Syria Descends

Young boy tortured and killed by regime becomes rallying call.

In Iran, Neda Soltan became the face of the Green Revolution after video of her bloody death hit the Internet. Now, in Syria, a 13-year old boy named Hamza al-Khateeb has become her equivalent after his tortured corpse was given to his family. The animal-like savagery of the Assad regime is making the Syrian people more determined to be victorious, even as Secretary Clinton complains of the international community’s dithering.

The body of turned over to Hamza al-Khateeb's family on May 24 was covered in bruises, burns and scars. The injuries indicate electrocution and whippings. His penis was cut off. He was shot in each arm and knee and in his chest. His neck was snapped. After his family made a video detailing the injuries, the father went missing. The incident sparked new protests and intensified current ones. Children and teenagers came out to demonstrate in his name, and Secretary Clinton has made mention of what happened to him. The Syrian regime says it has begun an investigation into the matter, seeking to absolve itself of responsibility.

The regime’s claims of innocence will not be accepted by anyone. The U.N. Children’s Fund says at least 30 children have been killed by gunfire, and there are several videos of killed children that indicate deliberate targeting. This week, a 4-year old girl and another 13-year old boy were killed, according to the Reform Party of Syria. Security agents immediately confiscated the bodies to prevent their deaths from being broadcasted. The arrest of children in Daraa who wrote anti-regime slogans was a major factor in sparking the uprising. They were eventually released with missing fingernails and wounds from being burned with cigarettes.

Testimony from Syrians reveals there is systematic torture of imprisoned protesters and political opponents. Prisoners talk of being cut with scalpels and then being struck on the stitches. People are beaten until they are unconscious and held in over-packed rooms with no clothes on while blindfolded, living among human excrement. One detainee said he was forced to listen to his cousin get burned with a poker. “They enjoy hurting people for the sake it,” one former Syrian military-intelligence agent said.

The international community is failing to respond despite these tales of such inhumanity. Secretary Clinton lamented, “Right now the attitude of the international community is not as united as we are seeking to make it.” She said that countries opposing action against the regime must realize they will be “better off on the right side of history.” Apparently, Russia or China is opposing a U.N. resolution to condemn the regime’s murdering and torturing of protesters. The U.K. is also asking for U.N. action against Syria after the IAEA concluded that a site bombed by Israel in 2007 was “very likely” a secret nuclear reactor.

The Iranian regime continues to work to save the Assad regime. The Revolutionary Guards’ elite Al-Qods Force has been deployed to Damascus to help the regime monitor the online activity of its population. This Iranian aid has helped the regime arrest hundreds of people. The Iranians have also provided equipment to disperse crowds, such as like batons, and there are frequent reports of Iranians and Lebanese Hezbollah members taking part in the violence. A video has hit the Internet of a Hezbollah “guide” seized by Syrians, who details his role in suppressing the protests. Another videotape has the testimony of a captured security agent who says that Iranian personnel are in Damascus and Aleppo, and are helping identify and kill soldiers who disobey the regime.

There are more reports coming in of soldiers refusing to fire on citizens, and of citizens taking up arms to defend themselves. Al-Jazeera has unconfirmed reports of 60 to 70 soldiers disobeying orders, resulting in exchanges of gunfire. The regime then dispatched 3,000 more soldiers to the area of Homs where this took place, and helicopters carried out shootings. Another witness said 200 soldiers and 14 officers defected in Arrasta, and that two tanks clashed there the previous night. Activists have informed the Associated Press of “stiff resistance” by citizens in Tabliseh and Rastan in Homs Province armed with automatic rifles and RPGs.

The Assad regime shows no sign of backing down. The regime has consistently use the threat of Islamists to justify its actions. When the government recently freed 500 political prisoners, the regime announced, “The amnesty includes all members of Muslim Brotherhood and other detainees belonging to political movements.” The regime made similar statements earlier in the uprising when it released 270 prisoners and all but 14 were Islamists.

The prisoner release came as 300 opposition activists met in Turkey to try to form a united front. A 31-member committee was approved to act on behalf of the Syrian opposition, and oversee efforts to assist the protesters. The committee represents both secular liberals and Islamists and all of the minorities. The committee released a statement declaring its commitment to a democratic, secular state with freedom of religion. The group called on President Assad to immediately resign and give power to a vice president while a council to oversee a democratic transition takes power. Parliamentary and presidential elections are to be held within one year after the council takes power.

The U.S. seems very close to calling on Assad to resign. President Obama said in his speech on the Arab Spring that Assad must lead a transition or “get out of the way.”  Now, Secretary Clinton says that “the legitimacy that is necessary for anyone to expect change to occur under this current government is, if not gone, nearly run out.” However, the Assad regime is clinging fiercely to power, and the next stage of the conflict is deeply unclear.