Appearing in disguise for his own protection, a Syrian army defector who witnessed and captured on film some of the brutality of the Assad regime appeared for the first time in public this morning for a special briefing on the Hill.
Going by the name “Caesar,” the defector smuggled more than 50,000 images of torture and starvation out of Syria, capturing killings that began soon after people started staging peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011.
“Caesar’s” photos detail the deaths of more than 10,000 dissidents between 2011 and 2013.
“What is going on in Syria is a genocidal massacre that is being led by the worst of all the terrorists, Bashar al-Assad,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Clad in a blue hooded raincoat, Caesar said he’s never seen anything like what he witnessed except in historical photos of the Nazi extermination camps during World War II, and warned that more than 150,000 Syrians in Assad’s jails face the same fate as the people in his photos.
By conservative estimates, more than 170,000 have already been killed in the war.
“This is a crisis created and sustained by Bashar al-Assad, who responded to peaceful demands by Syrians for their universal rights with unspeakable violence – even against children. In doing so, he has placed his own grip on power above the very survival of millions,” Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in facing the Syrian at the witness table.
Assad’s reign of terror has included “targeted killings, mass graves, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence, widespread torture, aerial bombardment of residential areas with conventional and chemical weapons, and the extermination of entire families.”
“Assad’s brutality, as we know, is underwritten by robust military and other support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Syria is a humanitarian crisis, but a strategic challenge too, as Assad has pulled the entire region into violent chaos,” Royce said.
“Caesar’s” images were shown earlier this week at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.
“The killing continues today,” Royce added. “Pure and simple, these photos cry out for justice.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said that the defector risking his life to appear before Congress was akin to grabbing lawmakers by the shoulders and saying “this has to matter.”
“We want to look away. But we must not,” said Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “This is happening right now in Syria, and we can do more to stop it.”
To see some of the graphic images presented at the briefing today, click to the next page.