Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week.
The images are shocking, but they aren’t new. The photographs of tortured, emaciated and brutalized prisoners and detainees—some of their bodies wrapped in plastic, others dumped on the ground, but all of them catalogued with sinister precision—are a reminder of the horrors of Syria’s civil war. Broadcast by CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday night, they are, correspondent Scott Pelley said, “the honest evidence of the greatest war crimes of the 21st century.”
Some of the pictures of the dead that were taken by a Syrian military photographer-turned-defector, who is known only by his alias “Caesar,” had been shown before, as far back as 2014. Back then, during Barack Obama’s second term in the White House, Caesar came forward, presenting to Congress all the documentation that he had smuggled out of Syria at great risk. It was, as I wrote at the time, “a trove of what he says is evidence of mass atrocities in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war: 55,000 photographs of more than 11,000 victims—many of them tagged and numbered.” The FBI later analyzed Caesar’s images, verifying their metadata and vouching for their authenticity.