Photo Fraud that Undermined Syrian Negotiations
By Rick Sterling
March 04, 2016 "Information
Voice " -
A 30 page investigative report on the “Caesar
Torture Photos” has been released and is available
here. The following is a condensed version of
the report. Readers who are especially interested
are advised to get the full report which includes
additional details, photographs, sources and
There is a
pattern of sensational but untrue reports that lead
to public acceptance of US and Western military
intervention in countries around the world:
* In Gulf
War 1, there were reports of Iraqi troops stealing
incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the
cold floor. Relying on the testimony of a Red
Crescent doctor, Amnesty Interenational ‘verified’
the false claims.
* Ten years
later, there were reports of yellow cake uranium
going to Iraq for development of weapons of mass
decade later, there were reports of Libyan soldiers
drugged on viagra and raping women as they advanced.
* In 2012,
NBC broadcaster Richard Engel was supposedly
kidnapped by pro-Assad Syrian militia but luckily
freed by Syrian opposition fighters, the “Free
reports were later confirmed to be fabrications and
lies. They all had the goal of manipulating public
opinion and they all succeeded in one way or
another. Despite the consequences, which were often
disastrous, none of the perpetrators were punished
or paid any price.
It has been
famously said “Those who do not learn from the past
are doomed to repeat it.” This report is a critical
review of the “Caesar Torture Photos” story. As
will be shown, there is strong evidence the
accusations are entirely or substantially false.
of ‘Caesar Torture Photos’
January 2014, two days before negotiations about the
Syrian conflict were scheduled to begin in
Switzerland, a sensational report burst onto
television and front pages around the world. The
story was that a former Syrian army photographer had
55,000 photographs documenting the torture and
killing of 11,000 detainees by the Syrian security
photographer was given the code-name ‘Caesar’. The
story became known as the “Caesar Torture Photos”.
A team of lawyers plus digital and forensic experts
were hired by the Carter-Ruck law firm, on contract
to Qatar, to go to the Middle East and check the
veracity of “Caesar” and his story. They concluded
that “Caesar” was truthful and the photographs
indicated “industrial scale killing”. CNN, London’s
Guardian and LeMonde broke the
story which was subsequently broadcast in news
reports around the world. The Caesar photo
accusations were announced as negotiations began in
Switzerland. With the opposition demanding the
resignation of the Syrian government, negotiations
quickly broke down.
past two years the story has been preserved with
occasional bursts of publicity and supposedly
corroborating reports. Most recently, in December
2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report
titled “If the Dead Could Speak” with significant
focus on the Caesar accusations.
are 12 significant problems with the ‘Caesar torture
Almost half the photos show the opposite of the
Ruck Inquiry Team claimed there were about 55,000
photos total with about half of them taken by
‘Caesar’ and the other half by other photographers.
The Carter Ruck team claimed the photos were all
‘similar’. Together they are all known as ‘Caesar’s
photographs are in the custody of an opposition
organization called the Syrian Association for
Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD). In 2015,
they allowed Human Rights Watch (HRW) to study all
the photographs which have otherwise been secret.
In December 2015, HRW released their report titled
“If the Dead Could Speak”. The biggest revelation
is that over 46% of the photographs (24,568) do not
show people ‘tortured to death” by the Syrian
government. On the contrary, they show dead Syrian
soldiers and victims of car bombs and other violence
(HRW pp2-3). Thus, nearly half the photos show the
opposite of what was alleged. These photos, never
revealed to the public, confirm that the opposition
is violent and has killed large numbers of Syrian
security forces and civilians.
The claim that other photos
only show ‘tortured detainees’ is exaggerated or
Ruck report says ‘Caesar’ only photographed bodies
brought from Syrian government detention centers.
In their December 2015 report, HRW said, “The
largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are
photographs Human Rights Watch understands to have
died in government custody, either in one of several
detention facilities or after being transferred to a
military hospital.” They estimate 6,786 dead
individuals in the set.
and the deceased are real, but how they died and the
circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence
some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital.
Others died and their bodies were decomposing before
they were picked up. These photographs seem to
document a war time situation where many combatants
and civilians are killed. It seems the military
hospital was doing what it had always done:
maintaining a photographic and documentary record of
the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different
military or intelligence branches. While some may
have died in detention; the big majority probably
died in the conflict zones. The accusations by
‘Caesar’, the Carter Ruck report and HRW that these
are all victims of “death in detention” or “death by
torture” or death in ‘government custody” are almost
The true identity of
“Caesar” is probably not as claimed.
Ruck Report says “This witness who defected from
Syria and who had been working for the Syrian
government was given the code-name ‘Caesar’ by the
inquiry team to protect the witness and members of
his family.” (CRR p.12) However, if his story is
true, it would be easy for the Syrian government to
determine who he really is. After all, how many
military photographers took photos at Tishreen and
Military 601 Hospitals during those years and then
disappeared? According to the Carter Ruck report,
Caesar’s family left Syria around the same time.
Considering this, why is “Caesar” keeping his
identity secret from the western audience? Why does
“Caesar” refuse to meet even with highly sympathetic
journalists or researchers?
that 46% of the total photographic set is
substantially the opposite of what was claimed
indicates two possibilities:
and his promoters knew the contents but lied about
them expecting nobody to look.
and his promoters did not know the contents and
falsely assumed they were like the others.
seems more likely which supports the theory that
Caesar is not who he claims to be.
The Carter Ruck Inquiry was
faulty, rushed and politically biased.
credibility of the “Caesar” story has been
substantially based on the Carter-Ruck Inquiry Team
which “verified” the defecting photographer and his
photographs. The following facts suggest the team
was biased with a political motive:
investigation was financed by the government of
Qatar which is a major supporter of the armed
contracted law firm, Carter Ruck and Co. has
previously represented Turkey’s President Erdogan,
also known for his avid support of the armed
American on the legal inquiry team, Prof David M.
Crane, has a long history working for U.S. Dept of
Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S.
Government has been deeply involved in the attempt
at ‘regime change’ with demands that ‘Assad must go’
beginning in summer 2011 and continuing until
Crane is personally partisan in the conflict. He has
campaigned for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and
testified before Congress in October 2013, three
months before the Caesar revelations.
* by their
own admission, the inquiry team was under “time
constraints” (CRR, p.11).
* by their
own admission, the inquiry team did not even survey
most of the photographs
inquiry team was either ignorant of the content or
intentionally lied about the 46% showing dead Syrian
soldiers and attack victims.
inquiry team did their last interview with “Caesar”
on January 18, quickly finalized a report and rushed
it into the media on January 20, two days prior to
the start of UN sponsored negotiations.
self-proclaimed “rigor” of the Carter Ruck
investigation is without foundation. The claims to a
‘scientific’ investigation are similarly without
substance and verging on the ludicrous.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is
interview on France24, Prof. David Crane of the
inquiry team describes how ‘Caesar’ was brought to
meet them by “his handler, his case officer”. The
expression ‘case officer’ usually refers to the CIA.
This would be a common expression for Prof. Crane
who previously worked in the Defense Intelligence
Agency. The involvement of the CIA additionally
makes sense since there was a
CIA budget of $1Billion for Syria operations in
Crane’s “Syria Accountability Project” is based at
Syracuse University where the CIA
actively recruits new officers despite student
Why does it
matter if the CIA is connected to the ‘Caesar’
story? Because the CIA has a long history of
disinformation campaigns. In 2011, false reports of
viagra fueled rape by Libyan soldiers were widely
broadcast in western media as the U.S. pushed for a
military mandate. Decades earlier, the world was
shocked to hear about Cuban troops fighting in
Angola raping Angolan women. The CIA chief of
station for Angola, John Stockwell, later described
how they invented the false report and spread it
round the world. The CIA was very proud of that
disinformation achievement. Stockwell’s book, “In
Search of Enemies” is still relevant.
The prosecutors portray
simple administrative procedures as mysterious and
Ruck inquiry team falsely claimed there were about
11,000 tortured and killed detainees. They then
posed the question: Why would the Syrian government
photograph and document the people they just killed?
The Carter Ruck Report speculates that the military
hospital photographed the dead to prove that the
“orders to kill” had been followed. The “orders to
kill” are assumed.
logical explanation is that dead bodies were
photographed as part of normal hospital/morgue
procedure to maintain a file of the deceased who
were received or treated at the hospital.
applies to the body labeling/numbering system. The
Carter Ruck report suggest there is something
mysterious and possibly sinister in the coded
tagging system. But all morgues need to have a
tagging and identification system.
photos have been manipulated.
Many of the
photos at the SAFMCD website have been manipulated.
The information card and tape identity are covered
over and sections of documents are obscured. It must
have been very time consuming to do this for
thousands of photos. The explanation that they are
doing this to ‘protect identity’ is not credible
since the faces of victims are visible. What are
Photo Catalog has duplicates and other errors
numerous errors and anomalies in the photo catalog
as presented at the SAFMCD website.
example, some deceased persons are shown twice with
different case numbers and dates.
other errors where different individuals are given
the same identity number.
Adam Larson at A Closer Look at Syria website has
detailed investigation which reveals more errors
and curious error patterns in the SAFMCD photo
With few exceptions,
Western media uncritically accepted and promoted the
Ruck report was labeled “Confidential” but
distributed to CNN, the Guardian and
gushed the story as she interviewed three of the
inquiry team under the headline “EXCLUSIVE:
Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad
regime”. Critical journalism was replaced by
leading questions and affirmation. David Crane said
“This is a smoking gun”. Desmond de Silva “likened
the images to those of holocaust survivors”.
The Guardian report
was titled “Syrian regime
document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’
killing of detainees” with subtitle
“Senior war crimes prosecutors say
photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’
of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees”
of the very few
skeptical reports was by Dan Murphy in the
Christian Science Monitor. Murphy
echoed standard accusations about Syria but went on
to say incisively, “the report itself is nowhere
near as credible as it makes out and should be
viewed for what it is: A well-timed propaganda
exercise funded by
Qatar, a regime
opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who
have committed war crimes of their own.”
Unfortunately that was one of very few critical
reports in the mainstream media.
foreign affairs journalist Jonathan Steele wrote an
article describing the overall media bias on Syria..
article was titled “Most Syrians back Assad but
you’d never know from western media”. The media
campaign and propaganda has continued without stop.
It was in this context that the Carter Ruck Report
was delivered and widely accepted without question.
Politicians have used the
Caesar story to push for more US/NATO aggression.
seeking direct US intervention for ‘regime change’
in Syria were quick to accept and broadcast the
‘Caesar’ story. They used it to demonize the Assad
government and argue that the US must act so as to
prevent “another holocaust’, ‘another Rwanda’,
Caesar’s photos were displayed at the House Foreign
Affairs Committee in Congress, Chairman Ed Royce
said “It is far past time that the world act….
It is far past time for the United States to say
there is going to be a safe zone across this area in
ranking Democrat in the House Foreign Affairs
Committee is Eliot Engel. In November 2015 he
said “We’re reminded of the photographer, known
as Caesar, who sat in this room a year ago, showing
us in searing, graphic detail what Assad has done to
his own people.” Engel went on to advocate for a new
authorization for the use of military force.
Adam Kinzinger is another advocate for aggression
against Syria. At an
event at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in July
2015 he said, “If we want
to destroy ISIS we have to destroy the incubator of
ISIS, Bashar al-Assad.”
and hypocrisy is doubly profound since Rep Kinzinger
met and coordinated with opposition leader Okaidiwho
confirmed ally of ISIS. In contrast with
Kinzinger’s false claims, it is widely known that
ISIS ideology and initial funding came from Saudi
Arabia and much of its recent wealth from oil sales
via Turkey. The Syrian Army has fought huge battles
against ISIS, winning some but losing others with
horrific scenes of mass beheading.
The Human Rights Watch assessment is
been very active around Syria. After the chemical
attacks in greater Damascus on August 21, 2013, HRW
rushed a report which concluded that, based on a
vector analysis of incoming projectiles, the source
of the sarin-carrying rockets must have been Syrian
government territory. This analysis was later
debunked as a “junk
heap of bad evidence” by highly respected
investigative journalist Robert Parry. HRW’s
assumption about the chemical weapon rocket flight
distance was faulty. Additionally it was unrealistic
to think you could determine rocket trajectory with
1% accuracy from a canister on the ground. To think
you could determine flight trajectory from a
canister on the ground that had deflected off a
building wall was preposterous.
In spite of
this, HRW stuck by its analysis which blamed the
Assad government. HRW Director Ken Roth publicly
indicated dissatisfaction when an agreement to
remove Syrian chemical weapons was reached. Mr. Roth
wanted more than a ‘symbolic’ attack.
In light of
the preceding, we note the December 2015 HRW report
addressing the claims of Caesar.
to be the only non-governmental organization to
receive the full set of photo files from the
custodian. To its credit, HRW acknowledged that
nearly half the photos do not show what has been
claimed for two years: they show dead Syrian
soldiers and militia along with scenes from crime
scenes, car bombings, etc…
bias is clearly shown in how they handle this huge
contradiction. Amazingly, they suggest the
incorrectly identified photographs support the
overall claim. They say, “This report focuses on
deaths in detention. However other types of
photographs are also important. From an evidentiary
perspective, they reinforce the credibility of the
claims of Caesar about his role as a forensic
photographer of the Syrian security forces or at
least with someone who has access to their
photographs.” (HRW, p.31) This seems like saying if
someone lies to you half the time that proves they
disprove the assertion that the files all show
tortured and killed. The photographs show a wide
range of deceased persons, from Syrian soldiers to
Syrian militia members to opposition fighters to
civilians trapped in conflict zones to regular
deaths in the military hospital. There may be some
photos of detainees who died in custody after being
tortured, or who were simply executed. We know that
this happened in Iraqi detention centers under U.S.
occupation. Ugly and brutal things happen in war
times. But the facts strongly suggest that the
‘Caesar’ account is basically untrue or a gross
striking that the HRW report has no acknowledgment
of the war conditions and circumstances in Syria.
There is no acknowledgment that the government and
Syrian Arab Army have been under attack by tens of
thousands of weaponized fighters openly funded and
supported by many of the wealthiest countries in the
There is no
hint at the huge loss of life suffered by the Syrian
army and supporters defending their country. The
current estimates indicate from eighty to one
hundred and twenty thousand Syrian soldiers, militia
and allies having died in the conflict. During the
three years 2011 – 2013, including the period
covered by Caesar photos, it is
estimated that over 52,000 Syrian soldiers and
civilian militia died versus 29,000 anti-government
access to the full set of photographs including the
Syrian army and civilian militia members killed in
the conflict. Why did they not list the number of
Syrian soldiers and security forces they identified?
Why did they not show a single image of those
beyond endorsing the falsehoods in the ‘Caesar’
story; they suggest it is a partial listing. On page
5 the report says, “Therefore, the number of bodies
from detention facilities that appear in the Caesar
photographs represent only a part of those who died
in detention in Damascus.”
contrary, the Caesar photographs seem to mostly show
victims who died in a variety of ways in the armed
conflict. The HRW assertions seem to be biased and
legal accusations are biased and ignore the supreme
crime of aggression.
Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy
gave an apt warning in his article on the Carter
Ruck report about ‘Caesar’. While many journalists
treated the prosecutors with uncritical deference,
Association with war crime prosecutions is no
guarantor of credibility – far from it. Just
Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra
and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011.
War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a
bias towards wanting to bolster cases against
people they consider war criminals (like Assad
or Qadaffi) and so should be treated with
caution. They also frequently favor, as a class,
Ruck legal team demonstrated how accurate those
cautions were. They were eager to accuse the Syrian
government of “crimes against humanity” but the
evidence of “industrial killing”, “mass killing”,
“torturing to kill” is dubious and much of the hard
evidence shows something else.
contrast, there is clear and solid evidence that a
“Crime against Peace” is being committed against
Syria. It is public knowledge that the “armed
opposition” in Syria has been funded, supplied and
supported in myriad ways by various outside
governments. Most of the fighters, both Syrian and
foreign, receive salaries from one or another
outside power. Their supplies, weapons and necessary
equipment are all supplied to them. Like the
“Contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the use of such
proxy armies is a violation of customary
It is also
a violation of the UN Charter which says:
Members shall refrain in their international
relations from the threat or use of force
against the territorial integrity or political
independence of any state, or in any other
matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the
government of Qatar has been a major supporter of
the mercenaries and fanatics attacking the sovereign
state of Syria. Given that fact, isn’t it hugely
ironic to hear the legal contractors for Qatar
accusing the Syrian government of “crimes against
time for the United Nations to make reforms so that
it can start living up to its purposes? That will
require demanding and enforcing compliance with the
UN Charter and International Law.