- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Syrian defector pleaded before a House panel Thursday for U.S. help fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, as he presented gruesome photographs of emaciated and mutilated dead bodies that he said were victims of torture and murder in the regime’s prisons.

“What is going on in Syria is genocidal massacre,” the defector, known as “Caesar,” said through an interpreter. Mr. Assad “destroyed the country and killed his own people with no mercy.”

The photographs, which Caesar took and collected in his role as a military photographer, showed naked and scantly clad bodies of men and women strewn across the ground. Some had bloodied and bruised faces. Others appeared to be victims of starvation, with shriveled limbs and rib cages visible through their taut skin.

The photos provided a rare glimpse of the horrors of Syria’s three-year-old civil war, which has left more than 170,000 people dead and helped fuel the rise of the Islamic State group among the forces battling Mr. Assad.

President Obama has kept the U.S. mostly on the sidelines throughout the brutal war between the Assad regime and opposing guerrilla armies, the Islamic State group among them. But pressure from Democrats and Republicans is mounting on him to act.

Caesar appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee under heightened security, with strict limits on press photographers and a prohibition on audio recordings of the briefing. He wore a blue rain jacket with the hood on and cinched tightly around his head to conceal his face.

Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, said the security precautions were necessary to protect Caesar’s life and the safety of his family in Syria.

“I’m not in politics. I don’t like politics,” Caesar said. “I am a military man.”

With the help of family members, he smuggled out of Syria more than 50,000 photographs that show the dead bodies of at least 100,000 of his countrymen. His appearance before the committee was the first time he publicly told his story since reaching the United States.

Poster-size enlargements of the horrific photographs he smuggled out of Syria were displayed around the hearing room. More photographs of dead bodies — some of single corpses, others of dozens of bodies scattered across dirt floors — appeared on two large video screens.

The images were reminiscent of photographs from Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

“No one here can bring their lives back to them. But I am here to tell you there are 150,000 people still incarcerated,” Caesar said. “And their fate will be the same fate as those I’ve taken pictures of.”

Caesar said he sent a letter to Mr. Obama “pleading” for help.

“He who kills an innocent, it is the same as if he kills the entire humanity,” he told the lawmakers, urging them to help stop Mr. Assad. “And he who would save a single soul, it is as if he would save the entire humanity.”

The evidence of atrocities presented by Caesar spurred more calls for Mr. Obama to act.

“We had a responsibility to send a message to Assad that his criminal behavior would not be tolerated, but we didn’t. Unfortunately, we didn’t,” said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“Instead, here we are a year later, and we see new evidence of the Assad regime’s torture chambers and death squads,” he said. “Mr. Caesar is a courageous man. He has captured the face of evil through the lens of his camera, putting himself at grave risk.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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