US authorities are pursuing a war crimes investigation of senior Assad regime officials over the torture and killing of American aid worker Layla Shweikani (pictured) in detention in Syria.

Shweikani is among the 10,000s of civilians who have been abused, executed, and/or died from poor conditions in regime prisons since the Syrian uprising of March 2011. The 26-year-old was tortured for months before “confessing” to crimes which she did not commit, and then put to death in late 2016.

See also Syria Daily: Children Among 1000s — Probably 10,000s — of Detainees Killed in Assad Prisons

“Four people with knowledge of the inquiry” say the Justice Department, led by the US attorney in Chicago, has pursued an investigation. FBI agents collected material and interviewed potential witnesses, including the man who may have Jamiburied Shweikani, in Europe and the Middle East.

Prosecutors have now convened a grand jury to hear the evidence and decide on whether to proceed to trial. An indictment would be the first by the US against Assad’s officials over human rights abuses.

While it is unlikely that any indicted official would stand trial in the US, the court proceedings would be a powerful reminder as Bashar al-Assad seeks to “normalize” his relations with other countries and regain legitimacy for his rule.

In recent weeks, regime officials have had high-profile meetings with counterparts from other Arab countries. Assad has visited the UAE and Oman.

Some members are still insisting on the Arab League’s continued suspension of the regime, leading Assad officials to emphasize bilateral relations.

See also Assad Visits UAE in 1st Trip to Arab State Since 2011

Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, summarizes, “No one should normalize relations with a regime that has killed an estimated 500,000 to a million people, including Americans and Europeans, and that continues to do so.”

“Assad is still in power,” says Clémence Bectarte, a lawyer representing the family of two victims in France’s indictment of regime officials. “Prosecutions are the only way at the moment for victims to articulate their quest for justice.”

The Torture and Execution of A Young Woman

Shweikani earned a degree in computer science 2012 from Arab International University in southern Syria. After work as a software engineer in Chicago, she traveled to Damascus in 2015 to join a network of humanitarian relief workers.

The regime swept up the group. Shweikani was seized on February 19, 2016, along with her father and her fiancé. She was tortured at the Mezzeh detention center in southern Damascus, controlled by head of air force intelligence Jamil Hassan.

When Shweikani was moved to Adra prison, the Obama Administration arranged for the Czech Ambassador, Eva Filipi, to see her in December 2016. The ambassador reported her conclusion that the aid worker had confessed under torture.

Before the US Administration could intervene, Shweikani was transferred in late December to the Sednaya military prison, where many thousands of detainees were executed. She was convicted in a brief field trial and killed, probably by hanging, at 7:07 a.m. on December 28.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois revealed Sweikani’s execution at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Syria in 2018. James Jeffrey, the Trump Administration’s special representative for Syria, confirmede she died “in Syrian government hands”.

Trump told Republican legislators that he was unlikely to respond, becuase of the Assad regime’s claims that aid workers were linked to extremism. But FBI agents told Rep. Kinzinger that they would not be blocked from carrying out an investigation.

At least one prisoner testified to Hassan, the regime’s air force commander, at Mezzeh Prison while hweikani was there. Gravedigger’s papers, authorizing him to dispose of the bodies from the prisons, were signed and stamped by Ali Mamlouk, the head of regime state security.

The gravedigger says that Hassan ordered his work. Almost every night, intelligence officers called him on a military communications device to meet the tractor-trailer trucks ferrying bodies to mass graves.

“Sometimes it was impossible to open the truck because the pressure built up inside from the decay,” he says. “Hundreds of bodies flowed out. Some human beings looked skeletal because they were starved. Others had their guts spilling out. I would see a river of parts.”

Bodies from Sednaya arrived in cars, a few dozen at a time: “Their bodies were still warm, just executed. I always saw the mark of the noose on their neck and their hands and legs tied. They were always naked.”