Montag, 17. August 2020

Raslan Trial: testimony of former intelligence operative at "Al-Khatib"-branch

 An anonymous witness who claims to have worked at "Al-Khatib"-branch has incrimanted the defendant, detailing torture methods and the chain of command that Raslan was heading, taz

"The witness will appear “partially masked”, says the presiding judge Anne Kerber. Because of "the risk situation" he does not have to give his personal details. The identity of the witness, who testified on Wednesday and Thursday in room 128 of the Koblenz Higher Regional Court, is kept secret, in the files he is named Z 28/07/16. It is the first such testimony of its kind in the trial in which two Syrians have been on trial for crimes against humanity since the end of April.

The witness, or at least that is what he reveals, worked for the General Intelligence Service in Syria for 21 years. Now he is testifying - masked with a wig, glued-on beard and thick glasses - against two men who are on trial for their work in a torture prison run by this secret service.

Anwar R., the main defendant, is charged with 58 murder, torture in at least 4,000 cases, rape, and serious sexual assault. R. headed the "Investigation" subdivision in Department 251 of the Secret Service and was responsible for the notorious al-Khatib prison in Damascus.

Z 28/07/16 speaks Arabic, his statement is translated. He reports on how hierarchies and individual departments of the secret service work, and how the situation worsened after the outbreak of the protests in spring 2011. After that there was practically no interrogation that did not involve torture and deaths were accepted.

Cruel torture methods
The judge asks how an interrogation works. The interpreter translates the inmates' eyes and hands tied up. "Sometimes he is also hung from the ceiling so that the tips of his feet are just touching the floor." Then he lists the torture methods: beatings, electric shocks, hot water, cigarette butts on the skin.

He reports of tied penises, nails on chairs and that heads are put in water barrels. When R.'s defense lawyer Michael Böcker asked whether he had visited a prison and participated in an interrogation, Z 28/07/16 affirmed this. Not much more is learned about the work of the witness.

“Who is ordering the torture?” The judge wants to know. “It's a routine matter,” says Z 28/07/16. If the head of department gives a free hand, he uses code words for it. “Applying what is necessary” means, for example, that every means is permissible. The interrogators, on the other hand, would sometimes order torture verbally, sometimes with a show of hands.

Lawyer Sebastian Scharmer, who represents some of the co-plaintiffs in the trial, later asks whether one of these code words is the term “strict interrogations”. Anwar R. used this term in his testimony to the police. “By strict interrogation it is meant that all means are used, even if the prisoner dies in the process,” replied the witness.

Z 28/07/16 also incriminates the accused on another point. Anwar R. had claimed in his statement that he was innocent. He had already turned away from the regime in June 2011 and was disempowered because he had released prisoners. Officially, however, he remained a colonel and head of the subdivision. “That is unimaginable,” says the witness. At best he would be transferred and demoted to a henchman.

When the witness explains the structure of a department based on a sketch that is projected onto the front of the room, defense attorney Böcker asks whether the witness's place of work can be seen. The judge dismisses the question as inadmissible.

She later explains that not only the life and limb of witnessing are in danger, his family, who still live in Syria, are also threatened by the secret service: They would end up in prison if he does not return. Then, according to the judge, there is a risk of severe abuse and death. Therefore, the identity of the witness must be protected.

Nevertheless, the defense attorney kept asking the witness: “How do you know that?” Each time the witness's lawyer intervened. Böcker's questions may be justified in terms of procedural tactics, but they also reveal the dilemma of anonymised testimony: They leave a lot open and appear less sustainable in court.

But the protection of the witness and his family comes first, the judge leaves no doubt. Z 28/07/16 is not the only witness in this trial who still has a family in Syria."

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