His own uncle, the young man said, turned him into security forces who interrogated and tortured him.
Across Syria and in neighboring Turkey, a small group of lawyers is quietly collecting testimony from Syrians victimized by the vast network of intelligence services that the government has used against the rebellion. They have relayed accusations to rebel-established courts in three Syrian provinces, which have issued more than 140 arrest warrants, most for war-related crimes.
The lawyers hope the written accusations will eventually be used against senior government officials in an international court, and they say the outstanding warrants include one for President Bashar al-Assad. Most, they expect, will be tried in Syrian courtrooms.
It is unclear whether the warrants, let alone the courts, have any authority in a country still officially ruled by Assad and where the entire legal system is likely to be overhauled if the regime falls. But the lawyers say that to wait for a transitional government would be to invite more summary executions.
“Our purpose is to prevent revenge killings,” said Ali al-Azir, one of about 300 attorneys in the Free Syrian Lawyers Committee. “The best way to do that is to arrest the responsible persons, put them in prison and have them answer to the law.”
The committee says rebel military councils in the three provinces agreed to order soldiers to abide by the warrants and to detain people picked up at rebel checkpoints until they can be tried.
Violence is hard to assess
It is difficult to judge the degree to which that is happening in the chaos of a brutal war in which Syrians on both sides have scores to settle. On top of the violence associated with the government, several YouTube videos purport to show slayings of people captured by rebel troops.
In one recent video, for example, rebels executed a man identified as a Syrian army sergeant even though he was wearing a running suit, not a uniform. In the video, the rebels claim that the man shot another man and a child, and they briefly argue among themselves about whether to kill their unarmed captive. It ends with the suspect begging for his life, then crumpling to the ground in a hail of gunfire.
It is unlikely that regime supporters would turn to a rebel-established court, but for now the lawyers’ depositions are creating a conduit for Syrians who say they were arrested and tortured by the government for their dissent and who have never had an outlet to strike back.
“Why shouldn’t we judge these criminals?” Amhan said. “Under Syrian law, it’s not an excuse if you did something illegal because you feared retaliation against your family. People should have refused these orders.”