President Trump declared Wednesday that after seeing images of children killed by a chemical attack in northern Syria, he can no longer support the country’s president, Bashar Assad. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump said.
That is a good thing. Here’s why:
- Assad’s forces and allies have killed 94% of the 206,923 civilians who have died in Syria since 2011, according to a comprehensive study by the Syrian Network for Human Rights. By comparison, ISIS, the terrorist group Trump previously described Assad as an ally against, has killed 1.6 percent, or 3,352 civilians.
- Assad’s government, like ISIS, routinely documents its murders. Unlike ISIS, the regime does not publicize the images, though they have made their way into public view. Three years ago, a Syrian employee of Assad’s secret police went public with photographs. It had been his job to take photos of corpses of people tortured to death in Assad’s detention centers. The pictures of 28,000 victims were verified by Human Rights Watch and displayed by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.The killing of prisoners continues. If you’re not a big reader, Amnesty International has built a virtual version of the prison where at least 13,000 people have been executed.
- Assad’s government often uses chemical weapons. Syria actually built its entire defense doctrine around weapons of mass destruction after repeated defeats of its conventional forces by Israel.And obviously it held some inventory back after publicly surrendering its stocks in 2013 — autopsies of children killed in the April 4 attack turned up evidence of Sarin, the nerve agent. But its use of other chemicals, often chlorine gas, has become “almost routine,” according to The New York Times. Human Rights Watch confirmed at least eight chlorine attacks on residential sections of Aleppo as Syrian and Russian forces took the city. Syria also routinely attacks hospitals.
So why do people associate atrocities in Syria with ISIS? The answer comes from Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who was imprisoned by ISIS for 10 months. Henin shared a cell with James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were both killed by ISIS militants in graphic videos. After Henin was released, he wrote a book urging the world to unite against…Assad.
Of ISIS, Henin told TIME last year: “They need to advertise their violence. It contributes to their plan…this super-legend that they are the super-bad guys.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “you have the regime, which doesn’t need to advertise. The Syrians know well what this regime is capable of, and that’s enough. They will massacre in much bigger numbers, but in silence, because they don’t know want to be taken to the International Criminal Court.”