The most important pieces of evidence against the Syrian secret service colonel Anwar R. are photos. 53,275 photos showing the dead torture victims up close, again and again one sees emaciated, pain-distorted, chalk-pale faces. Few of these people were shot. More often they were drowned or starved to death. That’s why Klaus Zorn, who evaluated these photos, came to an agreement with his team at some point: Everyone only looks at what they absolutely have to look at. Because these are images that you can’t get out of your head.
Criminal detective Klaus Zorn, 62, was long the head of the “Central Office for Combating War Crimes” at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which is based in Meckenheim near Bonn. Zorn has now been retired for a good year. But this Thursday, Zorn will return to his profession as a spectator at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court, where a historic verdict will be pronounced against the man he has persecuted for years. The investigator hears with quiet satisfaction how the secret service colonel Anwar R. is sentenced because he is responsible for some of the many tortures. Life imprisonment.
Zorn’s team had started with the photos smuggled out of the country by a Syrian military photographer with the alias Caesar. Caesar had photographed 6,786 corpses from different angles, 6,785 men and one woman. In many cases, the inmate number, which was often smeared on the corpse with a felt-tip pen, made it possible to reconstruct which department of which secret service was responsible.
Zorn’s investigators also went to refugee homes to interview victims. This is the principle of the officials at the Central Office for the Suppression of War Crimes: Witnesses are not summoned. You drive to them. Just as one tries to calm the fear of those who have suffered so horribly, find a quiet place to talk to them, and give them time. It’s bitter how often people from Syria find it difficult to believe that these people really come from the police force. No uniform, no command tone, no beatings?
Severely traumatized victims thanked him
It was the time when many locals in Germany were complaining that refugees from Syria were taking gyms or social welfare away from them. At that time, Zorn also made it clear to his circle of acquaintances what a hell of a dictatorship many of these people escaped.
Zorn has also been to Africa many times throughout his career. There he collected evidence against the head of the rebel militia FDLR, who had found shelter in Mannheim under a false name. Among other things, it was about mass rapes, so Zorn took all-women teams to Rwanda, female investigators and interpreters. And he saw how severely traumatized victims thanked them afterwards. Nobody has ever taken the time to listen to them so extensively and to write down their stories.
But the war crimes investigators always have to read between the lines, remain skeptical and question statements. That was the case with Syrian Anwar R. He had come to Germany and volunteered to speak to the police. He had deserted and wanted to unpack. The investigators let him talk. In the end, Anwar R. is said to have been very surprised that they did not reward him but treated him as a suspect.
The BKA investigators followed a principle that the judges in Koblenz are now confirming with their verdict: Even if a perpetrator changes sides, he still remains responsible for what he did. Just like a serial rapist who stops raping at some point is not given an amnesty as a thank you.