The United States on Wednesday imposed financial sanctions on eight Syrian prisons and five prison officials for “human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees.” While the horrendous treatment of prisoners in Bashar Assad’s jails was never a big secret, the bureaucratization, systematic nature, and industrial scale of torture and killings was not widely reported until a former Syrian military photographer, known only as “Caesar” to protect his identity, provided evidence in the form of 55,000 photos that he smuggled out of the country between 2011 and mid-2013. He then defected to the West. Caesar’s job in the military police, he told investigators, was to take pictures of the bodies of killed prisoners – at times, as many as 50 per day – before they were buried in unmarked graves in rural locations. The subjects of his photos were 11,000 individuals who died in custody in the first years of Syria’s civil war. Many of the bodies showed evidence of severe mistreatment, including eye gougings, strangulation, electrocution, and long-term starvation. His documentation and testimony in congressional hearings led to passage of the 2019 Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which calls for sanctions on Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran. “Many of the prisons designated today were highlighted in the pictures provided by Caesar, a Syrian regime defector who worked as an official photographer for the Syrian military and exposed the regime’s ruthless and cruel treatment of detainees,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement announcing the new sanctions. “Today’s action … seeks to promote accountability for the Assad regime’s abuses,” he added.
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