Genuine testimony of a Lebanese that spent arbitrarily five horrible years in Syrian Jails
What follows is the testimony of a Lebanese victim. An innocent citizen detained arbitrarily in the Nazi-Like Syrian detention centers for five years. Please distribute this document to everyone you know who is concerned with human rights, freedom and democratic values as well as to all media and political sources. Alert the whole world to what is going on in the Syrian jails. Encourage them to express their outrage by sharing this testimony.
The way to Golgotha: from Lebanon to the
Testimony of a liberated Lebanese prisoner:
I am a Lebanese citizen born in Beirut. Arrested by the Syrian occupation forces in 1991, I spent five years in the Syrian Mazzeh prison. Today I reveal the true horror the Lebanese face in brutal coercion and terrorism unequaled even in the worst films of terror and the Nazi and Fascist concentration camps. In sharing my testimony with the Lebanese, Arab and international public I hope to alert international organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs to the daily horrors suffered by hundreds of Lebanese prisoners in the Syrian prisons. I encourage and implore them and the leaders of the Free World to intervene for the liberation of Lebanese political prisoners in Syria, breaking the silence of these crimes and swiftly and unconditionally ending the Syrian occupation of Lebanon removing its yoke from the Lebanese in distress who are governed by a gang of yes-men under Syrian control. Their crime? Demanding Lebanon's freedom independence and sovereignty. Like many freed prisoners residing in Lebanon who fear retribution or retaliation I withhold my identity. I have no desire to be rearrested and "skinned alive" as Ghazi Kanaan the chief of the Syrian Mokhabarat in Lebanon has personally promised.
My way to Golgotha all began when I was abducted by a bunch of armed men as I was walking toward my office. They pointed their Kalashnikovs at my face and
introduced themselves, Don't move or say anything. We are from the Syrian Mokhabarat and you are under arrest." Two men rushed up and threw a black
bag over my head. They handcuffed me, tossed me into the trunk of the car and drove away. 'What did they want from me? I started to wonder. Me. Retired
from the Lebanese Army for two years with no current military activity except a membership in a local society for the promotion of our region and the living conditions of its inhabitants. As for my political inclinations, they are similar to those of most of my countrymen: I oppose Syrian occupation of Lebanon. I am also an active partisan of General Michel Aoun in the two Metn districts.
We stopped. My kidnappers retrieved me from the trunk. My hands still cuffed. My head still enshrouded in the black bag. Repeatedly striking kicking and cursing me. They pushed me down a long stairway while continuing this torture and accompanying it with more loud curses on the Lebanese, saying in the Syrian accent: "We want to fuck the greatest Lebanese. The greatest Lebanese is no better than our boots. Who do you think you prostitutes are to oppose us?" As well as other hair raising curses. Soon I could smell the sea. Immediately I realized I was in the notorious Hotel Beau Rivage. Once a place of relaxation, it is now a place of
terror serving as a Beirut central prison and Mokhabarat Head Quarters (Intelligence Services) and is headed by Colonel Rustom Ghazaleh and his henchmen.
I had arrived at my destination. They threw me into a moist and moldy underground cell. More like a tomb, the black cell measured 1.50 cm long by 80 cm wide. A couple of hours later the door opened. In came the henchmen. Down came the black bag. Again they pushed me. Up through the corridor separating the cells. Up to the inquisition room. I had arrived. They sat me on a metal chair specially designed for the inquest. They cursed the Lebanese. They cursed the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Sfeir calling him senile and stupid. They cursed every Christian leader saying: "You prostitutes do not want the Syrians? We shall settle accounts
with you! By God we shall skin you alive!"
A little later silence fell in the room upon the entry of some higher-ranking elements. I inferred this from the henchmen who addressed them as "sir." The henchmen tore off my clothes -- never removing the handcuffs, never removing that dirty black bag. They showered me with ice cold water, fell upon me boxing and beating me with batons. Bleeding from my nose and mouth I couldn't count the blows I received nor see where they were coming from. The dirty black bag was absolutely opaque. I felt like a cat in a bag. Accusations of gathering information on the Syrian Army in my region on behalf of Israel fell upon me from all sides. Every time I denied the accusations they became furious redoubling the blows. This procedure of rotation between interrogation and return to the cell continued until I lost all sense of space and time. I learned that this lasted for three days when my torturers and the investigators informed me that I was to be transferred to Anjar for
further investigation after the three days of preliminary investigation in the "Beau Rivage prison." A group of nine of us detainees from various Lebanese regions -- our heads in bags our hands in cuffs and our feet tied-were placed on a truck. The cold was intense. It was raining heavily as we left Beirut. We knew that we had
reached Dahr El-Baydar - the pass in the western mountain chain separating the coast from the Beqaa - when our tortured members shivered from cold and
felt intense pain in our open wounds. We reached the Anjar penitentiary in the Beqaa valley which is the central penitentiary that holds detainees from Beirut, the South, the Mountain and the North before transferring them to Syrian prisons. Originally the Anjar prison was a stable for horses. It was requisitioned by the Syrians
upon invading Lebanon and transformed into a vast prison without alteration other than converting the horse shoeing room into a torture chamber fitted with the most sophisticated instruments of torture. The Anjar prison is not very large because it serves only as a grouping center for detainees who are either liberated and returned home or transferred to the prisons of terror inside Syria.
The chief of Syrian military intelligence General Ghazi Kanaan commands personally the Anjar prison. His assistant is General Adnan Balloul nicknamed the "Beast". He is seconded by Lieutenant Sleiman Salameh who commands the Alaouite investigation team, a group constantly thirsty for Lebanese blood. In Anjar they lined us up before a wall and removed the bags from our heads so that General Ghazi Kanaan could examine our faces closely. He did in fact look at each of us individually asking: Who is this one?" A Moukhabarat officer carrying a list gave our names. Kanaan passed us in review for about a quarter of an hour before pronouncing a political speech: "Anyone in Lebanon who speaks a word against Syria shall be skinned alive [the words skin alive are the most used by the Syrians against the Lebanese]. We shall transfer you forthwith to Syria where we shall see what you know; and I advise you to tell us everything thereby saving yourselves suffering. Otherwise you will never return to your relatives in Lebanon again!" Kanaan gave a long speech of which I don't remember much since it was such a long time ago. I remember that one of the detainees tried to speak; but one of the Moukhabarat henchmen beat him badly with the butt of his gun. They recovered our heads and put us back in a truck ready to be transferred to Syria. "Whoever enters is lost and whoever leaves is reborn" is the slogan written at the entrance of the Mazzeh prison at the Palestinian investigation branch affiliated to the Syrian Army secret service. This prison is the reception center where thousands of Lebanese are detained
but unheard of since.
A little later, silence fell in the room upon the entry of some higher-ranking elements. I inferred this from the henchmen who addressed them as "sir". The henchmen tore off my clothes - never removing the handcuffs, never removing that dirty black bag. They showered me with ice cold water, fell upon me, boxing and beating me with batons. Bleeding from my nose and mouth, I couldn't count the blows I received, nor see where they were coming from. The dirty black bag was absolutely opaque. I felt like a cat in a bag. Accusations of gathering information on the Syrian Army in my region on behalf of Israel fell upon me from all sides. Every time I denied the accusations, the blows were redoubled with a vengeance. This procedure of rotation between interrogation and return to the cell continued until I lost
all sense of space and time. I learned that this lasted for three days when my torturers and the investigators informed me that I was to be transferred to Anjar for further investigation after these three days of preliminary investigation in the "Beau Rivage prison".
A group of nine of us detainees from various Lebanese regions - our heads in bags, our hands in cuffs and our feet tied- were placed on a truck. The cold was intense. It was raining heavily as we left Beirut. We knew we had reached Dahr El-Baydar - the pass in the western mountain chain separating the coast from the Beqaa - when our tortured members shivered from cold and felt intense pain in our open wounds. We arrived at the Anjar penitentiary in the Beqaa valley, which is the central penitentiary that holds detainees from Beirut, the South, the Mountain and the North, before transferring them to Syrian prisons. Originally, this prison was a horse stable. Requisitioned by the Syrians upon invading Lebanon, it was transformed into a vast prison without alteration other than converting the horse shoeing room into a torture chamber, fitted with the most sophisticated instruments of torture. The Anjar prison is small. It serves only as a grouping center for detainees
who are either liberated and returned home, or transferred to the prisons of terror inside Syria. The chief of Syrian military intelligence, General Ghazi Kanaan commands the Anjar prison. His assistant is General Adnan Balloul, nicknamed the "Beast". He is seconded by Lieutenant Sleiman Salameh who commands the Alaouite investigation team, a group constantly thirsty for Lebanese blood.
In Anjar, they lined us up before a wall and removed the bags from our heads. General Ghazi Kanaan examined our faces closely. He approached each of us, asking: Who is this one?" A Moukhabarat officer, carrying a list gave our names. Kanaan reviewed us for about a quarter of an hour before pronouncing a political speech: "Anyone in Lebanon who speaks a word against Syria shall be skinned alive [the words skin alive are the most frequently used by the Syrians against the Lebanese]. We shall transfer you forthwith to Syria where we shall see what you know; and I advise you to tell us everything, thereby saving yourselves suffering. Otherwise, you will never return to your relatives in Lebanon again!" Kanaan gave a long speech, not much of which I recall. I do remember one of the detainees trying to speak; but one of the Moukhabarat henchmen beat him badly with the butt of his gun. They covered our heads again. They put us back in a truck ready to be transferred to Syria.
"Whoever enters is lost, and whoever leaves is reborn" is the slogan written at the entrance of the Mazzeh prison, at the Palestinian investigation branch affiliated to the Syrian Army secret service. This prison is the reception center in which thousands of Lebanese are detained, but are unheard of since. Nine of us from various Lebanese regions were brought from the truck. They removed the black bags and lined us up at the prison courtyard. Syrian colonel Munir Abrass, head of investigation at the Palestinian branch, received us. Twenty soldiers armed with batons and whips stared at us with gleaming eyes and hatred. They surrounded us as if we were enemies or even Israeli soldiers. When the truck and its escorting Moukhabarat car left, the soldiers started beating us for no apparent reason while uttering obscenities and yelling: "We shall fuck you and crush the biggest head under our shoe!" These were followed by a long series of curses denoting a latent
hatred for everything Lebanese. It was as if they regarded the Lebanese as insects that must be eradicated for the welfare of Syria and its glory! The round of beatings ceased. Bleeding from every part of our bodies, we huddled together. It was already night in Damascus and very cold. I will never forget that night all my life. We were praying to all the saints and prophets for mercy, but to deaf ears. Voracious wolves could be more merciful to their prey than Syrian torturers. A few moments later, they turned jets of ice-cold water on us. I don't know if their intention was to wash us up. After years spent in the Mazzeh prison I found out that that was the standard procedure of receiving prisoners, especially if they were an important bunch like us.
Next, they replaced the bags over our heads and transferred us to solitary - very dark cells 40 meters underground, 80 cm. wide, and 180 cm. long - in which the detainee cannot stand. The door was iron. There was a small window that opened from the exterior through which the jailer presented us what they called "food". General Mazhar Fares, the chief of the Palestine section and his henchmen were responsible for questioning me. They used to transfer me daily from the solitary cell to the investigation room with the black bag over my head. When I reached the middle of the room they removed the bag. I could see Fares sitting on a chair. He was always either smoking a cigar or drinking a cup of coffee with the henchmen standing all around him. He usually started his investigation with a flow of curses against the Lebanese. He accused us of collaborating with Israel. After which, the beating would start without any provocation.
Words cannot fully represent the horrors I suffered in the Syrian jail:
They whipped me and flogged me with a scourge that is a terrible instrument of torture.
They pulled out my fingernails and my toenails.
They beat me on my genitals and impaled me with sharp instruments.
They applied electric shocks to my nose, ears and throat.
They burned me with cigars and cigarettes.
They sat me on the German chair (sic!).
They hung me on a wheel.
They hung me for nine days by a "ghost" winch with the black bag over my head.
They placed salt on my wounds until I shrieked and fainted from pain and was awakened by a jet of water, after which they resumed the beating. I spent the 150 days of investigation in the solitary cell, or "tomb" as the prisoners called it, during which I ate what was given me with my bare hands like an animal as shown in films. I never knew what I ate except that I could distinguish bread crumbs and a few olives. Often, extenuated from suffering I slept long hours on end and stole and urinated in what was left of my clothes. I will never forget the commandant of the Mazzeh prison, Captain Bassam Hassan; weighing about 150 kgs he would pounce like a wolf, thrashing at what was left of me. Prisoners later told me that he used to seek inspiration for new ways of torture from watching horror films. Many Lebanese detainees died in Mazzeh under the torture inflicted by Captain Bassam Hassan and his henchmen composed of 14 officers, of whom I still remember Salah Zoghbi, Abdul Razzak Halabi, Bassam Mustapha, Housam Succar and Mohammed Mufleh and a host of assistants and soldiers we called "torturers".
Thereupon, they made me sign a document. I did not know its contents. Only then was I allowed to have a bath. They shaved my hair, gave me clothes similar to a Syrian soldier's uniform and told me: "We have given you a new name! This, henceforth, will be your name until you leave here. Take good care not to pronounce your true name before the other prisoners. You must forget it completely. Otherwise, we shall return you to the "tomb". Understand? Giving me a new name would mean, as far as the Syrian authorities are concerned, a Syrian jail. This is the situation for all parents of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails. Since their names are not
found on the prison registers, it is necessary to force the Syrian authorities to reveal all true names.
After that I was transferred to a large prison cell hosting a number of Lebanese and Jordanian young men, all accused of endangering Syrian security!!! We were about 25 prisoners in an underground cell of an area not exceeding 12 meters square. In summer we used to stifle from heat and humidity. In winter we froze from cold. Every now and then, the soldiers as a reminder exposed each one of us to a round of beatings.
Night time at the Mazzeh prison is absolutely frightful and worse than in any horror film. Calm. Then shrieks. Even howls of pain from electric shocks or other "civilized" means, specialty of the Syrian Mokhabarat, that cut your breath. Then calm again, followed with worse shrieks and howls! Oh God will this night never end! The Muslim prisoners would whisper Allah Akbar, while we, the Christians, would murmur prayers to the Holy Virgin. Oh God will this night ever end! I later learned that my parents tried to get in touch after having localized me by bribing a Syrian officer. They came to the prison door. But Bassam Hassan, its commandant, resolutely denied the presence of any Lebanese in his prison. But this did not prevent him, along with other Syrian Mokhabarat officers in Lebanon, headed by Ghazi Kanaan, Rustom Ghazaleh and Adnan Balloul from blackmailing the parents of the prisoners.
We were about 150 Lebanese detained in the Mazzeh prison, yet they constantly refused to admit the presence of any Lebanese. They even forced us to speak
with a Syrian accent in order to erase our trace. There is no medical assistance in the Syrian jails or trials for most of the detainees. As for the tribunal in charge of
judging some of the Lebanese, not all, it was the "Third Field Court of the Syrian troops in Lebanon". This means that the Syrian Army was effectively imposing martial law against the Lebanese despite the claim of the dummy regime in Beirut that they form an authority, a State and a government.
As for our food, the daily menu consisted of potatoes, olives, burgul (broken wheat), cauliflower. We spent our time weeping, telling stories of our countries and hearing news from freshly arriving prisoners, while dressing their wounds with water and rags from cloth left behind by departing inmates. The Syrian fugitives from military service spending part of their sentences in one of the wings of the Mazzeh prison were charged with our service. We used to call them the "fugitives". The prisoners who were at the point of death were sent to the Al-Mouassat hospital that was close to the jail. There, the Military Police stood guard over them. Once, one of the young men detained among us, accused of being a partisan of the "Lebanese Forces" was severely tortured by electric shock. He was put in solitary confinement, but when he began exhibiting sure signs of death , they returned him to our midst in the large cell. His skin turned blue, his mouth frothed and blood oozed from his ears and nose.
He was dying right in front of us! We were powerless to help him. We alerted our jailers, pleading for their help. Let him die, the devil will take him! they replied. We tried artificial respiration. We wiped his face with water. His respiration soon became rapid. He gasped... Practically unconscious, he looked at our faces, smiled sadly and passed away. We shouted for help. Noone responded. When we told them that he died they cursed us, came in and carried him away to the Al-Mouassat hospital. It was already too late. We later learned that he joined a long list of Lebanese buried in mass graves in the vicinity of the Mazzeh prison. It is heavily guarded by the Syrian Special Forces who prohibit anyone from approaching who does not have special permission.
Nevertheless, the suffering in the Mazzeh prison is nothing compared with the "Sab' Bahrat" (Seven Seas) prison in Damascus held by the Moukhabarat of the
Syrian Air Force; or with the prison of Palmyra where hungry dogs, snakes and rats as well as other hair-raising nightmares worthy of horror films, are used to torment prisoners. Those condemned to death are impaled. Among the tidings of the Mazzeh prison, where I spent five years of my life, there is one regarding the former Lebanese deputy, the late Dr Farid Serhal. who was incarcerated when the Syrians abducted him in 1989. In addition to light beatings, they forced him to clean the latrines and sweep the floors in order to humiliate him because he was candidate for the Presidency of the Lebanese Republic. They used to call him dog. Boutros Khawand is incarcerated in ward 601 of the Mazzeh prison. Due to coercion and torture, he has become a shadow of himself .
I will never forget what the jailers did to torture a young soldier of the Lebanese Army accused of military action against the Syrian occupation: They tied him upon a heavy wooden device in the form of a cross. (Bassam Hassan, commander of the prison, said it was because this soldier was a Christian .) Securing him with ropes and cables, they forced him to run in circles, all the while beating him as if he were a horse. Eventually, they raised him with a winch and left him crucified for nine days in the sun. The blood oozed from all his body, including his mouth and ears.
When Bassel Assad died, the torturers pounded us like crazy bulls and left us for a whole week without food because they thought his death pleased us! I have spent five years in jail. I never received a trial. Finally, in response to my appeals, the Syrians decided to release me . They took me by truck to Anjar. I sat on the floor awaiting the arrival of General Ghazi Kanaan. He told me point blank, I hope you learned your lesson. And I warn you that the next time I will pulverize your flesh and bones. You must learn that you and those who are behind you shall live under our boots for ever. Your destiny is Syria and there is nothing you can do about it! They transferred me to the Anjar prison where Adnan Balloul and his henchmen gave me a round of farewell beatings before handing me over to their puppet Lebanese Secret Service. Then, as if all the beating I had received in five years were not enough, they fell upon me once more. Beating me savagely. I will never forget the sight of the chief of the henchmen in Anjar, Colonel Slayman Salameh, who is regarded by all those who have passed through that prison as the most savage person on earth.
The Lebanese Secret Service received me at ten o'clock PM. Upon my arrival, the investigation chief in the prison of the Ministry of Defense, Imad Kaakour, who wanted to interrogate me, started beating me. I told him: Are five years of torture in Syrian jails not enough? What more do you want from me? I have forgotten how to speak Lebanese. I have forgotten the names of my parents. What more do you want from me? My words fell on deaf ears. He was bent on beating me and on establishing an official report to present to his chief, Jamil Sayed. They forced me to fingerprint a blank paper, then transferred me to the Military Police jail in the Noura Palace. There I spent three days before one of the pro-Syrian politicians intervened. Five years are enough to teach him. What more do you want from him? He has become the shadow of a man! he told them. And so was I liberated!
I still have to say that Hussein Taliss, the criminal in Roumieh prison, accused of the murder of the French Military Attache and of the attempt on the life of President Camille Chamoun in addition to the explosion of tens of booby trapped cars in East Beirut during the war, is at present one of the top investigators at the Mazzeh. He is assigned to investigate Lebanese prisoners. Currently he is in Damascus and is active in the Syrian Moukhabarat, Lebanese section, on major security operations in Lebanon. He is believed to be culpable for many crimes. He resides with his family under a false identity in the Abou Remmaneh quarter.
Message from the Mazzeh Prison, May 1st, 2000 The testimony of the jailed Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf On occasion of the UNESCO Day of World Press, and his international Prize of the Freedom of the Press, we hereby reproduce a passage of the letter of the imprisoned Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf: "One of the most momentous tragedies left behind by the criminal Lebanese concerns more than 18 thousand persons whose destiny is unknown by their parents. But what no one knows, and that I shall reveal for the first time to the public, is that many of them have become skeletons in the Syrian mass graves mentioned above (in the countryside of Damascus and in the Districts of Homs, Hama and Idlib. But the cemetery of the Palmyra prison is the most awful and vast since it contains some 20
thousand skeletons of prisoners liquidated in that prison by order of Rifaat Assad and the commander of the Palmyra prison, Colonel Faysal Ghanem).
Most of the Lebanese abducted to Syria by the Syrian official Services have become skeletons. They number about 2800. Accused of opposing the Syrians,
they were murdered in cold blood. I call upon Mr.Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General and those responsible for the section of Human Rights, whom we know are present in this hall, to proceed immediately to the appointment of an international committee to investigate this matter in application of the Geneva Convention before the Syrian Moukhabarat completely eradicate these mass graves, which they have already effectively started. I also call upon the Lebanese judiciary and the Public Prosecutors in the regime of the upright and noble President Emil Lahoud, to proceed forthwith with their investigations.
The detained Syrian journalist Nizar Nayyouf. Mezzeh Military Prison,
May 1st 2000.
N.B: Special... thank you ... to all those who helped in translating this document.