The international conference on Syria could use peace talks itself.
The opening was marked by a sharp but civil exchange between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, then marred by a screed from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.
His defiant diatribe resulted in curt words from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban was already reeling after a failed gambit to invite Iran, one of Syria’s main military allies, to the talks. After Kerry and others protested, and Iran refused the precondition that the talks should be about establishing a transitional government, Ban rescinded the invitation.
Ban’s reversal was appropriate. Syrian President Bashar Assad cannot be part of a transitional government because the opposition would never accept it. And the global community shouldn’t either, especially after new photographic evidence of Assad’s torture and killing machine was revealed on Tuesday.
The cache of 55,000 grisly images, reportedly smuggled out of Syria by a police photographer, shows numbers inscribed on 11,000 bodies. In explicit detail, the photos depict what has long been reported by human rights groups and other nations: Assad’s government is responsible for torture and murder that should be treated as war crimes.
The photographs are understandably unbearable to view. But the world cannot look away. Indeed, “It is very rare to have this kind of government-backed, industrial, machinelike, systematic torture and killing of human beings, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Nuremberg,” David Crane, an investigator who examined the images and who previously indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor, told the New York Times.
“The right to lead a country does not come from torture,” Kerry said in Switzerland. He’s right — about the opposition and Assad, whose future shouldn’t be in Damascus, but in The Hague, home of the International Criminal Court.