Some things haven’t changed in seven years. One of the first pieces I wrote for WPR was on the prospects for transitional justice in Syria someday, roughly three years into a civil war that still hasn’t ended today. The news hook back then was the appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a former Syrian military photographer, hidden under a blue hoodie and identified only as “Caesar.” He had defected from the regime and smuggled a trove of roughly 55,000 photographs out of Syria, documenting the deaths of some 11,000 prisoners killed in Bashar al-Assad’s jails—many showing signs of torture, their bodies tagged and numbered.
“If Assad stays in power, I don’t see a possibility for transitional justice,” Mohammad Al Abdallah, the executive director of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, in Washington, told me at the time. Still, he insisted, “the best you can do is document what is happening, because you never know how things will change in the future.”
I revisited that interview this past February, since the story—despite two changes in U.S. administrations in Washington, and the continued disintegration of Syria in an expanding proxy war—had stayed grimly the same: Assad is still getting away with the greatest war crimes of this century, even with a growing body of evidence of his regime’s abuses. This despite the fact, as well, that the U.S. had imposed new rounds of sanctions on Assad and his inner circle for their war crimes, under a law Congress named after Caesar.