By Andrew Sampson of Safe World
I just had the unpleasant experience of watching a 13 minute video, taken by a Syrian rebel cameramen and posted on the internet for all to see.
The film was taken following an attack on a police station in the Marjeh neighbourhood of Aleppo.
Unlike a lot of videos of the conflict, this was not grainy and low quality. This had not been filmed on a mobile phone. Someone had a camera and was determined to make the film as clear and focused as possible.
The film starts quite innocently, We are walking down a small road through a built up area. Two armed fighters greet each other in front of us with a hug. Everything seems very relaxed. There is a sense of celebration in the air.
We walk on, following another fighter ahead of us. Everything feels safe. It could almost be someone’s private holiday video except for the guns. There is much talking and calling out loudly.
The road widens out into a larger street, a few cars are parked up. Ahead there are more fighters. Someone fires a gun and for a moment we stop. But only for a moment; it’s obvious we are safe and amongst friends.
And then we arrive at our destination, and we are shown the sign of a police station.
The cameraman takes us through the gate into the front garden.
Here amongst the potted plants we are shown the first signs of war. A pile of burnt out guns and ammunition.
Not speaking Arabic, one could only guess that we were being told about the weaponry the rebels had been facing.
And then the gruesome and, what seems like the sole purpose of the film, began. To show, to whomever the intended audience was, what happened when you resisted the rebels.
At first it looked as though there was just a single body in the garden. The camera zooming in to show a bullet hole in the throat, and then resting there for a few seconds.
But as we looked round you could see there were more.
Next we went upstairs inside the building. Climbing steps covered with pools of blood and into room after room of scenes of hell.
Bodies everywhere. Lying where they were fallen. As we walked in, the camera would stop and close in – here a mutilated face, there a man with bullet wounds in the stomach. White T shirts with blood stains or even some people, who had no tops on – stripped off in the heat of battle perhaps.
We were taken inside one largish room. It looked like a large office, except in the corner was a bed. Where one can only guess that one of the bodies on the floor had slept the night before.
We stayed in this room longer, watching as one of the soldiers took down a picture of Assad off the wall and smashed it on the ground a triumphant look on his face.
And then onto more rooms and more bodies.
At some point the realisation hit me that these bodies lying all over the ground were human beings. Not monsters with two heads. People like you and me. Men, with mothers and wives and children.
And the horror of what I was watching became even more intense. Here there was no respect for fallen enemies that we are led to believe used to exist in the ‘noble wars’ of the past.
This was humanity at its worst. Using death and violence as a tool for propaganda.
The film was being made to send a message. One can only presume aimed at members of Assad’s security services and army.
A clear and simple message – this will happen to you too.
A message filmed with such clarity there could be no mistaking its meaning.
I don’t know why I kept watching, but I did. I think it was because I couldn’t really believe what I was being shown.
After 10 minutes or so we were taken out of the house back into the garden. A few more bodies here, a few more there.
And then the cameraman had one last shot he wanted to take.
Lying on the ground was one man indistinguishable from all the other corpses. But the cameraman wanted us to see something. So he starting panning in – taking us closer and closer so we could see the bullet wounds. And closer and closer.
At that point I switched off. I sat silently for a few minutes. I couldn’t do anything. Impossible
Two hours later I forced myself to see the end.
We are now leaving the police station, going out of the gate into the street, past a group of fighters. ‘God is great’ they call in unison as we pass them.
One the way, we pass one of the rebels about to go inside, with a small camera in his hand. As if he was going to take some souvenir photos of his own.
Everybody is happy, smiling faces.
The last shot is of the sign of the police station. Just so we have no doubts. And that was that.
Another day, another battle and no doubt more films to come.