Speed Reads

Crisis in Syria

Report: Syria's Assad has secretly executed up to 13,000 civilians at a single prison since 2011

United Nations investigators determined a year ago that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government has been "exterminating" thousands of civilian detainees in the country's civil war, and in August, Amnesty International put a number on those extrajudicial deaths, estimating that at least 17,732 detainees at the Saydnaya military prison and other government facilities died from regular beatings, torture, and depravation from 2011 through 2015. On Tuesday, Amnesty International reported that another 5,000 to 13,000 detainees at Saydnaya prison alone were hanged in groups of 20 to 50 once or twice a week during that same period, secretly and in the dead of night.

Amnesty said it based its report on 84 first-hand accounts from former Saydnaya detainees, guards, and officials, plus judges, lawyers, and experts on detention in Syria. According to the accounts, the detainees — most of them civilians suspected of peacefully supporting the opposition — were taken from their cells and told they were being transferred to a civilian jail, then brought to a basement and beaten for two to three hours, transferred to a different part of Saydnaya, located outside Damascus, then given 2-3 minute "trials" before "military field courts," where false confessions produced under torture would lead to death sentences. The grand mufti and Syria's defense minister or army chief of staff must approve the death sentences, Amnesty says.

"The judge will ask the name of the detainee and whether he committed the crime," one former Syrian military court judge told Amnesty. "Whether the answer is yes or no, he will be convicted.... This court has no relation with the rule of law. This is not a court." The detainees are blindfolded throughout the entire process. "Those who are condemned to death do not find out about their sentences until minutes before they are hanged," Amnesty said. "They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks." The hangings last 10 to 15 minutes each, the human rights group says, then the bodies are transported to mass graves.

Assad told journalists last year that detainees are being treated according to Syrian laws, The New York Times notes, but Amnesty's "report corroborates numerous accounts given to the Times by current and former detainees in several prisons across Syria, detailing regular torture and deprivation." You can read more about Assad's "human slaughterhouse" via Amnesty International.