Syrian human rights activist Razan Zaytouni speaks out on the Assad regime’s alleged torture and “amnesty” decree.
Syrian Revolution News Round-up Day 77: Monday, 30 May 2011 ملخص أحداث الثورة السورية اليوم ٧٧: الاثنين، ٣٠ أيار/مايو
Ausama Monajed and others
for more info, eyewitnesses or commentary
on events please contact:
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
|DaraaBosr Al-Hareer night demo
Al-Jeeza huge night demo
Al-Inshaat district night demo
Al-Khaledeya night demo: We keep our pledge
Al-Kaboon district a big night sit-in of men and women
Zamalka night demo
Al-Kadam district night demo
Kafr Soosa night demo
Madaya night demo
Zamalka night demo
Kalet Al-Madeek, Afamya night demo
Jabal Al-Zawaya demo attended by nearby villages
Al-Bukamal night sit-in
Al-Kooreya night sit-in
Around The World
Istanbul Burning posters of Bashar
Istanbul Sheikh Raed Salah salutes the Syrian revolution
Dubai A man from Aleppo burns posters of Al-Assads in front of Burj Khaleefa
Crimes of The Syrian Regime: Homs
Baba Amr Torturing Amer Korra Dely
Talbeesa shelled by army tanks
Talbeesa fallen hero Abdo Erfan
Talbeesa fallen hero Ahmed Al-Deheik
Lies of the Syrian regime about burning Al-Khaledeya hospital
Asheera district A child hit by security’s gunshots on 20th of May
Crimes of The Syrian Regime: Daraa
Al-Herak Forces enter the city from the east
Al-Herak Security buses storm the city
Suppressive militias attack and steal people’s property
Suppressive militias attack and wax people’s property
At a checkpoint A hero from Daraa in a conversation with a security element
Crimes of The Syrian Regime
Akrab, Hama Fallen hero Emad Wajeed Al-Kordy, killed by security forces & thugs
Douma heavy security presence today
Selection of TV Coverage
Aljazeera: End Of The Day programme
Selection of Press Coverage
Aljazeera: Victims killed when the army storms into Talbeesa & Al-Rastan
Poem: Never mind, Daraa
بصر الحرير، مظاهرات مسائية
الجيزة، مظاهرات مسائية حاشدة
باب عمرو، مظاهرة مسائية مناصرة للرستن وتلبيسة
حي الإنشاءات، مظاهرات مسائية
أهالي الخالدية الأبطال على العهد باقين مساء
القابون، اعتصام مسائي كبير بمشاركة الرجال والنساء
زملكا، مظاهرات مسائية اليوم
حي القدم، مظاهرات مسائية
كفرسوسة، مظاهرة مسائية
مضايا، مظاهرات مسائية
زملكا، مظاهرات مسائية
قلعة المضيق أفاميا، مظاهرة مسائية
جبل الزاوية، وصول وفود القرى إليها
البوكمال، اعتصامات ليلية
القورية، اعتصام ليلي اليوم الإثنين
اسطنبول، حرق صور بشار
اسطنبول، الشيخ رائد صلاح يشجع الثورة السورية
دبي، مندس حلبي يحرق صور آل الأسد أمام برج خليفة
جرائم النظام السوري: حمص
بابا عمرو، تعذيب الشهيد عامر قره دلي
تلبيسة، قصف دبابات الجيش
تلبيسة، الشهيد البطل عبده عرفان
تلبيسة، الشهيد البطل أحمد الضحيك
تكذيب الإعلام السوري بحرق مستوصف الخالدية
حي عشيرة، إصابة طفل برصاص الأمن يوم 20 أيار
جرائم النظام السوري: درعا
الحراك، لحظة دخول قوات الغدر من الجهة الشرقية للبلد
الحراك، باصات للأمن تقتحم المدينة
اعتداء الميليشيات القمعية على الأملاك ونهبها
اعتداء الميليشيات القمعية على الأملاك وتشميعها
على الحاجز أحد أبطال درعا في نقاش مع رجل أمن
جرائم النظام السوري
عقرب حماة الشهيد عماد وجيه الكردي استشهد بيد قوى الأمن والشبيحة
دوما والتواجد الأمني المكثف فيها
بعض من التغطية التلفزيونية
الجزيرة: تقرير مريم أوبابيش في حصاد اليوم
بعض من التغطية الصحفية
الجزيرة: قتلى باقتحام الجيش لتلبيسة والرستن
قصيدة: معليش درعا معليش، شعر شعبي
رسالتي الثانية إلى السفير السوري في واشنطن
السبت 28 أيار 2011
السيد الدكتور عماد مصطفى، سفير الجمهورية العربية السورية في واشنطن؛ سلاماً وبعد
إسمح لي أن أشكرك في بداية هذه الرسالة على مكالمتك الهاتفية لي أول أمس الخميس 23 جمادي الثاني 1432/ الموافق 26 ايار، مايس 2011 والتي أتت رداً على رسالتي الخطية لك يوم ذكرى الشهداء في سورية قبل ثلاثة أسابيع. واسمح لي أيضاً أن أرد على تلك المكالمة الهاتفية برسالتي العلنية الثانية هذه، كوني ممن يعملون بالمقولة الثمينة:
(إن بقاءَ الكلامِ المُقالِ مُحالٌ هي الكلمة المُوَثَّـقة التي تبقى).
للأسف فلم يحصل شيئاً خلال تلك الأسابيع سوى ارتفاع عدد القتلى وسفك المزيد من دماء الشعب السوري وبيد سورية، وذلك على عكس ماتمنيته في رسالتي المذكورة وعلى عكس ماتمنيتك أن تتدخل لتحقيقه. وكما قلت لك يوم أول أمس، فقد كنت أتمنى أن نتعارف في ظروف غير تلك الظروف، ولكني مع ذلك أرى أن تعارفنا الآن ربما ساهم وبشكل ما في وضع أفكار تساعد في تضميد الجراح وإيجاد حلول للأزمة التي يمر بها الوطن.
وكما ذكرته لي بأنك، ومن خلال اطلاعك على أعمالي الشعرية السابقة، لمست فيها معاني حب الوطن، فأنا أيضاً أقول لك هنا بأني لمست نفس المعاني في الكلمات التي سمعتها منك خلال مكالمتنا الهاتفية يوم أول أمس. ولكن للأسف، لاقصائدي الشعرية ولا كلماتك تلك قادرة وحدها على إيقاف حمام الدم الذي نراه على شكل مسلسل يومي. وحيث كنتَ قد سألتني عن رؤيتي، ككاتب وشاعر مغترب ومستقل، حول أفضل الطرق للخروج ببلدنا مما يعانيه اليوم، فأستطيع أن أقول لك وبثقة تامة ومدعومة بدروس التاريخ، أن أي مخرج حضاري لأزمة من هذا النوع والوزن وفي أي بلد كان لايمكن إلا أن يبتدئ من منطلق أن مصلحة البلد والشعب يجب أن تكون فوق كل المصالح. وأن على القيادة السياسية أن تبحث عن وسائل وتكون مستعدة لتضحيات لتحقيق تلك المصلحة بعيداً عن دماء الشعب الذي قدم برأي مايكفي وبات الأمر يتطلب قرارات شجاعة ومسؤولة من القيادة نفسها. وهي قرارات وإن كانت مؤلمة وصعبة، إلا أن التاريخ سيذكرها لها في المستقبل بأحرف من نور. لايجب أن يغيب عن بالنا هنا هو أن استعمال العنف اتجاه الطرف الآخر الذي لانتفق معه لايحل الأزمة، ولاإنكار وجوده ولاتجاهله، فكل ذلك إنما يعقدها ويؤخر إنفجارها إلى حين، ولايمكن التحرك إلى المستقبل دون الإعتراف بأخطاء ومداواة جراح الماضي ومحاسبة المسؤولين عنها وهذا هو جوهر المصالحة الوطنية. أما المصافحة والعناق و(تبويس الشوارب) فكلها شكليات لا تغني عن الجوهر بل يمكن أن تأتي بعده، وكونك سألتني عن رؤيتي للخروج بالوطن من الأزمة الحالية، فأرى أن الخطوات التالية تصلح كبداية شجاعة لتحقيق ذلك:
أولاً: طي صفحة الماضي بالإفراج الفوري عن كافة معتقلي التظاهر والرأي الذين تم إعتقالهم خلال الأحداث الأخيرة أو قبلها والإعتذار منهم ومن عائلاتهم (فالإعتراف بالخطأ فضيلة) وتعويضهم معنوياً ومادياً عن الأضرار التي لحقت بهم من جراء إعتقالهم. وكذلك دفع تعويضات مادية لعائلات من مات خلال الإعتقال وإعادة الإعتبار للجميع.
وكون الناس بطبعهم يحبون النهايات السعيدة، فخطوة كهذه ستكون الأمثل للبرهان عن حسن النية من جهة القيادة، ولاشك أنها ستأسر القلوب والعقول معاً وتجعل المواطنين الشرفاء ومن كافة الأطياف على استعداد، ليس فقط لوقف المناداة باسقاط النظام، ولكن أيضاً للإصغاء له والحوار معه. وفي حال وجود مؤامرة على البلد، فإن خطوة كهذه ستجرد أصحابها من أهم أوراقهم التي يلعبون بها، خاصة وإذا ترافقت مع السماح الحقيقي بالتظاهر السلمي والسماح للشرطة المدنية حصراً بالتواجد في الشوارع (بعد سحب الأسلحة النارية من أفرادها كونها لا تواجه إسرائيل) وتكليفها بحماية المتظاهرين وتوزيع المياه عليهم.
ثانياً: هذه الخطوة ستكون أصعب من الأولى، ولكن سيكون تحقيقها أساسياً للبرهان على أن الشعب والقيادة يعزفان على نفس الوتر. وقبل أن أطرحها لابد أولاً من مداخلة بسيطة للتمهيد.
من الطبيعي في الدول التي حكمتها قوانين الطوارئ لأكثر من نصف قرن أن يظهر مايسمى بمراكز القوى. وهذا التعبير لمن لايعرفونه يعني ظهور كيانات صغيرة تابعة للدولة وتعمل تحت رايتها، كأفرع الأمن المختلفة والحرس الجمهوري والوحدات الخاصة وغيرها، ثم تكبر وتقوى مع مرور الوقت لتشكل مايشبه الدويلات المستقلة داخل حدود الدولة وتقوم بإتخاذ القرار وتنفيذه على الأرض دون العودة إلى مرجعية القانون أو الدستور. فتجد القيادة السياسية نفسها في يوم وقد أصبحت غير قادرة على تنفيذ إصلاحات أو وعود قطعتها على نفسها أمام الشعب لأن ذلك يتعارض ومصالح من يديرون تلك الدويلات.
من هذا المنطلق، فالخطوة الثانية ستبدأ بإعادة هذه الكيانات إلى حجمها الطبيعي وإلى حظيرة الدولة والحكومة المركزية، حتى وإن كان ذلك يعني إزاحة بعض المسؤولين عنها وأيضاً بعض المقربين من القيادة والذين ماعرفهم الشعب سوى من خلال التنكيل به أو التسلط على ثرواته. ولاأنصح هنا أن تكون هذه الخطوة دموية، فقد شهدت البلاد مايكفي من حمامات الدم، ولكن يمكن أن تكون عن طريق المحاكمة العلنية وحسب مواد القانون، أو حتى بالإبعاد خارج البلد إذا كان السيناريو القانوني صعب التنفيذ في المرحلة الراهنة. هذا ويذكر التاريخ عدة حوادث لحكام اضطروا لتحجيم أبنائهم أو أشقائهم لأسباب معينة، ولكن عادت نتائجها في النهاية لمصلحة الوطن. هذه الخطوة ستكون كفيلة بسحب بقية الأوراق من يد المتآمرين على الوطن في حال وجودهم.
ثالثاً: تشكيل حكومة وحدة وطنية مؤقتة بالتوافق مع المعارضة تكون مؤلفة من وزراء مستقلين معروفين بنزاهتهم ووطنيتهم وعدم تلوث أيديهم لا بالدماء ولا بالمال العام. وهي حكومة تكون مهمتها العمل على التحضير لانتخابات برلمانية ورئاسية شفافة وتخضع لرقابة منظمات حقوقية معروفة بنزاهتها وحيادها. وأن يجري كل ذلك بعيداً عن تدخل الجيش الذي يجب أن يعود إلى ثكناته ليحضر نفسه للمهمة التي ابتعد عنها لأربعة عقود، وهي الجولان وبقية الأراضي المحتلة.
فهل توافقني على ذلك؟
طريف يوسف آغا
كاتب وشاعر عربي سوري مغترب
السبت 25 جمادي الثاني 1432/ 28 أيار، مايس 2011
Regarding the painful events which Syria is going through these days, and the blood that is being shed from its unarmed civilians of all ages, please let me remind you of the following. More important than the fact that you represent the Syrian government is that you represent the Syrian Civilization and History. You represent Syria which had existed long before any government did, which still exists today and will keep existing after the departure of all different governments. You also represent your conscience and the family name you hold as well.
By remembering that, I wish you to fulfill your national, moral and ethical duty by sending an immediate letter to the President asking him to personally intervene to stop the blood bath, protect the unarmed civilians, grant them their rights in peaceful demonstration, and give them the reforms they demand and also freedom and dignity.
Mr. Ambassador; I lived through the days of the October war. I was and I am still proud of it, like all the Syrians and Arabs. I even showed that in more that one of my poems. And as a Syrian who has been living abroad for more that a quarter of a century, I was and I am still proud of Syrian role in supporting the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance that helped in liberating South Lebanon and the Gaza strip. I documented that in more than one of my poems as well. Then came my epic poem ‘Syria Talks about Herself’, to which I invited you and the Embassy staff to attend the recital in Houston last year. The poem in which I glorified Syria from north to south and from east to west, its cities and villages, mountains and valleys, civilization and traditions, history and heroes. Syria did not build its glory on all that only, but also on the freedom and dignity of its sons. Since without freedom and dignity, no country and no people have anything left that deserves to be talked about
From my position as a writer and poet abroad, and from my vision as an independent person who does not belong to any political, religious, or even social club, I find it difficult to understand what is going on in our countries. As, when the homeland turns into a private company where the elite become millionaires while the majority of the people are swinging around the poverty line, then that is what all dictionaries, languages and customs call corruption. And when the people demonstrate and protest that, and also demand freedom and dignity at the same time, but are faced by live bullets, stepped on by feet and confronted by tanks, then that is what the same sources call suppression.
And that leads me to a question for which I may need your help to answer.
Can any government fight the enemy, support the resistance, stop the foreign conspiracies without seeing the corruption flourishing under its eyes, and without suppressing its citizens? If that is impossible, then no government should be surprised in case it wakes up one morning to find itself in a confrontation square where it is on one side and the people are on the other.
Excuse me as I did not pay enough attention to the protocols and to the language that the diplomatic letters should use. The scary photos which are arriving from the homeland, together with the countless amount of blood which we see flowing there, all that distracted me from doing so. I do not have a doubt you agree with me that what is going on in our homeland and some other Arabic countries may spread to other parts of the world, and that it is an event that is considered, in all standards, a turning point in the history of humanity. Our generation is quite lucky to witness this event which is not less important than The Slave Rebellion of Rome, and The French, Russian and Iranian Revolutions whose lessons and conclusions are still alive today. But there are always a few people, especially the enlightened ones, who do not believe that it is enough for them to witness that event. But also have enough courage to chisel their names on the list of its makers, so they become a guiding light and a good example for the others. And here I am, with all humbleness, adding my name openly to the list of the people who are demanding to stop the blood bath that is taking place in our homeland, and asking you to openly add yours, together with all who believe that Syria has enough space for all the Syrians, especially those who got tired waiting for the reforms and the fulfilling of the promises, but also want to live in freedom and dignity before anything else. Let us not forget that the free and dignified citizen, and who does not suffer from corruption around him, is a citizen who will be more proud and therefore more capable of fighting the enemy, supporting the resistance, and defeating the foreign conspiracies.
Do you agree with me?
By Patti (SETF staff)
Yesterday May 24th, about 350 Syrian-Americans came together in DC for Freedom for Syria Day to support their brothers and sisters protesting in Syria. The Syrian American Council (SAC) hosted a series of meetings, and protests to show solidarity with the democracy protesters. They started at the U.S. Capital to speak to their representatives in Congress about a possible resolution condemning the violence in Syria.
After visiting the capital they went to protest at the Syrian Embassy where protesters demanded an end to the violence and to hold the regime responsible for the killing and oppression. The Syrian Ambassador invited some of the SAC leaders inside but apparently repeated the regime line that there are no protests and that the only protesters were foreign agitators trying to overthrow the stability and security of Syria. He also told them that the videos being released by eyewitnesses were fabricated by foreign conspirators.
Later there was a rally in front of the White House to bring their message to the American people and government to ask for their continued support of the democratic protesters and to celebrate the sanctions on the worst criminals in the regime.
The meeting at the hotel Conference Room involved speeches and discussion among SAC and other Syrian American groups including the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Human Rights organizations, Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations and representatives from several different country’s diplomatic corps. There was even an alleged representative from the Syrian Embassy who berated the assembly for criticizing President Assad and the government.
The discussion brought to the forefront many important issues that plague Syria for example the treatment of minority groups, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and the reactions of the international community but most of all to address the inexcusable violence and oppression in Syria.
Representing the U.S State Department, Jacob Walles outlined the reaction of the U.S. government to the atrocities and the actions the U.S. has taken so far. He described the situation saying that “by denying these people their right to assembly and free speech the Syrian government is losing its legitimacy.” and repeated the demands President Obama made in his speech last Thursday.
The Syrian Emergency Task Force discussed the legal action they are coordinating to bring some of the major players in the regime to justice. Their chief counsel Martin McMahon highlighted the case the Syrian regime just lost to the families of two Americans for wrongful death, awarding the family $413 Million. He was enthusiastic about the promising precedent this sets for them to proceed with their lawsuit. He also emphasized the importance of Title XVIII, sections 951, 953, and 956 in protecting their witnesses and all Americans, from the harassment, interference, or threats of foreign agents in the United States.
It was a beautiful day for Syrian-Americans from all over the United States to come together for freedom.
AlJazeera Arabic report on the demonstrations shows 2 Embassy employees coming out to invite the SAC leaders into the Embassy:
In September 2008, the U.S. Federal Court in Washington, D.C., rendered a $413 million civil judgment against the government of Syria for its provision of support and material aid to the killers of two American contractors in Iraq. Syria’s appeal is pending, but should it lose, the victims’ families will undoubtedly endeavor to attach Syrian assets in the United States and abroad.
Until now, with the exception of sanctions, financial designations, and periodic cross-border direct action, Washington has imposed little cost on Damascus for its consistent support for terrorist attacks in Iraq since the 2003 war. And while the financial implications of this court verdict are unlikely to change Damascus’s standing support for terrorism, it will impose an unprecedented price on Bashar al-Assad’s increasingly reckless regime.
Support for the Insurgency
In December 2010, U.S. counterterrorism officials reported an uptick in the number of insurgents entering Iraq via Syria. It was the most significant reference to a Syrian role in the movement of jihadists since December 2009 when Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed Damascus for car bomb attacks that killed more than one hundred in Baghdad. But it was only the latest in a long series of U.S. complaints about Syrian provision of support to Iraqi insurgents, a development that started even prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Indeed, as Washington was surging troops to the region in 2003 in preparation for the blitz on Baghdad, Damascus was deploying its own counter-force to fight the Americans.
In the months leading up to the invasion, the Assad regime allowed the establishment of an office across the street from the U.S. embassy in Damascus where insurgent hopefuls could sign up and get on a bus to Baghdad for the opportunity to repel the invaders. While brazen, Damascus’s support and encouragement for Washington’s enemies in Iraq came as little surprise. From the very start, Syria made no secret of its intent to undermine the U.S. invasion. Just days after the start of military operations, for example, then-Syrian foreign minister Farouq Shara publicly announced that “Syria’s interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq.”
The defeat of the U.S. project in Iraq was an interest Damascus shared with Tehran. So much so that, according to then-Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, on the eve of the invasion, the two countries forged an agreement to encourage “resistance” against U.S. forces in Iraq.
The Assad regime also took other steps including recruiting local staff—such as the Aleppo-based militant Islamist cleric Abu al-Qaqa—to help organize the infiltrations across Syrian territory. To ensure that these dangerous Islamists did not plant domestic roots that might threaten the Assad regime, Syria’s security apparatus apparently documented the presence of these killers. Then-deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz displayed some of the evidence of this official Syrian complicity during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2003.
Holding up passports belonging to foreign fighters encountered by U.S. forces in Iraq, Wolfowitz said,
A foreigner who came into Iraq on March 24th through Syria—not a Syrian, but through Syria. The entry permit on his passport said he came to, quote, “volunteer for jihad.” Here’s another one, came into Iraq through Syria—same crossing point. The entry permit said, “to join the Arab volunteers.” And here’s a third one that came in on April 7th. 
Wolfowitz’s statements were subsequently augmented by those of a dozen or so U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) flag officers, also focusing on the movement of jihadists through Syrian territory and Assad regime complicity in the endeavor. In March 2007, for example, CENTCOM revealed that training camps had been established on Syrian territory for Iraqi and foreign fighters.
The most prominent of these statements, however, was issued by then-U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus, who during testimony to Congress on September 10, 2007, presented maps illustrating Syria’s pivotal role as the source of foreign fighters entering Iraq. Only a week earlier, during an interview with al-Watan al-Arabi, the general described how Syria allowed thousands of insurgents to arrive at Damascus International Airport and then cross the Iraqi border. These foreign fighters, he explained, supplied the main manpower pool for the majority of suicide bombings in Iraq. That same month, the centrality of Syria to the insurgency was corroborated by the Sinjar documents, a trove of al-Qaeda materials captured by U.S. forces in Iraq.
Syrian conduct during the war—in particular the state’s burgeoning support for and tolerance of al-Qaeda’s transit—came as a surprise to many. After all, following September 11, 2001, Damascus provided intelligence on al-Qaeda to Washington that helped save American lives. But Syria was playing a double game by supporting terrorists moving to Iraq while simultaneously supplying information on future attacks—outside of the Middle East—to Washington. Damascus hoped this would purchase immunity, but the gambit failed. After Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Syria in March 2003 of providing night vision goggles to Saddam and declared that Washington would “consider such trafficking as hostile acts and [would] hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments,” Damascus cut off the intelligence sharing.
As a Syrian foreign ministry official confided to New Yorker correspondent Seymour Hersh, if Washington had agreed to discuss these issues in a back channel, the intelligence sharing might have continued. “But when you publicly try to humiliate a country,” he said, “it’ll become stubborn.” While Damascus sought to blame Washington for the breakdown of the channel, by the time the cooperation had ceased, Syria had been actively facilitating the movement of jihadists into Iraq for months. In addition to killing U.S. soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians, these insurgents also captured and killed dozens of U.S. civilians working in Iraq.
The Case against Damascus
Two of those American contractors executed by al-Qaeda in Iraq were Olin Eugene “Jack” Armstrong and Jack Hensley. In 2004, Thailand resident Armstrong and Hensley, who was based in Marietta, Georgia, were employed as contract managers by private construction subcontractors in Iraq. The two were kidnapped from their residential housing in Iraq on September 16 of that year. On September 20 and 21 respectively, videos documenting the gruesome beheadings of Armstrong and Hensley were posted on an online web forum associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Remains of the victims were found in Baghdad soon after.
In August 2006, the families of Armstrong and Hensley brought a civil action against the government of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian military intelligence, and its director, Assif Shawkat. The action, launched by the estates of Armstrong and Hensley—under the name of estate administrator Francis Gates—alleged that Damascus “provided material support and resources” to al-Qaeda in Iraq and sought economic damages, compensation for grief, pain, and suffering, and punitive damages arising from their deaths.
A three-day evidentiary hearing was held in January 2008 to establish the facts of the case. Four American expert witnesses testified how Syria facilitated the movement of jihadists to Iraq, how the Assad regime provided support and sanctuary to the Zarqawi network, and how the regime—and specifically the president and his brother-in-law, military intelligence chief Shawkat—were aware of the activities of Zarqawi and al-Qaeda. The government of Syria neither answered the suit nor appeared in court.
On September 26, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued its memorandum opinion. In her ruling, Judge Rosemary Collyer wrote,
Plaintiffs proved, by evidence satisfactory to the Court, that Syria provided substantial assistance to Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq and that this led to the deaths by beheading of Jack Armstrong and Jack Hensley. … The evidence shows that Syria supported, protected, harbored, and subsidized a terrorist group whose modus operandi was the targeting, brutalization, and murder of American and Iraqi citizens.
Most importantly, in her ruling, Judge Collyer concluded that consistent with precedent, Damascus could in fact be held liable for damages pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Under the international principle of sovereign immunity, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over foreign states aside from certain enumerated exceptions codified by a U.S. federal statute in the act. Cases of state-sponsored terrorism are one exception. As of January 28, 2008, U.S. law “waives sovereign immunity for states that sponsor terrorism and provides a private right of action against such states.” Because Assad and Shawkat were not individually served with the action, the court ruled that they would not be defendants.
Based on this ruling, the court awarded damages requested by the Armstrong and Hensley estates. In terms of economic damages—lost income incurred by premature death—the compensation was relatively low, slightly over $1 million each. However, the especially cruel and prolonged technique of execution—and the resultant suffering of the victims and surviving family members—produced substantial damages awards. Most significant were the pain and suffering and punitive damages, which were especially high “in hopes that [these] substantial awards will deter further Syrian sponsorship of terrorists.” The court awarded to each family $50 million for pain and suffering, and $150 million for punitive damages. All told, the civil judgment against Syria totaled $413,909,587.
The Syrian Line of Defense
Although the mammoth judgment did not get much attention in the U.S. media, Damascus clearly took note of the award. On October 24, 2008—less than a month after the initial ruling—it filed a notice of appeal. In its effort to overturn the ruling, the government of Syria engaged Johnson administration attorney general Ramsey Clark as its counsel.
Retention of Clark by the Assad regime was not very surprising. Clark has a prodigious record of defending publicly reviled individuals and causes. His clientele list is a veritable “Who’s Who” of dictators and perpetrators of genocide that includes Radovan Karadžić, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana (first member of the clergy to be convicted of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). Perhaps of more relevance to this case, in the early 1990s, Clark defended the Palestine Liberation Organization in the suit brought by the family of the murdered American Leon Klinghoffer.
The appeal motion did not address the allegations of Syrian material support to terrorists who killed Americans. Rather, it centered largely on two jurisdictional matters. The first of Syria’s arguments was that the case should be dismissed because “no service of process has been delivered by DHL [international delivery company] to Syria and no legally sufficient showing of service of process has been made.” Indeed, according to the appeal brief, the signature documenting receipt by the Foreign Ministry in Damascus of the package alerting Syria of the legal action “could have been photocopied from an earlier signature … and could readily have been the product of manipulation and falsification.” In any event, the brief continued, DHL is unreliable and “the Internet is rife with anguished, indignant complaints by DHL customers.”
Damascus conceded that “Essam” was in fact the name of the person who typically signs for packages at the Foreign Ministry, but it maintained that DHL perpetrated fraud to cover-up incompetence and that the government of Syria was never aware of the suit. While Syria’s DHL conspiracy theory was entertaining, indications suggest the court will not find the explanation compelling.
More interesting was Clark’s second argument as to why the case should have been dismissed or remanded to the district court. Syria argued that the terrorism exception to sovereign immunity that allowed the action to be brought was unconstitutional “because it gives the Executive and Legislative branches incentive and opportunity … to misuse the exception to deny equal sovereignty for political purposes.” Most recently, the brief noted, these branches terminated cases and undermined the judiciary’s independence with regard to Libya.
In addition to expressing concerns about preservation of balance of powers in the United States, Syria argued that by singling out the state, the suit violated article II of the U.N. charter, which, Syria said, establishes the principle of “sovereign equality of all [U.N.] Members.” “By force of the U.S. Secretary’s designation [of Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism],” the brief laments, Syria is “deprived of its fundamental right of equal sovereignty.”
Worse, the brief continued, the enormous judgment—which Syria described as “economic warfare”—would only “further inflame anti-American passions [and] invite retaliation.”
The near half a billion dollars in damages and penalties assessed against Syria for the deaths of two Americans in this case … can only fill Syrians and most of the rest of the world with wonder at the monetary demands U.S. laws place on American deaths and America’s non-accountability for the lives it takes. With a gross domestic product per capita of $7,000, it would take 30,000 years for the average Syrian to earn the sum awarded for the death of one American in this case.
In short, the Assad regime argued that the mammoth judgment leveled against Syria by the U.S. District Court with the expressed purpose of not letting “depraved lawlessness go unremarked and without consequence” will only result in Arabs hating Americans more. Consistent with the long-standing Damascus modus operandi, Syria’s lawyers essentially threaten violence against the United States unless the initial verdict is reversed.
Notwithstanding the seeming novelty of the defense’s strategy—attacking the constitutionality of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act exception for state sponsors of terrorism—Damascus and Clark are employing this tack in other cases. During another recent civil action, two Americans taken hostage in 1988 by the Syrian-supported Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) sought damages against Damascus for its provision of material support to the terrorist organization. In this case, too, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did not accept Damascus’s argument that the terrorism exception was unconstitutional.
At the time of publication, the appeal verdict was pending, but judgments in several previous cases suggest that the Court of Appeals will affirm precedent and deny Syria’s argument that the FSIA exception is unconstitutional, just as it has previously found that the U.N. charter is not self-executing and has no jurisdiction in U.S. courts.
Syria is only the latest state to be held accountable in U.S. courts for its role in killing Americans. Most famously, in 1998, the family of Alisa Flatow, who was killed in a bus bombing perpetrated by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, won a $247 million award from the group’s Iranian sponsors. But significant judgments have also been rendered against Tehran for kidnappings, tortures, and murders perpetrated in Lebanon by its client Hezbollah and in Israel by Hamas. In 1997 and 2010, nearly $4 billion in civil judgments were rendered against Iran in U.S. courts by the victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon. Likewise, in 2007, U.S. courts awarded $6 billion to six American families and UTA airlines after Libya was found responsible for downing Flight 772 by a bomb over Niger in 1989. Ultimately, the UTA settlement was folded into the $1.5 billion fund established by Libya in 2008 to compensate Lockerbie, La Belle, and all other pending terrorism claims against Libya.
While these astronomical figures would optimally constitute a deterrent for terrorist regimes, regrettably they have not proven effective. The problem, obviously, is that the judgments are exceedingly difficult to collect. After a $1.3 billion judgment was levied against Iran in 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth calculated that more than $9 billion in uncollected torts had been ordered against Tehran, a sum that made the money a “meaningless charade.” Federal courts have frozen some Iranian funds, including a $2 billion account at Citibank. Still other victims of Iran have sought, thus far unsuccessfully, to attach ancient Iranian artifacts in Chicago museums.
As with Iran, wresting assets from Syria to satisfy the awards to the Armstrong and Hensley families will also prove a challenge. Damascus has relatively few assets in the United States, and diplomatic property is inviolable. Still, attorney Steven Perles, who represented the families, remains optimistic. To date, according to his assessment, he has recovered some $70-$75 million in frozen Iranian assets for his clients. And should the verdict be upheld, he says he intends to focus on Syrian assets in Europe “where a number of countries recognize compensatory [if not punitive] damages from American courts.” While compensation remains a distant prospect, as long as these judgments are pending—if Iran is any example—it may become increasingly difficult for Damascus to do business in Europe.
In any event, it is increasingly clear that because the Assad regime has contributed to so many American deaths in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, this lawsuit is sure to generate dozens more. Indeed, Perles himself has pledged to “financially pound the Syrians until they do what [Libyan leader] Qaddafi did and compensate the families for the deaths of their loved ones.” More suits against Damascus await.
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