Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

Will Syria’s Assad get away with murder?

By Bernd Debusmann
June 8, 2012

Will Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad be allowed to get away with mass murder, like his father 30 years ago? Some of the ideas now under discussion could mean precisely that — a golden parachute into exile. No war crimes charges, no prosecution, no trial.

Unlike Egypt’s ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who was sentenced to life in prison on June 2, and unlike Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi, who was killed at the hand of anti-government rebels, Assad would “transfer power and depart Syria.” That’s how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it after a meeting of foreign ministers of Arab and Western nations in Istanbul.

That idea is known as the Yemeni Solution and was floated by U.S. President Barack Obama at a meeting of the Group of Eight in May. It refers to a deal under which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution for the killing of protesters. In return, he handed power over to his deputy and announced he planned to go into exile in Ethiopia.

No such deal would be possible in Syria without the involvement of Russia, the Assad regime’s chief armorer, and the two other pillars of his support – China and Iran. This is why Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General who is now peace envoy on behalf of the U.N. and the Arab League, has come up with the idea of a “contact group” to work out an end to a conflict that has claimed at least 10,000 lives so far.

The group would include the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council — where Russia and China have blocked tough measures against Syria — as well as “countries with real influence on the situation, countries that can influence either side — the government of Syria and the opposition,” Annan said at the United Nations. “Iran, as an important country in the region, I hope will be part of the solution.”

Clinton has poured cold water on that idea, saying Iran was helping to keep the Assad regime in power and therefore part of the problem. That, of course, also goes for Russia and China but involving Iran would take Washington on a collision course with its close ally Israel and open Obama to charges of being “weak on Iran,” a damaging label in his campaign for re-election.

If the contact group idea would eventually lead to Assad’s departure — and that is a very big if — where would he go? According to David Ignatius, a well-connected columnist for the Washington Post, Russia has offered him exile and there are rumors that Assad has already transferred $6 billion in Syrian reserves to Moscow.

RUSSIA HOLDS THE KEY

Russia, not the U.S., holds the key here. As Middle East expert Volker Perthes, head of the German Institute for International Security in Berlin, put it: “Until such time as Assad is told by Moscow that the game is up and only a negotiated exit will guarantee him and his supporters safety, he is unlikely to feel genuinely isolated.”

The idea that the Syrian leader would leave with impunity is hard to swallow after 15 months of brutal crackdown on dissidents and a series of massacres that prompted outrage and a chorus of condemnation in terms that ranged from “despicable” and “vile” to “unspeakable barbarity.” But verbal outrage doesn’t topple dictators, economic sanctions have limited behavior-changing impact as the case of Iran shows, and there is no appetite in Washington and elsewhere for military intervention.

If Bashar did get away with murder, he would complete a family tradition. His father Hafez, from whom he inherited his power, enforced his rule with mass murder on a much larger scale. Even in a Middle East dotted with massacre sites, the way Hafez al-Assad dealt with Moslem Brotherhood dissidents in the city of Hama stands out.

On February 2, 1982, an army raid on a hide-out of the outlawed Brotherhood sparked fighting throughout the city. The government responded by surrounding Hama with tanks and artillery and blasted the densely-populated centre in a 27-day assault that killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people, depending whose estimate you believe.

The carnage went largely unnoticed, out of sight in an era before cell phone videos uploaded to the internet provide shocking evidence for all the world to see. In 1982, Syria’s Arab neighbors remained silent, reaction from the West was muted. His country pacified and cowed, Hafez ruled for another 18 years. He died peacefully in bed, of pulmonary disease. His brother Rifaat, who ran the Hama operation, lives in comfortable retirement in London.

By contrast a flurry of statements this week on two massacres in Syria as many weeks included calls for those responsible to be held to account. Their wording suggested punishment for the men who went from house-to-house, shooting and stabbing entire families, not the leadership in Damascus on whose behalf they committed murder.

Bashar al-Assad has many things to fear in a country steadily sliding towards all-out sectarian war but it seems theInternational Criminal Court in the Hague is not one of them.

PHOTO: Syrian Zaher Al Hariri watches a television broadcast of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaking in parliament in Damascus, at his temporary home in Amman June 3, 2012. Assad said on Sunday his country was facing a war waged from outside the country and that terrorism was escalating despite political steps including last month’s parliamentary election. Zaher said his right hand was cut off by Syrian security forces after he went to a state hospital in Syria’s Deraa city to receive treatment after a bullet penetrated his fingers when security forces fired shots at a pro-democracy rally he participated in.  REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

Comments
15 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

old religion….. complaints go to the imam….. no real civil structures to deliberate with…. and if you change too much the imams are up in arms…..

so to point to the cause Assad’s reforms and election is a positive step…. to foster more deliberation without the need to kill….. protest always after prayer…. and the imams feud with each other over sharia…. the right to contest law it not part of their understandings….

Posted by ZorroIsGod | Report as abusive
 

Of course him an his father are terrible. But they murdered far less than we did with our illegal invasion of Iraq. We got away with it.

Posted by mgunn | Report as abusive
 

Past time for the world to side track Russia, China, Iran and similar nations from the decision making process. Do what is right.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive
 

No, the critical actor here is Turkey, who could squash Assad like a bug. Play real politic: Full EU membership without a Euro mandate in exchange for offing this thug. Let Putin ponder how to fix that problem without a navy.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive
 

If Assad is unlikely to be held criminally accountable,
I think a drone strike should be prosecuted against him and his family. The United States does this sort of thing all the time in Pakistan.

Posted by Petersburg | Report as abusive
 

They all get away with murder–Bush, Netanyahu, Cheney, Obama–they’re all killing or have killed scores of civilians, and they’re all walking around free. You know what they say about people who live in glass houses!

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive
 

“By contrast a flurry of statements this week on two massacres in Syria as many weeks included calls for those responsible to be held to account. Their wording suggested punishment for the men who went from house-to-house, shooting and stabbing entire families, not the leadership in Damascus on whose behalf they committed murder.”

This is a lie. The terrorists attacks are being carried out by radicalzed and militarized armed opposition which have been militarily defeated but are committing terrorist attacks to salvage their lost cause.

The NYT in one of its propaganda pieces on Syria lauded them for “getting better” at sabotage and terror acts after the suicide bombings which killed 55 people.

What would Assad or more accurately the Syrian government gain by cmmitting a massacre in a town of 150 people miles away from Damascus?

The fact that these massacres are being committed in border towns with Turkey and Lebanon which are harboring terrorists gives a clue about who’s committing and profiting from these massacres.

Russian and German medias have reported that the massacres were committed by islamist insurgents.

SANA which is providing more detailed info than the lying western medias has said that Jabhel al-Nasra, a terrorist group affiliated to al-Qaida is behind some of these atrocities.

You may not trust SANA but in terms of credibility on this issue it’s beating western medias with their info from “activists” hands down. It has terrorist pictures on its site for everyone to see.

On the other hand western medias are only publishing propaganda lies and hysteria accusing the Syrian government of all atrocities being committed in Syria but providing zero evidence. Even atrocities clearly committed by terrorists are being blamed on Assad. Syria is really dealing with devils.

Who committed the massacre that killed 55 people in Damascus? How come the medias did not talk about “massacres” for these terrorist acts?

The medias only started talking “massacres” after Nato meeting in Chicago to soften public opinion, put pressure on Russia and prepare the ground for Nato intervention.

Regime change has failed. So the qustion is, will the lies about Syria stop?

Posted by Fromkin | Report as abusive
 

The U.S. does the same thing for Israel with its veto power. If anything, this should alert the world community that the Security Council is a joke and if we really want to protect humanity from atrocities we should start at home.

Posted by EastinWest | Report as abusive
 

100,000 civilians were killed with 1,000,000 displaced in Iraq in an invasion based on a bold-faced lie. Is the International Criminal Court going to prosecute Bush and Rumsfeld? Should not the International Criminal Court prosecute the CIA for training and supplying death squads in San Salvador’s civil war in the 1980′s? More than 75,000 people were killed. 50,000 people were killed during the Libyan intervention purportedly to give Libyans a “better life”. The Libyans now have a ruined country and no life. Should the International Criminal Court prosecute Sarkozy?

You see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye.

Posted by pyanitsa | Report as abusive
 

Assad appears too arrogant and out of touch with reality to accept exile… if he did, given the number and types of people he has murdered, someone will hunt him and his family down to finish the job.. he will probably last longer if he consolidates his forces around Damascus so he has enough firepower to fully capture and quell the immediate rebellious towns, from there he could launch directed strikes at opposition enclaves without worrying about his own backyard… as of right now, his forces are spread out and are being picked off piecemeal… stupid, he is just really stupid…

Posted by Slammy | Report as abusive
 

War does not determine who is right – only who is left. by Bertrand Russell.

Posted by Slammy | Report as abusive
 

The headline should read: “Why isn’t George W Bush behind bars?” Why do we keep seeing the same arrogant headlines by Western propaganda machines denouncing other leaders while genocidal mass murderers walk around with Nobel Peace prices around their neck?

Posted by Renox | Report as abusive
 

Governments get away with mass murder every day, all over this planet, including so-called “civilized” “rule of law” Western Governments.

What is the difference between bombing, missile strikes, and machine gunning? The monetary cost of operating the weapon to do the mass killing. Does the West harbor war criminals who are former Government officials that ordered indiscriminate killings that they knew would mostly kill innocents? Undoubtedly.

Mostly such moral outrage is used to justify yet more killings of innocents by the self-declared morally superior. When the West delivers its former leaders of butchery to The Hague for trial, then they can complain about others with a straight face.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive
 

Power corrupts, even if it means snuffing out innocent lives of children. Our presidents as well as others have had their agendas all along to survive and hold their throne no matter what. Whether it be any terrorist group as Assad claims or Assad himself,or the international community taking sides again to support their own agendas,these little lives are gone and families destroyed. The latent brutality in human minds when there is a threat to one’s power is amazing!

Posted by Planet32 | Report as abusive
 

Why not? The butchers of Gaza in 2008, butchers of Lebanon in 2006, butchers of Fallujah in 2004, butchers of Grozny in 2000, butchers of Tiananmen Square in 1989, butchers of Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 and the butchers of My Lai in 1968 got away with crimes against humanity so why not Assad in 2012?

Posted by politbureau | Report as abusive
 

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