The Trump administration is accusing the Syrian government carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners and burning the bodies in a large crematorium outside the capital.
The State Department says about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya (Said-nay-ah) military prison, about 45 minutes from Damascus. It says the crematorium is being used to hide evidence of the extent of the killings.
The department is releasing newly declassified photographs showing what it says is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium.
In presenting the photographs, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, Stu Jones, said Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s government “has sunk to a new level of depravity” with the support of Russia and Iran.
An estimated 5,000 to 13,000 prisoners were killed at the prison from March 2011 to December 2015, according to a report called “Human Slaughterhouse” issued in February by the Amnesty International human rights organization.
Once or twice a week, the Syrian government would “quietly slaughter” up to 50 prisoners at a time in mass hangings at the prison less than 20 miles from Damascus, before dumping the bodies in mass graves in secret locations outside the capital, the 48-page report says.
Nicolette Waldman, who wrote the report after a one-year investigation, said the number of people killed may be much higher. The country’s civil war, which began in 2011, has left more than 400,000 people dead and millions displaced.
“The last testimony for this report was in December 2015, but there is no reason to think the executions have stopped. There are thousands more who have been killed,” she said in a phone interview in February. “It’s not a perfect science, and what we really want is for an investigation into the prison to get more precise figures.”