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Leaked 'Assad files' support war crimes prosecution of Syria's president

Documents from Syrian intelligence agencies show President Bashar al-Assad approved the use of torture
Bashar al-Assad set up a 'crisis cell' that gave his security chiefs enormous power (AFP)

A team of international investigators and lawyers have produced a brief from a huge cache of leaked Syrian intelligence documents detailing war crimes conducted by Bashar al-Assad since 2012, the New Yorker reported.

The 600,000 documents, known as the “Assad files”, show that the Syrian president approved the use of torture and violent methods to crack down on protests at the beginning of the Syrian revolution.

The files, given to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) by a defector, show that Assad set up a “central crisis management cell” that gave the government’s security heads enormous power to quell unrest around the country.

The cell met daily in Damascus and was chaired by Mohammad Said Bekheitan, one of the most senior members of the ruling Baath party.

The New Yorker reported in its 14 April edition that the commission’s work "links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad."

It said the policy was "coordinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported the successes of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus”.

The leaker of the documents, Abdelmajid Barakat, was the keeper of the committee’s records, but secretly worked for the opposition. He fled to Turkey in 2013.

The magazine added that Assad “reviewed the proposals [of the cell], signed them, and returned them for implementation…sometimes he made revisions, crossing out directives and adding new ones”. Barakat said he was “certain that no security decision, no matter how small, was made without Assad’s approval”.

CIJA, which is funded by a consortium of Western European governments, has begun collecting evidence to charge Assad and his government with war crimes.

The dates of the documents coincide with the deaths, torture and imprisonment of thousands of Assad’s opponents.

Stephen Rapp, a former chief UN prosecutor who led the cases charging individuals involved in the Rwandan genocide, told the New Yorker that the leaked documents are stronger than any war crimes evidence since the Nuremberg trials.

“When the day of justice arrives, we’ll have much better evidence than we’ve had anywhere since Nuremberg,” he said.

Rapp added that the Assad files are “much richer than anything I’ve seen - and anything I’ve prosecuted - in this area”.

However, it is unlikely that Assad will stand trial any time soon. In 2014, Russia vetoed a resolution asking that the Syrian president be tried before the International Criminal Court.

The war in Syria has killed more than 270,000 people and forced half its people from their homes.