THE ASSAD FILES; Body Parts Stashed in Fridges. Horrific Accounts of Torture. Mystery Disappearances. Page after Page in Box after Box of War Crimes Committed in the Name of the Syrian Dictator - Stored in a Secret Location but Now Opened for the First Time as Our Man Is Given Exclusive Access To

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

THE ASSAD FILES; Body Parts Stashed in Fridges. Horrific Accounts of Torture. Mystery Disappearances. Page after Page in Box after Box of War Crimes Committed in the Name of the Syrian Dictator - Stored in a Secret Location but Now Opened for the First Time as Our Man Is Given Exclusive Access To


Byline: SPECIAL REPORT By Ian Birrell

THE room looks harmless enough, with dull grey shelves and stacks of cardboard boxes packed to overflowing with maps of the Middle East and sheaves of documents filled with Arabic script.

Yet the location of this repository in the centre of Europe is a closely guarded secret. To reach the office you climb several flights of stairs in a building deliberately chosen to avoid the prying eyes of those desperate to destroy the evidence of unspeakable horrors recorded in meticulous files housed within its bare walls.

I promised not to reveal its whereabouts, yet the office feels like any other, filled with men and women tapping away on computers and chatting over coffee.

I am ushered towards a locked door which is opened so I can make my way inside and open one of the thousands of brown boxes that fill the room.

The first contains military maps covered in fluorescent markings that detail troop movements, weapons instalments and a battle plan.

Beneath this are scores of documents filled with Arabic writing. Some have official-looking government stamps. Others are pockmarked with holes from bullets. There is a safe containing seized computers and some phones in padded bags.

Their contents offer clues to the most hideous tales of death and depravity, of barbaric torture, and hospitals turned into charnel houses, often written in the banal language of bureaucrats covering their backs. In one document, a Syrian army officer tries to dodge blame for the death of a young man in his custody after beatings to his stomach and genitals.

Another makes reference to a fridge that is 'full of unidentified corpses that have disintegrated'.

For this innocuous room contains 800,000 pages of potential evidence to build a case that may lead to the most significant war crimes trial since Nuremberg, one that could match The Hague's current International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and make last week's suicide in its dock by a former Bosnian-Croat general seem like a bizarre footnote in history.

For the room I am standing in houses the case against Syrian president Bashar Assad and his genocidal cronies. Indeed, some of the documents I witness here are even signed by the dictator himself. Yet more papers could assist prosecutions against Islamic State leaders and are being used to help European governments vet returning jihadi recruits.

Each document, each map, each phone, each computer was sneaked out of Syria or Iraq at huge personal risk. At least one brave smuggler has been killed and others have been locked up as they sought to help expose murderous activities and systemic abuse by the chief perpetrators of Syria's civil war.

This treasure trove was stashed away in homes and warehouses, sometimes even buried in fields, then ferried out in boxes, suitcases and lorries.

The aim is simple: to build a case to prove guilt for state atrocities. Yet there is a remarkable twist - this is the first such war crimes probe run by a private, nonprofit body.

Although it is bankrolled by democratic governments - including our own - and has sometimes used diplomatic cover to transport documents, it has no official international mandate.

'The symbolism is important,' said Bill Wiley, the veteran war crimes investigator heading the bold project. 'We want to prove there is not impunity for anyone. Assad is the worst criminal in the region and he should not be above the law.'

Last month former Bosnian-Serb commander Ratko Mladic - the 'Butcher of Bosnia - was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was convicted of crimes against humanity more than two decades after orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre.

This marked the conclusion of the United Nations-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. After 24 years of dogged work, the body secured 83 convictions, including major war criminals such as Slobodan Praljik, who drank poison last week in court as a judge rejected his appeal against a 20-year sentence. …

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THE ASSAD FILES; Body Parts Stashed in Fridges. Horrific Accounts of Torture. Mystery Disappearances. Page after Page in Box after Box of War Crimes Committed in the Name of the Syrian Dictator - Stored in a Secret Location but Now Opened for the First Time as Our Man Is Given Exclusive Access To
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