"We don't kill our people," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad insisted on US television last week.
But a shocking report from Human Rights Watch today reveals just what a blatant lie this is. According to members of the military, the orders to torture and fire on civilians in Syria come right from the top – despite Assad's laughing protestations that such accusations are ridiculous.
HRW interviewed 63 defected members of the Syrian armed forces. Some said that Assad, his brother Maher, and other members of the regime's inner circle had directly ordered assaults on civilian demonstrators.
One officer claimed to have been present at an April meeting when Assad ordered commanders to use "all means necessary" to bring the city of Daraa under control.
A special forces brigadier-general, Ramadan Ramadan, and the intelligence service's Colonel Suheil Hussein are named in the London Times today ($) as having ordered troops to fire on protesters and torture detainees. The Times's story is headlined: "Assad gave orders to kill and torture Syria rebels".
A total of 74 military commanders are named in the HRW report as having ordered or condoned killings, torture or unlawful detentions. The report states that the information justifies a referral to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Report author Anna Neistat explained:
Defectors gave us names, ranks, and positions of those who gave the orders to shoot and kill, and each and every official named in this report, up to the very highest levels of the Syrian government, should answer for their crimes against the Syrian people.
According to Avaaz's internally verified numbers, more than 5,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began – the figure confirmed by the United Nations on Monday.
Take action: Assad's allies in Moscow continue to prevent the international community from meaningfully condemning the violence in Syria. Tell Russia to stop giving succour to the murderous Assad regime.
Further reading: Human Rights Watch's report on the command structure behind the state-sponsored violence in Syria, By All Means Necessary.