Towards a Citizen’s Investigation 

into War Crimes in Syria

By Adam Larson, CIWCL co-founder

June 19, 2012

edits June 24

The CIWCL is by profession focused on Libyan issues, and only certain ones at that, even as most of these recede in time and leave us doing early historical review instead of war-preventing activism. However, the force of recent events in Syria have many of us at least looking into what's happening there. And I have to make a statement on the issue. In recent weeks, whole families have been brutally slaughtered in Taldou and the Al-Houla area near Homs (108 killed), and Mazareat Al-Qubeir near Hama (reported 78 killed), among numerous smaller acts of terrorism against the civilian population of Syria. 

Like the rest of the world, I presume all the CIWCL members and signatories were appalled by these acts. Everyone was, that was the point. Speaking for myself, like most people, I would like to see the perpetrators punished. But even more than that I must insist on two pre-existing goals

1)      Conducting the best, most balanced, most incisive and yet impartial investigation possible to determine the real truth of the matter as best as humanly possible.

2)   If possible, find a way of correcting the problem that avoids war and all the mass chaos, death, and destruction that war will unleash as it did in Libya.


The Western response so far has been to pursue the opposite of the latter point – pushing for war by trying to make it the only alternative to an abject surrender the government can’t agree to. And they’re doing this flippantly, without adequately making sure this response is really is necessary or even pointed in the right direction. It runs the real risk of punishing the victims and installing to power people allied with the real killers. The false-flagging fanatics would then take their revenge on those they blamed, in a bloody ethnic conflict already set in motion by these watershed massacres.

The global public must protest and work against this.


The Syrian government’s investigation was swift and clear, finding that two Sunni families related to a parliament member (just sworn in to work the day before), were targeted by terrorists, along with larger numbers from other families who, by some sources (needs study) were Shia and Alawi. They did it just as the new parliament came to session, and just ahead of an important visit by Kofi Annan to pursue a cease-fire plan the rebels have always hated. The motive: to kill the peace plan and provoke outside intervention, by misrepresenting the identities of those killed and their killers. 

It’s only natural to doubt the investigation carried out by the accused party, more or less. And of course it has been dismissed categorically, as “another blatant lie,” by Susan "Viagra" Rice, US Representative to the UN. Nonetheless, she could be just spouting rhetoric and be dead wrong. Others in the West - Susan Rice, for one - haven’t done their own investigations or shown any desire to let ‘figuring things out’ distract from stern action – in a direction already known.  


Again as with Libya they are taking the Responsibility 2 Panic model by accepting just what the anti-Assad opposition says. It says this largely through purported witnesses it directs to the outside media. These swear the attackers were the regime’s irregular Shabiha militia, brutal Alawite fanatics who left massive clues as they massacred Sunni opposition. They sought to crush their spirit and/or start an ethnic cleansing campaign against the nation’s majority group.

The baseline fact here is that one of the these sets of witnesses has to be lying for someone’s political agenda, to cover someone’s heinous crime. It’s a serious allegation, and it’s being lobbed at all those who happen to agree with Damascus (see here and here). It’s time to start looking closer the other direction at these activist witnesses and what they’re saying and, as we advocate, compare that to the other side’s testimony and all other available evidence.

From here someone passionate and brilliant and with some time on their hands should start a site sort of like The Libyan Civil War: Critical Views, where you start by cataloguing primary sources, videos and photos placed on the map and in the timeline when possible, listing all the alleged eyewitnesses and their different statements, etc. You gather a few great minds who hash out the details in discussion, invite any nay-sayers you can find to keep you sharp, and perhaps it could spur a group called Citizen’s Investigation into War Crimes in Syria.

I recommend a focused approach with orders of importance, to ensure at least one crucial thing is covered fully and yields a professional-level analysis. It will need related areas radiating out with lesser focus, but whatever winds up being contributed is what matters, and it might differ from a bit from the following formula.

  1. dedicated centrally to the Taldou/Houla massacre. This event should be mastered eventually with all sources known, referenced, studied, and put together.
  2. all those massacres most like it in time and space, Mazarat Al-Qubeir, etc.
  3. the rest of the war, especially the rebel side; foreign fighters, weapons shipments, other material considerations. Maps and visuals. The camps in Turkey, etc. 
  4. the broader conflict context, politics, supporting factors, media coverage, sanctions, diplomatic warfare, etc.

If I was aware of such a site existing now or started up soon, I would gladly contribute to it pretty strongly, advise if desired, and probably bring along other readers and contributors and traffic. But if no one else does so, I’ll start a site at fairly soon and just manage it as I can, in between other things.

Below on this page, I will post a few starters anyone could take to such a site and continue developing. These are mostly early analysis, as opposed to the good bedrock of primary source cataloguing, although I may do some of that as well. Others might contribute, and hopefully this will have its own home fairly soon. 

In the interim, if I may, direct readers to this fairly useful discussion thread I started (as Caustic Logic)at the JREF forum. The CL-CS-CE team that formed has done some fine work, and some interesting arguments and non-arguments develop on the side.