Update, August 3: Agence France-Presse has reported that rebel leaders of the Free Syrian Army on Friday condemned the execution of Assad loyalists as “unacceptable, isolated and illegal” and have rejected responsibility for the killings. Earlier, however, one CNN correspondent reported that the Tawheed Brigade, comprised of FSA fighters, has already claimed responsibility for the executions. Nevertheless, it is promising to see FSA leaders openly denounce these kinds of acts and pledge themselves to the high standards set forth by human rights protocol and international law.
Is the Free Syrian Army (FSA) perfect? The straight answer is no. And I can’t understand how that fact has been twisted to justify something so horrific, so appalling.
Footage of what appears to be a mass execution in Syria emerged on YouTube yesterday. One of the individuals stripped down and killed in the 40-second burst of continuous gunfire has been identified as Ali Zeineddin al-Berri, reported to be a leader of a group of shabiha Assad loyalists. According to various sources, the executioners are FSA fighters and the victims are various members of the al-Berri family or tribe.
Since there is no indication that the roles have been reversed or that the shooters were the ones tied to Assad’s regime, I write this to all those who think the FSA is perfect. Because it isn’t.
Just because the FSA fights Assad does not make it an army of saints nor does it mean it is worthy of unconditional support. According to one senior legal adviser for Human Rights Watch, if the execution is indeed what it shows to be—members of the FSA shooting and killing prisoners in cold blood—then the FSA is guilty of committing a war crime. But that, for me, right now, is irrelevant. What strikes me is that the FSA has committed a very small fraction—but a fraction nonetheless—of the kind of thing its fighters have revolted against Assad for doing.
There is absolutely no excuse for this. The whole “this is war, things happen in war” line is getting stale and, frankly, it never held up in the first place. Isn’t it a revolution? Or does it become a war when the rebels commit something as horrendous as this? To rise against Assad’s tyrannical regime (or any regime for that matter) is to rise above it, and to rise above it means never to employ even a shred of the oppressive brutality that Assad and his henchmen so fondly favor.
Plus, contrary to popular belief, all is not fair game in war. Yes, these kinds of things do happen in war but they also happen outside of war. No matter what setting they happen in, they should be condemned with the greatest conviction possible, for obvious reasons.
Stop. There is background to the story. According to multiple reports, the victims were involved in a plot that killed over a dozen FSA fighters after a truce had just been signed in Aleppo. But does that change anything? Another straight answer: no.
The FSA did not need to employ the same strategies Assad’s shabiha employed in Aleppo literally hours before. I am not one to tell anyone else how to resist (at the end of the day, who am I?) but I am positive a 40-second gun massacre was not the only option available. For a group of rebels who say they are so committed to a brighter future, this would’ve been an excellent time to put the revolution on the map for good by setting a just precedent never before seen in Assad-ruled Syria.
Now, a quick note to any of those “you’re an Assad loyalist!” go-getter slanderers. I cannot think of a term strong enough to define Assad. He is nothing short of an oppressive tyrant that will one day see the world crash down on him. And so it is only natural that I have a problem when the side fighting Assad’s regime begins to act like it. But I also have a problem when people try to transform this concern into some far-off support for Assad. So let me make this clear: ignoring the horrific things the FSA does and trying to brush it under a rug or trying to justify it as a mistake or as “work for the greater good” does a great amount of harm to the credibility and support of the movement. I, or more appropriately, we, stand for the Syrian people the way the Syrian people have stood for us, but we do not stand for barbaric nonsense, no matter who it comes from.