Behind the Curtain:
Unravelling the Bureaucracy of
Syria’s Machinery of Death

In the tumultuous early days of 2011, as Syrians dared to rise against the iron grip of the Assad Regime they knew that they were up against a menacing state apparatus poised to monitor, arrest and interrogate them. 

In the shadows, as the revolution grew, CIJA investigators embarked on a silent and painstaking task – to get the evidence that would allow for the Syrian Regime high-ranking perpetrators of war crimes to be identified. They got much more than that. Over the course of a decade they defied all odds to unearth a staggering trove of more than 1.3 million pages of Regime-issued documents. These pages were not just ink and paper: they were a narrative of unhinged power, an intricate web of orders, instructions, circulars, reports and studies that flowed through the chains of command laying bare the extreme measures to which the Regime would resort to maintain its iron grip on the nation. 

The Syrian Regime denied the early reports of torture, mass arrests and murders. The government primarily attributed the violence reported in 2011 to what they characterised as “armed terrorist groups” They claimed that these groups were responsible for initiating the violence and destabilising the country. This narrative allowed the government to justify the use of force as a means to restore order and protect national security. Where crimes were acknowledged, they were attributed to rogue individuals rather than state policy.

But the Regime’s own documents paint a different picture. As this report shows, the Syrian Regime knew that the demonstrators demanded freedom and democracy. Yet it formulated and then implemented policies to forcefully suppress opposition activity from early 2011. In doing so, the Regime – at its highest level - knew it was targeting civilians, many of them children, across the protesting governorates; it knew its reaction was so forceful that its own bureaucracy complained about the mounting number of dead, and did nothing to stop, prevent or punish those responsible. This report focuses on three distinct changes in the Regime’s strategy to quash the protests. In three separate Acts – played out in April, August and November 2011 – the Regime escalated its tactics to unimaginable levels, casting a dark shadow over the aspirations of the Syrians yearning for freedom.