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Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya Prison, Syria

“Saydnaya is the end of life – the end of humanity.” (Abu Muhammed, former guard at Saydnaya)

  • In a press briefing Monday 15th May, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones — a career foreign service officer who’s served as ambassador to Iraq and Jordan — presented newly declassified satellite evidence suggesting that the Syrian government has built a crematorium to dispose of bodies at its notorious Saydnaya prison complex, outside Damascus. [NYT / Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard]
  • If Saydnaya sounds familiar, that’s probably due to a February report from Amnesty International that estimated that anywhere from 5,000 to 13,000 people have been executed there since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Deaths due to disease or malnutrition were common, and guards torture inmates by withholding water, beating them with electrical cables and belts made of cut-up tank tracks, and forcing prisoners to rape each other. Prisoners are typically executed by hanging, after being blindfolded and told they’re going to a “good place.” [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • The Amnesty report said that the prison facility was enlarged in 2012 to enable more executions. “Our data … suggests as many as 50 murders a day coming out of the complex,” the State Department’s Jones told reporters. “If you have that level of production of mass murder, then using the crematorium would help.” The photos released by State show the addition of HVAC facilities, a discharge stack, and other changes that suggest a crematorium has been constructed. [State Department / Stuart Jones]
  • Jones further specified that he thinks the crematorium is a way to destroy evidence of the Syrian government’s crimes: “We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison.”
  • Jones’s remarks included a specific call-out to Russia, the Syrian government’s main foreign backer, calling on it to “exercise its great influence over the Syrian regime” to stop the mass murders at Saydnaya. [Washington Post / Karen DeYoung]
  • The timing of the revelation is also important: Tomorrow, indirect peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition start up again in Geneva, and Jones is the highest-ranking American official involved in the details of the Syrian peace process. The Assad government has downplayed the Geneva talks in favor of a parallel process in Kazakhstan with Russia, Turkey, and Iran, to negotiate local ceasefire zones. Jones has been an observer for some of those talks too. [The Guardian / Julian Borger​]
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