The Assad regime has built a crematorium to hide the dead bodies of those killed at Saydnaya prison, according to acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and former ambassador to Iraq and Jordan, Stuart Jones.
Saydnaya Prison received international attention in February due to an Amnesty International report that claimed 5,000 to 13,000 people had been executed there between 2011 and 2015. Though only the accounts of former prisoners can truly illustrate the horror of the place.
Salam, a detainee from 2012 to 2014 described the “welcome party” prisoners are greeted with in a Vox publication. “You are thrown to the ground and they use different instruments for the beatings: electric cables with exposed copper wire ends — they have little hooks so they take a part of your skin — normal electric cables, plastic water pipes of different sizes and metal bars,” he explained.
Hosam, another former inmate, explained in Vox that, “Their most common punishment was to cut off the water.” He explained further that, “We went five days with no water — no water to drink, no water to clean, no water to flush the toilet. … Sometimes, there was a big quantity of food, but they cut off the water, so we couldn’t use the bathroom. So they were forcing us to eat and to create waste that we couldn’t get rid of, which would create a horrible smell. We used to sometimes throw the food from the vent so that we wouldn’t be forced to live with our waste.”
New reports that a crematorium has been added to the Saydnaya Prison Complex only fuelled the concerns human rights organizations and the U.S. have about Saydnaya. The Syrian government inevitably denied the allegations, suggesting they are part of a “Hollywood screenplay disconnected from reality.” Although the UN has been unable to confirm the presence of such a crematorium, this is largely due to the Assad regime’s refusal to allow UN inspection of Syrian prisons.
The question then, is how credible is the allegation? According to Jones, the claim is backed up by the word of multiple humanitarian agencies and the U.S. intelligence community. Though most of the evidence is likely classified, Jones was able to release satellite imagery of what Washington believes to be the crematorium.
A crematorium is also just an efficient way for dictators to cover up war crimes. What else would a brutal dictator do with tens of thousands of dead bodies he wants to cover up? Assad intends to stay in power after the Syrian conflict ends. It’s inevitable that he would want to cover his tracks to avoid accountability for his actions. Jones also believes that “the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison.”
So, has the existence of the crematorium been confirmed yet? No. Would its existence be surprising? Considering Jones’ confidence, Assad’s history of human rights abuses, the atrocities we already know occur at Saydnaya and the incentive Assad has in covering them up, it would absolutely not be surprising.
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