What he did was incredibly damaging to the cause he claimed to be fighting for, and was a great propaganda victory for those he claimed to oppose. The Assad Regime can't stop talking about it, even Putin warned against arming "organ-eating Syrian rebels." Because it connects with our deep psychological fascination with cannibalism, it is the story that won't die, and it is the one outrage that is most often used to tarnish and condemn all those fighting to overthrow the Assad Regime. For example, one negative response to my most recent blog post, Bashar al-Jihad: Is ISIS a child of the regime?, said, in part:
Have you seen the You-Tube videos depicting the dissident leader's cannabalism of a Syrian soldier's corpse-- screaming insanse threats to repeat this atrocity on all followers of Assad?And someone else posted this comment to an interview with media activist Raed Fares of Kafranbel, Syria, published on Truthout, 10 Jan 2014:
Now imagine that you are "next door", in a bordering country with those beastie animals out of control on the other side that eat the livers of their live opponents (whomever they are, I guess the tastier, right?) while the victim watching is agonizing. Or that gas each other (who knows who does what to whom) and innocent women and children die, luckily enough WHEN THEY ARE SLEEPING!.This is an example of the kind of bigoted attitude that has found a home on the Left since it elected to turn its eyes away from the unfolding strategy in Syria and instead look for reasons to find them unworthy of our concern or support.
Much of this commentary has been done in an effort to tar Assad's entire opposition with that particular brush, almost none of it has even speculated on why it happened. So now is as good a time as any to ask: Is cannibalism really an attribute of the Syrian Revolution, or was this the result of something more universal that affects some soldiers drenched in vicious and bloody warfare for extended periods of time, like US soldiers in Vietnam who cut off the heads of their enemy and placed them on spikes along jungle trails, or used them as soccer balls, or dug up graves when there were no fresh Vietnamese corpses to mutilate?
What possessed him to do this thing, record it and post the video to the Internet? Was it an outburst of evil that grew from the very character of the rebellion, or was it more like the something that breaks in some soldiers in all wars when its culture of death overloads them? Is it possible that Abu Sakkar was suffering from PTSD?
There is a lot of controversy over whether PTSD can cause depraved behaviour like this. Those that are trying to treat veterans suffering from PTSD, get them jobs, and re-integrate them back into "The World", as Vietnam vets use to refer to it, naturally wish to down play any talk of a relationship between PTSD and violent and beastly behaviour, but it has been recognized that veterans with PTSD are involved in a higher rate of spousal abuse than average, and there is significant anecdotal evidence of much worst.
US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who was charged with going on a one-man killing spree in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan that took the lives of 17 civilians in one night, raised PTSD as a defence. It may have also been a factor with veteran Benjamin Cotton Barnes who was suspected of killing a park ranger at Mount Rainer Park before Barnes was found dead, or veteran Itzcoatl Ocampo who died while awaiting trial for stabbing to death four homeless men in Southern California. I also gave examples of the ghoulish insanity soldiers will be driven to in an earlier post: Ten Things Worst Than Eating a Dead Man's Heart Done by US Soldiers in Vietnam.
But I don't think it really matters much whether you classify it as PTSD or some other psychiatric disturbance, war is a brutal, bloody business, and I think that some soldiers, if they are drenched in it for too long, will crack, like Colonel Kurtz, and turn into madmen or beasts, and that is the story of Abu Sakkar.
BBC News reporter Paul Wood found Abu Sakkar in Syria and interviewed him:
...when I met the commander, Abu Sakkar, in Syria last week, he seemed hazy on the details.Paul Wood tells how he responded,
"I really don't remember," he says, when I ask if it was the man's heart, as reported at the time, or liver, or a piece of lung, as a doctor who saw the video said. He goes on: "I didn't bite into it. I just held it for show."
The video says otherwise.
when I ask why he carried out this depraved act.This is crazy Colonel Kurtz logic. Then Paul Woods goes on to tell his story:
"I didn't want to do this. I had to," he tells me. "We have to terrify the enemy, humiliate them, just as they do to us. Now, they won't dare be wherever Abu Sakkar is."
Before the uprising, he was working as a labourer in Baba Amr. He joined the demonstrations when they started in the spring of 2011. Then, he says, a woman and child were shot dead at a protest. His brother went to help. He, too, was shot and killed.I think what Abu Sakkar did was go mad. It was a madness caused by more than two years of war and should be read as a plea for its end. It should not be used in a cynical effort to deny the righteous demand of those who have suffered so much in their just struggle to see an end to the Assad Regime because no peace can be purchased at that price.
In a YouTube video from June 2011, Abu Sakkar can be seen at the front of a crowd waving olive branches to greet deserting army officers. He took up arms against the regime, one of the first to join a new organisation called the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
In February 2012, he was fighting with the Farouq Brigade, and they tried, and failed, to stop the regime taking Baba Amr. When the FSA fled Baba Amr, he started his own brigade, the Omar al-Farouq. They saw bitter fighting in Qusayr.
Along the way, he lost another brother, many relatives, and countless of his men. His parents were arrested and he says the police rang him so he could hear them being beaten.
"Put yourself in my shoes," he says. "They took your father and mother and insulted them. They slaughtered your brothers, they murdered your uncle and aunt. All this happened to me. They slaughtered my neighbours."
He goes on to talk about the man whose flesh he held in his hands: "This guy had videos on his mobile. It showed him raping a mother and her two daughters. He stripped them while they begged him to stop in the name of God. Finally he slaughtered them with a knife... What would you have done?"