By day, the workers used heavy machinery to dig pits and trenches. After dark, the corpses arrived, sometimes hundreds at a time, in the beds of military pickups or in refrigerator trucks meant for transporting food.
As government intelligence officers looked on, the dead were dumped into the ground and buried near the capital, Damascus, according to men who worked at two mass grave sites in Syria. Sometimes, the workers packed the dirt down tightly to keep dogs from digging up the bodies.
Throughout Syria’s 11-year civil war, human rights groups and government defectors have documented the widespread killing of civilians by the security forces as they sought to stamp out any opposition to the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad.
Now, The New York Times has gathered evidence that sheds new light on one enduring mystery of the war: What happened to the bodies of the many thousands who died or were killed in government detention centers?
Interviews over the past several months with four Syrian men who worked at or near secret mass graves led to an examination of satellite images. Together, those clues revealed the locations of two sites. Each one holds thousands of bodies, according to the men who worked there. They could also contain powerful evidence of war crimes committed by Mr. al-Assad’s forces, according to human rights groups, including the systematic torture and the killing of detainees. [Continue reading…]