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Doctors in Danger: How the Assad Regime is Targeting Syrian Physicians

In Syria’s civil war, it’s dangerous to even treat the wounded. Since the beginning of the civil war, the Syrian government has killed hundreds of medical personnel, and dozens of doctors have been assassinated by ISIS. The few doctors who dare to treat the casualties have been forced to work in secret.

In his piece for the New Yorker, journalist Ben Taub profiles some of the underground community of health providers, documenting how they’re keeping clinics open and preserving medical knowledge, despite the risk of violence from both President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and ISIS.

A Syrian man receives treatment at a field hospital following a chlorine gas attack by Assad regime forces in Damascus, Syria. (Photo by Ammar Sulaiman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Taub watched hours of surgical procedures and scenes from Syrian hospitals and clinics to do research for his article.

Taub: Some of the really difficult stuff to read was also for me very difficult to watch. For instance, a surgeon might say they did a resuscitative thoracotomy. I had no idea what a resuscitative thoracotomy was so I was watching these videos and describing the steps. Then I would consult with this doctor, David Nott and he would tell me, "This is what that procedure is actually called and here are the steps. And no, that’s the heart, not the lung.” He was guiding me on the stuff that I didn’t know, but really the descriptions were step by step things that to surgeons are very standard procedures, but to normal people like me, are very new.

As the threat of ISIS has expanded, the public has shifted its focus away from the regime’s crimes.

Taub: It's very easy to report on ISIS these days because ISIS broadcasts all of its crimes. The Syrian government hides all of its crimes and then denies them, even when they are very documented to a degree that hasn't existed in any other conflict ever with filming and also with internal regime documents that have been smuggled out of the country by this group, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability. It's harder to work on government crimes but as a government, they can achieve a magnitude of criminality that ISIS can only dream of. There was a recent monitor report that said that 60,000 people have been killed in Syrian government detention facilities. Hundreds of thousands have been detained illegally for long periods of time, tortured, but 60,000 of those have been killed.

The danger of reporting in Syria should not deter reporting on Syria, says Taub.

Taub: A lot of young journalists who maybe don't have frontline experience that doesn't mean they should shy away from covering these conflicts. They have to find other ways to get the material that is indisputable evidence, a lot of which is making its way into Europe through the refugee stream or through investigations or turning up in European federal police and interrogation reports.

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, read Taub's piece, "Syria's War on Doctors."

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