The New York Times gave a special insight into the network of secret torture facilities the Assad regime is running across Syria, describing how the regime is seeking to crush dissent using various methods of brutal torture against detainees.
In a lengthy report penned by Anne Bernard and published on Saturday, the Times cited testimonies of ex-detainees who were subjected to the most severe methods of torture for participating in the anti-regime peaceful demonstrations.
The report ‘Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent’ tells how a regime officer calling himself Hitler forced prisoners to act the roles of dogs, donkeys and cats to entertain colleagues over dinner, beating those who failed to bark or bray correctly.
The Times interviewed Muhannad Ghabbash, a law student from Aleppo who spent time in detention for participating in the anti-regime peaceful demonstrations. Ghabbash said that he counted 19 cellmates who died from disease, torture and neglect in one of the regime’s prisons in a single month.
“While the Syrian military, backed by Russia and Iran, fought armed rebels for territory, the government waged a ruthless war on civilians, throwing hundreds of thousands into filthy dungeons where thousands were tortured and killed,” the Times said.
The Times cited reports by the Syrian Network for Human Rights indicating that nearly 128,000 detainees have never emerged from the prisons of the Assad regime, and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody.
Over seven years, the Times has interviewed dozens of survivors and relatives of dead and missing detainees, reviewed government documents detailing prison deaths and crackdowns on dissent, and examined hundreds of pages of witness testimony in human rights reports and court filings.
The NYT report also said that war crimes investigators with the nonprofit Commission for International Justice and Accountability have found government memos ordering crackdowns and discussing deaths in detention. The memos were signed by top security officials, including members of the Central Crisis Management Committee, which reports directly to Bashar al-Assad.
The paper noted that the survivors’ accounts reported here align with accounts from other prisoners held in the same jails, and are supported by the government memos and by photos smuggled out of Syrian prisons.
“The prison system was integral to Mr. al-Assad’s war effort, crushing the civil protest movement and driving the opposition into an armed conflict it could not win.”
“French and German prosecutors have arrested three former security officials and issued international arrest warrants for Syria’s national security chief, Ali Mamlouk; its Air Force Intelligence director, Jamil Hassan; and others for torture and deaths in prison of citizens or residents of those countries.”
The Times went on: “Yet Mr. al-Assad and his lieutenants remain in power, safe from arrest, protected by Russia with its military might and its veto in the United Nations Security Council.”
The report added that women and girls have been raped and sexually assaulted in at least 20 intelligence branches, and men and boys in 15 of those.
It said that a 32-year-old mother of five from Hama was repeatedly raped during her detention for aiding injured protesters and delivering medical supplies to rebel fighters.
The Times went on to say that the Syrian detention system is a supersized version of the one built by Mr. al-Assad’s father, President Hafez al-Assad.
“In 1982, he crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama, leveling much of the city and arresting tens of thousands of people: Islamists, leftist dissidents and random Syrians.”
In a report on sexual violence in Syria published in early April, the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability reported several cases of women victims of sexual violence in the prisons of the Assad regime.
Several human rights organizations have confirmed that Syrian women, children and men have been subjected to sexual violence in the prisons of the regime since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. It remains difficult to document the real number of victims or to provide accurate estimates of the overall violations in the prisons of the Assad regime. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)