REYHNALI, Turkey—“We had 600 wounded men in Homs, and no doctors,” says Ahmet, a young Free Syrian Army fighter, his speech slightly muddled, the legacy of a bullet that had grazed his neck and shattered his chin. “Sometimes, because we didn’t know any other way to treat our men, we had to amputate arms and legs ourselves. Sometimes we asked a carpenter or a butcher to do so.” We are standing outside a hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, less than four miles from the Syrian border. Ahmet arrived here two weeks ago, he says, but insists he will return.
If you want to know where the fourteen month-old Syrian revolution against President Bashar al-Assad is headed, the case of Walid al-Boustani provides a useful rubric. Al-Boustani led an ill-fated “Islamic Emirate of Homs” that lasted only a few weeks. Apparently the locals did not appreciate having an “Emir” who kidnapped and murdered their people while claiming to wage jihad against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Around 8 a.m. on February 22, Syrian security forces attempting to prop up the Bashar al Assad regime shelled a makeshift media center in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, killing the American war reporter Marie Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik. Four other journalists who survived the blast, including Colvin’s Irish photographer, Paul Conroy, and French Le Figaro journalist Edith Bouvier, were transported to a nearby hospital and treated for serious shrapnel wounds.
On a Monday in late February, I received a Facebook message from a Syrian activist notifying me that a demonstration was due to start in half an hour in a heavily guarded section of Damascus. The occasion was a funeral, and so the protest was likely to be large. “Two of the five martyrs are children, and funeral processions for children are always big,” the message explained. I took a cab to the Kafr Sousa district, an area that is home to many government buildings, and walked for 20 minutes, until I came upon about 75 casually dressed men toting machine guns.
As the international community continues to debate high-minded principles of national sovereignty, Syria continues its downward spiral into unmitigated chaos. The bitter truth is that the longer this situation continues, the deeper the scars will be once the nation has been freed of Bashar Al-Assad. Increasingly, crimes against humanity are being committed by both sides, as the Free Syria Army struggles to incorporate and maintain control over its armed rebel brigades. But as harrowing as the details of the current situation are, the basic principles at stake are very clear.
After a year of bloodshed, the crisis in Syria has reached a decisive moment. It is estimated that more than 7,500 lives have been lost. The United Nations has declared that Syrian security forces are guilty of crimes against humanity, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, the execution of defectors, and the widespread torture of prisoners. Bashar Al-Assad is now doing to Homs what his father did to Hama. Aerial photographs procured by Human Rights Watch show a city that has been laid to waste by Assad’s tanks and artillery.
I know that this is harsh. But I use the word pusillanimous in its ugliest meaning—which is the “unmanly” meaning—especially in relation to Saudi Arabia, having stockpiled weapons and trained soldiers for decades so that by now it is the only Arab country capable of taking on the monstrous regime in Damascus … and winning. I say “unmanly” because the kingdom has done nothing of the sort.
A U.N. panel tasked with investigating the human rights situation in Syria released its report yesterday. It’s a disturbing, but sobering, read. Based on 369 interviews, the report documents the many crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian regime during the past year; below, we’ve gathered some of the most appalling violations. Torturing Children “Children continued to be arbitrarily arrested and tortured while in detention. According to former detainees interviewed by the commission, children were treated in the same way as adults, in blatant disregard of their age.