E-Mails Show Assad Buying iTunes Music As His Military Slaughters Syrians

Assad and his wife Asma

The British Guardian newspaper acquired, apparently from members of the Syrian opposition, a trove of personal e-mail exchanges from Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. The e-mails are stunning in their breadth — covering media advice for dealing with the year-long uprising to trivial matters like how to see the latest Harry Potter movie.

What’s so remarkable about the e-mails — which the Guardian believes to be authentic but couldn’t confirm — is that, for the most part, they’re not remarkable at all. They mostly show the Syria’s first couple buying furniture, clothes, and engaging with Western pop culture, even as Assad’s regime fired artillery shells into neighborhoods known to have a strong rebel presence.

For instance, Assad, using the pseudonym Sam, sent his wife an Apple iTunes file of a country song — “God Gave Me You,” by American Blake Shelton — on February 6, just as the government stepped up its assault on the rebel stronghold of Homs. Assad also sent along the lyrics to the song, a melancholy tone even amid the dictator’s brutality and extravagance:

I’ve been a walking heartache
I’ve made a mess of me
The person that I’ve been lately
Ain’t who I wanna be

Assad used a different name and New York address to charge iTunes songs to an American Express credit card — apparently to get around sanctions prohibiting him from doing any business with the U.S. His tastes in music were erratic. He purchased a tune by the one-hit-wonder Right Said Fred (though notably not their one hit, “I’m Too Sexy”) and also a song by R&B singer Chris Brown featuring rappers Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, among other songs. In another e-mail between the couple, Bashir al-Assad sent Asma a video of an illusion from the U.S. television show America’s Got Talent.

But sometimes, the e-mails were more serious. In an e-mail from Asma al-Assad — who signs off as “aaa” — to her husband, sent on December 28, 2011, she offers words of encouragement to her husband:

If we are strong together, we will overcome this together…I love you…

The e-mails periodically got into more serious business: One showed Assad henchmen had consulted with an Iranian embassy official for advice, and another to Assad carried advice from a Lebanese contact of Hezbollah and Iran on how to spin alleged Al Qaeda in Iraq bombings in Damascus. Sometimes, the atrocities of the rebellion and crackdown became the subject of humor for the Assads, as with an exchange of a video that mocked the situation in Homs by showing how easy it was to hide tanks from observers there.

The U.N. estimates more than 8,000 people have died in the protests and crackdown, and nearly a quarter of a million people have been displaced.