Syrian Accountability Project Releases Report on 2016 Siege of Aleppo

Siege, the blockade and subjugation of a city, is an ancient and enduring strategy of war, responsible for some of the cruelest events in modern conflict: the battles of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, of Leningrad during World War II, and of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

Add to these notorious examples the 2016 Siege of Aleppo, an attritional campaign of the Syrian Civil War that lasted 160 days, from July to December, pitting the victorious Syrian Arab Republic against a rebel coalition mixed into a civilian population of some two million. Taken together, the Battle of Aleppo, which began in 2012, and the subsequent siege killed an estimated 31,000 people, with 75% of those believed to be civilians. One of the world’s oldest cities and a cultural capital, Aleppo was reduced to rubble.

On Thursday, April 27, 2017, the Syrian Accountability Project—a student-run organization based in the SU College of Law and led by Professor David M. Crane, a former war crimes prosecutor—published its latest white paper detailing this sad chapter of the civil war: Covered in Dust, Veiled by Shadow: The Siege and Destruction of Aleppo.

A close examination of the multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred during the 2016 blockade, the Covered in Dust release event took place in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3, Syracuse University. Discussants at the event were Ken Harper, Associate Professor, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications; Cora True-Frost, Associate Professor of Law, SU Law; and Professor Corri Zoli, Director of Research, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism.

Authored by law students Kaitlyn Degnan, Zachary Lucas, and Sean Mills, Covered in Dust uses open sources, media accounts, and contacts in the field to describe events and to document crimes that occurred during the siege in violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the Syrian Penal Code.

Newhouse School Professor Ken Harper discusses the role of professional and citizen journalists in recording events during the Battle for Aleppo at the white paper release event in Newhouse. He is joined on stage by INSCT Director of Research Corri Zoli, who addressed the laws of war and humanitarian law as applied to the Syrian Civil War, and law students Kaitlyn Degnan, Zachary Lucas, and Sean Mills, principal authors of the report.

Although siege itself is not banned under customary international law, this strategy often employs tactics that are considered crimes. In terms of targeting citizens and the aid workers trying to help them, the Siege of Aleppo was especially egregious. Covered in Dust documents six distinct categories of incidents that are representative violations: the use of siege to starve a civilian population; indiscriminate shelling of civilians and specifically the dropping of “barrel bombs”; the use of chemical weapons (there were reportedly at least eight chlorine gas attacks during the blockade); attacks on humanitarian and medical operations, including on aid convoys and hospitals; and extrajudicial killings, especially during the final days of the battle.

The information in this white paper is drawn from SAP’s extensive legal analysis, now in its sixth year. The project’s comprehensive Conflict Narrative and Crime-Based Matrix are detailed accounts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the civil war. The narrative is a daily accounting of recorded and pertinent crimes taken from open sources, while the matrix highlights specific incidents from the narrative, noting the date, location, description, and responsible party. The matrix also provides the relevant source of potential legal liability under the Rome Statute, the Geneva Conventions, and/or the Syrian Penal code.

The purpose of this white paper and SAP’s wider work is to aid the eventual administration of transitional justice for the people of Syria after the war. To this end, Covered in Dust will be sent to the newly created United Nations Syrian Accountability Center, which was formed with the help of Professor Crane in December 2016. The report also will be sent to these clients of SAP: the UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Chief Prosecutor International Criminal Court; Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes; and various UN ambassadors.

Covered in Dust joins two previous SAP white papers that also draw from the project’s Conflict Narrative and Crime-Based Matrix. Looking Through the Window Darkly: A Snapshot Analysis of Rape in Syria (released March 2016) carefully documents 142 cases of the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war by all sides of the Syrian conflict. Idlib Left Breathless: The Chemical Attack in Kahn Sheikhoun, released in April 2017, documents the sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town that reportedly killed at least 87 people, including 28 children.

“Hard to Understand”: William C. Banks Talks to Bloomberg Law About Flynn Disclosure

Flynn Faces Legal Action Over Russian Business Dealings

(Bloomberg Law | April 26, 2017) William Banks, Director, Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, discusses potential legal charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn for not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia. He speaks with Michael Best and Greg Stohr on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law.”

Modernizing the Military: Sean O’Keefe Speaks to DefenseNews

(DefenseNews | April 23, 2017) As the Pentagon hands off innovation requirements to the private sector, what is the effect on the defense industrial base? Former Navy Secretary Sean O’Keefe (an INSCT Affiliated faculty Member) and William Lynn, the CEO of Leonardo’s DRS Technologies, discuss the changing landscape and the latest efforts to deliver advanced technologies to the war fighter.

http://www.defensenews.com/video/modernizing-the-military

 

Better Alternatives to President Trump’s Foreign Policies

By Louis Kriesberg

(Re-published from OUP Blog | April 16, 2017) President Donald J. Trump has hastily undertaken many misguided foreign policies. They are purported to meet terrible threats; but the threats are misdiagnosed and the crude policies to deal with them are often inconsistent with each other and counter-productive. Going beyond just saying “no,” I will discuss a few core ideas of the constructive conflict approach and relate them to current Trump’s foreign policies and better alternatives.

 “American citizens must resist the current backward steps and work for the better possibilities.”

A primary idea of the approach is that adversaries wage conflicts by various mixtures of non-coercive as well as by coercive inducements. Coercion itself ranges widely in degrees of violence and non-violence. Non-coercion includes diverse forms of persuasion and the provision or promise of benefits for compliance. Trump clearly unduly stresses reliance on military and other forms of coercion. This over reliance in countering the threat of terrorism against the American homeland is particularly misguided. In significant degree, the groups resorting to terrorist attacks are waging an ideological war, which requires recruiting supporters and fighters. Persuading members and potential recruits to such groups that America is not an enemy that aims to harm them is a central element in wining that war. Indeed, America is widely seen in many parts of the world as a model society. It possess great soft power, and was crucial in winning the Cold War. American-Soviet cultural exchanges and other experiences helped undermine Soviet leaders’ faith in their authoritarian Soviet system and seek democratic changes.

Another core idea is that conflicts are socially constructed, since the adversaries seek to define who the enemy is and seek to define themselves. Adversaries contend about these definitions, which undergo changes in the course of a conflict. It is generally useful for an adversary party to characterize the enemy in terms that shrink its size and capacities and characterize itself as large and inclusive. Since each side in a large-scale conflict is heterogeneous, the possibility of splintering the adversary is often present. This and related ideas have important implications for US efforts to defeat ISIS and other such organizations deriving from extremist Islamic thinking. This includes strengthening ties with Muslims in the United States and abroad as well as with the governments of countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Nearly all of them are already hostile to the extremists who claim their radical views of Islam are the only correct one. Another implication is to avoid US immigration policies that target Muslims in any categorical way. That lends credence to Islamic extremists’ accusation that the United States is against all Muslims.

Another core idea is that each conflict inter-connects with many others. Thus, adversaries in smaller conflicts are often also adversaries in larger ones (over time and space) and adversaries in one conflict also engage in different sets of other conflicts. Consequently, a change in salience of one conflict may affect the salience of others, as when a minor enemy moves up to be a major one, new alliances are likely. Bi-lateral relations turn out not to be isolated. Trump is beginning to recognize the problems this can cause, for example in trying to improve bi-lateral relations with Russia. However, there are also opportunities that these complexities can foster constructive conflict transformations. This is the case especially in the Middle East.

Finally, an important constructive conflict idea is that understanding the perspectives of one’s opponents is conducive to better policies. Interestingly, the new Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis (retired Marine General), stresses this. Having expert knowledge of the countries where US officials are engaged should not be limited to bilateral issues. Indeed, such knowledge can help discover shared or complementary interests and thereby transform a conflict.

A major implication of these observations is that the possible contributions of the US State Department are more important than ever. The State Department must play a major role in expanded persuasive efforts on many fronts. It needs to help assess the priority of various foreign issues, utilizing expert knowledge of the foreign actors’ perspectives. Furthermore, much work must be done to alleviate the consequences of wars and prevent their recurrence. Civilians fleeing wars and oppression and entering nearby countries desperately need assistance. The State Department is needed to help build peace in war-devastated countries so that wars do not re-emerge. Yet Trump is dangerously deconstructing the Department of State.

Trump and his close advisers are disrupting many achievements of US foreign policy. The considerable influence of Stephen K. Bannon on Trump regarding these matters is unfortunate. He offers a grand political theory about economic, ethnic, and cultural nationalism, the primacy of sovereignty and borders, and the deconstruction of the administrative state. This theory consists largely of assertions or preferences, but they are not grounded on solid evidence …

To read the full article, click here.

INSCT Afilliated Faculty Member Louis Kriesberg is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Syracuse University.

The Fist in a Velvet Glove: Hardened Humanitarianism

By David Crane

(Re-published from Jurist | April 21, 2017) The cornerstone to the UN paradigm is to settle disputes peacefully, using force only as a last resort. Yet, restoring international peace and security sometimes requires a hardened approach to ensure that peace and security.

“This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria.”

There are decades of international treaties, custom, and precedent that support what I call hardened humanitarianism. When we have to deal with a tyrant, thug, dictator, or rogue head of state who turns on his own citizens, the international community or a member state of that community should step forward with a clear and firm position—stop it or force will be used.

A tyrant only understands one thing—power. When he feels the sting of consequence for his actions that tyrant begins to focus on that use of force against him. The use of this more hardened approach in using force to stop a tyrant’s actions will cause that tyrant to pause, to consider his next steps.

Appeasement in the face of tyranny never works. History is replete with anecdotal evidence of this from the Armenian genocide to the Sudetenland. A hardened policy of seeking a peaceful dialog with the assurance of a forceful resolution, should that dialog fail, makes for a more meaningful discourse.

Our international legal and policy system has drawn lines related to protecting civilians in a conflict and banning certain type of weapons systems per se. Most, if not all, states parties have signed onto these norms. We don’t have to be histrionic when a tyrant ignores these clear lines beating our chests with empty words. When that tyrant steps over a line hit them hard, use force, show the world there are consequences!

US action against Al Qaeda after they attacked the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are examples of facing down the lawless elements of our society under the international legal concept of reprisal. In 2005 the world came together to create a doctrine that laid down a marker that declared that the international community has a right to step in to block a tyrant or head of state who is turning against his own citizens committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. Called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the doctrine was a clarion call to arms should there be alleged violations of international law.

Unfortunately, R2P has fallen short of the ideal based on the political perception that it is a doctrine that can be easily used by various powers against weaker nation states for alleged violations. Despite this the principle idea of this responsibility to protect citizens from their own leaders remains.

The long and tragic kaleidoscopic conflict that is Syria has now gone beyond peaceful resolution. A hardened sense of humanity calls for continued cruise missiles strikes and other military action every time Assad crosses the lines laid out under international norms. Kaleidoscopic conflict is fast becoming a new concept in the dirty little wars of the 21st century. Old doctrines for war fighting and the legal set of rules that surround warfare that have been tested over time are being challenged at all levels. Just when planners think there is a viable course of action developing related to a conflict, such as in Syria, one thing changes and everything changes, hence the term kaleidoscopic. This impacts on what is called the deliberate planning cycle in modern parlance throwing out how international and domestic organizations plan for and deal with conflict on a day to day basis.

At the end of the day we are beginning to face situations where there is no solution under current policy and doctrine. This gives us pause as to how to advise world leaders in dealing with any given conflict. This pause can allow a tragedy, such as in Syria, to go on and on without any foreseeable ending.

These dirty little wars have a direct impact on how parties to a conflict deal with civilians found in and around the battlefield. One of the key cornerstone concepts of the international humanitarian law is that civilians are to be protected and that the intentional targeting of a civilian is a war crime plain and simple. We see around the globe today parties to a conflict flagrantly ignoring this key legal concept. With no apparent repercussion to these attacks on civilians, actors move about the battlefield with impunity. Again this is the conflict in Syria, but can be seen also in the fighting in South Sudan. This is why a more hardened approach to our humanitarian principle of using force where legally appropriate will cause actors to pause and reconsider wholesale destruction in any given conflict.

This hardened approach must be done under law or we weaken our international norms, yet it must be done. Enough is enough in Syria. States parties who for whatever reason give that tyrant support should also be dealt with for their aiding and abetting of international crimes with legal sanctions …

To read the full article, click here.

 

Building a Case: CNYCentral Features Syrian Accountability Project

Syrian Accountability Project: Matt’s Memo

(CNYCentral | April 19, 2017) When Syrian President Assad ordered the Sarin Gas attack on his people April 4th word quickly spread around the world of the suffering. The video of children struggling to survive captured America’s attention. The act and those pictures prompted the Trump Administration to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles from the Mediterranean Sea.

That chemical attack also triggered a protocol set in place by Professor David Crane of the Syrian Accountability Project. He instructed his team of highly engaged graduate students to compile a White Paper that described the Sarin gas attack. The report would gather first hand accounts from Syria. It would sample media coverage, gather official statements. It would cite legal standards such as the Pro Se ban of the use of Sarin gas under the 1925 Geneva accords.

The Syrian Accountability Project is doing work on the Syracuse University campus that is not being done anywhere else in the world. Every day a group of more than 40 students at the Syracuse University College of Law pour through materials related to the fighting, the atrocities and the human struggle in Syria. They have been building a case of crimes against humanity over the last six years …

To read the whole story, click here.

Zach_Lucas
Zachary Lucas (LAW ’17) is Executive Director of the Syrian Accountability Project.

Syrian Accountability Project Releases New Report on April 4 Chemical Attack in Khan Sheikhoun

The Syrian Accountability Project, an initiative at Syracuse College of Law, is unveiling new evidence that the catastrophic gas attack of the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was a crime against humanity and a war crime.

“Our aim is to provide future prosecutors with a database of evidence that will help the Syrian people seek justice for these crimes after the war concludes.”

The 45-member organization, staffed by College of Law students and led by Professor David Crane, a former war crimes prosecutor, has released its latest white paper, Idlib Left Breathless: A Report on the Chemical Attack in Khan Sheikhoun.”

The paper details the April 4, 2017, attack that killed at least 87 people and injured more than 500. The paper offers compelling evidence that the gas used in the attack was the nerve agent sarin, one of the most potent and fast-acting chemical weapons, banned under international law ever since the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

“This white paper continues the Syrian Accountability Project’s careful analysis of war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed by all sides during the six-year-long Syrian Civil War, a list of horrors that beyond the use of chemical weapons also includes the torture of prisoners, siege of cities, denial of humanitarian aid, rape and deliberate targeting of civilian populations,” says Crane. “Our aim is to provide future prosecutors with a database of evidence that will help the Syrian people seek justice for these crimes after the war concludes. To this end, we will send this and other analyses to the newly created United Nations Syrian Accountability Center, which was formed with my help in December 2016.”

The white paper’s sources include first-hand accounts of the chemical attack, subsequent news reports from both local and international news agencies, and other open-source materials. The Syrian government denies that it launched the attack.

The chemical attack happened at 6 a.m. on April 4 when two or three aerial strikes occurred on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, located in northwestern Syria, a stronghold of anti-Assad forces. People reported choking and gasping for air, and first responders reported people lying on the ground and convulsing, symptoms that are consistent with the use of a nerve agent such as sarin.

Specifically, sarin gas targets a body’s neurotransmitters, and even in small doses it can quickly cause respiratory failure due to lung paralysis. Unlike chlorine gas, a powerful irritant that also has been reportedly used during the Syrian Civil War, sarin is lethal even when dispersed outdoors. Images from the attack, including the deaths of young children, shocked the world, and they were the catalyst for the United States government to reverse its current policy toward directly targeting the Assad Regime by launching 59 missiles on April 7 at the Syrian air force base where the attack was unleashed.

The white paper was written by College of Law students Kaitlyn Degnan, Andrew Dieselman, Kseniia Guliaeva, Casey Kooring, Sean Mills, Zachary Lucas and Colin Tansits. Further support for the project came from Newhouse School Associate Professor Ken Harper, first director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement. Margaret Mabie was responsible for the graphic design of the paper.

This is not the first white paper detailing crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Syrian Accountability Project. In 2016, the project released the groundbreaking “Looking Through the Window Darkly, a Snapshot Analysis of Rape in Syria, 2011-2015,” which analyzed 142 sexual crimes perpetrated by all sides in the Syrian Civil War and which revealed that the Syrian Regime perpetrated 62 percent of the total incidents.

https://news.syr.edu/2017/04/syrian-accountability-project-releases-new-report-on-april-4-chemical-attack-in-khan-sheikhoun/

INSCT Experts Discuss Syrian Airstrike with The Daily Orange

Experts disagree over implications of recent U.S. airstrike in Syria

(The Daily Orange | April 18, 2017) Experts are at odds over the effectiveness and repercussions of a recent United States airstrike in the war-torn nation of Syria that was ordered by President Donald Trump.

“Elman said this lack of enforcement from the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness around the world.”

Trump ordered the strike in response to a chemical attack that occurred in northern Syria in early April.

The strike has affected the United States’ relations with regional powers in the Middle East such as Iran, and has escalated tensions with Russia. Some experts at Syracuse University have differing stances on how the strike will impact U.S. relations in the coming weeks, as the six-year conflict in Syria continues to drag on.

The use of chemical weapons is banned under international humanitarian law because once the weapons are released on the battlefield, there is the possibility civilians can indiscriminately be killed along with targeted combatants.

Some see the airstrike Trump ordered as a step in the right direction because it is retaliating against chemical attacks, said Corri Zoli, an assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Since World War I, international law has condemned the use of gas in warfare, Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science from the Maxwell School, said in an email.

“In 1919, the Versailles Treaty forbade the use of poison gas; in 1925 the League of Nations approved the Geneva Protocol which bans the use of chemical and biological weapons,” Elman said.

This is the U.S.’s first direct military strike against the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime. Experts agree that the lack of direct military action until now might be due to decisions made by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Zoli said the previous administration had a foreign policy aim of retreating from the Middle East. Even though atrocities were also being committed during that time, Obama had preferred to not intervene against a sovereign state in the region, she said.

Even though Obama had previously said that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would lead to serious consequences for the regime, no meaningful actions were taken against the regime, Elman said.

Elman said this lack of enforcement from the Obama administration was seen as a sign of weakness around the world. It also contributed to the erosion of international laws and norms because people stopped believing that members of the international community would put restraints on chemical warfare, Zoli added.

Zoli said rather than more direct military attacks in the future, she expects to see more work done behind the scenes to get local governments in the nation to help put the “Syrian pieces back together.” She added that the possibility of resettlement for Syrian civilians driven from their homes might more of a priority in the future …

To read the whole article, click here.

 

Understanding Interdisciplinary Responses to International Terrorism & Violent Extremisms

INSCT Graduate Student Research
NEW DATE!

Date: April 28, 2017
Time: Noon – 2 p.m.
Location: Hartmann Seminar Room (Dineen 436)

In partnership with Emory University, George Washington University, and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Strategic Partnerships with Colleges and Universities—and with feedback from state and federal policymakers—graduate students in the College of Law and Maxwell School will share findings from their research on international terrorism and violent extremism.

Topics include:

  • The role of the UN in crafting international counterterrorism policy.
  • Women’s leadership role in terrorist organizations.
  • The importance of anti-extremist K-12 educational programs, such as Holocaust and atrocity education.
  • Cross-cultural perspectives on what works in other settings (e.g., Israel, Egypt, Indonesia, Belgium, etc.).
  • The experience of vulnerable communities with CVE in the United States (e.g., Somali communities in Minnesota).
  • The challenge of implementing counterterrorist and counter-extremist laws and statutes.
  • The role of “hard” and “soft” power CVE mechanisms, including drones.

This capstone research has been developed under the guidance of INSCT Director of Research Corri Zoli and INSCT’s National Security and Counterterrorism Research Center (LAW 822), a working laboratory for contemporary national and international security law and policy challenges.

Graduate Student Contributions to Policy Solutions

Both professors William Banks and Corri Zoli were tapped by DHS as subject matter experts, along with Emory Law Professor Laurie Blank and George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security Deputy Director Seamus Hughes, to provide recommendations to DHS Secretary John F. Kelly for improving strategic partnerships with colleges, universities, and the K-12 communities in fostering CVE-related academic research and programming. Students conducted the grounding research to develop these recommendations, which have been submitted to the DHS Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC) and to Secretary Kelly.

DHS & Countering Violent Extremism

While the subject of important social science debate, DHS draws on federal law to define a “violent extremist” as “individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals,” and “violent extremism” as “an unpredictable threat from a range of groups and individuals, including domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists.”

On this issue, DHS’s priority is on countering violent extremism (CVE)—building stronger, safer, resilient communities; addressing all forms of violent extremism, regardless of ideology; and preventing violence by focusing not on radical thought or speech, but on educating communities about the threat of recruitment, radicalization to violence, and innovative community responses.

Much of this work has been initiated by the US Office for Community Partnerships, whose mission is to develop and implement a full range of partnerships to support and enhance efforts by key stakeholders to prevent radicalization and recruitment to violence by terrorist organizations. Engaging the higher education community is part of these efforts in preventing violent extremism and strengthening community partnerships for addressing violent extremism. The Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC) and the Academic Subcommittee on CVE are designed to help leverage academic expertise for these efforts.