Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Luna Watfa’s report follows on Mr Klinge, the German Public Prosecutor General, and his closing argument before the court in the case of Anwar Raslan, who considers the prosecution of criminals in Syria a necessity for international peace and security because the crimes committed there threaten not only Syria but the whole world.
Mr Klinge detailed all the charges against the accused Anwar Raslan according to German law and evidence from victims’ testimonies, expert witnesses and documents heard since the trial began in April 2020.
“Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world”
The Prosecutor General, Mr. Klinge, began his final statement in the trial of the accused Anwar Raslan by citing the Austrian-Jewish writer Jan Amiri, persecuted by the Nazis and who committed suicide in 1978. Mr Klinge’s aim was to draw attention to the terrible impact for all the victims who came to the trial, as prosecutors and witnesses, of their experience of detention and the cruelty they were subjected to in their testimonies and how their lives would no longer be the same.
Some of them were still suffering from the traumatic effects to this day and some of them felt the need to conceal their identities which also led to negative reactions as some even refrained from attending the court.
Mr. Klinge stressed the need for these victims to feel there was someone on their side and that they were not at all alone. He hoped that at least some of them would feel that they had a home in this world once again.
The Prosecutor General saw these trials as an indispensable necessity for international peace and security because the crimes committed threaten not only Syria but also the whole world. On the one hand, awareness of the importance of these trials, in his opinion, was so far still insufficient while, on the other hand, he admitted revealing such testimonies might awaken a state of shock for the victims of detention and torture, so he hoped that justice and humanity would be put on the right legal track and that the German state could secure the necessary safety for the victims.
It is worth noting that this pleading lasted about six hours so Mr. Klinge and Mrs. Bowles read it alternately with several breaks as Mr Klinge detailed all the charges against the accused Anwar Raslan according to German law and evidence from victims’ testimonies, expert witnesses and documents heard since the trial began in April 2020.
Following this impressive introduction from the public prosecution, Mr. Klinge personally addressed the accused, Anwar Raslan, telling him his criminal responsibility for committing these crimes was not related to seeing him personally torturing a detainee, but rather related to the knowledge acquired of how the security branches worked, the chain of command and the nature of his previous work as head of the investigation department in Al-Khatib branch. In the general opinion of the Prosecution and the judges, Raslan committed these crimes by virtue of his position and responsibility in which he was perceived as an accomplice.
Mr. Klinge did not hesitate to relate Assad regime’s crimes since the beginning of the Syrian revolution referring to the establishment of a crisis cell and how the army was used to suppress demonstrations in a brutal and rapid manner. He also confirmed the regime’s methodology of arrest, torture and killing under torture which was fully clarified by the witnesses’ testimonies during this trial, as he said, emphasizing once again many were killed during that period and many of them are still in prisons to this day, and that all this has been happening on a daily basis since then.
Mr Klinge then spoke about the city of Damascus and its surroundings whose security responsibilities were divided among several branches: military, political, air and state security. These branches tried to impose strict security control and carried out massive arrest campaigns. As a result of arrest, torture and killing under torture, mass graves were found in the vicinity of Damascus to bury detainees’ bodies.
Al-Khatib Branch 251 is one of the State Security branches which contains a prison that usually accommodates two hundred detainees which eventually exceeded a thousand after detention and torture took on a new dimension at the beginning of the revolution. The Forty Department, which supported the al-Khatib branch with its arrests, was headed by Hafez Makhlouf and was responsible for controlling the military checkpoints and the arrests responsible for then taking the detainees to the al-Arba’een Department building and then directly to the al-Khatib branch.
Civilians were violated, tortured, detained, handcuffed, blindfolded and beaten indiscriminately and violently by many security agents. The purpose of this was not to obtain information but uniquely to subjugate the civilians, impose control over them and suppress them by force to the extent that torture systemically accompanied interrogations.
Detainees did not know their fate as the officers were determined to prevent the detainees from finding find rest or calm at every moment of the day. The “welcome party” was well-known to all the detainees on their arrival as based on witnesses’ descriptions stressing that torture in this early stage of detention could also cause the killing of some detainees who could not escape from it.
“During arrest violence continued without knowing the reason for it all.”
Mr. Klinge touched on all the methods of torture mentioned by witnesses and prosecutors. He included the unsanitary and inhumane conditions in which they were kept in detention, the huge numbers of detainees grouped into small cells where most of them could not lie down or sit most of the time not knowing night from day. The air they breathed was so bad with obviously no air conditioning nor could they see the setting sun from their prison space.
Aside from physical torture, this unhealthy environment led to the spread of diseases and epidemics, especially skin diseases, but the worst of all for many was being able to hear the voices of others being tortured at every moment.
Mr Lkinge then moved on to discuss the accused, Raslan, noting he was present there from April 2011 to September 2012, and during this period, no less than 4000 people were tortured in Al-Khatib branch. The prosecutor also confirmed the accused could clearly hear the sounds of torture.
Mrs. Bowles, the Prosecutor, began by reciting the names and stories of twenty-four detainees who, despite the likelihood of their being traumatized by repeating their account of what had happened, came to this trial as prosecutors and witnesses without whose presence it would not have had the same reality.
She started with Prosecutor Firas Fayyad, whose testimony had a clear impact on the Public Prosecution’s plea as he cited it in every section of the torture oath, and began with the generalization of the torture, the ghost and sexual torture he was subjected to;
the plaintiff Wassim Miqdad, how he had been tortured while seeing others being tortured;
the plaintiff Hussein Hamdoun, the security conditions he was subjected to and the number of detainees in his cell;
the plaintiff, Ruwaida Kanaan, and her arrest because she collected medicines for injured protesters and was subjected to sexual abuse;
the plaintiff, Muhammad al-Shaar, and how he was tortured – among other means mentioned – by depriving him of sleep and making him sit for three continuous days;
the plaintiff, Musallam al-Quwatli and their use of electricity to torture him after a conversation with the accused Raslan inside the Branch and the witness’s knowledge he was in al-Khatib branch which explained why he was tortured to oblige him to deny his very knowledge of the place where he was arrested;
the plaintiff, Nouran Al-Ghamyan, arrested with her mother in Al-Khatib branch, and the different means of torture inflicted on her including pushing her alone, throwing hot liquid on her body, sexual harassment and ghosting (suspended by her wrists for days on end);
the plaintiff A.H tortured in order to obtain the names of others;
the plaintiff Firas Al-Shater, subjected to torture, attempted sexual assault and psychological intimidation.
Mrs. Bowles continued with the names of other witnesses and prosecutors, confirming all their testimonies, detailing the torture that was practiced on them and the various methods. She added the baseless reasons for their arrest, how they were placed in inhuman conditions and finally, how this affected them and how all of them, without exception, still suffered from psychological effects. She drew attention to the fact that most of them were still undergoing psychiatric treatment as a result.
When Mrs. Bowles finished relating the hardships of these torture survivors, she began with Anwar Raslan’s biography, stressing the point that torture had been a systematic method for the Syrian regime since the eighties, especially after the Hama massacre in 1982. She also talked about the accused’s studies and work with the intelligence.
Anwar Raslan was present as the head of the investigation department in al-Khatib branch from the beginning of 2011 where no less than thirty employees worked under him. The cells existed and all sorts of crimes occurred from torture to sexual abuse to systematic mistreatment and sometimes even death during his presence in the branch.
In all, for the Public Prosecution, the accused was present and witness to all of these crimes and subsequently aware of what was happening. He knew detainees were killed under torture. He was obviously one of the regime’s men, and, by virtue of his position in the middle, between issuing orders and implementing them it was evident he was in a position of strength.
As for his allegations in his defense statement that he was frozen in his position and was not allowed to make decisions, Mr. Klinge considered this argument edeasy to refute because many witnesses, including the convict Iyad Al-Gharib in his confessions, all made it clear the accused had influence and authority. Indeed, he did his job well, and not only that, the accused had participated in high-level meetings, such as meeting with Ali Mamlouk twice, as the witnesses reported during their release, and also the final meeting he attended as a representative of the General Intelligence, as stated by a defense witness in his testimony.
The accused defected after a meeting that took place at the Ministry of Interior in November 2012 where he was present in his capacity as a representative of General Intelligence and yet a person suspended from his work cannot hold such a position only a month before his defection, according to Dr Klinge.
Besides, it should be noted that the accused had not used this argument previously, not even in testimonies by witnesses who spoke about his defection or even helped him to defect. Neither did the accused use it himself when he applied for asylum in Germany, nor even when he went to the German police to tell them he feared persecution by the regime. German authorities had no knowledge of this information prior to his arrest either. In fact, the very first time the accused used it was for his own defense in court.
When Mr. Klinge referred to the defendant’s defense statement, he drew attention to his description of the situation in Syria after 15 March, 2011:
“After the start of the demonstrations against the regime in Syria on March 15, 2011, everything changed, as chaos appeared in the country.”
Mr. Klinge commented on his remarks as he considered it most unlikely a dissident would describe the situation as chaotic because it was not. Instead, it was due to the regime’s suppression of demonstrations and demonstrators which was not at all the accused’s description as “an innocent person would not describe it like this.”
Mr Klinge continued describing the situation where it was not only the repression of the demonstrations but also the arrests that began at that time as well as the subsequent torture, ill-treatment, poor health care and inhumane conditions and meanwhile during all that period, the accused was head of the investigation department and could hear the cries of the tortured.
Nonetheless, the accused declared it was the assistant head of the branch, Lieutenant Colonel Abd al-Mounem al-Nasan who was torturing the detainees. He even denied “ghost” torture was used in the Khatib branch. In his testimony, Iyad Al-Gharib talked about bodies that had been removed from the Al-Khatib branch, and it was not in his interest to lie, so there was no objection to it as the public prosecutor found it to be true.
“You are either able or incapable, there is no third option!”
Mr. Klinge pointed to the apparent contradiction in the defendant’s defense statement when he said he was able to help many detainees while declaring he was helpless, blind, frozen in his position and unable to make decisions. “Either you are able or incapable, there is no third option!” Mr. Klinge confirmed.
Mr. Klinge confirmed this point by citing Iyad Al-Gharib’s testimony several times stating it could not be refuted as there was no reason to think the accused was not responsible especially since he was working at that period between the Khatib branch and the Forty Division.
Also, the testimony of witness Muhammad al-Shaar proved Abd al-Mounem al-Nassan was of a lower rank than the accused so it would not be possible for him to carry out the torture on his own without orders from the accused.
Then Mr. Klinge mentioned the testimony of the witness, Hassan Mahmoud, and what happened with his family when they tried to find his detained brother, Doctor Hayan Mahmoud, as they had met the accused and were then sent to Harasta Military Hospital to be told after several bodies were shown to them and their inability to find the body of his brother among them:
“Choose whatever corpse you want and get out of here!”
There was reference also to the journalist Christoph Reuter’s testimony who said the accused told him of a meeting he had between 2011 and 2012 with Ali Mamlouk and his attempt during this meeting to mediate in favour of detainees when Mr Klinge again confirmed:
“Such a meeting does not take place for an ordinary person!”
A defense witness also attended the court on 6 October 2021 who had been arrested in Al-Mayadeen in Al-Raqqa, and where the accused was able to mediate for his release. All this means the accused Raslan, had the necessary authority to act in his workplace in Damascus and the areas outside Damascus.
The Public Prosecutor did not fail to mention the testimonies of the Red Crescent doctors who came to the court as witnesses and also confirmed the presence of bodies that were transferred to the Red Crescent Hospital from Al-Khatib branch.
They also confirmed the poor health condition of the detainees and the signs of torture, starvation and exhaustion while their general appearance showed them dirty from lack of showering or the presence of any personal care allowed there resulting in an increase in skin diseases even without direct torture.
These same doctors also described how the detainees were not given the necessary medicines and were not treated correctly. They admitted prescribing treatment for the detainees but were not certain they were receiving them. They believed they were not receiving their treatment worsening their condition and even leading to the death of some as a result of medical neglect.
“Despite knowing what was happening on a daily basis in Al-Khatib Branch, the accused continued working there until the end of 2012!”
The Public Prosecution emphasized that from all the testimonies mentioned concerning the methodology of violence and torture against detainees in the Al-Khatib Branch cells, the accused was clearly responsible in his capacity as the head of the investigation department. Not only that, there were witnesses who came to the court and testified to their arrests before the revolution, specifically, the witness arrested in 2007, and another in 2010, and the defense witness, Abdel Nasser Al-Ayed, who was arrested in February 2011, a month before the start of the revolution.
All former detainees spoke about torture and poor health, psychological and physical conditions, and yet the Public Prosecution was not satisfied with simply listening to witnesses against the accused. He used the testimonies of witnesses who were summoned by the defense in his favour who helped him defect when the accused was an intelligence representative in a meeting of high-ranking officials and officers.
Many other witnesses were mentioned describing what happened to them in the branch. Then it was the judges turn with a request to try and imagine that they were in the room and could hear the screams of the detainees constantly from these same people who had come to the court and had given their testimony here and those were the same victims who had spent all those long days exposed to interrogations and torture sessions.
One of the witnesses spoke about Cell number five saying:
“It is so dark that you can hardly see anything. There is no window there, neither night nor day, only a small hole in the door from which some air and light enter when they let it open. It was like the grave itself.”
On several occasions, Abu AlGhadab, (a nickname meaning “the father of anger”) by far the most notorious jailer known in the High Provincial Court Hall now, was mentioned by the Prosecutor as the most cited jailer by witnesses and prosecutors, who carried out the most brutal unjust torture, and also Mimati (another nickname among the jailers) Both worked under the direction of the head of the investigation department, in other words the “accused”.
One of the witnesses spoke of his arrest during Ramadan, and in his cell he saw a child no more than seven years old with signs of torture. Mr. Klinge turned to the judges:
“It is very difficult to see signs of torture on a child! We adults would not tolerate that so how could it be with a child? Even the witness himself said: Why should a child go through such an experience!! .
Another witness told the judges about an elderly man who died in his cell; Iyad al-Ghareeb spoke of a detainee who was hit on the head with an iron bar while detainees were being taken off the bus towards the branch who fell dead after the blow; another witness saw four bodies; and others saw three bodies. A doctor at the Red Crescent Hospital also confirmed his vision of ten bodies.
Mr. Klinge addressed the judges:
“If you count everything mentioned by witnesses, it comes to thirty bodies.”
The prosecutor did not seem to wish to take into account the number of bodies mentioned in the witnesses’ testimonies as they could have been arrested at the same time or even twice and he feared they might have seen the same corpse.
So despite the number of murders under torture and others increasing during the trial reaching 68 bodies, the prosecution stuck to thirty people killed under torture supported by evidence and witnesses’ testimonies considering the rest lacked evidence. As a result, the accused was charged with thirty crimes of murder under torture.
Anwar Raslan was accused of committing crimes against humanity which occurred while he was carrying out his daily work as head of the investigation department between April 2011 and September 2012 and depending on the system of universal jurisdiction compatible with German criminal law. Many crimes against humanity had already been committed during this period, as confirmed by the Public Prosecution, adding they were crimes related to physical and psychological torture and sexual crimes.
Mr Klinge insisted on the fact that the victims found themselves facing an unjust criminal regime. During the period from April 2011 to September 2012, at least 4,000 detainees were tortured, ill-treated and deprived of adequate food and sleep.
Systematic mistreatment does not imply uniquely what happened to the prosecutors and witnesses there according to what the Court was told. It refers to the fact that mistreatment was still being inflicted on every detainee there today including every member of the security personnel in Al-Khatib branch who contributed to and incited others to carry out these crimes.
Sexual violence and sexual abuse also had a share in the Public Prosecution report, relying mainly on the testimony of the witness Firas Fayyad and the two women, Ruwaida Kanaan and Roham Hawash. Moreover, this also had societal consequences as its impact was not only on the victim during the period of detention, but also after release from prison when the victim is forced to confront a society that does not accept this kind of violation.
“As head of the investigation department, the accused Raslan had the authority to control the investigation and everything related to it.”
Mr. Klinge added that many witnesses mentioned their fear prior to arrest of the Al-Khatib branch due to its notorious reputation. However, it does not mean that the accused should be held responsible for all the crimes committed by the regime there but only what falls within the framework of his responsibility, even if the torture methodology abuse was well known in all security branch prisons.
The accused’s responsibility remained limited to the period for which he would be held accountable from April 2011 until September 2012 because he was aware of the torture inflicted on detainees. He also knew about killings under torture and other ill-treatment he personally practiced.
The public prosecutor considered illogical the argument that he had stayed on with the regime to protect his family. The accused spoke with his brother-in-law, who also came as a witness to the court in May 2012, about the question of dissent but he remained in the branch nonetheless.
The Houla massacre occurred in the same month and yet he remained in his position although the regime’s position was much weaker at the time and everyone was aware of the situation. Mr. Klinge continued by noting that the accused was received in Jordan with open arms because everyone thought he would help them against the regime with his experience and information. However, this did not happen.
Mr. Klinge concluded his plea before the judges’ panel after examining the aforementioned evidence and determining the individual responsibility of the accused for his participation during the period in which he worked as head of the investigation department and the apparent contradiction in his words when he expressed his desire to defect and delayed doing so for sixteen months after the start of the revolution.
The Public Prosecution found the accused guilty of committing crimes against humanity in 4000 cases of torture, 30 cases of murder under torture and crimes of sexual assault and deprivation of liberty.
Therefore, the Public Prosecution, represented by Mr. Klinge and Mrs. Bowles, called on the panel of judges to sentence the accused to life imprisonment with a special emphasis on guilt, which they considered to be of a high level of gravity, so that there should be no suspension of the sentence after fifteen years and he should bear the full costs of the trial.