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Koblenz Trial 11.11.2021: Dr. Kamal al-Labwani: “Torture is applied systematically and comprehensively in all security institutions. After the revolution just staying alive in Syria’s prisons until the end of the investigation has become close to a miracle!”

Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer

The report of the hearing of the “accused” Anwar Raslan with the witness Dr. Kamal al-Labwani on 11 November 2021 who expressed his desire for the accused to appear as a defense witness and had got to know him after his arrival in Jordan.

During  the hundredth session since the trial began, the witness, Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, appeared on 11 November 2021 as a witness requested by the defense justifying their request by their conviction the witness could inform the panel of judges the accused had not carried out torture as the one who controlled the Khatib branch at the time was Colonel Hafez Makhlouf. Besides, the witness expressed a desire to attend and testify.

Dr Kamal al-Labwani, the witness, began by saying he had identified the accused when the latter arrived in Jordan, where the witness, Dr KL , was at that time a member of the National Coalition. His task consisted of getting to know the dissidents, ascertaining their previous work and how to benefit from the information they had acquired . 

Dr KL’s goal at the time was to form an organization dealing with information about security officers and defectors and he considered the accused and three other officers fit for this task but his lack of funding and the Jordanian government’s failure to support his project thwarted the project. He tried again in Turkey where the idea met no success either. Dr KL’s assessment of the situation at the time concluded there was a will to continue the chaos and no efforts were made to launch the organization, which was the reason why he resigned from the opposition.

Dr KL told the panel he was a member of the political body in the Coalition at that stage with the commission holding meetings with friendly countries’ ambassadors including Germany. These ambassadors asked them to organize certain issues in order to continue their support.

As for his relationship with the accused, Dr KL said he met him in person four times, three times in Jordan and once in Istanbul. After getting to know him, he saw him as trustworthy with an excellent memory, an important capacity to write and draft, and an excellent legal knowledge.

He cited for example what happened regarding the investigation of the then head of the Coalition Ahmed Al-Jarba when he was detained. The accused told him he fully remembered the details and told him about it leading to a detailed press report which the witness later published. Witness Dr. KL confirmed that his confidence in the accused was based on many reasons, namely:

First reason: before the accused defected, many people from the regions of Zabadani, Madaya and Douma were arrested and when released from prison, spoke of their feelings towards a certain colonel in the al-Khatib branch who wished to help them.

Second reason: at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, security branches were divided into two parts. One section wanted a political solution while the other, made up of hardliners, wanted a military one. A handful of officers were pushing for reconciliation and the accused was among them, according to the Doctor. However, after the fourth or fifth month, the hard line current supported by Iran prevailed and the reconciliation movement was threatened.

Third reason: the accused Anwar Raslan was a Sunni and the witness had many examples of the way the regime treated the Sunni officer.

Fourth reason: the accused was from Houla where a massacre had occurred that no human conscience could possibly accept.

Dr. KL believed the accused did not seem to be suspicious of him while, at the same time, he was suffering from psychological problems and constantly feared a reprisal from the regime. He also showed great interest in his family above all and avoided mixing with the opposition because he knew exactly how the regime had infiltrated it.

Dr. KL conceded the accused had not told him he was working for Al-Khatib Branch 251. However, he proved familiar with Al-Khatib as he knew it belonged to state security and it was there that policies were introduced, its head had to be Alawite and the branch had a direct contact with the president.

He described how the management began in the days of Hafez al-Assad who turned the Khatib branch into a criminal dictatorship headed by Muhammad Nassif at the time. One of his tasks was to appoint ministers and managers in the state. Tawfiq Younes then followed him but he did not have as much experience as Nassif did so Younis brought in many officers from the administration to help him and the accused, Anwar Raslan, was among them.

As Raslan was head of the investigation department, the witness realised the accused had relatively little power as he only wrote reports while the head of the branch made suggestions and it was the administration that decided the fate of the detainees. In these circumstances, the accused would not have been able to release detainees unless he altered and wrote out reports for their benefit.

Dr. KL also emphasised that one of the real problems facing Anwar Raslan was the system of spying within security branches. The director of his office was actually charged with spying on him. In fact, they were all spying on each other within the branch. The presidential office was thus able to guarantee loyalty among all of its members by collecting information about each and everyone through its internal spy system.

The judges wanted to know how Dr. KL had learned about all these issues concerning the security branches so he described his personal experience when he had worked as a doctor while performing his mandatory service in the 99th Brigade in Hama in 1982.

At that time, after the events in Hama, he could personally sense the difference in treatment between the Alawite and Sunni officers. He then added it was during his long experience in Assad’s prisons when he was arrested for the first time from 2001 to 2004 and placed in a single cell. He was arrested once again from 2005 until his release pardoned for half of his term on 15 November 2011. He noted that political detainees were included from the beginning of the revolution. He then left Syria with his family on 30 December, 2011.

The judges asked Dr. KL whether the accused had discussed the nature of his work with the intelligence services and he replied that the accused was reserved and was biding his time although he would certainly speak in due course, adding:

 « I don’t expect Anwar to open the files of Syrian security because if he does, he and his family will be subjected to horrific revenge especially since he knows, just as I know, that there is cooperation between international intelligence and Syrian intelligence. So any officer in the Arab region who wishes to defect and exposes secrets will be pursued all over the world.”

« The Syrian security service is not an independent entity from the security services in Europe, America and Russia, and, as a European citizen, I offer a warning to all that European and Syrian intelligence services “dirty” files exist and dealing with them continues to this day. »

Concerning the accused’s silence, Dr. KL answered the judges saying:

“The accused will speak when he feels it is safe to speak. In my opinion, he has been chosen in particular as a means to pass on a threatening message to all dissident officers warning them to remain silent. I am convinced that dissident officers who defect from our country and live in Europe will be held accountable and Syrian intelligence files will be opened as well as others such as French and Russian files. »

Dr. KL then referred to crime in Syria that had taken on a sectarian character clearly targeting one sect rather than any other. The percentage is telling: among those who died, the destroyed cities and detainees 95% took place in Sunni cities. He stressed that the militias – as he described them – that fought with the regime were militias of a sectarian nature.

As for the nature of the assistance provided by the accused Ruslan to one of the former detainees, who told Dr. KL his story, the assistance of an investigator in a security branch means he abides by the truth and does not force the detainee to confess to something he did not do under torture, stressing the application of the law as it is in Syria is considered as “aid.”

At the end of the session, Dr. KL answered the defense lawyer’s question about the rivalry between the sects and their influence in power by speaking about several of his personal experiences where he saw for himself how Alawites had control over decisions in Syria.

He then continued his statement to the judges asking them not to issue a ruling against the accused, and his words were the following:

“When I see a dissident Sunni officer here who is being held accountable and the rest of the officers are asking us to do restorative justice, as Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, said before the Security Council, I feel we are fueling terrorism because it is a message that has a very bad effect on Sunni Syrians, especially since a large number of them are in Germany.”

« This message of meetings between victims and offenders would indicate that justice is selective at a time when a dissident Sunni officer is being held accountable and Rifaat al-Assad returns from France to Syria as it could fuel the ideology of extremism and terrorism.”

“There is a big difference between the commander and the sheriff and I am not saying here that Anwar Raslan is responsible because in my opinion he should have quit his job from the first day. However, people can’t imagine the day will come when they will also be held accountable.”

“I came here because I am one of the victims at a moment when our people feel safe about German justice against them. Yet we must be very careful and make it clear to all we feel it is unjust when justice begins with the victims and not the commander, Bashar al-Assad. In my opinion, most of the officers were under tremendous pressure yet at the same time I consider Bashar al-Assad mentally retarded and as a doctor I consider him in part responsible for what happened. »

The doctor witness continued: « I also consider the issue in Syria too complicated to be seen that way, so as a Syrian, I see that justice is selective here. Thus, in order to preserve the dignity of victims, let the Syrian people decide what kind of justice they want. It is their right, but on condition that it is applied to everyone!

In a private meeting after his testimony ended, Dr. KL conferred with the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research:

“I would prefer my testimony be available to the public, as I made it clear that I did not come here to defend or accuse, nor to confront my friend, the lawyer Anwar Al-Bunni, with whom I shared five years of imprisonment and who I met every morning between 2005 and 2010. I am here rather to work together to reveal the whole truth about what happened and is happening in Syria and distribute the responsibilities for the crimes being committed as I am one of the victims of these crimes.”

“Torture is applied systematically and comprehensively in all security institutions in Syria: in the army, the police, and even educational schools. In Syria, what is needed to be proven is not that torture occurred but rather the claim that it did not happen – a task that was almost impossible in Syria’s prisons before the revolution whereas, after the revolution, just staying alive until the end of the investigation has become close to a miracle! »

He concluded his meeting with us saying: « Personally, I will not feel justice has been dealt with while Bashar al-Assad and his sectarian regime remain in power. He is the one who is primarily responsible for everything that has happened and is taking place, and without the West and the international community abandoning its support and protection, it makes no sense in my view, whatever kind of justice they have established,” he said.