Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force on Assad

Eight years ago this week, protests in Syria first began against President Bashar Assad’s rule. Mouaz Moustafa, Executive Director for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, discusses the war that would become a proxy for powers vying for regional influence and led to a humanitarian crisis.

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MOUAZ MOUSTAFA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SYRIAN EMERGENCY TASK FORCE: We thought when these protests came out calling for freedom for democracy, for the God-given rights that we enjoy in the west and the United States and Europe, and elsewhere, didn’t think that the brutality of the regime would be to this extent. But the winners right now is Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, extremists, and their propaganda, not the Assad regime. General McMaster, the former national security advisor to President Trump, said that 80 percent of on the ground troops for the Assad regime are Iranian-backed militias. It is the Russian Air Force that has bombarded and targeted civilians. And so the winner isn’t Assad. It is an occupation by Russia and Iran of a country because its people came out calling for their dignity.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: But he’s still there after the United States said over and over again and many in the west said over and over again that, you know, Bashar must go, Assad must go. What will his role be then if you say he’s not the winner, his country is occupied? They’re his allies.

MOUSTAFA: He’s merely a puppet. He’s a puppet to Iran and to a lower degree of Moscow. And what he is — if you look at the areas where he controls right now, look at the lives of the areas that he controls. He’s unable to govern. Even some of his own loyalists have sort of been critical of the regime. Of course, they have to be careful because anyone who shows any sort of criticism, including loyalists of the regime, are tortured to death in some of the worst dungeons. And he continues despite the fact that he has the Russian Air Force and the Iranian ground troops, he still has not taken over the entirety of Syria and people still, even those in the reconciliation areas that came under the regime control, were coming out in protest in the last 48 hours calling for democracy. And so he’s there now but he’s more of a puppet than anything. And I think that the Syrian people will continue to call out for their democracy, for their freedom, for their rights of self-determination as long as they have the power to do so, despite the fact that the world has deserted Syria, has deserted our never again moment.

AMANPOUR: Mouaz Moustafa, let me just ask you because you are also a close ally of the man who goes by the name Caesar who broke the news to the world about the horrors taking place in Assad’s prisons. And there are reports again now that these continue, and particularly a new report by the Syrian Rights Group says high levels of sexual abuse are being suffered in jail, including awful mechanical torture devices. “The Washington Post” interviewed a person who has just been detailing it. These were moments when you didn’t recognize yourself as a human. As I lay there, it wasn’t that I wanted to die. It was that I wished I had never existed.

About This Episode EXPAND

In just over two weeks the UK is set to leave the EU, and there is still no deal in place. As parliament votes again on a potential deal, Irish political leader Mary Lou McDonald and Anthony Gardner, former U.S. Ambassador to the EU, join the program to discuss. Later, Mouaz Moustafa talks about the fallout from the Syrian war, and Walter Isaacson interviews MIT’s Joi Ito on tech’s moral quandries