all, he states that the military intelligence identified him as a trouble-maker who would be most likely to defect. The regime was so afraid of him defecting or perhaps motivating other soldiers to join him in defecting that he was not allowed to participate in the military operations in Baniyas. He was also watched closely by military intelligence. He says,”There were orders that I be killed in case I attempted to defect. I was told this by one of those appointed to watch me.” He received vital information from one of very soldiers ordered to guard him, and he would have most likely needed support from at least some members of his unit to defect since the regime was working so actively to try to prevent his defection.
In addition, he received information about the regime’s tactics in calibrating the scale of murder from two military sources: a military intelligence officer and a non-commissioned officer serving in Daraa. These two officers powerfully expressed their revulsion against the regime by sharing this information with Captain Ahmad. I hope that more officers continue to show their disgust with the regime by defecting, sharing information which exposes the military’s calculated cruelty against unarmed civilians, and testifying about their superior officer’s involvement in war crimes. Each soldier who defects and speaks out against the regime takes Syria one step closer to the freedom and liberation from tyranny that she so desperately needs and deserves.