The Syrian defector known as "Caesar," who smuggled out thousands of graphic photographs documenting President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on his own people, will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, Foreign Policy has learned. The briefing will be open to the press, but due to security concerns related to Caesar’s safety, the Syrian defector’s face will be covered.
"Caesar will be disguised in the hearing room to protect his identity," said a congressional aide familiar with the planned briefing.
The Syrian military photographer fled his country last year and handed thousands of photos to the United Nations and to FBI investigators that shocked human rights organizations around the world. His photographs, which U.S. officials say are authentic, show some 11,000 mutilated and mangled bodies, which suggest widespread torture and mass killings by the Assad regime. The Syrian government says the photos are fakes.
On Thursday, Caesar is expected to exhibit some of the images alongside David Crane, a Syria specialist at Syracuse University. The title of the briefing is "Assad’s Killing Machine Exposed: Implications for U.S. Policy."
According to the congressional aide, administration officials had pressured the committee not to publicize the event, due to security precautions related to Caesar’s well-being. However, the aide charged that the administration was actually concerned about Congress bringing too much public attention to Assad’s atrocities. "They’re worried the press will turn around and start raising questions about the administration’s Syria policy," said the aide.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not respond to a request for comment.
Caesar began his visit to Washington this week by showing some of the brutal photos to a small group at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday. He spoke through a translator and wore sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled down low, according to the Washington Post.
Caesar said that as a military photographer, he was instructed to take the photos to demonstrate that military units were carrying out the orders of top brass. His images showed "dozens of badly mutilated and emaciated corpses, many of them disfigured by beatings, missing chunks of skin from lashings, or bearing rashes that experts said may reflect exposure to toxic substances," according to the Post.
This won’t be the first time these images come under the microscope. Back in April, the U.N. Security Council reviewed the photographs in an unsuccessful attempt by France to refer Assad to the International Criminal Court. The death toll in the conflict, now in its fourth year, has surpassed 170,000, according to the opposition-run Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The other Syria experts scheduled to testify on Thursday are Cherif Bassiouni of DePaul University and Fred Hof of the Atlantic Council.