The family of Marie Colvin, an American war reporter killed in Baba Amr, Syria, alleges that she was murdered by the Assad regime. According to a lawsuit filed on 9 July 2016, the Assad regime forces which were “acting with premeditation… deliberately killed Marie Colvin by launching a targeted rocket attack against a makeshift broadcast studio… where Colvin and other journalists were residing.” Colvin had gone to Baba Amr in Homs, Syria, to cover the siege for the British newspaper, The Sunday Times.
Before Colvin had arrived in Baba Amr, the neighborhood had been subject to intense siege warfare which included “systematic artillery and sniper fire”, as part of Assad’s campaign against the opposition. The siege also included the targeting of journalists who were exposing the brutality of the siege to the world. Baba Amr had become the “center” of Syria’s “citizen journalism”, where “private individuals… disseminated news to local of foreign media outlets”. This provided a motive for the Assad regime to hunt down as many journalists as possible, with Colvin being caught in the dragnet.
According to the lawsuit, the plan to kill Colvin was “formulated at the highest levels of the Syrian government by members of the Central Crisis Management Cell (CCMC).” The CCMC is a war cabinet that was created by President Assad to oversee all activities related to the struggle against the rebels. Members of the CCMC include Maher al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother and commander of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, as well as General Ali Mamluk, head of the General Intelligence Directorate. Syrian military forces, along with paramilitary death squads, executed the plan. The Syrian government knew where to attack as an informant had tipped off the Homs Military-Security Committee that there were foreign journalists in Baba Amr and gave them their precise location. Syrian intelligence intercepted Colvin’s satellite broadcast signal and it matched the informant’s information. The next day, Syrian artillery units launched rockets and mortars at the Media Center, where Colvin was situated. Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed, while journalists Paul Conroy and Wael al-Omar were rendered injured by the attack.
This lawsuit is one of many that have been directed at the Assad regime, though this is the only one so far that alleges misconduct on the part of the regime. The family of Steven Sotloff, another journalist killed in Syria, also filed a lawsuit in court against Assad earlier in 2016. Sotloff was abducted and killed by Daesh, also known as ISIS, in 2014, and his family alleges that Assad is responsible because his regime is supplying Daesh with money and weapons.
The intention of a majority of these lawsuits is not to get justice for the victims, but to receive a financial settlement. Peter Margulies, a professor at the Roger Williams University School of Law, explains this. He said, “In the vast majority of cases brought by family members of terrorist victims against sovereign governments who are, like Syria, on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror, the defendant simply never shows up. In that case, the judge may find the defendant in default and rule in favor of the plaintiff.”
Here, we see how freedom of speech is heavily curtailed due to various political agendas that calls for censorship of the press. If anything, this lawsuit underscores the lack of press freedom in Syria, as journalists are routinely killed by the government for doing their jobs. Will this dismal situation change anytime soon? Only time will tell.