Detailed Record: Syria Deeply Interviews David M. Crane

Collecting Evidence of War Crimes in Syria

(Syria Deeply | May 18, 2017) The Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) at Syracuse University doesn’t know about weekends. “It’s a seven-day-a-week operation,” says project leader and law professor David Crane. The SAP team updates its extensive database constantly and provides quarterly reports to its clients, “which are the United Nations, the [U.S.] Office of the Legal Advisor, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as various countries,” he says.

Since 2011 the SAP has been documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. “It’s a neutral effort. We’re not looking at one side or the other, we’re building a trial package against anyone who commits war crimes and crimes against humanity,” says Crane. The trial package is for domestic or international prosecutors in the future who decide to bring a case to court.

Crane is confident that it will happen, it might just take a little longer. He’s got experience.

As founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Crane helped to send Charles Taylor to prison. He created SAP as an organization using “the tried and proven techniques of what we did in West Africa and apply them to the Syrian civil war.”

Syria Deeply spoke with Crane about SAP’s latest research on Aleppo, its techniques and quality control and his viewpoint on the chances of prosecuting war crimes in the context of the Syrian crisis

Syria Deeply: In your latest report “Covered in Dust, Veiled by Shadow: The Siege and Destruction of Aleppo” you provide a historical narrative of the city, going as far back as the 3rd millennium B.C. to when it was known as Ha-lam. Why did you decide to look back so far?

David M. Crane: Like all white papers these are information assets for people who know nothing about Aleppo to people who are deeply involved and everything in between. The purpose is to inform, for example, a policymaker, a diplomat or someone who is in the international criminal business and to allow someone who is not informed at all to read through the white paper and have a basic overview – a four corners overview – of what took place in Aleppo over the past six, seven months. We wanted to also give the important historical context of Aleppo and the tragedy of the destruction of this ancient city.

Syria Deeply: What methodology and tools did you and your team use?

Crane: We work with researchers, investigators and criminal information analysts. We used the same techniques, the same analysis and data collection that we had been using for well over six years, and that is through various sources. We have an incredible amount of data at our fingertips.

We have what we call open source material, which is data that is currently available on the web, social media and what have you. We also have what we call walk-in information; in other words, we received on a regular basis individuals who report to us incidents and situations they want to bring to our attention. Then we have our clandestine methodologies; we’ve been developing an information network within Syria that is reporting to us through clandestine means.

We use this data to build a trial package or, if we have a particular incident that needs international attention and assertion, to create white papers. We did one for the chemical attack [in Khan Sheikhoun]. We had a white paper out within 14 days after the chemical attack

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