December 15, 2011

Syrian Commanders Gave Direct Orders to Use Force, Group Says

By Massoud A. Derhally
Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Military commanders and officials in the Syrian intelligence services gave both “direct and standing orders to use lethal force” against protesters during the nine- month uprising, Human Rights Watch said.
“The statements of soldiers and officers who defected from the Syrian military and intelligence agencies leave no doubt that the abuses were committed in pursuance of state policy and that they were directly ordered, authorized, or cordoned at the highest levels of Syrian military and civilian leadership,” the New York-based group said in an 88-page report published today.
Protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule have swept Syria since mid-March, inspired by the uprisings earlier this year that ousted rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Assad has blamed the unrest on foreign provocateurs engaged in a “conspiracy” against the Arab state. His government deployed tanks, armored vehicles and artillery to crush the most serious threat to his family’s 40-year rule, rejecting U.S. and European demands for him to resign.
Human Rights Watch put the death toll at more than 4,000 while the United Nations estimates the number of civilians killed exceeds 5,000. The government, which says more than 1,100 members of its security forces have been killed in the uprising, has blamed the unrest on foreign-led conspirators and Islamists who it says have exploited legitimate expressions of popular demand.
Human Rights Watch said it extensively documented killings, torture and the arbitrary arrest of thousands of civilians by the Syrian government, which it said “were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population and thus constitute crimes against humanity.”
‘Lethal Force’
The organization said the findings of its report are based on interviews with 63 defectors both from the army and the intelligence agencies. It said military commanders and intelligence officials “gave both direct and standing orders to use lethal force against the protesters, as well as to unlawfully arrest, beat, and torture the detainees.”
Senior military commanders and high ranking officials, including Assad and the heads of the intelligence agencies, “bear command responsibility for violations committed by their subordinates to the extent that they knew or should have known of the abuses, but failed to take action to stop them,” it said.
In an interview with ABC News on Dec. 7 Assad denied having ordered the killings.
“There was no command to kill or be brutal,” he said. “They are not my forces. They are military forces that belong to the government. I don’t own them.”
Editors: Ben Holland, Digby Lidstone.

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