A civil suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against the government of Syria for the detention, interrogation, and torture of a Syrian-American citizen at the Air Force Intelligence Branch at the Mezzeh Military Airport, which houses the presidential plane of Bashar al-Assad. The suit alleges that the plaintiff’s detention and torture was carried out as part of the Syrian regime’s widespread and systematic use of detention, torture and enforced disappearance as tactics to suppress and silence perceived opponents to the regime’s authoritarian rule. The suit was filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), along with pro bono co-counsel Freshfields, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows US citizens to sue state-sponsors of terrorism, like Syria, for torture and extrajudicial killings.
This suit is an opportunity to present evidence before a US Federal Court that documents the regime’s past and ongoing repressive brutality – and to have the Court make formal findings of law and fact that acknowledge these broader crimes and their continued impact on detainees and their families. This case should be the case that finally convinces global leaders to address our broken global institutions, such as the UNSC, and find a way to put Assad on trial. Russia, as Syria’s ally, must no longer be able to block justice for international war crimes. They must act to end the systematic detention and torture of hundreds of thousands of people. Assad’s guilt is well known and documented, yet people are detained, tortured and killed by his regime to this day. For years, hundreds of thousands of families in Syria have lived through a painful cycle of uncertainty; enduring the loss of their loved ones, snatched from them to be tortured and kept in the dark. The financial and emotional toll is immense.
Detention is systematic and tactical, an attempt to silence and suppress all Syrians because the fear of disappearing into Assad’s underground prisons is always a very real risk. This landmark US case follows other criminal cases in Europe, which have investigated and charged former Syrian intelligence officers with torture, although the present case now targets the regime as a whole. In 2018, CJA brought another US civil case against Syria for the targeted killing of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin.
A verdict finding Syria responsible for torture would be a small victory for us all but right now people are still being detained in Syria – snatched from their homes or as they walk the streets. More than 135,000 people are still detained or forcibly disappeared and the US Government, alongside European governments, should be doing more to stop the Assad regime’s ongoing crimes and free our loved ones from its dungeons.
One man’s case is every Syrian’s call for justice and accountability. The plaintiff can file this suit in the US because he is Syrian-American. But he files on behalf of all impacted Syrians. He brings this suit before a US court for every one of the 135,000 still detained or forcibly disappeared by Assad’s forces and for every family member who mourns the loss of their loved one at the hands of the Syrian security forces.
This case should serve as yet further proof of the war crimes being committed today. The Syrian regime’s guilt is well documented but still Syrians continue to be detained and disappeared, tortured and killed with impunity. It is because of our broken global institutions that no court on earth is able to put the Assad regime on trial. This must change.