Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer
Luna Watfa deals with the case for the second defense counsel for the accused, Raslan, Mr. Booker, which began on 06.01.2022 following the conclusion of another defense lawyer Mr. Vratsky and his case.
Mr. Booker began by saying he was not speaking in the name of the Syrian regime as a defense attorney, but only in the name of his client, Raslan, who was born, raised and practiced his professional life in Syria, whose homeland will remain the same as for many people who came to this trial as attendees, press or witnesses, as all of them suffered the same common fate in a dictatorship.
Mr Booker stressed the fact that the defense team for the accused had never aimed to deny or cover up the crimes of the Assad regime, but rather to defend people only.
Mr. Booker, as a German citizen, considered that participating in this trial, especially with the background of the history of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Third Reich, had taught him to be humble, because luck and great destiny enabled him to live in a constitutional state, where the accused Raslan is free to defend himself, and added :
“We can be very happy about the fact the accused Anwar Raslan is free to defend himself which is very important to us and to the Syrian community that is here. The court has already determined the inhumane conditions that prevailed in Syria and we have no other opinion on that issue before this court as the main topic of this trial is the question of whether and how Raslan became vulnerable to legal prosecution in this context.”
What did Raslan criminally condemn? Should one assume that the plaintiffs’ allegations have been confirmed? Was the accused a government employee who ordered torture or bore responsibility for it until he left office on 7th December, 2012? Or did he decide to stop being a criminal when he decided to defect? Or was it a previous decision he made before the day he defected? Who was he really and what did he do?
Following this introduction, Mr. Booker drew attention to the fact that the evidence in this trial was being presented ten years after the time of the crime; at a distance of 3900 km from the scene where it was committed; and not accessible to any of the parties to the case.
However, in the meantime, his client provided information voluntarily over a long period. It occurred once in 2015 when he filed a criminal complaint and again in 2017 with the Federal Police in another case in Baden-Württemberg state. The accused provided information about his activities and explained the violent method of interrogations in Syria; about himself and his work in Syria; the background from which he came and in which regime he was raised. Mr Booker noted that his client had provided the information voluntarily and credibly and none of that information was refuted. He added his client wanted to say more but the pressure of time prevented him from doing so.
Mr. Booker stressed that no one in the court room could put himself in the position of the accused after 2011. The situation in Syria was completely different at the time, and he quoted his client as saying previously:
“I learned from my lawyer about an article published by Der Spiegel in 2019 addressing the extent of people’s concern including the presence of a large number of ISIS fighters in Syrian prisons who will be released and return to their homes soon. These are exactly the fears I was reporting until March 2011 when everything changed. I was able to identify with the system until then but not at a later date.”
Emphasizing that his client was one of the best students when studying law, he then found himself after 2011, in a new and completely different system characterized by the increase in terrorism and revenge operations. Mr Booker described how he had actually tried, at the beginning of April 2011, to object to those responsible for the violent actions of others but he was accused at that time. His client described how he had tried to help the prisoners as much as possible, which became more difficult and impossible later. It all ended in June 2011 due to the withdrawal of his powers and his being frozen in Al Khatib.
“He then decided on a plan to defect but did not wish to leave without his family. His concern for his family was justified and there is no evidence revealing he had been given a chance earlier to split with his family. Doubts were raised about the reason for his defection, such as the idea the regime was falling apart and he had chosen the winning side at the time; or perhaps he was a spy for the regime; or why he helped witnesses and not others; or maybe because they were actors, or famous people, or artists. There is no evidence at all to back up these assumptions. How about a simple premise that the people he helped were the ones he had the chance to help? Motives can only be inferred on the basis of the accused’s confession, which he has not refuted.”
Mr. Booker then indicated the evidence confirmed his client’s admission that his behaviour was consistent with what he kept saying concerning his statements about his intention and the positions he took were correct and not the other way around. Mr Booker’s client realized his job was of no value and, as far as he was concerned, there was no way out, so he decided to defect and all other reasons for his decision were mere speculation by others backed up by no evidence and his conviction cannot be based on them.
Mr. Booker then touched on the Caesar files – and did not deny their importance at all – rather he praised and valued Professor Rothschild’s work on the images of the victims and their injuries and stressed they were of great media value against the Assad regime.
In his opinion though, the Caesar files were not related to the Koblenz trial and were not related to the period or place where the crimes were committed in the Al-Khatib Branch 251.
Mr. Booker began to speak about the witnesses and their testimonies, but, contrary to the professionalism of lawyers, he dealt with the witnesses and their personalities describing some with their inappropriate behaviour. He mentioned one of them, who had attended on 01.07.2020 who was rude and embarrassing to all the witnesses who came to this trial who wanted to do something important. For Mr Booker, they were the ones who demanded respect. He said that this witness’s testimony was disastrous and he had to be reprimanded several times.
He claimed: “Expert witnesses, documents, etc. were interesting but not relevant to the issue of guilt.” And with these words, he also began to criticize some German witnesses who held positions that required them to have more information in the circumstances. This proved disappointing, as none of them gave a realistic explanation for Raslan’s entry into Germany – under the influence of America and Germany, and then accepting his right of asylum, all of them left question marks. In fact, the information they offered had no value for him. He called them young, inexperienced experts. In conclusion, he remarked that what was said was not very beneficial to all but it was not harmful either.
One of the Syrian prosecutors who spoke about them said that he was only attractive to the media behaving completely differently there in the hall from in front of the camera, and added he did not like his performance in front of the camera, but it only affected him personally. The important thing, however, was that this prosecutor did not have a specific memory of Raslan.
Mr. Booker confirmed what his colleague Mr. Vratsky had asserted about Al-Bunni’s role in this trial and his influence on it. He said that Al-Bunni seriously wanted to confirm the identity of the accused through his personal arrest in 2006, which had nothing to do with the crimes seen in this trial. He added: “The extent to which he continued to work behind the scenes for this is something that can only be guessed at.”
“The death of a detainee (whose name was withheld) and the statements of the witness H.M. who blamed the accused cannot be substantiated by any statement or evidence. Another act that led to the death was that another prisoner knocked him to the ground,” Mr. Booker added in another context to another witness.
Yet another witness testified that he was trying to visualize the events in his head to be able to describe them in the criminal police interrogation. Mr. Booker commented that if the witness said he was beaten and when someone said he was imagining stories then a witness like him cannot be relied upon.
Another witness who attended the ninetieth session of this trial confirmed his vision of Raslan from when he was blindfolded. Yet Booker remarked the witness’s eye was injured at that time as a result of torture and therefore the results of the trial could not be based on such a testimony.
Mr. Booker ended his speech on this point by emphasizing that all that was mentioned was a list of many names that could not contribute in an way to determining the accused’s criminal responsibility.
Mr. Booker concluded his case with some defense witnesses who praised the personality of the accused, Raslan, and quoted statements from their testimonies, one of which was for the witness who helped the accused defect and came to court on 04 November, 2021. His words were the following:
“I trust Raslan. If he wanted to deceive me, it would have cost me my life. It was clear to me when I said to Raslan: I am packing my bags to defect. I knew his morals, I had known him since 1992, I knew who he was and where he came from.”