This commentary was published in Asharq al-awsat on 21/05/2011
There are those in Syria who have decided to leak footage that shows the brutal torture of Syrian adults and children.
I'm not speaking here of the footage of demonstrators being shot at and killed, but images and footage taken by camera phones which clearly depict individuals being tortured. This footage, in most cases, is filmed by those actually carrying out this torture, and later uploaded onto the internet.
Since the beginning of the Syrian protests, pictures and videos of youth being brutally beaten and tortured have emerged. This includes a video of a young boy, no older than 12 years old, who was humiliated by being forced to kiss the feet his tormentor, who did not even bother to acknowledge the young boy's tears. We also saw leaked images of shackled demonstrators lying helplessly on the ground whilst they were stepped on and beaten by security officers. Others images showed two security figures dressed in black beating and mocking an already injured detainee.
What all such images and footage have in common is that somebody decided to leak them so that the entire world could watch them. We have previously seen similar footage in Libya showing the torture and humiliation of opposition figures at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi's men. In Bahrain, we viewed similarly bloody images. However the paradox is that in Syria this violence is directed at children, particularly young boys, and that such footage and images are continually and intentionally being leaked.
These photos and footage was not shot by amateurs or adventurers who took them from afar, rather they were shot by the individuals who were committing these atrocities, and who later posted them on the internet. Was the intention of filming, and indeed leaking, these scenes of torture to cause the people to fear and dread the authorities?
Our modern history is full of images of this kind, Saddam Hussein's palaces were full of images and footage [of torture] that no heart or mind could endure, whilst the Al Qaeda in Iraq group filmed unimaginable images of slaughter. Today, the images of torture that are coming out of Syria raise more questions about the reality of what is happening there, amidst the media blackout and government censorship.
The footage [of torture] that we have seen coming out of Syria does not suggest that we are looking at the actions of a few [psychologically] sick individuals, but rather that those committing this violence seem enthusiastic about what they are doing. It is common knowledge that the culture of violence in our region is as old as life itself. In fact, regimes, government organizations, and political parties are all involved in such violence, as they all buy into the idea that force or violence is the first and most prominent governmental tool. As for the images of torture coming out of Syria, political activists close to the Syrian regime have dismissed these, claiming that they are fakes.
Media figures who met with these political activists asked them why the Syrian authorities are preventing the media from covering the reality of the situation on the ground. The official Syrian response to such questions is even more unconvincing, with the activists saying that the Syrian government is entitled to allow or prevent filming. In fact, the Syrian reply lends credibility to such images [of torture], and their attempts to escape condemnation will not be successful unless independent - not pro-government - cameras have access to the Syrian scene.