Syrian Defector’s Photos Could Trigger War-Crimes Charges

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from The Wall Street Journal,

U.S., Allies Reviewing Material Provided by Man Code-Named Caesar; Lawmakers Stunned at Hearing.

The Obama administration is fashioning a new strategy to prosecute Syrian war crimes based on a trove of photos smuggled out of the country by the defector code-named Caesar, U.S. officials said.

Because Russia, the primary patron of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has blocked an international prosecution, the U.S. and its allies are focusing on possible crimes where individual countries already have jurisdiction—those involving their own nationals or dual citizens who may have been victims or perpetrators in Syria.

The 50,000 photographs that catalog Syria’s grim civil war make that possible because many of the victims can be named, officials said.

In addition to identification by relatives, victims’ faces are being matched against photos in passport files and other official records to establish nationality, Ambassador Stephen Rapp, the U.S. State Department’s global criminal-justice chief, said in an interview.

Caesar, a former Syrian military-police photographer, testified Thursday before a House committee about his job documenting thousands of corpses at a Damascus hospital, many of which were mutilated or showed other signs of torture. The images are being analyzed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other Western law-enforcement agencies, which believe they are authentic.

Surrounded by enlarged photos of emaciated and mangled corpses, and wearing a hooded windbreaker and baseball cap to conceal his identity, Caesar compared what he witnessed to the images of Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. He was testifying for the first time in public.

“What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre,” Caesar, speaking through an interpreter, told the HouseForeign Affairs Committee.

Lawmakers looked on in silence during his testimony, almost to a person covering their mouths and wincing as his words were translated.

One lawmaker called the testimony a moral body blow; another said the panel was overwhelmed by the atrocities. “These are war crimes, plain and simple,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.).

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