The Syria Trials/
S1E5: The House of Assad


The violence that Syrians have witnessed and suffered since 2011 did not come out of nowhere - there is a history, a background and a basis to it. And so, if we want to better understand what has happened in the country in the past 11 years, we need to travel further back in time - to the beginnings of Assad family rule in Syria. In this episode, we’re uncovering how the pillars of the Assad regime were constructed. 

The Syria Trials is a 75 Podcast production. This episode is hosted by Fritz Streiff with Kristina Kaghdo. It was produced by Sasha Edye-Lindner, with editorial support from Mais Katt. The voice over was provided by Maksim Abdul Latif. Translation was by Alaa Hassan. This episode was mixed by Tobias Withers.

Support for our podcast comes from German Federal Foreign Office funds that are provided by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen IFA’s Zivik Funding Programme.

To find out more about our podcast, visit our website Here you'll find an archive of all our episodes with their transcripts, as well as our other productions. 


Useful links:

People’s Tribunal for the Murder of Journalists: 

Sam Dagher: 

Rime Allaf: 

Rifaat al-Assad case:   


Archive clips: 

Episode Transcript

Kristina Kaghdo: One of the things that really stayed with me until now was how in the beginning of each school year I would go to the stationery shop that was located in my street. And in all stationery shops you could find pictures of the symbol of the party, pictures of the ruling family, namely Hafez al-Assad. Because it was him in power at the time. 

And we were supposed to get some of those pictures and glue them into our notebooks and on the covers of our notebooks, namely the Civic Education Notebook. And the Civic Education's a whole different story because it was one hour, 2 hours a week that were dedicated to learning about the power and beauty and how great and amazing the ruling party is. The ruling family, the ruling father - who was Hafez al-Assad at the time. 

Fritz Streiff: Kristina Kaghdo is a translator and podcast producer, and she also presents the Arabic series of The Syria Trials. Kristina grew up in the Syrian capital, Damascus. 

Kristina: And I remember that we had this teacher who would skip civic education classes. I have no idea why. We used to have something called like an inspection committee. And it's a committee that comes from the Ministry of Education to check on different schools. And I think it was one of the tools of surveillance as well, to make sure that the school looks like and sounds like and behaves like it should. So she would skip those classes, and whenever there was an inspection, she would make us sit for like a couple of days and fill in our Civic Education notebooks with whatever she was writing on the board, without going through it, without really learning it, just to make sure that then when the inspection comes, they can see our notebooks filled. Obviously, I didn't feel comfortable asking, why are we doing this? Because it was an order and we executed orders. 

Fritz: It must have been a risk for her, too. I mean, you were just saying how schools were one of the clear institutional examples of where the state surveillance system could really have an impact structurally. And, you know, it's kind of like a small but potentially impactful example of civil disobedience, really. 

Kristina: I totally agree, especially that we were 50 kids in class and kids talk. You know, we could just go home and say, you know what we did today? We were filling in our Civic Education notebook with stuff that we haven't learned anything about. And that would definitely be an alarming thing for many parents. 

Fritz: Alarming indeed, because by the time Kristina was growing up in the 1990s, Syrians had become used to the cost of disobeying the Assad regime. So far in the series, we've mainly heard about the crimes committed in Syria since 2011 - the violent suppression of the Revolution and the devastation of the ensuing war. But this violence did not come out of nowhere. There's a history, a basis to it. Since the beginning of Assad family rule in 1970, when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, seized power of Syria, the regime had been built upon one key founding principle: eliminate any opposition, any threat to the family's rule, no matter the cost. By the time 2011 came around and huge numbers of Syrians began to call for a change of regime, Bashar al-Assad followed this guiding principle to the letter. Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam, the protesters chanted, which means something like “the people want to bring down the regime”. To the Assad family, this was a clear and unacceptable threat to their power. And so in order to really understand the violence and the criminality that has occurred in Syria since 2011, we need to go back to the beginning and uncover how the Assads built a regime with them at the centre and how they have held onto power for over half a century. Welcome to The Syria Trials. Episode Five - The House of Assad. 

Ugur Umit Ungor: My name is Ugur Ungor. I'm a sociologist and historian at the University of Amsterdam, and I'm mostly interested in the modern and contemporary history of mass violence, mostly mass violence against civilians. 

Fritz: After centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire, the modern Syrian state emerged after the end of the First World War. 

Ugur: The Ottoman Empire lost the war. So there were a number of states that emerged from it. Syria is one of them. Iraq, Jordan, are of course, others. And then Syria became part of the French mandate. And mandate is basically a fancy word for colonisation. And this is important because in this period from 1923 to 1946, it wasn't Syrians who decided their own fate. If we want to understand some of the practices of the Assad regime later in  1970s, 1980s and up to now, the roots of some of that violence, of course, they stretch back into the Ottoman Empire, but a lot of that violence escalated during the French colonisation of Syria. And then after independence, 1946, Syria saw almost a dozen coup d'états in a period of not longer than maybe a decade, decade and a half. So that political instability also deeply destabilised the society. And then, of course, in the 1960s, the Ba’ath Party seized power. And then in 1970, we have Hafez coup d'état. 

Fritz: Hafez al-Assad was amongst a group of Ba’ath supporters in the Syrian army who seized control of Syria in 1963, before seizing power himself in 1970. Hafez was elected President in 1971, the only candidate in the running.

Rime Allaf: Hafez Assad, who was an Air Force officer and a Minister of Defence, took power with a group of his army and Air Force buddies. And, you know, we never got rid of the Assad dynasty. It's been now 52 years, so we've entered the second half century of Assad's rule and they have merely managed to entrench themselves. 

My name is Rime Allaf. I'm a Syrian born writer and researcher who's been working on Syria for the greater part of the last 25 years. I would say. 

Ugur: What defines really the state and the regime in Syria is the way that it uses violence and the threat of violence against its own citizens as a pillar of its governance, of its functioning. 

Rime: Hafez Assad was at the beginning what one might call a benign dictator or so people hoped, because they were a little bit tired of the coups and the counter coups. And he tried to show himself as somebody who was listening to his people at the very beginning. So that's in the early seventies. But very quickly, things disintegrated. 

Fritz: After Hafez took power, any other political parties had to come under the umbrella of the National Progressive Front, a political alliance headed by his party, the ruling Ba’ath Party. It was a dangerous game to be politically active outside of this alliance. 

Faraj Bayrakdar VO: My name is Faraj Bayrakdar. If arrest and exile were occupations, that means that I have worked for 14 years as a detainee and 17 years as an exile. I hold a university degree in Arabic literature. But I did not have the chance to ever use the certificate. As for poetry, I do not consider it a job, but a hobby. 

Fritz: Faraj is a Syrian journalist and award winning poet. He was a young adult in 1970 when Hafez al-Assad became the president of Syria. 

Faraj VO: The regime started displaying the maximum possible brutality. Even though I knew I was just a poet, I could not morally and purposefully ignore this anymore. My friends were being killed or they were being locked up in a prison left and right until God knows when. I knew that poetry on its own could not create any change. Collective work had to be done. And so I found myself involved in the Communist Labour Party. 

Fritz: The Communist Labour Party operated basically illegally outside of the National Progressive Front Alliance. 

Faraj VO: You do not get a whirlwind in a clear sky. There must be a reason for it. Under Hafez al Assad, killing and massacres became normal. Well, not normal, but not a big deal. Assad's predecessors were bad. And he stopped down to the level and to an even lower one with his repression. It turned from bad to worse until he got to the point where he was ready to massacre anyone to protect his throne.

Fritz: Just how far the Assad regime was willing to go to hold on to power. Became shockingly clear in 1982.

Rime: There was a kind of insurrection, you know, a kind of defiance of the Assad regime with the only real political force that was fortifying and making itself visible on the Syrian scene. And that was the Muslim Brotherhood. And that ended in the terrible massacre in Hama in 1982, when Hafez Assad sent his brother, Rifaat Assad, who was the head of the Fourth Division, the army at the time. They entered the old part of Hama. They went from house to house. They took out many leaders of the Muslim Brothers. 30,000 people, if we take that as the most accurate number of people killed, there were not 30,000 Muslim brothers. There were civilians, there were women, there were children. There were doctors and teachers and professors. And the artillery bombed its way through Hama. The city was demolished. It was raised and rebuilt. Syrians understood the message very well. Any defiance of the regime would be brutally, violently repressed. That was the Assad regime's sign to the people. You stay quiet, you show us docility and we will not bother you. But if you even dream that any other system is even allowed, you are wrong. 

Kristina: It's a very interesting case to talk about because what happened in Hama stayed with people for generations. After the Revolution started, I realised that a lot of people went onto the streets because they felt like they didn't want to be those bystanders that their parents were during the massacre in Hama. They felt like they wanted to be on the right side of history. And I found it truly amazing because people from very different backgrounds have been mentioning this as one of the motivations to actually go on the streets. It felt like there's this deep sense of guilt that they wanted to wash. 

Fritz: Hearing this from you now only makes it more concrete to me, why it's such an incredibly, you know, really dumb failure of justice. The justice system in this case of the French, to let go of Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of the current President who was in charge at the time of the Army operation against Hama. And who was in Paris and had multiple cases against him, but one criminal case. And was able to flee the country, was able to return to Syria and is now out of the reach of the French justice system. And there was also a case pending in Switzerland against him. Still is. And the likelihood that that will lead to actual justice is now extremely low. While when he was still in Paris, it could have been done. I think it's an example of how a significance of a certain case can be so underestimated by international legal systems that don't have a good grip on the cultural context of the case. 

Rime: Hafez Assad depended on his family and Rifaat Assad himself was very enamoured with, you know, being in a position of power. And in fact, that's what led to his downfall. Because when Hafez Assad became quite ill in the mid-eighties, Rifaat Assad attempted to take power. And that did not succeed. And they made a deal that he said, okay, you know, you leave Syria immediately. 

Fritz: Which is how Rifaat happened to be in France in the first place, within the reaches of the French justice system. 

Ugur: If we take a look at the structure of the regime, of the Assad regime since 1970, and we focus only on people with the last name Assad, then there are a significant number of people who are in very influential positions. Starting, of course, with Hafez Assad, who appointed his own brother, Rifaat Assad as Head of the Praetorian Guard, head of the Defence Brigades in the 1970s. That's not nothing. And in many other societies you wouldn't be able to do that. You know, you can't appoint a first degree family member to a highly influential military or paramilitary position. But he could and he did. And that, of course, then led to the kind of the growth or the development of the power of the family inside the, especially the security forces, the intelligence agencies, the army, the elite troops. This is where the Assad family built their power base, including, of course, the in-laws. So Assad's mother is from the Makhlouf family. The Makhlouf family, too, was and remains in Syria, a deeply influential family. There is a disproportionate number of people from these two families, from Assad and Makhlouf that are in exceptionally sensitive and powerful positions. And that was the case since the 1970s. 

Rime: You know, the Assads have often been described as a family in power. But I think that is a little bit too simplistic, to put it that way, because it became much more than a family. So you can describe it as clan, as a clique, and there were others, and they happened to be people that Hafez Assad trusted. They happen to be part of the Alawite community, it’s a small community in Syria. But Hafez Assad did build a lot of the army and the intelligence, the officers came from there. It really is a pyramid of power. You had the Ba’ath indoctrinating young Syrians from school onwards and young Syrians learned very quickly that if you wanted to be part of anything and have any of the fringe benefits of being openly loyal to the regime, well, you know, you became an active member of the Ba’ath Party. 

Fritz: The Assads knew that in order to maintain their rule, they could not only rely on indoctrination and placing family members and trusted allies in top positions. Anyone could turn on you as Rifaat’s bid for power had shown Hafez. More pillars of power were needed to keep the Assad regime standing. And so, as with many authoritarian regimes, the intelligence system came to play a key role in Syria. The Syrian intelligence system is more commonly referred to by its shorthand the mukhabarat. The mukhabarat held and holds its tentacles tight around Syrian society. 

Rime: Of course, the intelligence branches, their main role was to terrify the population. The fear of any Syrian. You know, when you hear the word “al amen”, which is the security, you're terrified and you begin to rethink, you know, everything you've done and said and, you know, did you make a faux pas and did you dare to provoke anyone? 

Ugur: There are four major intelligence agencies, Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, Political Security and the State Security, in order of influence. And the Branch, in Syrian Arabic, the “fera”, is generally a grim grey building in the middle of the city where everybody walks around and nobody even dares to look at. It is a building that often is a couple of stories above ground, for the administration staff who work there. Sometimes the archives of the Branch. And then under the ground very often three or four or five stories under the ground, there are the cells. In the cells, that's exactly where they keep individuals that they have arrested. And very often, the torture chamber also is under the ground. So these four agencies - sometimes do work together, but sometimes they also compete - they are like a vacuum cleaner. So the way that they go into Syrian society and extract people from that society on whatever grounds. Maybe you posted something on Facebook against the regime. Maybe you wanted to set up a political party, basically any, or maybe it’s a completely random reason, maybe you didn't do anything. As soon as that happens, the intelligence agencies, they extract you from society. They take you to the Branch. They torture you there. You stay there sometimes a couple of days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. And then after that, you are either released or you are processed and sent to the next phase, which is often ending up in the second dimension of the gulag, which is one of the three major prison camps. 

Fritz: In 1976, Faraj Bayrakdar was spending some time back home in Syria after studying in Budapest on a scholarship from the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education. 

Faraj VO: During that time, Syria invaded Lebanon and my stance was clear and public. I was against the Syrian invasion. They took their revenge on me by cancelling my scholarship and dragging me into the military. During my first referendum in the military in 1978 I said no to Hafez al Assad and so I was arrested by the Air Force Intelligence Directorate. I was completely cut off from everything for four and a half months and then eventually I was released. Because they could not pinpoint anything on me, they let me go. But then on my second day of freedom, I was arrested again by the internal branch of the State Security Intelligence. I was not for a long time, though. My third arrest occurred later by the Military Intelligence Directorate. This was my longest arrest. I was locked up for 14 continuous years. For the first six and a half years, I was completely isolated from the outside world. I was not allowed any visitors, and my family did not know anything about me or who I was with. 

Fritz: Faraj continued to compose poetry throughout his detention, using any tools available. After an international campaign on his behalf, he was finally released from prison in 2000, during a brief period of political respite known as the Damascus Spring. 

Ugur: In Syria imprisonment by the mukhabarat, and a journey through the prison system is what people fear the most. It spreads fear and spreads terror. It spreads trauma for those people who have suffered the violence in the prisons, who were tortured and released. But even people who haven't, you know, also people who, for example, have nothing to fear, even ifvthey also think, they know that this country has in every city a couple of these intelligence branches. They know that people are under the ground and being tortured, and they know that they will have to behave in a way that will avoid them landing in one of these torture chambers. So the regime and its prison system are like a finger and a nail. They're so grown and they've kind of welded together that it's going to be very difficult to extricate these two. 

Kristina: In Syria, we had the saying that “Elhitan laha athan” that “walls have ears”. And I've been brought up with this notion. And it was something that was just implicit that whatever you hear at home, you can never, ever repeat it outside. Do not dare, because it's dangerous. What I remember thinking back then is that but well, it means that people are not safe, that the world is not a safe place to be. And obviously, it created a lot of problematic connections with trust and perceiving others and perceiving myself with others. And until now, I'm working on, you know, this capacity to trust the world, that the world can bring a lot of good things and that not every person has some evil plan to destroy you. And obviously I'm exaggerating now a little bit, but it's just to show that the impact of such very tiny things, like small expressions that keep being repeated to you day after day, year after year, how much they really shape you from within as a human being within a society. 

Fritz: I would be interested to hear from you having first grown up under Assad senior, Hafez, and then growing into the age where his son Bashar Assad took over. Do you remember that time when that happened? 

Kristina: I remember the day when Hafez al-Assad died. Maybe an important contextual information is that Hafez used to be called the eternal or the “khaled” . So obviously what that means is that he's going to be there forever. That's what a child understands, and that's what it was in my head. When Hafez al Assad died, I was visiting my mother's family in Lithuania, and I remember they had this very big TV and I was standing in front of it hearing the news that Hafez al Assad, the President of Syria, died. And I remember thinking that this is the end of the world now, because what will happen to the country? I mean, he was supposed to be there forever. Okay. Now he's not going to be there anymore. And I remember spending that summer away and then coming back to Syria. And I could hear a lot of adults in my surroundings talking about the fact that Bashar al Assad is coming into power and that he was different, that he was young, that he was educated. You know, these very cliché things that were said about and still are said about Bashar al Assad. 

Rime: I was there the day Hafez Assad died. I was there when Bashar Assad came to power. I knew, like most Syrians, that there was no other option than Bashar Assad. The original heir was Bassel Assad, who was, you know, the eldest son of Hafez Assad and who everyone understood was being groomed for power. He was killed in a car crash in January 1994. And Bashar Assad, who nobody ever had thought about, was beginning his studies in the UK and was brought back. So we all understood by seeing Bashar Assad being suddenly promoted to very high ranks in the army and suddenly becoming active and appearing in the media and only in the Syrian media, of course - we all understood that, you know, this was going to be the future leader. 

Rime: At the beginning, in the first few months of Bashar Assad's reign, and I always call it reign. There was a lot of positivity for a lot of Syrians, not from me, but from a lot of Syrians who dared to hope against hope that, you know, finally this was our time. Syrians finally were going to live a better life. Nobody imagined that it was going to be like living in Switzerland or, you know, or the EU or the U.S.. No, everybody was you know, we know how things work. But they hope that it would be like a different Arab country where they also had dictatorships, but where daily life was easy. This was the hope that Syrians had with Bashar Assad. And very quickly, it became clear that even that was absolutely not to be even imagined for most of them. 

Bashar Assad from very early on, it was clear that he had a very, very huge ego. Not that Hafez Assad was by any means somebody who was modest. But Hafez Assad, you know, ruled the old way. Bashar Assad wanted to be everything at the same time, he wanted to be the modern, cool guy with a, you know, educated Western wife. He was young, like, you know, a number of the new young rulers in the region. And he wanted to be admired. 

Fritz: From Sam Dagher’s book “Assad or We Burn the Country”. 

VO: Bashar craved the rewards of engagement with the West, but also fully embraced Iran, Hezbollah and the so-called axis of resistance against the West. He was the moderate Muslim and protector of Christians and minorities, but also the one who mobilised Islamist extremists when it suited him and his regime. He urged the mukhabarat to be less intrusive, but also expected them to crush any hint of threat to his power. He wanted to be seen as legitimately elected and a non-sectarian president for all Syrians, but accepted the reality that his survival depended on his clan and sect. Core elements of the system bequeathed to him by Hafez. 

Fritz: And then came 2011. With the violent suppression of the peaceful Revolution and the ensuing war in Syria, Bashar reused his father's playbook with its central tenant: you do anything to hold onto power. 

Bashar archive clip

Rime: You know that the expression “Assad or we burn the country” was created by the loyalists from the beginning. In Arabic it’s “Al Assad aw nahrek al balad”. That was reminding them that you know that we will do anything and the country be damned. We will burn the country in order to keep Assad. Well, in the end it was Assad and we burn the country. 

Kristina: Often, especially in the first two years of the revolution, I would not be able to sleep at night thinking, what is Bashar thinking at the moment? What does he do in his day to day life? How does he wake up and decide that today I'm going to kill people who are saying no to me, who dare to have an idea of a different society and a different country, that doesn't include me in the picture. What does that mean? Because often we think about Bashar and all the people in power as very distant creatures, as if they were not human beings. But they are human beings with their fears and their will to prove things. One of my theories is that, you know, Bashar has been trying to prove to his mother that he's worthy of power, just like his father was. It might be as simple as that, but it was always considered the least powerful or the least potentially powerful member of the family. And, you know, one day he has power. And then there is his mother who's saying, you know, you need to be a man, man up, you know, live up to the responsibility that your father has left you with. It might be as simple as that, but of course, with a lot and a lot of other layers, I think these are really important questions to ask if you really want to understand the nature of violence that has been happening in the country. 

Fritz: You know, one of the family layers that definitely we know now played a huge role next to Bashar’s mother is his brother Maher, who as maybe the most important figure in the army, has played a huge role in actually executing a lot of the violence. Right. So that maybe also enabled Bashar to at least sort of keep up this face of the more civil, the more emotional, the more sensitive face of this criminal regime. So if we talk about violence as important factors of how this regime has been able to stay in power. Another one that we definitely shouldn't forget is the response or lack of response to incredibly violent actions such as the chemical attacks of 21st of August 2013 on the suburbs of Damascus. That kind of attack will 100% come from the absolute highest top of the hierarchy of responsibility. Something like that will not be decided by a low level commander, except in the unlikely, very unlikely event that it was an accident, which the evidence does not point to at all. So that was a decision made to execute this attack. I think, at that moment, Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle realised that they can go really far with the violence that they were ready to employ in order to stay in power. We're now in 2022 and the methods have worked. The regime is in power. Not going anywhere. 

Kristina: I really think that all these years of Assad's rule were basically a constant struggle between the people of Syria, to whom this land belongs, and one family. And it's crazy when you look at it in that very simplistic way, like it's a whole people versus a family. 

Faraj VO: The responsibility for mine and everyone else's arrest lies with no one other than the Assad regime. Its prison system was not well known during our time. Some people even questioned our opposition. No one does now. Assad's dirty laundry is out in the open. 

Fritz: One of the, I think, main reasons why so many people that we work with that we've we've heard from also, the absolute top priority and overarching goal of this whole effort for justice and accountability for Syria is to have Bashar al Assad and the inner circle on trial. That's the ultimate goal. 

Rime: I think most Syrians, even though they do not dare to say it anymore, know that there can be no justice as long as the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity remain in power and remain free because it just teaches everybody else, even if we were to turn a blind eye to that, I think it just teaches everybody else that you take the expression in the literal form that you know you can get away with murder. 

Faraj VO: The regime is ultimately a hellish machine that crushes everyone in its way. I believe it will crush the largest head as well. The same hellish machine will crush Bashar al Assad. But for now, it seems it will happen later rather than sooner. 

Fritz: It is theoretically possible that at some point Bashar's own regime could turn on him and arrest him. They could then either put him on trial in Syria or extradite him to stand trial at the ICC or at a specialised tribunal for Syria. Although neither of these are options at the moment. It could happen, but for now, the more likely scenario is that Bashar will stay in power and as a serving head of state, he enjoys immunity from national prosecution, which means another country's legal system cannot prosecute him in their courts. Even if he may be holding onto his presidency through illegal means, even if his regime is a dictatorship, as long as he is the president of Syria, Bashar al Assad is pretty much untouchable. But despite the complications to hold the highest ranking regime members accountable, those working in the justice and accountability space are trying to get as close to the top as possible. One example is the chemical weapons case we heard about last episode. Other examples are the arrest warrants against Jamil Hassan and Ali Mamlouk, the former head of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate and the former head of the National Security Bureau. And then there is an interesting case that barrister Toby Cadman is working on against Asma al Assad, Bashar's wife. 

Asma al Assad Archive clip

Toby Cadman: It came out as a result of trying to identify ways in which accountability can be pursued. One of the areas that we looked at was those individuals that were either encouraging, inciting or glorifying acts of atrocity crimes. And so we started to look at the role of the first lady, Asma Assad, as a British national. She was born in the United Kingdom. Her parents live there, in West London. That's where she met Bashar. And she's a dual British-Syrian national. I don't want to see her stripped of her citizenship. I want her to go to prison for the rest of her life for crimes that we say that she has committed. 

Asma al Assad Archive Clip

Toby: What we had argued is what's called conventional offences. So chemical weapons is a particular category of convention offences and it's all to do with encouragement, incitement into those acts. So we started to look into conduct that she had been involved with as a result of being the First Lady, where she had met members of the military who had subsequently carried out chemical weapons attacks and where there had been statements of glorification as to the military's conduct in carrying out bombardment and, again, chemical weapons attacks. So these are all matters that are within the jurisdiction of English law. The finding was made last year, 2021. Additional evidence has been provided and we continue to investigate. The challenge is going to be if the Crown Prosecution Service that has jurisdiction to prosecute, if they consider that there's a sufficient evidential basis to prosecute, of course we need to get her before an English court. And, you know, I'm aware of the challenges of that, but I'm also confident and hopeful that one day there'll be a Syria without Bashar and Asma Assad at the helm. And they may leave the country at some point. And then they will be arrested, and hopefully brought before an English court. 

Fritz: Despite the stories and the evidence, the cases and the trials, the Assad regime is not only still in power in Syria, it almost appears to be making a slow return to international politics. Paul Conroy is a war photographer who was in Homs with his colleague, the war correspondent Marie Colvin in 2012. The makeshift media centre they were staying in was attacked by the regime, killing Marie and others, although the regime denies it was involved. This is from a testimony Paul gave this year in 2022 at the People's Tribunal for the Murder of Journalists. 

Paul Conroy archive: There's this creeping rehabilitation of this murderous regime back into the international community as if, you know collective amnesia is coming over the world and we're going, Oh, well, maybe they're not so bad. You know, maybe we could do business. Damn right he’s bad. They are murderous animals and they should not be rehabilitated by anybody into any international bodies organisations. They should be where they belong with the Russians as outcasts and pariahs until they stop the killing and they acknowledge the killing. And there's justice for the people who were killed. 

Fritz: While the Assads may, for the time being at least, be out of the grip of international legal systems, Syrian organisations and partner lawyers are continuing to build cases that attempt to hold high ranking Syrian regime officials accountable. A key driving force behind this continued effort is to rail against, as Paul Conroy said, this creeping rehabilitation of the Assad regime and their attempts to rewrite the past 11 years. Syrian case builders, journalists, poets and many others are fighting to keep the memory of the regime's criminality alive and to keep the Syria file on the justice and accountability table. As time passes, these efforts become even harder and more of a struggle as people forget and those responsible die, and the dynamics of the regime in Syria shift. Syria, after all that has happened in the past 11 years, is different today. Can the slow turning wheels of international justice remember past crimes and also keep up with the new crimes? Next time, in Episode Six of The Syria Trials, we look at what position the regime is in today. I’m Fritz Streiff. Thank you for listening.