A belt allegedly used for strangulation is left behind on a corpse.
Syria's alleged 'killing machine'
09:55 - Source: CNN

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Story highlights

Expert: Syrian defector has "direct evidence" of "systematic torture and killing"

Defector provided thousands of photographs of victims, a new report states

The defector, codenamed "Caesar," allegedly photographed as many as 50 bodies a day

"This is a smoking gun," one lawyer says

CNN  — 

A team of internationally renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts has found “direct evidence” of “systematic torture and killing” by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the lawyers on the team say in a new report.

Their report, based on thousands of photographs of dead bodies of alleged detainees killed in Syrian government custody, would stand up in an international criminal tribunal, the group says.

CNN’s “Amanpour” was given the report in a joint exclusive with The Guardian newspaper.

“This is a smoking gun,” said David Crane, one of the report’s authors. “Any prosecutor would like this kind of evidence – the photos and the process. This is direct evidence of the regime’s killing machine.”

Crane, the first chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, indicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor went on to become the first former head of state convicted of war crimes since World War II. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the photographs, documents and testimony referenced in the report, and is relying on the conclusions of the team behind it, which includes international criminal prosecutors, a forensic pathologist, an anthropologist and an expert in digital imaging.

The bodies in the photos showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing, according to the report.

In a group of photos of 150 individuals examined in detail by the experts, 62% of the bodies showed emaciation – severely low body weight with a hollow appearance indicating starvation. The majority of all of the victims were men most likely aged 20-40.

A complex numbering system was also used to catalog the corpses, with only the relevant intelligence service knowing the identities of the corpses. It was an effort, the report says, to keep track of which security service was responsible for the death, and then later to provide false documentation that the person had died in a hospital.

One of the three lawyers who authored the report – Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone – likened the images to those of Holocaust survivors.

The emaciated bodies were the product of starvation as a method of torture, “reminiscent of the pictures of those [who] were found still alive in the Nazi death camps after World War II,” he said in a CNN interview.

“This evidence could underpin a charge of crimes against humanity – without any shadow of a doubt,” de Silva told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “Of course, it’s not for us to make a decision. All we can do is evaluate the evidence and say this evidence is capable of being accepted by a tribunal as genuine.”

Throughout the civil war in Syria, al-Assad’s regime has denied accusations of human rights abuses and blamed “terrorists” for the deadly violence.

The report draws its evidence from the testimony of a Syrian government defector codenamed “Caesar” and almost 27,000 photographs he provided; in all 55,000 such images were brought out of the country.

According to the report, Caesar worked as photographer in the military police. Once the war broke out, his work consisted entirely of documenting “killed detainees.”

He claimed to have photographed as many as 50 bodies a day.

At one point he took the unusual step of photographing a group of bodies to show that it “looked like a slaughterhouse,” according to the report.

The fact that all the bodies were