The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is featuring a display showing graphic photos of murder and torture that are said to have been committed under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. A Syrian pastor has warned against using the images to justify expanding the war in the country, however.
The Associated Press reported that the photos are from an archive of 55,000 images smuggled out of Syria by a photographer, who has testified in Congress about witnessing the mass killing of prisoners. The journalist, who was only named by the codename "Caesar," said that the massacre was committed under the Assad regime.
"They show a side of the Syrian regime that hasn't really been really seen. You might have heard about it, read about it, but when you're confronted with these images, they're impossible to ignore," said Cameron Hudson, director of the museum's Center for the Prevention of Genocide.
He revealed that some of the images show deprivation and torture, including electrocution, gouged out eyes and removed genitals.
Assad, who has been in office since 2000, has been accused by western powers of human rights abuses, such as using chemical weapons on his own people in August 2013. Assad's government has been locked in a three-year civil war with various Islamic rebel groups who want to remove him from power.
A Christian pastor from Syria, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Christian Post in an email on Friday that the photos should not be sensationalized and used as a means of inciting war against the Syrian state.
"Let's be clear and direct. Most or maybe all western governments knew the entire time that torture is going on in third world prisons, so why are they talking about this now?" the pastor told CP.
He also questioned the legitimacy of the photos, revealing that such images and short films of torture are often used as a means of propaganda in the region, but are often discovered to be fake. At the same time, he clarified that he does not "support severe punishments and torture" for prisoners.
The pastor alluded to the American government and its allies launching airstrikes against terror group ISIS in Syria, and suggested that the release of these photos should not be used as a motive to attack Assad's regime as well, and widen the war in the region.
The photos were shown to the U.N. Security Council in April, with American Ambassador Samantha Power stating that they "indicate that the Assad regime has carried out systematic, widespread and industrial killing."
Syria has dismissed the images, with its Justice Ministry arguing that they are "lacking objectiveness and professionalism."
The Holocaust Memorial Museum has said, however, that it used forensic examinations of the photographs to verify the authenticity of the images.
"The current Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad says the photos are fake, but forensic and international law experts have authenticated them and found the defector's story credible. The FBI is currently examining the photos," the museum has said.
"International law experts say the 55,000 photos could someday support prosecution of the current Syrian regime for crimes against humanity and war crimes."
The museum added that it will be displaying the images for the foreseeable future. It compared the killings to the holocaust of Jewish people committed by Nazi Germany in World War II.
"We realized that this person, Caesar, the Syrian who escaped, he was a witness," Hudson said. "We felt an obligation to tell his story as someone who showed real courage in coming forward and escaping and trying to tell the story of what he saw."