A REPORT from Human Rights Watch on Syria's use of a kangaroo court to criminalize even the mildest forms of dissent and free speech comes at an opportune moment. American senators have been visiting Damascus to sound out President Bashar Assad on a dialogue with the Obama administration, and the new report sheds light on the Syrian regime's disdain for legality - the trademark of a police state.
This is not to say that President Obama should repeat his predecessor's error of refusing to deal with Assad. On the contrary, Obama should try to recast regional alignments by helping broker a peace accord between Israel and Syria. The benefits could include independence and stability for Lebanon, the decoupling of Syria from Iran, and Syria's rejoining the Arab fold alongside Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Still, Obama must approach the Assad regime without illusions. Human Rights Watch heard from former detainees, lawyers, and foreign ambassadors posted to Damascus, and their testimonies about Syria's Supreme State Security Court depict a travesty of justice.
Defendants are thrown in jail for insulting Assad or for being found with subversive writing, CDs, or videos. They are held for months without being charged, and frequently tortured. When they finally appear before a security court judge, their defense lawyers have no role to play. And the judge pays no heed to complaints that defendants have given confessions under torture.
When asked about these mockeries of legal procedure, Syrian officials bring up Guantanamo and American torture of enemy combatants. Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama should do business with Syria without allowing America to emulate Assad-style justice.