Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Luna Watfa’s report on 6th January, 2022 concerns the final pleadings of the defense team for the accused, Anwar Raslan, with Mr. Vratsky, one of the defense lawyers. He began naming the difficulties the trial faced noting the most important of which was the Corona pandemic, which coincided with the trial’s launching.
Mr Vratsky also referred to the universality of this trial in terms of its submission to a law – “universal jurisdiction” – that is not related to the place of the crime or the nationality of the accused.
He confirmed that it was not possible to question the regime’s crimes and the importance of prosecuting war criminals who have committed violations against humanity that have been proven to be committed by the Syrian regime yet these crimes should not be denied.
“Injustice has occurred in Syria and continues every day because Assad is still in power but these criminals should not believe they are beyond accountability.”
Mr. Vratsky then proceeded to explain the idea of criminal responsibility on individuals and direct and indirect participation in the commission of crimes, and considered that determining this participation for his client is what naturally leads to conviction if proven, and added:
“The question before the court is whether Raslan can be held responsible for the Assad regime on behalf of the regime? Obviously, this is not in line with justice as individuals should not be punished for committing mass crimes for which the regime is responsible, but rather personal responsibility should be clarified.”
“To what extent can employees of the totalitarian criminal regime object to crimes in the security branch basement? They can’t simply pick up the phone when something like this happens and complain to their superiors as this would put them and their families in great danger,” explained Mr. Vratsky, “and it cannot be concluded if Raslan was actually able to escape without his family”.
Yet everyone saw how many witnesses were afraid to give their names because they had family members still in Syria. He confirmed his client had few other options which made him take the only available decision which was to stay and wait until he had the opportunity to defect.
Mr. Vratsky continued, saying that the knowledge of right and wrong was a prerequisite for deciding what was right, and someone who had not pleaded guilty and had not been directly proven to have done so could be convicted.
But, on the other hand, international criminal law binding on the principle of guilt must find a way to arrive at individual responsibility and how systemic injustice can be attributed to a particular person, in particular senior political and military leaders who are clearly initiators and have influence.
From this angle, as Mr. Vratsky said, the criminal responsibility of others such as Tawfiq Younis and Hafez Makhlouf can be seen more specifically which made Mr Vratsky wonder why they were seeing Raslan in the dock and not Assad or Makhlouf. Raslan certainly belonged to that group, as he said, but no one testified that he tortured them or personally ordered it. On the contrary, he received a punishment because he had helped the prisoners and eventually defected, as Mr. Vratsky said, and confirmed that his client was not able either to change the situation at the time or to undertake decisions by himself.
He then referred to the testimony of the convict, Iyad al-Gharib, against his client, and said that this person’s knowledge of his client’s duties in 2012 was questionable, as the stranger himself was at that time in his city of Muhassan, about 500 km away, so how could he know that?
Iyad al-Gharib could not possibly have known that Raslan’s authority had been frozen by Tawfiq Yunis within the Al-Khatib branch and knowing that Raslan was head of the investigation department does not negate the fact that Tawfiq Yunis made those internal changes and removed his client from his powers and entrusted his duties to others.
He then cited a second remark by Iyad al-Gharib in his testimony when he said he did not know about Raslan except he defected but he also knew he was skilled in his position. Mr Vratsky then wondered how it was possible to know nothing about the accused and then say he was skilled in his work. This was considered a contradiction in his testimony against Raslan. He also clarified his testimony himself confirming Raslan sometimes punished the jailers for committing transgressions, and that as a Sunni officer he could not do more.
Mr. Vratsky cited some witnesses who testified saying they did not expect the accused to be able to do anything more given his position as a Sunni officer. Some confirmed Hafez Makhlouf’s role of leadership and the subordination of the fictitious branches considering the Forty Department belonged to the Al-Khatib branch, except the Forty Department Head, Hafez Makhlouf, was able to control both considering the relationship between himself and Bashar al-Assad, on the one hand, and open powers given to him on the other.
Mr. Vratsky then divided the remaining court witnesses into three categories:
One of the groups had only heard of Raslan, or were shown pictures of him by al-Bunni which was why they recognized him; another group had actually lived with him but confirmed his assistance to them; and a final group who believed they recognized him either thanks to recognising his voice or having seen him when the blindfold slipped while they were in the interrogation room and hypothetically Raslan was there too.
“Most of them have one thing in common: they were talking about Syria, not Raslan! They considered it as a rumour in the media: a political trial.” Mr. Vratsky added, « Gentlemen Judges, I do not want to deny the witnesses were subjected to terrible suffering, but here in this trial the only thing that matters is determining whether or not Raslan was immorally responsible for these crimes. »
Mr. Vratsky insisted there were many facts proving his client was treated with respect from his position as head of the Al Khatib investigation department previously. He had tried to help detainees as confirmed by some witnesses in their testimonies before the court, and among these facts, he said:
First: With Iyad al-Gharib’s testimony, there was no indication that his accused client, Anwar Raslan, dealt violently with the detainees so the conviction of his client cannot be deduced from al-Gharib’s testimony.
Second: Nothing can be inferred from the witness’s testimony who came on 07.10.2020 looking for a detained brother. Mr Raslan even indicated that after hearing the testimony of this witness, he had not seen the witness before and did not know the person the witness spoke about, neither by name nor by form.
Third: One of the witnesses, who said he was a neighbor of the accused in Syria and also in Jordan, confirmed that he had been released thanks to the accused’s help while he was in Deir ez-Zor. This does not mean his client had authority even in Deir ez-Zor but rather because the two families knew each other, his client was able to help him. Perhaps, as he said, the officials in Deir ez-Zor security branch did not know his client’s powers had been limited. He confirmed there was no certitude.
Fourth: There was the testimony of one of the witnesses and plaintiffs, W.M., who did not remember whether the minutes of his interrogation with the criminal police had been read to him saying they had not although it was the accepted protocol. He could not even identify the number 251 “which is the number of the al-Khatib branch” either and although he lived next to the branch, he could not locate it.
Yet it was astonishing, as Mr Booker noted, how the witness was able to accurately recount every detail of his arrest even though he had been arrested more than once, even twice in 2011 alone.
Mr. Vratsky, the lawyer, then touched on many of the witnesses and prosecutors who came to the court previously, commenting on each one’s story benefiting his client or questioning their testimony compared to the records of their interrogations with the Federal Criminal Police, such as the lack of certainty of some concerning the presence of the accused during the investigations conducted with them in Branch of Al-Khatib. He also quoted one of the witnesses when she spoke about her meeting with Anwar Raslan saying: “He was not harsh with me, I was not tortured and in some way I felt that he wanted to help.”
However, when Mr. Vratsky came to the witness lawyer, Mr. Anwar al-Bunni, he talked a lot about him, and he even started by saying Mr. al-Bunni had once said in one of the Federal Criminal Police investigations he had been beaten when the Syrian security arrested him in 2006. In another investigation, he said he had not been beaten on that day and the next he said he had been hit, Vratsky added: « This detail has nothing to do with our case but is a signal to help us assess him, since his role has become clearer after that. »
To emphasize Al-Bunni’s role, Mr. Vratsky began by addressing the large number of witnesses who came with Al-Bunni’s help to the court and commented on the story of each one of them separately. For example, he mentioned the story of one of the witnesses who told the police, “because it was written in their interrogation report,” that he had seen a picture of the accused with Anwar al-Bunni. The witness later said in court it was a mistake in the interrogation report, as he had not see the picture there, but it was when a movie was being filmed about Anwar. The criminal police investigator was then summoned and Al-Bunni confirmed the validity of what was stated in their report with the witness’s statements.
Another witness, who also came with Al-Bunni’s help, confirmed to the criminal police he had seen the “accused”, and yet when he came to court he said he was not sure of that. Another witness said that there was a mistake in Mr. Al-Bunni’s documentation of his testimony stating they were not his words.
Finally, Mr. Vratsky said: “Al-Bunni appears behind every event and every witness, and also made mistakes in documenting testimonies, thus showing the extent of his influence on the witnesses and this trial!”
Mr Vrasky then started with witnesses who had testified in favor of his client, such as Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, who said that Anwar Raslan was a Sunni officer from Houla and that he represented many examples of what it meant to be a Sunni officer in Syria.
There was also another witness who helped the accused to defect, and he himself was a dissident police officer. He spoke about his statements regarding a conversation that took place between him and the accused and how the latter told him he had helped some detainees, but he was unable to help everyone. He also disclosed to him his desire to defect and asked for his help in that case. In short, it can be said that there were some who clearly met Raslan and he helped them. In short, they were not tortured and no orders were given to do so.
On the other hand, there were witnesses who thought they had met him because they had been told he was the head of the investigation department. But we know that he did not participate in many interrogations and that there were many other interrogators present. No criminal responsibility can be established from this.” Mr. Vratsky explained.
Mr. Vratsky concluded his plea by saying: “I can understand many witnesses and prosecutors because here sits an “accused” who was working with a hated criminal regime. I can understand them when they think that this person should be punished and not released.
But ladies and gentlemen, here Raslan sits after he defected from the Syrian regime and fled with his family here and before his escape he tried to help as many as possible which also put his life at risk. This trial has not only drawn media attention, it is also being presented as a political trial as well, but it should not be like that. This trial must be treated as a criminal procedure.
Ladies and gentlemen, judges, you can name the criminal officials in the Assad regime: Assad, Makhlouf and the executioners, and then show this trial as a political trial, but it is conducted according to the law. They have pointed the finger of accusation at these officials and identified their crimes and the torture they had committed. Raslan should not be accused, because he is innocent of that!
Thank you all ».